Rattan gown by fashion designer Melinda Looi is a tribute to Malaysian artisans


By AGENCY

Fashion designer Melinda Looi said the rattan weaving process itself took eight months to complete, Photo: Aina Abdul

The attire singer Aina Abdul wore when she performed at a recent event to celebrate National Unity Week 2024 was a real head-turner. It was no surprise that it drew so much attention as her voluminous gown was made of rattan – yes, the same natural material which is used in making furniture.

Maintaining the natural colour of the rattan and adorned with pink embroidery, the unique dress looked beautiful on Aina, who won the best vocal award at the 37th Anugerah Juara Lagu last year.

The gown was specially created by reknowned fashion designer Melinda Looi, in collaboration with rattan artisans from the Penan ethnic group in Sungai Tutoh village, Baram, Sarawak.

According to Looi, who has been involved in the local fashion industry for 20 years, the dress, which took almost a year to complete, is a tribute to Malaysian craftsmen and artisans.

The gown features hand-harvested and hand-plaited rattan by Erang Ipoi, Serina Melai and Supang Sigak, with the supplemental patterning produced by Mandona Jusely, and embroidery by Melinda Looi's daughter, Maya Luebbert. Photo: Aina AbdulThe gown features hand-harvested and hand-plaited rattan by Erang Ipoi, Serina Melai and Supang Sigak, with the supplemental patterning produced by Mandona Jusely, and embroidery by Melinda Looi's daughter, Maya Luebbert. Photo: Aina Abdul"It’s more of an art piece rather than a dress. I created this as an artistic inspiration and not as a commercial wearable outfit.

Read more: How designers like Malaysia's Melinda Looi are weaving heritage into fashion

"I hope this work can inspire the younger generation to appreciate and preserve Malaysia's heritage crafts. We must ensure our craftsmen, artisans and local businesses are able to sustain their crafts for a longer period," she said.

The fashion designer, who represented Malaysia at the World Fashion Awards and World Fashion Week in Paris in 2014, said her interest in the "ikat" textiles produced by the Iban community in Sarawak was also a significant motivation behind creating the rattan gown.

Elaborating on the dress, Looi said the rattan weaving process itself took eight months to complete,

"Another month was spent on the finishing touches. The most tedious and time-consuming part was the production of the rattan itself. We had to smoothen it first and then the rattan had to be hand-sewn to create the design of the dress.

"Rattan is not an easy material to turn into clothing and it’s not something flexible that can be manoeuvred. It is definitely a 100 percent hand-sewn and woven kind of couture garment," she explained.

She said she also collaborated with the Tun Jugah Foundation on the pattern, Tanoti Crafts on the rattan weaving, and Jaw Textile and Printing on the digital textile printing.

The gown features hand-harvested and hand-plaited rattan by Erang Ipoi, Serina Melai and Supang Sigak, with the supplemental patterning produced by Mandona Jusely, and embroidery by Looi's daughter, Maya Luebbert.

She said the woven sculpture resembling flower petals on the shoulders was crafted by women living in Iban longhouses in the Ulu Ai region, an area accessible only by a two-hour boat ride from the Batang Ai dam in Lubok Antu.

Talking about her collaboration with Aina, who often showcases bold and unique outfits on stage, Looi said she feels comfortable creating outfits for the singer, who also appreciates the artistic value and craftsmanship of her work.

Read more: While fashion is her legacy, Melinda Looi's daughter has her eye on art instead

Looi added she needs to "fall in love" with the concept of an outfit she wishes to create before working on it. As for the cost, she said it must be commensurate with the effort put into producing the garment.

"I don't charge crazy prices but I have to be able to pay the artisans, craftsmen and workers who put their souls into making these pieces.

"So most times I just take back my cost price to pay them. I don’t make a profit (when designing) for artistes as I am also an artiste who needs such support,” she said, adding her dream is to be a costume designer for big productions such as Hollywood films. – Bernama

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