Malaysian fashion designers have definitely made their mark on the red carpet, carving out a niche in the world of international haute couture. Besides appearing on the catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York, their designs have been worn by members of the British royal family, Hollywood stars, heads of state and other luminaries.
Whether it is Michelle Obama wearing a pair of Jimmy Choo’s at her husband’s historic presidential inauguration or Lady Gaga dressed in a Bernard Chandran creation at an awards show, Malaysian fashion has become a worldwide success. Staying true to their roots, these brands regularly inject local flavour into their designs and all have stores at home.
Dubbed ‘Malaysia’s Prince of Fashion’, Bernard Chandran is a former student of the prestigious Paris American Academy in France. Clothes are infused with bold colours and draw inspiration from Malaysia’s multicultural influences. The collection is made up of complex, traditional Malaysian costumes with modern touches, as well as contemporary dresses, coats, tights and shoes with traditional embellishments.
Besides being a favourite among local celebrities and members of Malaysian royalty, Bernard Chandran’s creations have also been worn by Hollywood stars like British singer Estelle at the 51st Grammy Awards and Lady Gaga at the 2009 Brit Awards.
- Location: Fahrenheit 88
Dexter Wong is a brand of menswear, women’s fashions and accessories that fuse crisp cuts and vivid colours. Bridging the gap between more outlandish designers and mainstream styles, in a word Wong’s creations can be called ‘loud’ and have been worn by the likes of David Bowie and Robbie Williams.
Some of the label’s more eccentric and elaborate pieces produced for the catwalks are often adapted to become wearable couture creations. The brand also has a modern, ready-to-wear collection (People’s Market), plus Dexter Wong designs for Lens, an in-store collection for Topman: both lines have more reasonable prices than the couture pieces.
- Location: Top Shop, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur Shopping Mall
The Edmund Ser label started out offering made-to-measure women’s office wear, and has since grown into something of a local fashion institution. Through retail and franchising the label has been sold in Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
The brand, launched in 1986, features snappy cuts and modest styles. Ideal for white-collar ladies, colours play a big role in the collection but more importantly, they are made to be comfortable for all-day wear. In 2002, Edmund Ser launched a more affordable alternative label called Spade, which targets a younger clientele with funky designs.
- Location: Suria KLCC or Pavilion KL
Farah Khan’s bright, funky and modern, ready-to-wear designs are meant for sophisticated women on the go: the type of clothes you can pack into your suitcase easily and wear later without fuss. The secret behind their versatility is the type of material used and the intricate embellishments that makes them stand out.
Chic and stylish, these clothes are perfect for parties but they can even be worn to big events like weddings. Each design is named after a famous person, so do not be surprised to find you are wearing a Lopez or Katie dress. Anna Kournikova, Kimora Lee Simmons, Maria Sharapova, Paris Hilton and Rashida Jones are just a few of the celebrities spotted wearing Farah Khan.
- Location: Suria KLCC
House of Toi by Zang Toi
Zang Toi is a Malaysian-born graduate of the Parson’s School of Design – the same place that saw the likes of Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Norman Rockwell and Anna Sui walking through its halls. The House of Toi label was set up in New York in 1989, offering modern dresses, suits and sarongs. Today, the House of Toi’s collection has expanded to include fashion frills such as belts, handbags and shoes.
The label’s smart, stylish party dresses are meant to appeal to women opting for a bold, dramatic and glamorous look. The New York-based designer’s creations have been worn by Hollywood superstars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Eva Longoria, Patti LaBelle and Sharon Stone.
- Location: Lot 10, Great Eastern Mall and Pavilion KL
The designer at the helm of Jendela KL, Faisol Abdullah, is the same man who designed the Nightingale – the world’s most expensive dress (a $30 million silk and taffeta evening gown encrusted with 751 diamonds). Jendela KL’s collection is a celebration of heritage with traditionally-inspired styles that are designed to stand out: batik prints, muted colours and bold patterns feature prominently. Jendela is not just an atelier, but a lifestyle-concept brand with a range of furniture. The brand’s fashion collection is just as suitable to wear for Sunday brunch as for an evening at the theatre.
- Location: Starhill Gallery or Pavilion KL
The Jimmy Choo Ltd label is said to be the last word in the business of high-fashion shoes. Noteworthy for creating stylish designs with sexy cuts and exceptional Italian craftsmanship, Jimmy Choo’s list of past superstar clientele includes Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, Kylie Minogue and Madonna. From leather mules, pumps, boots and sling backs to strappy evening sandals and four-inch heels, his pieces sell from between US$1,043 – US$12,019 a pair.
- Location: Level 2, Pavilion KL
Lewre is a Malaysian footwear label with a feminine collection ranging from simple and elegant sling backs to edgy, avant garde peep toe pumps, all done with style and elegance. Lewre has over 90 stores worldwide, and besides stand-alone stores in KL’s shopping malls, the collection can also be seen in major department stores such as Jusco, Parkson Grand, Isetan and Metrojaya.
When William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, visited Malaysia a while back, Kate was presented a delicate pair of black lace peep toe heels from Lewre – a testament to the designer’s popularity and appeal.
- Location: Parkson Grand, Pavilion KL
Melinda Looi is a Malaysian designer known for her creations that mix modern and vintage styles and draw inspiration from Malaysia’s rich cultural diversity. The award-winning designer has three collections: a couture line (which uses the finest quality materials such as French lace and silk-chiffon), a ready-to-wear line specialising in evening cocktail dresses and a collection dedicated exclusively to casual wear.
Featuring lots of bohemian flair, Melinda Looi clothes are great for those who want that romantic yet individualistic look. Using a soft colour palette, plenty of intricate embellishments and flowing fabrics, the styles are vintage and romantic. Her list of past clients includes socialites, royalty and Hollywood celebrities such as Britney Spears, Cameron Diaz and Mena Suvari.
- Location: Suria KLCC
Salabianca is a home-grown brand that has managed to turn its quirky, elaborate and fairytale-like collection into a success. Walking into the store is an experience in itself with chandeliers, plush Renaissance-style sofas and bold splashes of colour.
Unafraid to mix and match patterns, and somehow make it work, the clothes are a hotchpotch of styles: some are cute and chic, while others are classic and dreamy. The common denominator is that all have lots of beadwork and embellishments.
Each design can be bought as a stand-alone statement piece – meaning you will never need to buy accessories. The collection is suitable for weddings, a Chinese New Year reunion dinner or even just afternoon tea, plus they are affordable – especially considering the intricate handcrafted patterns, beading and embellishments on each dress.
- Location: Pavilion KL
Where to Find Them?
The best place to find these brands is within the Golden Triangle area, where most of the city’s shopping malls are. Pavilion KL and Starhill Gallery are all about high-end luxury and have the latest collections from international and local designers. In the KL city centre, Suria KLCC, at the foot of the Petronas Twin Towers is worth checking out for its mix of both one-off concept boutiques as well as local and designer fashion labels.