Qipao Love: Part 7 ~ When Qipao clad Nancy Kwan became the iconic 60s siren!

The World of Suzie Wong
Source: nancy-kwan.com/nancy18 
Following my 1950s inspired Batik Qipao look in Part 6, I thought I should follow the thread onwards to uncover a little about the Qipao in the 1960s in Part 7 of the 'Qipao Love' series...which has quite a bit to do with an iconic Hollywood siren! Nancy Kwan is probably best known for 'The World of Suzie Wong' (1960) ...which actually began her accidental career as an actress, propelled her to iconic sex siren Hollywood platform, offered her up to a Golden Globe nomination and nicknamed the 'Chinese Bardot' of the 60s. But what some may not know or have forgotten is the simple reason why Suzie Wong is dressed almost entirely in figure fitting Qipao (Cheongsam) dresses in the film. Since 1950s to 1960s Hong Kong was the height of popularity for the Qipao, she became one of the most chosen garments for many famous actresses and singers who led a frenzy of fashion-ability...in other words, most girls took to wearing a Qipao daily in a wish to be as beautiful and glamorous as the stars they saw plastered across calendars as well as posters. On a different side of the geographical page, the Qipao (or Cheongsam) began captivating a Western audience when Jennifer Jones wore a Qipao in almost every scene of the Oscar winning film 'Love is a many splendored thing' (1955), and Butterick 1950s Cheongsam style dress patterns (vintagepatterns-Cheongsam) started appearing for ladies who wanted to tap into the new trend. [For more information on 'Love is a many splendored thing': en.wikipedia.org/Love_Is_a_Many-Splendored_Thing_(film)] So by the time 'The World of Suzie Wong' was released in 1960, it further enforced the Qipao's fashion-ability and the iconic look of Nancy Kwan in a tightly fitted Cheongsam became imprinted in the minds of many...take a look at Nancy dancing Cha Cha in the 'World of Suzie Wong' to see why:

Source: pdxretro.com/2011/05/nancy-kwan-is-72-today

Source: nancy-kwan.com/nancyX8 

Source: nancy-kwan.com/nancy517 
Originally taken on as an underwriter, Nancy was surprised with the leading lady role in 'The World of Suzie Wong'...interesting enough it seems luck took her on a path of discovery through most of her life. Born to an English fashion model mother Marquita Scott and Hong Kong Chinese architect father Kwan Wing Hong on the 19th May 1939, Nancy Ka Shen Kwan is an interesting Hollywood siren to say the least! Having survived World War 2 with her family and her parent's divorce at a young age, she was a spirited child who learned Tai Chi, enjoyed horse riding with her pony and diligently aspired to be a ballerina with hours of ballet practice every day. Studying at the prestigious Royal Ballet in London, she performed in Swan Lake as well as Sleeping Beauty, gained a qualification to teach ballet and eventually returned to Hong Kong to start a ballet school. Though not intending to become an actress or singer, she was spotted by Hollywood producer Ray Stark whilst in Hong Kong...a screen test followed and the twenty year old Nancy was then signed and sent to further her training as an actress...so the rest pretty much became history!

Video (above): Nancy singing the 'Cloud Song' in the 'World of Suzie Wong' (1960).

Source: wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/95/Nancy_Kwan's_screen_test_in_The_World_of_Suzie_Wong.jpg 

Publicity photo in 1960s
Source: nancy-kwan.com/nancye4 

Publicity photo in 1960s...Nancy Kwan with her father Wing Hong Kwan.
Source: nancy-kwan.com/nancy537 
Source: www.toutceciestmagnifique.com/world-of-suzie-wong 

Suzie Wong propelled her to stardom! Nancy being half English was made to look even more Chinese in the 'World of Suzie Wong' as there were complaints that she did not look Asian enough. After Suzie Wong became a box-office hit and she was awarded a Golden Globe for 'Most Promising Newcomer- Female', Nancy starred in the first all-Asian cast big budget American film the 'Flower Drum Song' (1961). Here is a video of Nancy doing a dance number in the 'Flower Drum Song' with the jazzy pirouette of a brilliant dancer:

The Flower Drum Song (1961)
Source: www.tvguide.com/celebrities/nancy-kwan 

Source: www.whosdatedwho.com/screen-stories-magazine-united-states-december-1961 
Nancy worked through marriages, parenthood and family duties...appearing in over 50 films, 2 television series, several audiobooks, Tai Chi video and documentaries throughout her career, as well as being a film sreenwriter and executive. Perhaps one of her more notable projects is the film 'Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story' (1993), as she played a big role of shaping and appearing in the film which was fueled by her personal friendship with the late Bruce Lee and his family. To reveal a little more about this interesting lady behind the Suzie Wong dress, who McCall's magazine named 'The China Doll That Men Liked' in 1962, here is short clip from the 2010 'To whom it may concern' documentary about Nancy Kwan's life:

Source: nancy-kwan.com/nancy415 
Famous Vidal Sassoon bob - Vogue 1963 by British photographer Terence Donovan.
Source: fashion.telegraph.co.uk/photographs-Terence-Donovan 
One last fascinating bit is known as 'The Kwan' ...in 1963 Nancy was spotted with a new daringly geometrical short bob designed by London's Vidal Sassoon that caused quite a stir and the 'Kwan bob' was featured in both the American as well British Vogue editions (photographed by the late Terence Donovan) starting off a frenzied following! Hopefully you darlings have enjoyed reading this post about an interesting Hollywood siren who has been compared to the great Anna May Wong...I must say a big  THANK YOU for all the wonderful comments as well as likes on my previous 1950s inspired Batik Qipao look (Part 6 of 'Qipao Love')...I can't even begin to tell you how much your kind support means to me! Also I finally had my first Qipao Tea Party to celebrate Chinese New Year with a few friends...we had a marvelous time with a beautiful pot of Blue Blossom Earl Grey as well as a spot of red velvet cake at Camellia's Tea House in Covent Garden (London). [You can catch up with the photos on the Timothy Ward Photography Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/Qipao-Tea-Party] And, if you happen to be in Asia or have been enjoying the last celebratory fifteenth lunar day of the new year (which was Sunday)...Happy belated Chinese Valentines Day!

Until the next time,
May xx

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For more on my 1950s inspired Batik Qipao look in Part 6 of 'Qipao Love':


  1. Beautiful post - from the gorgeous dresses, to Nancy Kwan...the videos were wonderful - thanks for sharing. Here's to a wonderfully creative week - Tanya

  2. There is so, so much ravishing beauty in this post. I'm so impressed by your depth of knowledge about qipao. Forgive me if I mentioned this in a past comment (I can't recall if I did, or if I just thought it to myself), but I think you could seriously write a book about the history of qipao at this point, darling gal.

    ♥ Jessica

    *PS* Thank you very much for your caring, lovely comment on my vintage outfit post this week. I really appreciate that you shared with what you did.

  3. WOw, i've never heard of her before but she looks stunning!!! Thanks for introducing about Nancy Kwan!!=D and you look lovely as well darling! Hope you had a fabulously Chinese new year! But by the sounds of it, i'm sure you had a fab time at Camellia's Tea House with your friends;)


  4. wow honestly i have to say i never heard about nancy kwan, but she looks so outstanding beautiful!!! i adore especially that yellow qipao!!! and the hair is beautiful!
    love and kiss,mary


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♥ May xx
E: walkingdivinelyinmay[at]gmail[dot]com