Legends never retire
Leung does not go for glitz and glamour: “The best thing is to see customers wearing a qipao that fits well and is comfortable.” Leung says he must personally make the qipao for each customer, whether they are a superstar or an ordinary customer.
Nowadays, there are shops selling off-the-peg qipaos in various standard sizes. To better fit different body shapes, they are often made from stretch fabric, and a zipper is added at the back to make it easier to control the cut and the straightness of the slits. Some buttons are also added at the front, but only for decoration. Leung always feels that a hand-made qipao is incomparable.
The bespoke qipao, no matter the collar, chest, or waistline, fits naturally with the human body, and will not feel tight when moving. Leung is proud of his piping skills: choosing silk according to the colours of the fabric, sewing piping less than half centimetre wide around the collar, cuffs and hem, and then starching the qipao carefully, ensuring that the width of the piping is always the same — straight and smooth. The piping is like a frame for a famous painting, highlighting the pattern of the qipao and adding to its elegance.
About ten years ago, the old shop in Causeway Bay was sold. Leung was 80 years of age that year, and so he talked about retirement, but he was as diligent as any office worker. So he eventually moved to Kwun Tong, closer to his home, and rented a shop to start his business over again.
Some of his eight apprentices set up their own garment factory on the Mainland, some retired, some changed careers, and some passed away. But Leung decided to do it all by himself, making each qipao slowly, stitch by stitch.
His four children are all pursuing their own careers, none of them in the fashion industry. They now provide logistical support for their father, including translation and handling media interviews. His grandchildren who live overseas also play a part, helping him to maintain a social media presence, so that more youngsters can learn about tailoring and understand the qipao.
Interestingly, more and more young people have come to Long Kong Ladies’ Tailors for tailor-made qipao in recent years, while some old customers have introduced their friends as well. “Maggie Cheung came here a week or two ago and referred her friend to order a qipao here.” Leung says.
We interviewed Leung on the Saturday when Hong Kong hoisted its first rainstorm signal of 2023. Would Leung be working today? When we opened the door, Leung was already there, ironing on the workbench. A few days ago, this garment had been nothing more than a pattern; now, it is finished and hangs elegantly on the wall, with the silk coming alive.