I recently found this old Vogue sewing pattern on eBay. Serendipity!! I love to sew and I love the 1964 “如来神掌/Palm of Ru Lai/Buddha Palm” wuxia series, so of course I was overjoyed to find this beautiful embroidered summer dress pattern.
After my discovery of this sewing pattern, I did some quick internet research that yielded a bit of amazing history. It turns out that the “Buddha Palm” series became popular with Vogue designers in London, Paris and New York immediately after its 1964 release in Hong Kong theaters. Rushing to emulate the beauty and tradition of Jiang Hu Martial Folk, in 1965 American Vogue introduced “Ru Lai”, a complete summer line of wuxia-inspired women’s wear.
One of the outstanding innovations of this classic-meets-contemporary pattern line can be seen by the staggering number and variety of “status hat” patterns sold. Affluent, carefree girls and women of the era were eager to reflect the most creative cutting edge of fashion, and Vogue helped them liberate traditional Chinese head wear from its strict, creativity-stifling purpose of signifying rank and position. Women wearing all shapes, colors and sizes of home-made wuxia-inspired millinery swarmed American streets, beaches and dinner parties, making “Ru Lai” hat pattern #6829 the second most successful American Vogue pattern sale of all time (not surprisingly, the 1925 “Pirate Girl Pretty Buccaneer Knee Socks” pattern still holds the record).
The “Ru Lai” pattern line remained popular until social and political upheaval rocked the United States in 1968. As women became more concerned with silly things like civil rights, feminism, political assassinations and the Vietnam War, the popularity of the “Ru Lai” line waned and was replaced by rebellious micro-mini skirts and psychedelic prints.
The “Ru Lai” patterns may be gone but they are not forgotten. Although the revolutionizing of American millinery is its most enduring legacy, the entire “Ru Lai” clothing line evokes a timeless sophistication and luxury rarely seen today. Pattern #6771, which I was lucky enough to obtain, is a masterpiece of subtle deconstruction. This summer dress is based on the fabulous magical “Fiery Cloud” tunic worn by hero Long Gim Fei’s teacher Fiery Cloud in the “Buddha Palm” series. Several versions of the tunic appear in the “Buddha Palm” series; Sifu Fiery Cloud’s luxurious formal version, belted and detailed with bold striped yoke and armholes, is pictured below. His magnificence is enhanced by the addition of an essential style accessory: a head of huge furry white “hair”.
As the photo below indicates, Fiery Cloud’s hairstyle was quickly adopted by 1960s American women. His influence cannot be denied.
Tragically, Vogue dress pattern #6771 seems to be the only extant “Ru Lai” sewing pattern. Even simple cover illustrations from the pattern line are hard to track down. However, there is some indication that there were until recently a few intact copies of the silk pants suit pattern (#6484) based on Yu So Chau’s beautiful travel outfit.
The complex combination of fabric prints and textures, along with the skill level required to sew piped applique chest details and a bejeweled butterfly bonnet, probably made this look very difficult for the average American home sewer to achieve (not to mention that open-carrying a Chinese long sword is illegal in most states). Yet the challenge must have inspired many 1960s women to use all their skill and imagination in creating their own lavish “Ru Lai” travel outfits. Never since has the navigating of streets, grocery stores and universities in New York, Ohio, Maine, Oregon and Alabama been so stylish.
With the increasing availability of digital archives, stylists and designers remain optimistic that images and pattern details of the lost “Ru Lai” line will soon be made available by American Vogue. Meanwhile, home sewers who have been blessed with a precious copy of Pattern #6771 are happily choosing fabrics and contrasting embroidery threads to make their very own Fiery Cloud Summer Dress. The legacy of the beloved wuxia series “如来神掌/Buddha Palm” lives on. Long may it reign.