Can they step up?

BEJEWELLED kaftans, beaded gowns, gorgeous traditional wear, and generally distinctive looks are some of the hallmarks of Malaysia’s most successful designers. We can pretty much instantly recognise a Rizalman Rahman creation or a Radzuan Radziwill gown. Bernard Chandran’s pieces certainly stand out, as does Melinda Looi’s work.

But the industry cannot rely on a handful of big names to keep it going forever. What about the future? Are there any designers besides these “usual suspects” who could make their mark?

You tell us: On this page we showcase five designers whose names and work you might not be very familiar with. Check them out and tell us if you think they have the potential to step up to the plate.

Jasmi Rejab, 34

Jasmi teaches part time at SML Fashion Academy and is a senior lecturer on fashion design at Limkokwing University.

Initially, it wasn’t his ambition to become a fashion designer; architecture was his dream. Then he was introduced to fashion designing during his first year of an art and design course at UiTM and some friends took him to a graduate fashion show.

“I became so inspired and excited about fashion designing because I could see more perspectives in fashion that I could explore. I became determined to get into this field.”

And that he did, with a vengeance: he began entering all the fashion competitions he could find, locally and internationally. They drove him to always be different and creative and to come up with fresh ideas, he says.

“Many of the fashion competitions that I entered taught me to be very experimental in a lot of aspects. For me, ‘weird’ is unique, I think that’s why my collection is always different and experimental. I think that’s why people have begun to notice me in the industry.”

His personal style leans towards what he calls conceptual styling: “Structured and deformed is my forte, but don’t think it’s avant garde.”

While he specifcally designs for women ranging in age from 18 to 30, he feels that anyone of any age can wear his clothes. If you’re comfortable with yourself and can carry it off, why not, he says.

The woman he designs for is modern, strong, eccentric and futuristic.

Jasmi has been designing informally since the late 1990s. His most recent collection, called “Galur”, offers a sporty look for, in his words, “an eccentric, strong and active woman with a touch of masculinity. It’s basic, yet structured to make a statement.”

When the time is right, he hopes to open his own boutique.

“My dream is to be among the A-listed designers at the international level. I still need to learn a lot about the business aspects of this field, though, to become a successful business man.”

Mahani Awang says: Edgy and modern. This is one designer whose work I look up to because he is brave enough to think out of the box. Most importantly, he knows how to work with prints when constructing his garments.

Tom Abang Saufi says: Quite talented. I noticed him because when he first started, he had a “look” and designed his own fabric – quite deconstructed and edgy.

Faizal Hamid, 39

He is a fashion lecturer and consultant with a master’s in environmental arts (fashion) from Syracuse University in New York. He currently lectures in Fashion at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), consults on fashion matters and contributes articles on the subject to various publications.

“As far back as I can remember, I had an interest In fashion,” Faizal says. “I guess I always felt that I had it in me and that I had a place in the industry. If given a chance I really think I have a good chance of succeeding.”

Faizal has been to shows at fashion capitals such as Paris and New York and even had the opportunity to work with international fashion houses such as Christian Lacroix. And, he says excitedly, he will be holding an exhibition of his creations in New York in September – “Can’t wait!”

Everything inspires him, he says, although lately it’s been film, music and the arts. The woman he designs for has a firm grasp on her personal style, someone who is well-pulled together in an inspiring, original manner.

His label is very similar to his personal look, which is understated, refined and polished. While Faizal has designed on and off throughout the years, his other jobs kept him busy enough that he never had the time to come out with a proper collection – until he finally gave in to persuasion from family and friends and made a Spring/Summer 2011 collection.

“To tell you the truth, I did this collection for the love of the art, not to compete with anybody, and also because there were requests for my work from many of my friends living in New York.”

He calls his collection “Little Black Swan” and references the hit noir film, Black Swan, that stars Natalie Portman. Little Black Swan focuses on cocktail and evening dresses with intricate craftsmanship and chic flourishes. Luxurious fabrics and a modern perspective fuse a classic silhouette with a cutting edge aesthetic.

Mahani Awang says: Faizal is in a class of his own, his designs are sophisticated and focus on beautiful detailing, great fabrics and well- cut pieces. I’ve noticed that he loves to play with black and little black dresses – he showed me the ones he made for the New York market recently, and they are to die for!

Some of his appliques are placed in very unusual spots and create a fresh look. And, most importantly, he knows when to stop his beading, so it’s not too much or too little. This requires experience and a great understanding of style.

Khairi Sufi, 28

He started out as a fashion writer and freelance stylist for local magazines and production houses before landing a job as a visual merchandiser at British India after appearing on the fashion reality show, Project Runway Malaysia, in 2007.

Dissatisfied with his job, though, Khairi decided to start designing – and jumped into the deep end right away: “I needed to get noticed so I took the chance of dressing up celebrities for awards shows to get my name out there.”

The ploy certainly worked; another designer, Faizell Azraff, who was working in local boutique, introduced Khairi to the business and from there, “word of mouth spread and so did the orders”.

Khairi says he’s a lover of all things beautiful, from colours and fabrics to movies and even fairy tales. But he finds himself mostly inspired by Parisian women because he feels they exude a certain beauty and style that he wants to incorporate in his designs.

He favours designers like Valentino, Basil Soda and Chanel who maintain their individuality and use great techniques and styling to design clothes that real women would wear. He describes his label as elegant, classic, clean yet feminine, with a touch of glam: “There is draping and detailing in almost every design. Priority is given to the cut of each design to give shape to the wearer and accentuate each and every curve on a woman’s body without revealing too much or trying too hard.

“The workmanship, practicality and comfort are also important to me. I just love clothes that are sexy in a modest way – sheer sleeves, keyhole necklines, and skin tone dresses.”

Who does he design for? “Women who feel comfortable in their own skin, confident and powerful! Working women, celebrities, women of high society, entrepreneurs and even lecturers wear my clothes,” Khairi says, adding that most of his clients order custom designs from him for work, formal functions and even day wear.

“I admire women who take pride in dressing up to maintain a certain image.”

Celebs who have been spotted in his outfits include Sazzy Falak, Julia Ziegler, Marion Caunter and Fazura: “I admire these women for having great taste in fashion – they never fail impress the fashion crowd.”

His most collection was “Glitter & Gold” for the Stylo Fashion Grand Prix KL 2011 earlier in the month.

It consists of cocktail and evening dresses in red, black and gold. He uses chiffon, silk, lace and fully sequined tulle for a look that is classic and feminine.

“Each piece is sexy in its own way. This collection tells the tale of a woman’s inner desire to feel adored and be seen as glamorous in rich glittering fabrics that make her feel like a star!”

As for future plans, Khairi hopes to open a boutique in the city and become a household name: “Like Rizalman Ibrahim and Bernard Chandran. I’m sure that’s every designer’s dream.” He is also planning a ready-to-wear line and is considering Muslimah wear, as it is “very much in demand nowadays”.

“I hope to become a master at what I do and be respected for my knowledge and talent.”

Mahani Awang says: His designs are always elegant, classic and sweet. He sometimes gives them a romantic touch with nude colours (grey, beige, white) and black. His materials also create softness in his collections. His wedding collections are beautiful too. He is still a pretty young designer and I believe, given a little more time and if he continues to keep his focus, he’ll be staying around for a while.

Sandra Azwan, 25

He knew exactly what he wanted when he enrolled in UiTM: to hone his skills and start his own label – “I have always had the drive to create fabulous fashions.”

After completing his studies, Sandra set out to make his way in the industry, as he considers it a privilege to be able to continue chasing his dream of becoming a designer.

Sandra says he is inspired by the word “fashion” itself; it feeds him and inspires him to come up with creative designs. A lot of his designs are sparked by ideas that come through books, movies, music and architecture, basically anything that catches his eye. His main fashion influence is Balenciaga, specifically under Nicholas Ghesquire.

Sandra believes an outfit should reflect the wearer’s personality. His designs are about identifying the personality of a woman and making it unique and exclusive through design: “They are totally for fashionistas daring enough to experiment with novel looks and styles.”

He describes his label as fashion forward, modern, futuristic, feminine, elegant and sophisticated. His first collection, in 2007-08, was inspired by 1960s fashion and was called “In Love With Twiggy”. It was created for a MiFa (Malaysian International Fashion Alliance) competition. He went on to become one of the finalists for MiFA 2008. His final degree project in 2010 was inspired by Zaha Hadid’s radical approach to architecture and was called “Future Hybrid”.

Sandra’s latest collection, for Spring/Summer 2011, has futuristic elements and is all about modern life. Clean shapes and complementing patterns make for interesting silhouettes while the use of white and nudes gives the collection a certain simplicity and freshness, and adds elements of youth and audacity.

He wants to see just how far he can go in this field that he loves: “I try to challenge myself to exceed my boundaries, to make my label original and recognisable. And keep on having fun with fashion!”

Tengku Syahmi Tengku Mahmood, 21

His first exposure to the industry was when he was selected to participate in MiFA’s “10 Rising Stars 2009” project. He and best friend Jonathan Liang won the Most Promising Designer award that year, the first time the title was awarded to two designers.

The pair then met Tengku Chanela Jamidah of the We Are Ultra fashion collective at a “Chic Pop Street Market” event and are now working on expanding it into a fashion brand that will be called Ultra.

Tengku Syahmi says he can be inspired by anything, although he is particularly interested in seeing how people style themselves. As for the woman he has in mind when he’s creating, she is “fashion forward with a rebellious attitude that exudes confidence and an edge”.

“It’s always for this character in my mind that I try to develop season to season. It’s like creating different stories with the same character and what’s interesting about it is that I have the freedom to create anything.

“Ultra is about creating edgy, ready-to-wear clothes for the modern women. We’re trying to show that it’s possible to design something fashion forward using sustainable fabrics. She’s a modern warrior. She’s the Ultra woman.”

Ultra showed its Fall/Winter collection in Paris last March; it was the label’s second one.

“When we were discussing and planning for our Fall collection, one of the inspirations was the 1960s movie Blow Up. Especially the scene in which supermodel Veruschka appeared.

“Although her scene was just five minutes long, it had a huge impact on our designing process. Apparently, that movie was how she got discovered.

Ultra’s Fall collection toys with the concepts of fragility and strength and uses treated fresh water fish skin and salmon skin to add another layer of detail on the pieces.

Tengku Syahmi hopes to continue his studies abroad next year; he says it has been a long-running dream to be based in New York.

Azreezal Hafidz says: Practical and trendy, and the colours used are appropriate for the seasons. He understands the market.

Tom Abang Saufi says: Edgy and constructed; he’s among the new generation of Malay designers who has a true understanding of design. Good quality as well.

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