As a milliner visiting the Hong Kong Academy of the Performing Arts earlier this year, I was invited to meet Mr Chan, a leading maker in Hong Kong of traditional Chinese Opera costumes, hats and headwear.
Being a hat maker and hat designer, having made many elaborate headpieces over the years, I was aware that my approach has been from a western tradition, a fitted base shape that hugged the head and balanced the statement a top.
My fascination with Oriental performance and ceremonial headpieces was with the approach to construction. How they were made? How did they fit the performers? What gave them their lightweight but ornate look?
Mr Chan’s Hat Studio
The charming Mr Andrew Chueng was my guide and translator for our seamless subway journey to the suburb of Jordan, on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong to visit Mr Chan’s hat maker studio.
been making costumes for local and international opera performers .
Mr Chan’s world is a chaotic space with 100’s of opera costumes and headpieces stored in white plastic bags hanging from the ceiling, tumbling out of boxes all stacked on top of each other. The space is so crowded that only a narrow pathway exists as a passage through this labyrinth of eye catching baubles, sharp edged costumes and twinkly theatrical bling.
This is the sample showroom for Mr Chan’s costume factory in mainland China.
After settling in at Mr Chan’s showroom with Andrew translating, I was enlightened by the construction of the headpieces. The approach is two dimensional on an open , breathable mess, with a layering of concentric rows of repeated motifs to create an ornate sense of depth – a richly textured halo.
The technique is confident and well tested.
The fit is adjustable for a changing cast of performers and the attention to detail of the components is magical, assembled by a diligent team of experienced helpers to Mr Chan and his twinkly theatrical realm.
I have come away from this cultural exchange with new ideas on how to construct headpieces, how to make them cooler for the performer and how to boldly treat embellishment. I will have to refine my oriental eye.
My task ahead is to make Mr Chan’s exquisite sample that arrived at my door in Sydney stay on the head of a tumbling performer and look pristine throughout the run of a show. The task ahead.