Malaysian fashion designers pay homage to tradition this Chinese New Year

Inspired by Peranakan culture, Melinda Looi's designs comprise broad-shouldered garments with wide sleeves, V-necks and buttoned-up collars

Celebrating the Chinese New Year calls for a fresh start – especially fashion-wise. From head to toe, all clothes and accessories must be new, in order to welcome the year on an auspicious note.

That said, classic silhouettes have not lost their appeal. Designers are still looking at traditional wear for inspiration. Cheongsam and qipao, for example, remain well-loved staples.

This then leads to the question – can the designs be given a fresh, contemporary and fashionable feel? If the fashion collections we have below are any indication, the answer is yes, indeed.

All it takes is the right eye for balancing old and new. Some designers are turning to modern fabrics. Others have incorporated runway elements like oversized sleeves or tassels for their creations.

The Innai Red label puts modern accents like the fringe-hem to good use.The Innai Red label puts modern accents like the fringe-hem to good use.Go for bold

Melinda Looi is no stranger to pushing boundaries. As a designer, she is long known for her avant-garde designs that are bold and loud. Her latest Chinese New Year collection is no different.

The style and grace of a heritage past is reflected in the designs. Inspired by Peranakan culture, they comprise broad-shouldered garments with wide sleeves, V-necks and buttoned-up collars.

Sarong skirts or wide trousers that define that era are also highlighted. The collection is said to capture a romantic and nostalgic mood often seen in vintage photos of Peranakan families.

“For this Chinese New Year, people are looking for something fresh yet traditional, ” Looi says. “Our ladies would either dress in classic silhouettes with funky prints or have rich quality materials in quirky silhouettes.”

She adds: “Teal, mint and yellow are the few colours that are in trend at the moment, which fits perfectly with the Baba Nyonya theme. The use reflects how colourful their lifestyles were, from the kuih to ceramics.”

For Looi, nailing the perfect look for the festivities is all about being confident. She says that it is always nice to see families dressing up according to a specific theme for the festivities.

“If you’d like to keep it simple, go for an A-line dress. If you’re going all out, stick to the classic cheongsam but go loud with accessories. Anything gold or emerald green will go great with red.”

Nothing is trendier than oversized cape sleeves and culottes. For Khoon Hooi, it is all about making timeless designs look chic.Nothing is trendier than oversized cape sleeves and culottes. For Khoon Hooi, it is all about making timeless designs look chic.Chic choices

Other designers like Khoon Hooi and Izrin Ismail (of the Innai Red label) have also unveiled Chinese New Year collections that draw from elements of tradition and heritage.

For Izrin, it is the scenes of florals and foliage of paintings, as well as a modern lattice pattern inspired by bamboo, that she focuses on to give her designs that extra special feel.

A mix of fabrics and textures are incorporated into versatile staples – qipao that double as a top over jeans – plus comfy silhouettes like the shift dress or travel-friendly fabric that is perfect for Malaysian weather.

The Innai Red label’s signature ruffles, beadworks, peekaboo sheer organza and peplum details make an appearance, done masterfully to respect the traditional silhouette while showcasing modern relevance.

Different pieces are designed in a variety of sleeve lengths and hemlines – again to offer style and practical versatility. Each piece is completed with handmade Chinese buttons for the full ode to tradition, but in a glamorous way.

Khoon Hooi is also focusing on the qipao for his collection. Aside from his gorgeous bespoke pieces, he offers six contemporary ready-to-wear variations of the traditional outfit.

He says that his designs are inspired by the artistry and opulence of the artefacts and antiques of the Chinese dynasties of ancient China. Pearl buttons and crystal adornments are used extensively.

Also making an appearance on the fabrics are iconic Chinese symbols like the crane for longevity and peace, the magpie or xi que for happiness, and peonies from the Ming dynasty.

That said, Khoon Hooi is embracing new silhouettes and modern elements. These include dramatic puffy sleeves and pleated mermaid skirts, as well as ruffled hems, buckled bows and cape-like sleeves.

According to him, his creations are made for all women. There is a variety of cuts, from the figure-hugging qipao style to a relaxed shift shape. Women who prefer a trendier look can opt for culottes instead.

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