Double acts are nothing new in the world of fashion and tailoring. On the international front, there’s Dolce & Gabbana, Badgley Mischka, Turnbull & Asser and Viktor & Rolf, for starters. Here, tucked away in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is another popular pair — Thomas Chin and Paul Wee of homegrown label, Ecesis.
The brand was established 20 years ago with the launch of a boutique in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. At the time, Wee was already an established manufacturer and wholesaler of ladies’ garments. Chin, meanwhile, had decided to leave his job as a banker to join Wee in establishing what they envisioned as a women’s fashion brand that prided itself on cut, quality and workmanship.
They admit that the past year, battered by the Covid-19 headwinds, has been tumultuous. “Ever since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was imposed in March 2020, business has been affected very badly. We were not active on social media, nor was our online retail platform ready, so we lost out big time on sales and marketing opportunities. At one point, around September 2020, we considered downsizing the workshop, closing down outlets, laying off frontline staff and even shuttering the business for good,” Chin says.
Fortunately, with the help of the government’s wage subsidy programme and lower-interest-rate loans from their bank, they survived. In this spirit, they are going all out to launch their traditional Chinese New Year 2021 qipao (also known as cheongsam in Cantonese) collection, something Ecesis’ fans have always eagerly anticipated since the dedicated collection was launched 10 years ago.
“We wanted to celebrate two decades in business, so we based this year’s qipaos on designs that are inspired by the best of our brand’s 10-year archives,” says Chin. “All the Ecesis style highlights, such as pankou (knotted buttons) and piping details, have been elegantly revived. It is, overall, a collection that blends classic Chinese craftsmanship with Western charm.”
Those who remain enchanted by Maggie Cheung’s sartorially sublime portrayal of Mrs Chan in Wong Kar-wai’s seminal In The Mood for Love — arguably the greatest cinematic love story ever told for the qipao, as the star famously wore 21 distinctive versions in the film — may be in the mood to wear a 2021 iteration by Ecesis this festive season.
“Most of our qipao are designed to be versatile,” Chin points out. “It’s not just for Chinese New Year. In fact, our clients wear them everywhere — to company events, the office, weddings. But if we had to pick out one we particularly love, it would be our midi-length qipao. It is the modern version of the classic 1960s Hong Kong qipao with mandarin collar, and is cut around 69cm to 71cm long from the waist to the hem, with side slits that reveal the knee.”
Visuals for Ecesis’ Chinese New Year 2021 qipao collection, starring the luminous Ein Tan, embellish the captivating style narrative. “Ein is always our first choice when it comes to modelling the annual qipao collection,” says Chin. “Her personality and gentle temperament are very close to what we wanted to portray in the dresses. Besides being an established model who has worked with some of the biggest names and brands in the world, she exudes the calm composure and elegance of someone who wears the qipao.”
Chin and Wee also selected fresh young talent, Joey Loo, to partner Tan in the campaign. “Teaming them together actually brought fresh energy to the shoot. It worked,” adds Chin.
The palette for the collection is in keeping with the festivities, primarily red, pink and fuchsia, although the duo injected greens and blues to create interesting combinations. “You will see a lot of different colour blends, like green with red and mixtures of red and blue — all in fabrics like stretchy lycra jersey, jacquard, crinkled satin, Shantung silk and silk satin.”
With the Year of the Ox barely a fortnight away, what will the tireless duo be donning for the first day? “Definitely mandarin collar shirts,” they chorus. “Despite the still-bleak scenario, it is paramount in our culture and tradition to mark the occasion with a spirit of festivity and optimism. The pandemic has hit so many people so badly, yes, but we humans are survivors. We might live through hard times but life always finds a way to go on. Also, dressing up is a way to show our affability and create joyous moments and memories. In a time like this, what could be more important than that?” Chin states.
This article first appeared on Feb 1, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.