ELANA Meyers, 23, a New York resident, is one of a group of foreign cinematographers recording traditional craftsmen in Shanghai as part a government-sponsored “Looking at China” international youth film project.
She and colleagues from Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia and India have turned their lenses to cultural tradition like repairing bronzeware and making ink. For her part, Meyers has chosen to focus on the traditional cheongsam dress.
“This is my first time to Shanghai, and I didn’t know much about cheongsam,” Meyers said. “But I have learned that it is part of Chinese identity.”
On April 14, she toted her photograph gear to the workshop of Longfeng, an 81-year-old cheongsam maker based in Jing’an.
Meyers was particularly interested in how Zhang Qinwei, an 18-year-old intern, was learning the craft from veteran cheongsam makers.
Longfeng’s workshop houses eight tailors, including Zhang and fellow intern Yang Yuting. Both will graduate from the Shanghai YF Vocational and Polytechnical School this summer.
Their talents were first discovered by veteran tailor Jiao Yigang in their first year at the school.
Since June 2011, Longfeng has been sending its tailors to the school to give lessons once a week. It’s part of a strategy to ensure that an ancient art is carried from one generation to the next.
“Zhang and Yang are gifted,” Jiao said. “They have the talent and will to learn.”
The two girls started their internship at Longfeng last October.
“Veterans tell us that it takes three to four years to be able to make a cheongsam on your own,” Yang said. “It’s apparent to me now that’s no exaggeration.”
Longfeng requires measurements of 36 points on the body for every customer. It usually takes an experienced tailor nearly a week to finish one Qipao dress.
Yang is proud that she will someday become an “inheritor” of the cheongsam tradition. “I still have a lot to learn,” she said. “I’m a tailor, but I don’t like to be called a tailor. I hope to be considered a craftsman.”
At school, she and Zhang promote the history and skills associated with making the iconic dress.
“If we want to pass on the tradition, we need to make people aware of it,” she said. “In traditional arts, new blood is badly needed.”