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Barney’s HOT!

- Dina Sta. Maria () - January 27, 2002 - 12:00am
The "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" gown that Michelle Yeoh wore to the Oscar awards two years ago made even Hollywood heads, jaded by glitter and glitz, turn. The gown–a take on the cheongsam (now known by its politically correct term qi pao) entirely beaded with crystals–featured a tiger-striped bodice that ended with a flying dragon on the hem. It was a fitting fashion tribute to the movie that made Hollywood take Asian movies seriously.

And it may be the dress that makes the international fashion world take Barney Cheng, the Hong Kong designer who created the gown, seriously too. Cheng is better known for making expensive society wedding gowns (the father of one bride is reported to have been presented with a US$50,000 bill for his daughter’s various wedding day dresses) and distinctive numbers for Hong Kong’s tai-tais, those ladies who lunch with deep–very deep–spousal pocketbooks.

The beeline for his atelier in the Central district of Hong Kong is long, and he now has a ready-to-wear line of luxury (read: expensive) leisure wear. While the line features very wearable separates and dresses, Cheng is still best known for extravaganza.

This architect-turned-designer splashed onto the Hong Kong fashion scene by winning the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s Young Designer Award in 1993. Since then his carefully crafted creations have found a loyal following. "My clients are this little coterie of people that love, love luxury, wanting stuff that other people don’t have," explains the crew-cut Cheng. "My regulars are not necessarily the easiest people to deal with but they are from a certain walk of life that are used to being pampered... I try not to aggravate them too much, but they do come for my designs so they will listen to what I have to say."

His pampered clientele includes, aside from Michelle Yeoh (for whom he also did another show-stopping number that featured a metal mesh bikini under a fluffy taffeta skirt for her promotional appearances for the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies"), Chinese actress Gong Li. Cheng did Gong Li’s wedding gown–a three-layered chiffon cheongsam with fresh water pearls and beads from the neck down to the knees. He also did one of her costumes for the movie "Chinese Box" where she starred opposite Jeremy Irons.

His ramp shows live up to his high glitz image. His 150-model extravaganza in Beijing’s Forbidden City was surely one of the most memorable, as was the one that featured a US$250,000 diamond-encrusted wedding gown as finale.

But Cheng claims his inspiration often comes from rather pedestrian things. "I travel a lot and just being in a place can be inspirational," he says. "It is everything and anything from here, there and everywhere. I look at the food, how the people live, what they wear..."

You can bet your beaded cheongsam though that not many of the people from here, there and everywhere will be wearing a Barney Cheng.

BARNEY CHENG BUT CHENG CHENG CHINESE BOX FORBIDDEN CITY GONG LI HONG KONG HONG KONG TRADE DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL JAMES BOND MICHELLE YEOH
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