Malaysian fashion returns to life with physical runway shows

  • Style
  • Wednesday, 17 Nov 2021

Guests are once again being treated to the excitement of physical shows. Pictured here are models walking the Kit Woo runway. Photo: KLFW

With crowds of guests come the humdrum of excited chatter as physical runways make a big return to the local fashion scene. After more than a year of going digital, designers are once again putting on grand shows to wow and impress.

They are betting on the return of glamour. This hinges on the prediction that people will want to dress up again – now that lockdowns have eased.

The recent Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) saw numerous big names unveiling their latest collections. As models strutted and sashayed, the clothes served as a reminder that, indeed, style never dies.

On the fringes of it, events are mushrooming. The launching of new boutiques marks a transition to normalcy, as is the return of walk-in customers with stores opening up their doors again.

Postings on social media show fashion insiders celebrating their reunions at runway events. The act is welcomed as a joyous get-together of long-time friends, colleagues and industry peers, one not restricted to just mere video calls and text messages.

Read more: A look at the post-pandemic makeover of Malaysian fashion and beauty businesses

Covid-19 has not gone anywhere though. Models, while dressed to the nines, are seen with face masks on.

The talk is still of restraint. Safety remains a priority on everyone’s minds as well, but designs denote otherwise. They send a message of freedom, one that calls for Malaysians to dress up and bravely live life.

Gorgeous gowns, smartly tailored suits or cool streetwear, the season’s new clothes bank on the hope that consumers are tired of staying home wearing nothing but sweatpants and pyjamas.

Like the rest of the world, fashion in Malaysia wants to return to business – and nothing will stand in its way.

The return of physical shows reflect fashion's eagerness to live life as normal. Photo: Alia BastamamThe return of physical shows reflect fashion's eagerness to live life as normal. Photo: Alia Bastamam

It's time to move forward

For Alia Bastamam, she is just happy to see the Malaysian fashion industry open up again. The designer says that any small step towards recovery is a good thing, no matter how slow it can take.

“Although the shows and audience have been scaled down a lot, it is a positive sign to see interest for the new collections from our clients, friends and supporters,” Alia comments.

“To churn out multiple collections and doing shows at this time is not an easy feat, but all the support keeps us moving,” she notes, on how that it can be hard work to hit the ground running.

Her labels, the namesake Alia Bastamam and its more affordable diffusion line Alia B, launched their Resort 2022 collections at KLFW.

The former tracks her evolution as a designer in the past ten years, while the latter is about emancipation – whether a person is dreaming of a long-awaited island escape or a simple night out with friends.

Alia curated looks from past collections, but added fresh designs. She describes them as “a lipstick-sealed letter and full wardrobe” to her brand’s woman.

They range from breezy boleros to ruffled skirts that dance and sway, plus head-turning kaftans. That said, there are work-appropriate designs and even offerings for hijab-wearing ladies.

Alia sees a demand for holiday, occasion and party outfits from her clientele. It is the reason why she included everything: lounge wear, beach-ready getups, dresses to dance in and evening gowns.

“After being two years into the pandemic, I think everyone is ready to move forward – with the new-normal SOPs, of course!” she enthuses.

Another designer, Kit Woo, hopes that Malaysians will support more locally made goods moving forward. He sees this as a form of responsible shopping, which can help out companies here in the country.

“I believe yes, as social creatures, we will eventually swing back to full force, with physical shows or events,” he comments, about how glitz and glamour will again be at the forefront of fashion.

Nevertheless, his latest collection reflects on the futuristic aspect of life. It has a dark colour palette and carries embellishments like slashing, distressed fabrics and avant-garde oversized elements.

He says the collection took the longest to make, not because of its complexity or number of looks, but because of the pandemic.

He was inspired by the spontaneous schedule experienced during lockdown. It was not altogether a bad thing though as he had time to experiment, manipulate textiles and really develop the message.

Woo predicts that future demand for clothes will be rather balanced. He thinks there is a continuing need for dress-down, comfy home attire, but over-the-top, special occasion pieces will make a comeback.

“I think people would like to show off their style once in a while especially after this prolonged lock down, so there’s definitely room for some show pieces,” he points out.

Raring to go

Couturier Carven Ong says that it has been a very busy past few weeks. Since the reopening of economic sectors, he has witnessed a rush of appointments by clients.

Will fashion change now that lockdowns have eased? Photo: Carven OngWill fashion change now that lockdowns have eased? Photo: Carven Ong“I’m just very excited. There are so many things to follow up on. People are requesting for fittings. They are looking to get new clothes for big occasions like weddings and such – which they are planning for in the coming months.”

Ong will be showing off his Spring/Summer 2022 collection at the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur next month. He reveals that his designs this time around will be trendy, and less red-carpet glamorous.

“I am targeting 36 looks. Not too much couture style, and instead, more party dresses. The outfits will include Malaysian motifs and focus on local culture,” he says.

His last collection was unveiled digitally, but he prefers physical runway shows as he thinks they can create the right atmosphere. He calls them more “real” – and can help with how fashion is appreciated.

Ong is still mulling on whether to put all his models in face masks for his show.

The SOP he received so far only requires them to undergo a Covid-19 swab test. He has to also limit guests to a hundred headcount, plus downsize his team as backstage presence will be limited to keep everyone safe.

Read more: The year-end fashion season evokes happy dreams of far flung holidays

“Face masks can make styling models a lot more complicated. They are accessories, like bags and shoes, and need to be matched properly to the outfit in order to not look out of place,” he comments.

For his collection early this year, he included a range of couture masks. His campaign showed models wearing luxurious face coverings, which matched beautifully in their bold and standout colours.

“My last runway show was postponed and eventually cancelled when lockdowns came into place in May. So I’m really looking forward to this next one,” Ong quips.

A lot of other Malaysian designers are also planning their runway shows after months of focusing on digital presentations.

With the revival of global trends, it seems that fashion in the country is making a big comeback. Launches after launches are being penned into the calendar for the coming months. From gowns to suits, as well as bags, shoes and more, the industry seems to be alive and kicking – pandemic or not.

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