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<%-- Page Title--%> Special Feature <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 154 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

May 14, 2004

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A Truly
Stylish Asia

SRABONTI NARMEEN ALI
(Back from Kuala Lumpur)

With a global image of being an icon of the progressive east and at the same time, as being one of Asia's most "hip and trendy" metropolises, Kuala Lumpur is definitely the epitome of a perfect blend between eastern and western traditions. While staying true to their culture, the citizens of KL are also taking globalisation into stride, which was evident during the nine-day-long "KL Fashion Week," held from April 24 to May 2, consisting of a number of different events, ranging from all day workshops on beauty, to glamorous fashion shows. Organised by The Star Newspaper in Malaysia and presented by L'Oreal, this is KL Fashion Week's second consecutive year.

Linda Ngiam, Deputy Group, General Manager of Star Publications, says "Fashion week is still something very new -- we can now collectively be at pace with the international fashion world. People are now paying attention to Asia and we are increasingly getting recognition. Fashion in Malaysia is growing. The tourism industry has built a platform for designers. The Prime Minister's wife [Datun Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood] is a supporter of arts and culture and also is promoting Batik. We hope to be like other countries, in the sense that we will incite buyers to come from other countries."

With a guest list comprising of the glitterati of Malaysia including Ms. Malaysia--2003, Elaine Daly and actor Shamser Sidhu, KL Fashion Week offered its participants global fashion exposure in a number of ways. In contrast to last year, which featured mostly local designers and models, this year's Fashion Week was more inclusive of international designers and models. Participating countries were India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines, with the intention of taking Malaysia's fashion industry a step closer to the global market.

With this in mind, Star Publications organised all-day workshops on fashion and beauty, which gave tips on how to wear the right clothes, how to take care of your skin, and how to look your best. In a workshop conducted by Frederique Buffin, a lecturer at the Jakarta, Indonesia chapter of international fashion school ESMOD, participants got a sneak peak of upcoming trends in the Spring and Summer of 2005, providing an overview of current trends and the future direction of styles.

The word on the street is that the 80's look is out and the 70's resort (long pant legs and sarongs) and 50's tourist (big skirts, jackets without buttons, capris) looks are in. Think bold: the flag motif (which gives a sporty flavour to the outfit), stripes and graphics (for a more urban feel), flowers (for the feminine, girly look) and madras prints (for the exotic look). Fabrics range from chiffons (for an ethereal touch) and shiny glamorous silks, to a more toned down and earthy rough look, which is termed "plastic bandage" because of the way it feels. To add that extra touch to your outfit, try ruffles, feathers or glitter, but let go of the lace, because it's no longer in. Experiment with contrasting and using bright colours. At the end of the day, your image portrays who you are, so stay true to yourself, above all else, which seemed to be every designer's final say on fashion.

In defining style philosophies and theories during a workshop titled "From Plain Janes to Vamps/From Plain Joes to Stylish Dudes", Mervyn Ho, Division Manager for Hugo Boss in Malaysia, says, "Fashion is not necessarily style but style is definitely fashion." He adds that fashion is the ability to "express one's individuality and personality through your clothes." The workshop ended with the make-overs of two volunteers and in conjunction with the above philosophy, the stylist executed subtle changes in their appearances, instead of just following trends without considering the person's original sense of style.

"Fashion is an attitude," says Malaysian designer Sayfol, whose collection this year focused on designs from the 1920's, emphasis on black with splashes of colour. "No fashion designer can change you or make you into something you are not, because fashion comes from within, from inside. You cannot wear something that is not you, because fashion expresses who and what you are."

'Who and what you are' does not always depend on individuality -- surroundings and culture, which many designers at this year's fashion week exhibited, are also influential. Playing on the "east is exotic" mentality, models at the fashion shows strutted down the catwalk in a variety of outfits, ranging from mini skirts in local prints to sarongs and conservative, but glamorous styles for Muslim women, using the hijaab or as it is termed in Bahasa Malaysia, the tudung'.

Four local designers this year worked within the Muslim modes of dressing. Their motto is "given the right fabric, colour and design, Muslim fashion can be trendy." Designers from boutiques Melor's Apparel, Boutique Ratu and Sri Munawwarah showcased their take on Contemporary Fashion for Muslim Women on the last day of Fashion Week in the KLCC Concourse Centre. The sight of hijaabi models clad in outfits similar to chic salwar kameezes -- be they glitzy bridal wear in chiffon with sequins, or casual, comfortable, but snug attire in local cotton fabrics and textile prints -- was a refreshing, yet dramatic change from the daring outfits they had worn in previous fashion shows.

Designer Michael Ong, whose collection this year also concentrated on styles for Muslim women, is "inspired by the local scene of Muslim girls wearing the tudung." His show began with a dance sequence by twenty little girls in one-colour sequined sarongs and long white shirts carrying baskets full of flower petals, to throw on the runway.

"Islam is part of our Malaysian culture, so it's important to incorporate that into the fashion industry here," says designer Amanda Loke, who has been in the fashion industry for over ten years. Malaysian by birth but based in Hong Kong and London, Loke has offices in Greece, Malaysia as well as boutiques of her line Aman Darling in St. Tropez, France. She specialises in luxury resort-wear and beach-wear. She believes that "simplicity is the key. My designs are practical, as well as feminine, stylish and cool." Since her clientele ranges from young women in their twenties to middle-aged women in their forties and fifties, she designs "for everyone."

Loke's collection this year featured a variety of cotton capris with bright multicoloured bikini tops, chiffon halter dresses in bright pink with orange lining, loose kurtis and sheer sarongs and crocheted long dresses, hot pants and mini skirts.

For Tom Abang Saufi, a local Malaysian designer who has been working in the fashion industry for eighteen years, bringing Malaysian culture into the global market is equally important. Her collection this year featured the signature ethnic motif of swirls -- a symbol from the ethnic group, Orangulu, -- using sheer fabrics. Because she is influenced and inspired by the art of wrapping and tying (sari and sarong-style) she does not use fastenings and zips. "I always design things that tie like sarongs, because they are user-friendly," she says. "I love doing an unorthodox mixing of colours. Fashion to me is a passion, which evolves all the time. I think designers have gotten very good feedback from Malaysians and as long as we keep up the production and standards of our work, there is no reason we should not be able to compete globally."

Apart from bringing Malaysia to the global fashion sphere, KL Fashion Week, also gave both local and international designers a chance to interact with other fashion aficionados and designers, and allowed them to open up new lines of communication with each other.

This was Chinese designer Wu Haiyan's first time in Malaysia. Having a "strong preference for silk," her collection this year included silk gowns, sparkly tops, tutu skirts with ruffles, sheer fabrics with inciting diagonal-shaped cuts on the backs of her gowns and high slits on the side. Adding to the funk factor was one particular outfit, in which the skirt was half layered and half rope-like straps. Looking forward to opening a new market in Malaysia, she hopes that MODA (Malaysian Official Designers Association) will work together with the Chinese Fashion Association to exchange information, marketing and other relevant news.

KL Fashion Week carved out a mark for Asia's fashion industry in the global scene. Supported by the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia, Shopping Malaysia Secretariat and Kuala Lumpur City Hall, The Star's official and media partners also included Malaysia Airlines, Shangri-La Hotel, DHL, Fujifilm, TV3, Radio Era, China Press, Nanyang Siang, Harpers Bazaar, The Malaysian Women's Weekly and Monorail Multimedia.

Originally a regional newspaper when it came out in 1971, The Star now has a circulation of 300,000 all over Malaysia. It became a national newspaper in 1976 and was the first Malaysian newspaper to start an internet edition in 1995. Supplements and other publications of the Star are: Kuntum (an educational monthly magazine for children in Bahasa Malaysia), Shang Hai (a business magazine in Chinese) Galaxie (an English magazine for young adults) and Flavours (a magazine focusing on food and lifestyle).

To add to the pomp and circumstance of KL Fashion Week, famous designer Jimmy Choo, based in London, but never forgetting his home country, came to a few of the events. "This is a good exposure for Malaysians," says Jimmy Choo. "It's good for people to get an idea of what the new season is bringing and for designers to work alongside other international fashion figures. The most important thing to remember is to work hard and be yourself. Remain what you are."

Asian designers are learning that they do not have to compromise their culture and traditions to compete internationally. Fashion, at the end of the day, is all about expressing yourself and where you come from. Anything less would just be passé.

 
         

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