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Viral Revival: Making Traditional Clothing Cool Again (Paywalled)

Fashion influencer Ao Luojia talks about internet fame and updating traditional “hanfu” for modern tastes

The court lady sports a round face and plump figure under her ruqun, a short jacket tucked under a long wrap-skirt. She has knotted hair in a tall pompadour, painted her lips the shape and color of a ripe cherry, and drawn red flower petals between her brows, as if a plum blossom has fallen on her forehead as she slept.

This is no painting from the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), though—it’s a photo album that went viral online during the Lunar New Year of 2018. In the most famous photos of the collection, the lady is chuckling greedily at a bowl of tangyuan, a dessert made of glutinous rice balls with sweet filling, combining ancient aesthetics with modern humor.

The project is the brainchild of fashion designer Zheng Qi, who served as the artistic director as well as the model in the photos. A native of Chongqing, Zheng, who goes by the professional name Ao Luojia, studied fashion design at Chongqing Textile Workers University (now part of Chongqing Normal University). After working as an illustration artist and running a store that sells a multitude of handcraft including dolls, leathercraft, and pottery, she became drawn to hanfu, a generic term referring to the traditional clothes of China’s majority Han people, which has been experiencing a revival from a small group of dedicated fashion history enthusiasts since the early 2000s.

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Viral Revival: Making Traditional Clothing Cool Again (Paywalled) is a story from our issue, “Access Wanted.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.

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Ningyi Xi is a contributing writer at the World of Chinese. She writes about interesting souls and fascinating places that she encounters during her travels.

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