Heather Guo bridges cultures through Cheongsam fashion

NYU student Heather Guo founded a boutique for traditional Chinese dresses.
Heather Guo wears a blue cheongsam, showing how to secure it properly. She is standing in front of two clothing racks.
Heather Guo, an NYU Junior, stands in her own Cheongsam store “Xiangjiang Silk Company.”

Heather Guo, a 22-year-old NYU junior double majoring in art history and classics, is the curator and owner of Xiangjiang Silk Co., a unique vintage cheongsam studio in the West Village. Guo names her store after the Chinese region Hong Kong, which Xiangjiang is an alternate name for. Inside, an exquisite collection of Cheongsam dresses — also known as Qipao — graces the walls and racks. Each dress is a living testament to the enduring beauty of Chinese tradition.

Interior of Heather Guo’s store, with Cheongsam dresses displayed on both sides and a fitting mirror in the center.

“I was well-versed in 1950s and 1960s American fashion during my high school years, but traditional Chinese attire from the same era was surprisingly unfamiliar to me,” Guo said. 

Later in high school, one of her collector friends introduced her to a treasure trove of Cheongsam dresses, igniting her fascination for blended Eastern and Western fashion.

Guo believes that Cheongsams encapsulate the dedication and creativity of women from the twentieth century. The original Cheongsams were designed for men. The term “Cheongsam” is a romanization of the Chinese word “长衫,” meaning long robes. As feminist consciousness rose in the 1920s, Chinese women abandoned their traditional and cumbersome clothing, turning to Cheongsams instead. Over time, women have made significant improvements to the original male version of Cheongsams.

“These dresses transformed the wide, flowing silhouettes of traditional Cheongsams into more form-fitting, figure-flattering designs. The addition of side slits allowed for greater mobility while showcasing the graceful curves of women,” Guo said. “The meticulous craftsmanship and innovative design that went into creating Cheongsams spoke volumes about the women of that time.”

A blue cheongsam dress sold at the store.
A 1960s blue satin brocade cheongsam made in Hong Kong.
Several dresses of various colors hang on a wooden rod.

Guo’s passion for Cheongsams eventually led her to buy a substantial collection, and upon starting her undergraduate studies in New York, she received a shipment of more than 200 Cheongsam dresses from Hong Kong. Sharing these treasures on social media, she discovered a significant interest in them, particularly among Chinese students who longed to connect with their cultural heritage abroad. Despite the interest, Guo noticed an absence of Cheongsam stores in New York, inspiring her to take matters into her own hands.  

Guo’s store sells both vintage dresses and her own designs. During a gap semester, she tapped into her network of collectors in Hong Kong and California to source Cheongsam dresses and fabrics. She traveled between New York and China during breaks to work closely with tailors, whom she worked with to ensure the pattern and quality of the dresses.

A green summer-style cheongsam featuring traditional Chinese bamboo and plum blossom patterns.
A green summer-style cheongsam featuring traditional Chinese bamboo and plum blossom patterns.
A Devore cheongsam, laid out. It is black and purple, with some gold too.
A stunning Devore cheongsam, known for its intricate patterns created by selectively removing the fabric, making it an ideal choice for cooler seasons.

Guo’s store isn’t just a place to buy Cheongsam — it provides an immersive experience. She has painstakingly decorated the space with vintage items, including antique carpets, retro Hong Kong posters and rattan lounge chairs. Visiting Guo’s store for the first time can be a captivating journey through time and culture. Each decoration seemed to whisper stories of the past, creating a welcoming and evocative atmosphere. It wasn’t just about buying a Cheongsam, it was about immersing yourself in an unforgettable experience that celebrated the beauty of tradition and the allure of nostalgia.

Hong Kong fashion magazines from the ‘70s, one of which featuring a female model in a cheongsam dress on the cover.
A Hong Kong fashion magazine from the ‘70s.
A Barbie doll dressed in a gold and white cheongsam.
A limited edition Barbie doll celebrating the return of Hong Kong, dressed in a gold and white cheongsam.
Various colors of silk threads for simple needlework tasks.
Various colors of silk threads. Guo and her staff use these threads for simple needlework tasks like button sewing and mending.
Three pairs of embroidered shoes placed on a carpet.
Three pairs of embroidered shoes, a common complement to the cheongsam.
A woman wearing a blue Cheongsam dress glances back in a hallway. The wall by her side is decorated by a collection of vintage magazine covers and posters.
The walls of the store are adorned with a collection of vintage magazine covers and posters.

What sets Guo’s store apart is her commitment to preserving the authenticity of Cheongsams. “We refuse to make any alterations to the vintage dresses,” Guo said. “Recognizing them as perfect representations of women’s wisdom and the passage of time. Each vintage Cheongsam in our store is unique, reflecting the personal choices of its original owner, from cut and color to collar and cuffs.”

Heather Guo wears a blue cheongsam, showing how to secure it properly. She is standing in front of two clothing racks.
Guo demonstrating the proper way to wear a cheongsam.
A customer wears a 1960s green satin brocade cheongsam.
A customer wears a 1960s green satin brocade cheongsam.

Guo’s store operates on an appointment-only basis. Customers who want to buy Cheongsams have to make an appointment with her a week ahead of time to secure a slot.  

“On weekdays, we accommodate three clients per day, increasing to five on weekends,” she said, emphasizing the importance of giving each customer enough time and attention to find the right Cheongsam for them.

A woman sits on the floor of a room at the end of a hallway, eating a bowl of noodles.
An over-the-shoulder view of a woman in a red dress mending a piece of clothing with a needle and a thread.
Xiran Liu, an employee in the store, skillfully mends a cheongsam with a missing button.
Guo uses a vacuum cleaner to clean the vintage carpet in her cheongsam studio.
Guo uses a vacuum cleaner to clean the vintage carpet, a style dating back to the 1920s, after the last customer leaves.

On top of studying and running her store, Guo is also an actor in Chinese Opera. At times, she feels overwhelmed by her busy schedule. 

“I messed up a lot at first, always finding myself past all kinds of deadlines and due dates,” Guo said. “But I am first and foremost a student, and I am trying my best to figure out the best way to balance my work and study.” 

Guo leans on a pillar in front of Bobst Library, wearing a green Cheongsam dress.
Guo wears one of her favorite cheongsams to school, and to combat the cold weather, she's layered it with a knitted cardigan.
Heather Guo picks up a beef from a steaming bowl with a pair of chopsticks in a restaurant.
With her tight schedule, Guo usually grabs a quick dinner at a restaurant midway between school and the store.
Heather Guo studies on a bench in Bobst Library.

“To me, Cheongsam is a versatile and timeless fashion choice, perfectly suited to modern living,” Guo said. 

Contact Zhuoer Liu at [email protected].

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