“I think the idea of dressing for your body type can accidentally villainise aspects of our bodies that we should be proud of,” says Lisa Von Tang.

As the Chinese New Year approaches, we spoke with the designer on how you can invest in a Lisa Von Tang creation as your next traditional wear piece to own.

The Singapore-based designer of Chinese-German descent, Lisa Von Tang is making a mark in the fashion scene with her own fusion of South-East Asian culture and trendy silhouettes that you see today. From her iconic mandarin-collar bomber jacket piece to velvet kimonos and empress-style designs on straight-cut pants, it’s obvious how her designs are adored by many. While she’s widely known for her fusion of cultures, women empowerment and expressing that wow-factor, Lisa’s pieces bring triumph just by admiring it.

You’ll spot elements of cultures by her uses of luxurious fabrics, distinctive essence of the mandarin buttons/collars, intricate embroidery, and so much more on a silhouette that anyone can wear as everyday attire. Her latest Chinese New Year collection is the right balance of bold, sultry and traditional to embrace the festivities (even though we’re limited to celebrating indoors). Scroll down to read our conversation with Lisa on her label and how you can pick the right cheongsam silhouette for your body type.

What inspired you to create your own eponymous label and how did the idea came to mind?

I wanted to represent both sides of my ethnic heritage and make it modern, powerful, and bold. In 2015, prior to the #MeToo movement, there was a need for clear, unapologetic alpha female energy. Now, there is a need for rebalancing the yin and the yang. Our brand persona and collections honour the strong yet soft approach of the “Power of Yin”. 

Would you say that you get inspired by your adventures and also living in Singapore?

A change of scenery and seeing different architecture, cultures, and spaces always gives you a chance to see the world in a different way. I’m always exploring within myself, with others, connections and assumptions about each other through customs, textiles, and art. I like finding my own personal edge (as uncomfortable as it may be) by diving into the deep to see what I can bring to light. Singapore is a nurturing and lush environment where many different cultures interact. It’s a gold mine for inspiration since there is so much cultural diversity here.

What came to mind when you were creating your very first modern cheongsam silhouettes as compared to the classics?

I wanted my cheongsam silhouettes to be sexy, powerful, and unabashed in their commitment to luxury and decadent textures. I design for people who know how to enjoy life. My designs use modern touches and clean lines, but there is also a lot of that extra factor – whether its sleeves made of long fringe, embroidery and beadwork of stars exploding across a night sky, or sheer mesh panels and dangerously low base backs.

What elements of the cheongsam do you prioritise to incorporate in your designs?

The key traditional items I retain are the mandarin collar. Sometimes there are mandarin buttons, knot buttons, and often cap sleeves. However, these details are all modernised — for example, the mandarin collar is slim and lowered.

With the wonders of Asia as an inspiration, how do you settle on finding the right colours, prints, and fabrics to complement each other?

The best way to match various prints, textures and colours are by having them physically in front of you. Also, it’s always good to have wild card swatches lying around – you never know when your eye will intuitively catch an unexpected combination. I like working physically with materials until I am satisfied. This way, you can spot unusual matches, for example, for our best-selling robe (that is now sold out) we paired navy silk velvet with red velvet piping, fuchsia and indigo Indian woven jacquard as trim, and Chinese woven brocade dragons patched onto the back. I only made 25 pieces thinking it would be hard to sell, particularly at an SGD $1,200 price point (approximately RM3,662). However, our customers felt the magic in this unexpected combination. We sold out in a matter of weeks, and still have requests to remake it. When it works, it works.

Is there a type of fabric that you enjoy working with that works perfectly on your designs and designed for our climate?

I use silk often. It’s great for our climate, and nothing compares to the flow of silk. In terms of silk, I often go with a silk stretch mix consists of 95% silk and 5% spandex. This makes the dress more comfortable for our clients, and it feels amazing. I also like using sand-washed silk for its matte and almost suede-like texture – it’s still luxurious but also understated.

 

lisa von tang cheongsam
Image credit: Lisa Von Tang

 

How is a Lisa Von Tang cheongsam unique compared to others? What makes yours different?

Our cheongsams have an attitude. They are not made for the wallflowers but are bold, fierce and sensual all at the same time. Our customers come to us for pieces that are unconventional.

Since the pandemic isn’t allowing us to celebrate with loved ones for Chinese New Year, what pieces would you recommend from your collection to wear at the comfort of your own home?

I suggest dressing up, even if you’re at home and can’t meet your loved ones. After 2020, we are all sick of wearing joggers and T-shirts every day and is in dire need of an energy shift. Fashion can do just that. For your most important celebrations, even if they’re over zoom, put together an outfit that makes you feel like an Empress. Choose the perfect heels, swipe on a lipstick, and shine.

What tips would you give to someone who’s finding the right cheongsam cut to suit their body shape and what should they avoid?

I think the idea of dressing for your body type can accidentally villainise aspects of our bodies that we should be proud of. For example, Jennifer Lopez is bottom-heavy, but instead of hiding this, she accentuates this. For ladies with broad shoulders, you should rock out that wonderful, strong bone structure. If you want to accentuate your hips, choose a cheongsam that is not A-line. It should be fitted all the way to above the knee, then it can flow from there. If you want to accentuate your bust line, choose a small mandarin collar with a neckline that tapers out dramatically to the bustline – the smallness of the collar will accentuate the width of your bust. If you’d like to hide your waistline, try a cheongsam where the waist is actually higher than your actual waist. If the piece gets to its most narrow point about 2-inch above your real waist line, then the flow of the material will be most flattering to hide little bellies.

What is your take on reserving the cheongsam for special occasions as compared to wearing it out daily back in the old days?

New cheongsams should be comfortable because they’re made for modern women who have an active lifestyle. We should wear fashion that has elements of both traditional and ethnic details, whenever we want. It shouldn’t be contained in traditional festivals only. Why is our everyday attire considered western, but traditional wear is Asian/Chinese/ethnic? When did our own ethnic heritage become sidelined into a place that can only be worn for Chinese New Year, or tea ceremonies? Remember – fashion is empowerment, and it’s a bold political statement if you style it that way.

 

Amalina Anuar
Senior Writer
A writer by day and spin instructor by night. Amalina fuels her day with anything that’s covered in chocolate and breaking a sweat in the spin studio. With fashion and music as inspiration, you can find her obsessing over her favourite artist's music videos or swaying to funky tunes at live gigs.