Why traditional designs are making a comeback this Raya

Melinda Looi designs play with standout and bold colours.

In the race to be different, we often see designers pushing fashion boundaries. Yet, it is sometimes best to stick with what works – especially when it comes to traditional wear for Hari Raya.

This year, we are witnessing a return to well-loved classics. The baju kurung, for example, is making a comeback. As a traditional design, it has once again become a staple in various designer collections.

For the founder of Innai Red, Izrin Ismail, it is a matter of finding a good balance between reinvention and not overdoing it with fancy or extra loud embellishments.

“In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of creations from designers that are over-the-top when it comes to baju raya. But more than that, they are often impractical,” she says.

Izrin Ismail still loves classic designs. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

“Two different types of prints, a big bow, beadworks, lace – even on a simple kebaya design – can look a bit ‘much’. A good balance is when a designer knows how to highlight one extraordinary focal point of an outfit.”

Izrin’s Raya designs this time around are fuelled by nostalgia. She is inspired by old Penang, back when women there would dress up in classic baju kurungs amidst iconic Peranakan shophouses.

“I like classic silhouettes because they’re timeless. Which is why almost every year, I’m dressed in a simple batik kurung for Raya,” she says, about her personal style choice.

“For everyone else, it changes year to year. Trends tend to evolve according to time and demand. It’s like a wheel. But for sure, we are currently seeing the comeback of the timeless, traditional silhouette.”

Not Going Overboard

Melinda Looi’s 2019 Raya designs similarly explore classic cuts. She focused her collection around two Malaysian patterns – the baju Kedah labuh and baju Pahang kebaya.

Melinda Looi thinks designers should not go overboard when redesigning traditional wear. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

“I have seen a lot of very modern designs out there, and I have done a lot of that too. This time, I want to remind everyone that we have beautiful cuts and silhouettes that we should embrace,” states Looi.

“All the amazing designs draw people together, and make the celebration more meaningful. Ladies look feminine and graceful when they wear traditional wear, and so do the men.”

When it comes to reinvention, Looi believes that designers should not be too creative. She says that it is one thing to modernise, but totally changing a traditional outfit defeats the purpose.

“We should always try to keep in mind the traditional cut and shape. To make them more current, we can just use modern fabrics or change some parts of the designs ... without running away too far from it,” she points out.

“I have seen a lot of baju Melayu which are being cut into sleeveless and short sleeves, or maybe even a totally different neckline. To me it has lost the meaning of baju Melayu, and has become more of a ‘baju modern’.”

Melinda Looi designs play with standout and bold colours.

Finding A Balance

According to Alia Bastamam, designers were indeed trying too hard to stand out. She however thinks that most of them have realised that this does not always work.

Alia Bastamam think that finding a balance is key to modernising classic designs. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

“For a while, many collections wanted to be the most different, the most forward and unconventional, but with so many collections doing this same thing, I guess everyone started looking back to tradition and finding inspiration there,” she states.

“Although, I’ve seen very traditional Malaysian fashion translated with a beautiful contemporary sense – even some with daring injections of modernity and sensuality.”

Alia has no qualms about presenting her own take on traditional wear. The baju Kedah top is her go-to base, of which she would add on modern detailing such as string fastenings or a kimono neckline.

“When I design from a traditional point of reference, I find ways to complement the idea, give it a contemporary step, find a relevant style to introduce and not completely deface the essence of the design,” she concludes.

Alia Bastmam celebrates the feminine aesthetic of traditional wear.

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