With Hari Raya just around the corner, Malaysian designers talk about how traditional wear has been modified over the years.
Pushing the boundaries, the Bernard Chandran way
Couturier Datuk Bernard Chandran has always been known for his extravagant runway creations, signature workmanship and meticulous detailing. He started his “Petang Raya” Collection in 2006 to bring the classic Malay garment to a whole new level.
“After a few years of showing at London Fashion Week, I just wanted to break out of my comfort zone. I felt the need to showcase our traditional wear abroad and invite the press for a viewing so they would understand that the baju kurung is our heritage. But of course, I put my own twist to it,” says Bernard.
According to the designer, the women who wear his creations are unafraid of fashion and appreciate current styles, but still respect culture and traditions. So he was inspired by the thought of playing on a traditional feel but giving it an international flavour.
“At that time, nobody in Malaysia was doing it, so it was a good time for me to initiate that move,” he explains.
Malaysia’s ‘King of Fashion’ has consistently introduced new design aesthetics to his Petang Raya Collection, and during the interview, he happily showed off a few notable pieces from his archives.
“The 2006/2007 collection was very feminine. It had a 1970s style, complete with a matching scarf for the baju kurung. The fabrics I used were mostly silk chiffon and I included ruffles and printed paisleys to the designs,” he recalls.
The following year, he upped the ante with bright hues. “I used solid colours like sorbet orange and lime green in our 2008/2009 collection, made from silk jersey. I love to manipulate fabrics and darts, and incorporated origami detailing onto the big, voluminous sleeves. The collection used jewels as part of the embellishment to create a very luxurious touch,” Bernard says.
“For 2010/2011, feathers and lace dominated the whole collection and the colours were slightly darker. I used silk organza, crystals and rope as part of the embellishments. I wanted that year’s Petang Raya to have structured and geometrical cuts, but at the same time remain light and soft,” he shares.
Bernard goes on to say that he revamped the baju kurung silhouette and was inspired to create a collection similar to menswear, but with a tailored, feminine cut.
“I used fabrics such as linen and leather that are lightweight and very modern and edgy, plaster-like zippers.’’
His current Petang Raya range is sporty and well-tailored and, as he says, “can make anyone wearing it feel young and comfortable.”
“This year, it has a burst of neon colours. There are lace-on-lace designs and lace patching with a very sleek finishing. I also added pockets and pleats to the collection. I reshaped the silhouette of the baju kurung, introduced fur into my designs and updated the kerawang. The embellishments include crystals on stripe patterns.” .
“It’s important to come up with something new and not be afraid of pushing the boundaries,” he reiterates.
Melinda Looi’s spirit of giving
Known for her signature avant-garde style, multi-award winning designer Melinda Looi’s successful foray at the Islamic Fashion Festival (IFF) in 2007 gave her valuable insight into designing muslimah wear and modern pieces for her Raya collections.
“When we started our first Raya collection, it was just a small capsule line in which we used a lot of embroidered organza with lace. It was very feminine and demure, and we invited Deborah Henry to model it,” Looi recalls.
The former Miss Malaysia Universe and Miss Malaysia World title holder was the first of many local celebrities to don Looi’s festive offerings for promotional campaigns.
“We received very good response, so we then added the ‘mini me’ baju kurung with sizes for little girls to match their mothers’ outfits … and Maya Karin was the face of that collection.”
In 2013, Emel (pronounced eh-mel) by Melinda Looi was born. “To kick it off, we were inspired to incorporate a lot of prints like batik. The collection had a very traditional cut with a hint of edginess. We played with a lot of colours to keep it looking young, modern and trendy,” says Looi.
The name is derived from the Arabic word “amal” which means hope, expectation and aspiration. In Malay, the same word means doing a good deed. To go with the tag, Emel collections are conceived in collaboration with local celebrities and are used as a means to give back to society and encourage the spirit of giving in the month of Ramadan. A percentage from the sales is donated to a charity chosen by the celebrity every year.
“For the 2014 collection, we teamed up with Diana Dianelle. She is soft-spoken and kind, so her personality fits the collection very well. Again, we played with a lot of prints that were specially designed for the collection and we used lace as well. Popular colours from that collection were royal blue and emerald green.”
Looi works on new prints every season, and says lace is her favourite material and she uses it generously in all her collections.
This year, Emel consists of an even bigger range. And it has all of Looi’s favourite things in it.
“We worked with Liyana Jasmay and came up with a collection that is romantic and sweet, just like her!’’ quips Looi. “The detailing comes in the form of lace and sequins. We also collaborated with Emma Maembong who is cheeky and funny, so that collection is more edgy and plays with vibrant colours and prints.”
How does the designer come up with new ideas for these festive ranges?
“We do follow the trends but it is important to not go too far,’’ she says. “I believe we need to respect the concept of Islamic wear, and keep to our culture and traditions. I try to retain the baju kurung, baju Kedah and baju Johor silhouettes. Soon I plan to incorporate the baju kebaya as well.”
There are plans for Emel to expand globally as Looi believes the designs will appeal to not only Muslims, but anyone who wants to look “modern and modest’’. The collection is currently also available in Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Innai Red banks on its niche appeal
Innai Red, a bespoke fashion label under the Innai Group, was launched in 2012 to offer personalised, contemporary yet elegant designs to its discerning clientele. And it looks like celebrity appeal is not lost here either – its first campaign was Innai Red Beraya Bersama Nora Danish which was conceptualised that same year to create more brand awareness.
“We were a young, fresh brand in the industry. Hence, we chose Nora to be our muse as she too was a fresh face and we knew she could make a huge impact for our brand,” says brand founder, Izrin Ismail.
According to its designers, Juliani Jamal and Arene P. Khairudin, the first Raya collection was a mixture of their personal styles.
“That year, the peplum design was the craze. So we followed the trend, but we reinterpreted it with our own styles and cutting. We believe in being modern, but of course we want to still keep the traditional elements in a baju kurung. It was very refined and sweet-looking as we had a lot of crystals and pearls to highlight parts of the pieces, especially the belts,” Juliani says.
Arene adds, “We used European brocade, chiffon and silk crepe so the collection had an exclusive look to it.”
The designers also go the extra mile to create a unique colour palette for the collections. Pastel colours feature prominently in its Raya campaigns, but there is an assortment of colours to cater to varying tastes among their customers.
“In 2013, we thought we should keep the look young and fresh, so Siti Saleha was definitely a good face for our brand,’’ says Izrin.
“That year, we updated the silhouettes of traditional wear and revamped the kebaya design. The tops had the kebaya fold in front, but the silhouette had a peplum cut. We also created an off-shoulder piece, with lace as the neckline. The embellishments were more edgy with chunky beading,” Juliani adds.
Nur Fazura was the face of Innai Red’s Raya campaign in 2014. The collection was more mature and sophisticated to portray the thespian’s strong personality and style.
“We introduced pleats, organza trimmings and cluster embellishments to enhance the details on chiffon, charmeuse, crepe silk and french lace,” Arene says.
This year, Innai Red takes it one step further with its Floraya collection featuring Juliana Evans as its muse. This range incorporates details such as feather peplums, petal formations, frills and asymmetrical hemlines into youthful semi and loose-fitted modern kurungs. Best of all, it comes in breathable linen and features boxy, trapeze cuts which offer some room to manoeuvre with all the festive eating!