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The Joy of Asian Dressing

September 08, 1993|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "The Joy Luck Club"

The Setup: Based on the best-selling Amy Tan novel, a multi-generational story about four women born in China in the '20s and how they came to live in San Francisco. Over the years, the women meet weekly for mah-jongg games and raise decidedly American daughters.

The Costume Designer: Lydia Tanji, whose previous films include "Dim Sum," also by "Joy Luck" director Wayne Wang. She also designed costumes for several Berkeley Repertory Theatre productions.

The Look: Seen in flashbacks to the '20s and '30s, the mothers display the simple beauty of the traditional Chinese cheongsam--the straight, close-fitting, high-collared dresses slit on one side--a current favorite of young designers from California to Europe. As mature women living in San Francisco, only two of the women, Lindo (Tsai Chin) and Suyuan (Kieu Chinh), continue to wear the silhouette of their homeland along with modern Western clothing. All four wear jade bracelets, beads and necklaces as reminders of their roots.

Hit: There was no end to the variety and loveliness of early 20th-Century cheongsams, whether an embroidered silk one worn by a rich woman or the humble cotton kind worn by a poor girl.

Miss: The young American daughters, unfortunately, don't have nearly as much luck with clothes as their mothers did. All four appear trapped in fashion mediocrity.

Quoted: "Amy Tan put Lydia (Tanji) in touch with the real 'Joy Luck' mothers whose lives were the basis of these stories," explained costume supervisor Barbara Kassal. "Through them and their connections . . . the (ideas) for cheongsams came to Lydia."

Sources: Some of the period cheongsams were borrowed from the "Joy Luck" author's Chinese friends. Other items came from the closet of Tanji's grandmother and from such rental houses as Western Costume and Palace Costume in Los Angeles and the Way We Wore in San Francisco. Silk pajamas were made by the costume shop at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.

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