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Designer's Musings:
The Peony Pavilion 《牡丹亭》青春版 
12 April 2024
Esplanade Theatre

A Love Story That Was Ahead of Its Time


The Magic of Kun Opera

Behind every Fuchsia Lane collection is an inspiration. And we take our inspiration seriously. Sometimes I question myself on the economic worth of researching so deeply on the inspiration when other brands run their businesses more profitably by churning out new designs weekly, sans inspiration or soul.


However, to stay true to our vision of reviving cultural legacies with modern fashion and living, we want to understand what makes the legacy significant and it means unearthing the beginnings, the rise and flounder.


The latest FL collection is inspired by Kun Opera, The Peony Pavilion, which took over a year to prepare. I have a childhood fascination with Chinese Opera, mesmerized by the delicate gestures, intricates costumes and ornate make up and headgear of the performers. By diving deeply into the subject matter, I found out Kun Opera is one of the oldest forms of Chinese Opera and which Peking Opera and other schools eventually developed from.


Kun Opera is known to be more refined and poetic. The Peony Pavilion written in the Ming Dynasty was one of the masterpieces. Written by famous writer Tang Xianzu of the Ming Dynasty, he was likened to the Shakespeare of The East. But before writing his works which are bizarre depictions of dreams, he was a scholar who retired early disillusioned with the politics then. His talent in writing shone after he retired.


The Peony Pavilion is a moving love story between a Scholar Liu Meng Mei and Lady Du Li Niang which happened in a dream, and eventually they overcome life and death to be together, and this was very forward thinking few hundred years ago. In those days, ladies of rich families did not have much say in their life and most had not even stepped out of their maiden room till marriage.       


This was also the reason that I picked this as an inspiration - to delve into great minds who were forward thinkers in those era. This Kun Opera would be feminist by today’s standards. Kun Opera like all forms of traditional performing art started to decline in the recent decades due to more instant gratifying entertainment today.


However, the performers started training as young as when they are toddlers. And before going on stage, they had to go through hours to put on the intricate make up and heavy headgear. I hope we can continue to preserve this precious art form. Nowhere is there such art form, that combines poetry, singing, acrobatics and acting.


I was overwhelmed with excitement to know that The Peony Pavilion by the Suzhou Kun Opera Troupe is coming to Singapore to perform in April. This abridged version is celebrating its 20th anniversary of performance that caters to more youthful audience and edited by famous writer Hsien Yung Pai. Of course, I had to buy the front row tickets where I can feast my eyes on their stunningly embroidered costumes and graceful performance.


I also had this wishful thinking I could interview these national performers on their hardships and hopes so as to be able to admire the fine embroideries on their costumes. I hope an in-depth interview could reveal more about this craft which youngsters now know little of. Undaunted, I contacted people whom I know.


Finally, I approached Minister Sim Ann. I know her as a culture and arts lover who actively supports local designers, whom I am so grateful for. She put me through with the help of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Embassy to speak to the troupe leader. I was full of hopes to be able to contribute a little to promote this legacy.


Sadly, the troupe leader told me plainly Esplanade does not allow outsiders into the backstage.  So here are the images that I could take on my own. The 3-hour performance was definitely a visual feast which I cannot get enough of. The props although simple was more than compensated for by the vocal prowess of the performers singing the poetic lines in articulate gestures that I previously could only read in the books. Despite being in the second row and about 10-20 metres away from the stage, I could tell with the drape of the fabrics that the costumes and the embroideries are fine Suzhou masterpieces.    


Embroideries have always been our signature. I look forward to exploring Suzhou embroideries in our works and seeing these costumes upfront somehow in the near future.

​Vivienne Ong-Lin

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