Feature: The young & restless

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Anandhi Gopinath and Elaine Lau present the buzz on the up-and-coming designers who will showcase their creativity at the 2009 Malaysia International Fashion Week which kicks off on Nov 4
When the Malaysian International Fashion Alliance (Mifa) announced the 2009 edition of the Malaysia International Fashion Week (M-IFW), the biggest news was that the KL Six was no more. While The Edge has had the pleasure of hosting the gala event that presents the elite clutch of six KL designers for three years now, we are pleased to see that these established designers have graciously given way to highlight the skills and abilities of the next generation of fashion creators.

A perusal of the jam-packed M-IFW 2009 schedule revealed quite a few names that are relatively unknown to the mainstream fashion market, and it soon emerged that many of these brands are headed by young designers who are just in their 30s.

This year's fashion extravaganza — the seventh of an annual series — will be held from Nov 4 to 8 at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, and includes a wide selection of daytime fashion showcases as well as evening galas that feature international, regional and local designers.

Options managed to catch three young designers — Syaiful Baharim, Amir Luqman and Alin Anuar — in the midst of preparing their collections for their respective M-IFW shows, to find out what their story is and how they have transformed their life’s calling to an artform.
Syaiful BaharimIn Syaiful Baharim’s reserved nature, there is a great deal of personality brimming. He chooses his words carefully and is economical in his replies to our questions and queries, and yet each explanation is informative and expressive without being overly effusive. This is a man who understands that fuss and frills often don’t work, and keeping things simple is the best way to go.

As a designer, that quality is a prevalent trait. Syaiful’s ready-to-wear collection, which he debuted last year, was sheer simplicity at its best, relying on clean silhouettes and classic, timeless styles. “I like that sort of look,” he says. “Simple, easy to wear… I make clothes for real women to wear, and to wear again.”

Syaiful runs his own boutique, specialising in custom designs for an exclusive clientele. Prior to that, the fashion design student from Universiti (then Institut) Teknologi Mara (UiTM) was working under several other major designers in Malaysia and in other fashion-centric cities like Tokyo, Singapore and Jakarta.

“After university, I was winning a lot of awards,” he recollects. “I participated in a lot of competitions and surprisingly, I won. So, tentulah I would keep at it. My first award was second prize at Piala Anggun Rias, organised by the Utusan Group in 1998… it made me realise that I was actually good at all this. In 2002, I won Jarum Berlian at the same awards, and that really opened a lot of doors for me.”

Syaiful’s first foray into M-IWF was way in 2004, when the fledgling designer was just starting out. As a testament to his vision and creativity, he won two awards that year: Best Casual Wear and Best Avant-Garde. In 2005, he went on to beat designers from around Asia to take home the grand prize at the prestigious Mercedez Benz Asia Fashion Awards in Singapore, what he considers his biggest achievement thus far. The following year, he decided to “get real” and set up shop on his own.

His sense of style is less the flamboyant, loud variety of couture, and more the simple, elegant variety. “My stuff is simplicity at its best, with a touch of couture,” he says. “I follow trends, of course, as it helps me ensure my stuff isn’t outdated. But I make clothes for real women to wear, and of course it has to be something that works with whomever wears it.”

While his practical side keeps the business running, his artistic side — Syaiful loves sketching, and as a young boy, used to sketch his mother dressing up — comes alive when he does one-off couture collections. “While I love Tom Ford for his commerciality, I love Alexander McQueen for his artsy stuff,” says Syaiful. “Couture is for me to exercise my creativity and push the limits in directions I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. And it’s something I really enjoy doing too.”

The collection that he is presenting at the Bumiputra Designers Association (BDA) Gala exemplifies both his commercial sense of styling and his sense of artistic flair with a couture collection called Une Soirée Enchantée. Taking inspiration from old-fashioned French styling and putting it in a contemporary context allowed Syaiful the generous use of flowing fabrics and graceful silhouettes. Delicate lace crinolines and fluffy skirts are both girlish and elegant, while soft pastel colours allow shapes to emerge strongly.

“Couture is my playground,” says Syaiful. And oh, what a playground it is for him.
Catch Syaiful Baharim’s showcase at the BDA Gala on Sunday, Nov 8 at 8pm.
Amir LuqmanAt the 10 Rising Stars showcase at last year’s M-IFW, which featured young, up-and-coming designers, one collection stood out from the rest — Amir Luqman’s. His New York-inspired spring/summer collection was chic and sophisticated, with a touch of edginess to it, and yet still fun and flirtatious. Amir’s distinctive creative vision was well-communicated and his technique meticulously executed in his billowy blouses, asymmetrical tops and toga dresses. They all pointed to an impeccable sense of style and design.

Suffice to say, Amir made an indelible impression, and not just with local fashion enthusiasts. Earlier this year, he was invited to present his collection at a glitzy launch event in Jakarta. His collection of ethereal and sensuous jewel-toned dresses were “simple in terms of cuts and draperies, but at the same time, drenched in the ultimate touch of elegance and sophistication”, as one fashion blogger put it. The stunning collection had the blogosphere heralding Amir as the next big thing to come out of Malaysia.

Over an email interview, Amir reveals how he became a fashion designer, saying that the call of fashion was just too strong to silence. He was initially an interior design student at a local university, but halfway through, decided to pursue fashion design at the International Fashion Training Centre instead. “I’m just more passionate about doing fashion,” he says simply.

Amir describes his design philosophy as making the type of clothes that others don’t do but that does not sacrifice on practicality and wearability. His clothes “perform in every aspect, are edgy and never out of style, and they stand out by simplicity and effortless classiness”. The kind of woman he designs for is “edgy, sexy and classy”, he says. Like all creative types, anything and everything can and does serve as inspiration for Amir, from the personality and character of a person to his surroundings and nature.

His strong collection at last year’s M-IFW didn’t go unnoticed with the organisers, so much so he has been invited back this year for not one, but two showcases at M-IFW: the opening show called Curtain Unveil, and the Bumiputra Designers Association Gala (BDA Gala).

Concerning his design inspiration for the collection he will be showing at Curtain Unveil, he says: “The theme is ‘Back to School’. When I tell people that, they tend to visualise Britney Spears and her (You Drive Me) Crazy video. Actually, Back to School is inspired by personal memories during my school days.” The first creation of his to be shown down the catwalk will be worn by Japanese supermodel Ai Tominaga.

Clean, basic cuts, with ample details can be expected, and a range of fabrics from wool and cotton to jersey and silk in vibrant hues and muted pastels are used. There will be no shortage of tulle, a material that Amir says he loves experimenting with.

With this collection, he hopes to be branded as a trendsetter. An ambitious aspiration, to be sure, but not entirely unreachable. Judging by his past collections, he is well on his way to becoming one.
Catch Amir Luqman’s showcase at Curtain Unveil on Thursday, Nov 5 at 11.30am, and at the BDA Gala on Sunday, Nov 8 at 8pm.
Alin AnuarIt’s easy to be taken in by Alin Anuar’s girlish charms and egregiousness, but behind that impish smile is a woman with a keen sense of business acumen and an eye for style and design.

For Alin, becoming a fashion designer and entrepreneur was the most natural thing to do... it was simply a matter of following her passion. As she tells it, her foray into fashion began nine years ago. At that time, she was working at an IT company in Singapore.

“I started to think seriously about my future and thought I should start something I like. It’s just natural for me to be in fashion. I love to dress up and get dolled up. So, I established Asian Atelier International with the little money I had. But I had big plans,” says the vivacious lady.

Asian Atelier started out as an online retail outfit with one label — her “first baby”, Alin says — called Chantiq Skaly, which specialises in kebaya. Chantiq Skaly makes different kinds of kebaya, such as traditional Nyonya and Malay kebaya, and bridal kebaya, as well as funky, contemporary and casual kebaya-inspired clothing for the young, trendy crowd.

“I love kebaya. I don’t know what not to love about it. I have always been obsessed with kebaya since I was little. Its just in me,” says Alin.

She has two other brands under the Asian Atelier umbrella: ChantiqChantiq Purse, a line of vintage-inspired and Asian-influenced clutches and purses; and Alin Anuar Couture Shoe, which as the name suggests, offers bridal and bespoke shoes.

Asian Atelier also houses two Indonesian labels, a line of accessories designed and made by Alin’s younger sister, and wedding planning and bridal consultancy services.

While Alin has showcased her creations at international exhibitions and at the 2006 International Singapore Fashion Week, she is making her debut in Malaysia at the 2009 M-IFW.

“Debuting in Malaysia, it’s very exciting,” enthuses Alin, who cannot keep the exhilaration out of her voice. “I’m happy to be showcasing at home. People sayang you more in your own country.”

Alin’s kebaya-inspired collection is definitely one to look out for. She wanted to give the ethnic costume a wider appeal and greater relevance by creating a fresh, new interpretation of the cultural dress but still keeping its essence. What she aspired to do for the kebaya can be compared with what Shanghai Tang has done so beautifully with Chinese ethnic costumes.

Her creation is what she calls simply as the kebaya dress. “It’s a dress, made to follow the kebaya silhouette,” she says. “I will be showing 18 looks.”

Fifties Flirt is the theme of the whole collection. “The 1950s, what comes to mind to me is Audrey Hepburn. I love her sense of style. The cutting of the dresses, everything is at the waist — basically, the silhouette follows most of Audrey’s dresses,” says Alin.

She also designed matching tri-buckle, Mary Jane shoes and clutches, and got her sister to make French net hats. The overall effect is contemporary Malay dress, with a chic European feel. “It’s very naughty as well,” she says.

Alin uses Thai silks for her dresses — “because of the richness of the colours”, she says — and French lace borders in some. Intricate beadwork accentuates the dresses.

“I would like to show my versatility, what I can do as a designer, but this collection, it’s about me, what I like,” says Alin.  “It’s colourful, vibrant, very me. It’s about what I believe.”
Catch Alin Anuar’s showcase at An Afternoon Affair on Thursday, Nov 5 at 3.30pm.
This article appeared in Options, the lifestyle pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 779, Nov 2-8, 2009