Ning Baizura’s ‘fling’ with a homegrown label results in a fashionable collection for curvy women.
SHE breezed into the Valiram office like a modern-day Cleopatra: dark eyes a-blazing, and loosely curled tresses flying in the air.
“I forgot to bring my shoes for the photo shoot. Maybe because it’s the start of Ramadan; I’m not thinking straight!” wails Ning Baizura, who possesses the intangible gift of looking every inch the glamorous diva no matter what she wears. Today, it’s flip-flops and jeans.
It is this very star quality that propelled Ning and her explosive vocal cords to fame more than 15 years ago, and the reason why she’s been chosen to collaborate with a homegrown fashion label.
But we’re not just talking about any fashion brand.
With its provocative tagline “You Got Curves?”, FLOW is the brainchild of fashion glitterati Lavina Melwani-Valiram.
Lavina, whose husband runs The Valiram Group, one of the luxury retail behemoths in Asia, had dreamed of a label that would look good on real women with real bodies, and not just size-zero waifs with legs that could rival those of a praying mantis.
The end result was FLOW, a veritable take on what clothes would look like if Kim Kardashian, and not Kate Moss, was its model.
It didn’t take much to convince Ning to become creative consultant for FLOW. This 37-year-old entertainment powerhouse, who counts Donna Karan, Donnatella Versace and Marc Jacobs among her favourite designers, always had a weakness for fashion, especially vintage shoes and accessories. One could even say that she first honed her creativity when she was a teenager, sketching various ensembles in a book, which she’s kept hidden away since.
Somewhere along the way, though, a transformation took place. Ning became a household name and, in the 90s, it was almost impossible to flip through a magazine without seeing that bodacious bod, that come-hither smile. As soon as her first big pay cheque rolled in, she splurged on a flowy dress by DKNY – a piece she’s kept till this very day.
“Donna Karan was one of the first designers that I connected with. She’s so versatile, and she really knows a woman’s body. Her dress reminds me how far I’ve evolved with fashion,” says Ning.
Soon, well-known couturiers like Michael Ong and Rizalman were scrambling to dress her. But Ning hasn’t been indiscriminate, gobbling up every trend; hers is an intuitive and nuanced symbiosis with fashion.
“One of the first designers I wore was Rizalman,” she says. “I showed him what I wanted my red-carpet dress to look like, and we worked together to come up with something that flattered me.”
Given her experiences, Ning isn’t venturing into completely unfamiliar territory with FLOW. However, she claims that playing creative consultant is “a longer process”.
“It’s like having a baby!” she exclaims, laughing. “You start with the designs, you choose the materials, and then you wait for two or three months to see the samples. You alter the samples and change what you must. You’ll only get to see the result six months later. With singing, I can control the delivery. I’ve got no control over this, though, but I suppose that’s what makes it so thrilling.”
For curvy or plus-sized women, the rules of fashion are short but strict: wear muted shades; avoid large prints; stick to simple silhouettes; horizontal stripes are your enemy, not your friend; spandex is a privilege, not a right.
But Ning – who carries her own curves with enviable ease – is a fierce individualist. She believes that rules and trends are made to be broken, and her capsule collection of 12 signature outfits, cheekily called Ning’s Fling, is the perfect synthesis of this mantra.
Save for the minimalist caftans and tunics, her collection boldly defies any fashion convention. It’s awash with eclectic prints, vibrant shades and glittering sequins. Paired with Ning’s favourite material – she’s been gushing non-stop about the wonders of jersey – these clothes are made to skim beautifully across a bountiful booty or shapely thighs, rather than constrict or hide it.
“I think everybody’s an hourglass,” she says. “No matter how small or how big you are, if you’re a woman, you still have that frame. It’s only a matter of how you accentuate it.”
To prove her point, she later dons a lovely cardigan from her new line, with black-and-white zigzags that transform her body into an abstract painting. That’s the thing about her collection; they are fun, flirty, glamorous, a little wacky, but most of all, unabashedly Ning. Everything (and yes, we mean everything) is below RM300 because Ning believes “fashion isn’t supposed to be expensive; it should be something everyone is able to afford.”
“I tend to work a lot with my emotions,” she says. “Even when I’m thinking creatively, I have to feel ‘it’. That’s why I love colours. In my collection, I try to incorporate colours that accentuate your figure and your mood.”
But she’s also trying to send a message to the world at large with her clothes – that “women don’t have to be a size four to love their bodies”. She alludes to a recent conversation with Lavina, who had mentioned that “when most women walk into her boutique, they walk in with an oversized man’s shirt and zero self-confidence”.
“But Lavina says when they walk out, they’re smiling!” she says.
Working with different women’s associations has also opened Ning’s eyes to how dire the situation is. “I find that Malaysian women, in general, lack confidence. We don’t have many role models we can look up to these days,” she says.
Believe it or not, Ning knows what it’s like to feel uncomfortable in her own skin. Having worked in an industry that doesn’t take too kindly to plus-sizes since she was 15, she’s had her own demons to deal with.
“When I first started, I was size 12 or 14,” confides Ning. “I always had an inferiority complex because I didn’t have the image the record label or the media wanted. There was a lot of pressure for me to look smaller and thinner so I worked out a lot and watched what I ate.”
It was a really tough time for Ning, who had to regularly keep up appearances even though she was unhappy. “People see me as this happy and jovial girl but they don’t know what I had to endure. Deep down, I was eating myself up,” she says.
Nevertheless, Ning has come to terms with her body. She knows she will never be a size six, and is completely fine with it. She credits her parents, especially her mother (whom she calls a “pillar of strength”), for this remarkable turnaround.
“She’s always been very positive with me and she was the one who told me, ‘Look, do not let society bring you down. People are going to judge you whether you like it or not. Let’s start eating well and let’s be healthy, you will eventually reach your goal,’” she says.
Ning hopes to be to other women what her mother has been to her: an inspiration.
“I want to reach out to more women and let them know how important it is to accept themselves. Twenty years of singing has taught me that, if you respect and accept yourself, you can move forward and embrace everyone around you,” she says.
Ning is also getting more sanguine with age. She’s got her glamorous moments all right, but is more than happy to kick back in a pair of flip-flops these days. “Some outfits are glamorous but I feel like I can’t sit more than an hour in them. That’s why I always bring along at least three different outfits to an event, just in case the dress I have on doesn’t feel right,” she says.
Ning has other dreams. For one, she wants to own a lifestyle brand someday, just like model-turned-fashion entreprenuer Kimora Lee Simmons (“Family planning has always been a priority this whole year but I have two (step) daughters, just like her!” she quips).
She’s certainly a few steps closer to achieving her goal of becoming an entrepreneurial juggernaut, with the recent establishment of HappeNings, an event company. Eyes twinkling, she says: “I’d love to work with FLOW again. I want my clothes to be instantly recognisable, and for women to look at it and go: ‘Oh, that’s Ning’s Fling!’”
> Ning’s Fling pieces are priced from RM139 to RM299. The festive collection is now available at all FLOW boutiques (1-Utama, Selangor; Suria KLCC; Pavillion Kuala Lumpur; and Metrojaya, Midvalley Megamall, KL). Sizes range from US8 to 18.