It was a picture of a lady, published a few years ago on Singapore’s street style blog Shentonista, that made Teng Run Run rethink the cheongsam. Dressed in a pastel pink number with neon lime florals, the lady in the photo paired her traditional Chinese garb with cat-eye shades, teardrop earrings and killer stilettos.
“I was mesmerised by how elegant, classy and modern she looked,” says the 42-year-old. “She was not a celebrity in some faraway land, but someone in Singapore’s business district. It gave me a new-found perspective that it is possible to wear a cheongsam on a normal day and look so chic”.
That image prompted Run Run to want to reconnect with her cultural roots, especially for Chinese New Year. But the former creative director at an advertising agency, who counts Iris Van Herpen, Alexander McQueen and Haider Ackermann as some of her favourite designers, could not find one that she fancied.
“I like dramatic details and structured shoulders,” she says. “At that time, there were not many options in the market. So, I decided to design them myself.”
In 2020, Run Run launched Paopao Label, an online-only brand that produces small batches of traditional cheongsam silhouettes with a modern-day spin. She noticed a growing trend among the younger generation who enjoyed wearing traditional outfits for special occasions such as Chinese New Year and weddings. “I wanted our designs to cater to these modern women who want an updated traditional look with a twist,” she says.
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The twist to the traditionally form-fitting garment is in the contemporary design details, such as cape-like sleeves, cut- outs, and pleats at the sides for added comfort. And, influenced by her favourite designers, some designs feature dramatic mullet skirts (where the front is shorter than the back), structured shoulders or detachable cape adornments.
The label’s quirky name, she shares, is taken from the word “pao”, which is derived from “qipao” (cheongsam in Chinese). Coincidentally, the word “pao” also shares a similar pronunciation as “run” in Chinese, which is what some people call Run Run in real life: Paopao (跑跑).
While she had no formal fashion training, Run Run has always loved fashion, and credits her mother for “teaching me about matching colours, and how to look out for a good design and cut”.
To further hone her fashion knowledge, she enrolled in an intensive four-month advanced diploma course in fashion business at Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF), and subsequently interned at home-grown uniform consultancy ESTA Singapore, under the mentorship of veteran Singapore designers Esther Tay and Ann Teoh. These provided her with the foundation needed to embark on her new journey.
With only a small batch of designs produced annually for the Chinese New Year period, Paopao Label aspires to give the traditional cheongsam a new lease of life, making it stylish, modern and desirable for today’s women.
The brand’s customisation service also allows the customer to pick the design she loves, and get it tailored to fit her. “We will walk them through a virtual measurement meeting through Zoom, and proceed to work on it,” she explains.
Depending on the complexity of the customisation, prices range from $30 to $50 on top of the dress price. It takes between two and four weeks to complete.
Despite being new to the industry, Run Run is constantly looking to better herself, especially in the running of a fashion business. “The team is very small and I am currently learning how to do social media advertising as well as product marketing better”.
She is also looking to expand her business to include childrenswear, as well as outfits for men, in the future. Her hopes for the label? To see women out and about wearing her cheongsam designs outside of special occasions.
She says: “I think that will be the ultimate goal. We do not have to appreciate our culture only during Chinese New Year or weddings. I say it’s time we embrace the cheongsam and wear it loud and proud!”