Xiong Kejia is over sixty years old. His hair is sparse on his head. His voice is quick but intermittent. His only sharp eye is his eyes. As he stared at me, he asked me, "Do you know Shakespeare?" I nodded. He followed him to the tailor's shop. The Nanyang wooden floor beneath his feet was jingling with leather shoes. He looked up and saw a copper inscription on the door: Tailor makes the man.
"That's what Shakespeare said in Hamlet." Xiong Kejiadu was sure that the old tailor who had made a suit for a lifetime began to tell me the history of the suit going eastward, pointing to the map of the world on TV and scratching his fingers along the coastline.
"When was the Panama Canal opened, do you remember?" Halfway through, he suddenly asked me.
A pair of scissors ushered in a good era
The history of suits in China is indeed closely related to geography. The suits first seen by the Chinese appeared on the ships of the British Empire. The British sailors who came to conquer the New World on a long voyage put on their suits when they came ashore as a suit for the pursuit of earthly pleasure. Civilian officials who entered China at that time found a sense of superiority in the comparison between suits and Qing-style official clothes, which not only meant physical convenience, but also a national psychological game.
Hurd was one of them, but the British gentleman, who had the power of customs duties in the Qing Empire, also had his own troubles: in the East, he could not even find a replacement button for his suit. Changing clothes is a sea adventure that lasts several months.
The earliest batch of Chinese suit tailors were born on the ports of various places in China and the Ocean. However, as with many foreign products, the suit is an ambiguous existence almost from the beginning of its birth.
The first confusing thing is the name. The word Suit in English comes from the armor of knights and uniforms on warships. In East Asia, where silk is commonly used, people still can not find a suitable vocabulary to connect with it. China is called a suit and Japan is called a suit. It looks more like an expedient nomenclature.
People who make suits are ambiguous. Today, Chinese suit manufacturers are claiming to be the descendants of Hong Bang tailors in Shanghai. But up to now, there are different opinions about what the Red Gang is. Some people believe that it was the fault of "Fengbang". Most of the tailors in that year came from Fenghua. Some people think that "red" means "popular". Others think that "red" is "red-haired man", which is the name of Westerners at that time. The so-called "red gang" means making clothes for Westerners. Whatever the case is, the earliest tailors, mostly from other countries, are not like the local people in Shanghai or Xiamen, who are familiar with foreigners, disdained to sew, and keen on business.
Xiong Kejia's experience confirms this point. His ancestral home is Fujian, and his president is in Taiwan after the defeat of the government. At the age of 14, through his mother's relationship, he entered a famous Fujian suit shop in Taipei as an apprentice. After three years and four months, he became an apprentice. His boss sent him a pair of scissors and told him to leave.
"It's a rule," Xiong Kejia said. "When a tailor is a trainee, he has to be thrown out so that the master can reassure you that you won't worry about robbing him of his job."
Xiong Kejia, with a pair of scissors, knocked open the door of another Fujian tailor's shop. What he is going to experience is a good era for Taiwan suit customization industry. Because war is coming.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, a protracted war between the United States and the Vietnamese Communist Party made Taiwan, guarded by the Pacific Fleet, a logistical resting place for the U.S. military. American soldiers who are still fighting in artillery pits in the morning may be sent directly to Saigon pier by plane at noon and to Taiwan by ferry at night. Over the next five days, soldiers will spend three months'salary, requiring alcohol, women, and decent suits in women's eyes.
The owner of the suit shop will get the news of the arrival of the U.S. Army in the first place, as well as the owner of the bar next door. Competition between two interdependent industries is also under way. Employing English-speaking College students, running to hotels to sell products one by one, the late arrival orders will be pitiful.
Xiong Kejia had begun to prune at that time, which was the craziest time he had ever experienced. Orders and businesses are rolling in, but it often takes hours to make a suit, a decent suit tailor's shop, or even hundreds of suits overnight. Xiong Kejia's later good craftsmanship benefited more or less from the high-intensity labor of that year.
But in good times, it always ends.
The tailor's craft has no stereotype at all.
Clothing is a mirror of the times. The earliest golden years of suits were interrupted by the success of the revolution. Another kind of clothes, Zhongshan suit, which combines Western garment making methods and Chinese aesthetic taste, came into being at the historic moment. Suit tailors live in a corner and maintain their skills. After 1955, tailors'craftsmanship ceased to matter.
The interruption in clothing did not resume until another time close to the West, and, strangely, it was a passive response similar to the Hurd story. In the mid-1980s, the Embassy in China jointly requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to set up a suit-making unit to meet the clothing problems of the ambassadors in China.
Hongdu Suit Company was founded, which is the first suit shop in Communist China. After that, Chinese leaders also began to change their clothes. Zhongshan suits gradually became the symbol of old cadres, and suits became the symbol of international conformity. In the process of completing their modernization, the countrymen who walk into the city have designed their own standard clothes: upper suit and lower trousers.
As far as suits themselves are concerned, the industry has also changed. Shortly after Pierre Cardin and other well-known brands entered China, the production templates of suits gradually flowed into Township enterprises, and self-made suits purported to be international famous brand models were introduced everywhere. These clothes from the industrial assembly line changed the original appearance of the suit.
Xiong Kejia dislikes the word "typography" and even has strong doubts about its legitimacy.
"No one who makes suits has ever used this word. This is a word that was created by copying other people's styles after the reform and opening up of the mainland." Xiong Kejia said that the tailor's craft had never been stereotyped before.
Tailors everywhere live and die, and their scales vary, but surprisingly, people in this profession of oral instruction are almost following similar standards.
"When I meet with tailors from Japan, Italy and Britain, you have different rhetoric, but the details are almost the same." Xiong Kejia said.
The old tailor stubbornly maintained his preference for fabrics, choosing British fabrics and showing little interest in Italian fabrics.
Even today's world-renowned big-brand manufacturers follow these long-standing standards. Alfred Dunhill, a horseback dealer, has only worked with the best garment factories in Italy and the United Kingdom for its high-end customized garments. In these hand-tailored and sewn shirts, you will find exotic blended fabrics, such as camel hair and silk blends.
Italian custom suits tell another story. Sicilian craftsmen traveled across the ocean to the New World. They endure, earn a living, have children, and face the changes of the times. Their children grew up on the streets of New York or San Francisco, learning to eat pizza, fight and become gang members. When they grow up, a suit made by their parents will become part of their adult ritual.
Tailor makes the man, if you know about the ocean and life and death, you will also understand the meaning of this sentence.