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Eternal blossoms made with silk and wire

Upsurge of interest in art of velvet flowers leads to a renaissance in ancient Jiangsu tradition, Lin Qi reports.

By Lin Qi | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-19 06:02

When Zhao Shuxian started working at an art and craft factory in Nanjing in Jiangsu province in 1973, the then 19-year-old was given the job of mastering the time-honored craft of making "velvet" flowers from silk. His goal was to be promoted to the designer's workshop where he would be able to make whatever he wanted, and earn a better living.

Five decades have passed since then. Today, Zhao is recognized as one of the few seasoned makers of this ornament, production of which is still done by hand.

His colorful silk flowers are popular with young women who have turned them into a new urban trend and share pictures on social networks. The undying floral ornaments have also featured in popular period dramas, on red carpet outfits, at fashion shows and in the new collections of luxury brands.

Velvet flowers made by Zhao Shuxian and his team embody a long-standing handicraft tradition in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The practice of wearing velvet flowers is believed to date to the Tang Dynasty (618-907). They were sent to imperial palaces as items of tribute during the reign of Wu Zetian, China's only empress, and became a popular hair embellishment for aristocrats and women serving at the court.

"It was common for court ladies to decorate their hair with flowers," Zhao says. "But fresh flowers are not available all year around, so gradually fabric flowers became a substitute."

The trend spread to ordinary people. In Nanjing, the commercial area near Sanshan Street and Changle Road used to be known as the "flower market", and was a hub of boutiques making and selling velvet flowers. The flowers were often used as hair decorations, brooches and ornaments by opera singers.

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