It’s the mid 1990s, and way before internet shopping was to become a thing. In a big international city like Taipei, there was of course no shortage of both local and global fashion brands. For those who were after something unique, quirky yet affordable, there were other options too, what we called the 舶來品店 – Shop-of-Foreign-Goods (SOFG) for the not-so-main-stream shoppers’ satisfaction.
Selling handcrafted jewellery from Nepal and India or high-street fashion from Hong Kong, these were the boutiques that held the most interest for me back then. Every visit to those stores was like an exciting treasure hunt. The whole shopping experience was personal, you built a relationship with the store’s owners, telling them what you liked and what you didn’t. This explains why I had a drawer of exotic earrings and a collection of one-of-a-kind outfits in my wardrobe… well, for a decade at least!
Amy, the shop keeper of the SOFG I went to most frequently, was a woman in her late 20s. She had a business partnership with a flight attendant and, this was a very common scenario for this kind of stock. That’s how the foreign goods were acquired – via the air hostess as fashion buyer! I remember very well the day I spotted this Carwash Pleat Dress (very on trend in the ’90s, read my previous post here) at Amy’s. Even though I did not need one more dress, I wanted it.
The thing is, I could see the ‘flowers in bubbles’ print and the gold buttons would go very well with my black suede belt; with it’s gold metal statement buckle in the new moon shape. Yes, mix and match, I thought of these things when doing my window shopping. And what’s the chance to find a perfect match between these two items – and one I already owned! Since everything was truly one-off here, there was no other size to compare. I was trying to find other information such as fabric, the whereabouts of where this frock was made… but there was none. Amy seemed to be reading my mind, she said:
‘This is a runway piece, designed and made by a fashion graduate in Hong Kong. You won’t find a second one in the world!’
‘So now I’m really interested!’ But I didn’t tell Amy that, though I suppose she already knew. Without hesitation, I went and tried it on behind the curtain. It fitted! Did I want an exclusive dress that no one else in this entire world could ever have? Absolutely! It did not even come across my mind to bargain. I bought it. She wrapped it. It was mine.
The next few years were the golden age for my Carwash Pleat Dress. It had become a look I relied on; an ensemble I felt was closest to fully expressing myself. I saw my first The Phantom of the Opera in Hong Kong wearing it. I dressed in it when celebrating the release of my first novel for young adults, which was published in Taiwan. I have many photographs and memories from wearing it… and that’s why I couldn’t bear to part with it when exchanging my time living in Taipei for Sydney in late 1999. A drawer of exotic earrings and fashion jewellery were donated or given away, but I was not leaving this dress behind…
Year 2021 marks the 27th year since I bought my Carwash Pleat Dress in Taipei. But what is it that inspired me to share my slow fashion journey with this garment after all these years? For you who are interested, please head to White Caviar Life for the full story.
Mid ’90s photoshoot on location in Taoyuan County, Taiwan, by photographer Tsong-Chii, Lynn.