A public dressing-down

  • Opinion
  • Sunday, 11 Mar 2007

Poor Linda Onn! What was supposed to be her big moment on the red carpet at the Oscars never materialised because she allegedly refused to be dressed as ordered. Was she being a complete idiot or did she do the right thing by standing up for her fashion rights? 

Jovian Mandagie

THE debacle over a dress! The meaning of fashion came to the fore this week when the papers went to town on why ERA FM DJ Linda Onn refused to do her job at the Oscars. The reason was, apparently, a dress. 

Of course, as days went by, and the she-says-they-say continued, maybe it wasn’t the dress after all, but since I’m not a gossip columnist, I will stick to what I like to do, discuss the fashion aspect. 

No matter how you look it at: David versus Goliath, Buy Malaysian First, (ironic since the so-called “Indonesian” designer is actually half-Malaysian) or as a diva tantrum saga, three things are apparent: Linda’s credibility is at stake, Radzuan Radziwill’s image has been dented and Jovian Mandagie is now infamous. 

The first two obviously need damage control, but back to the clothes issue – which is all I’m interested in – and let’s take a look at the designers and the outfits. Radzuan Radziwill (RR) is obviously a very well known Malaysian designer whose forte lies in wedding clothes (yes, he did Datuk Siti Nurhaliza’s outfit for the nikah ceremony) and glamorous kebayas. He’s dressed everyone who’s anyone and he’s a fixture in the Malaysian subconscious already, so enough said. 

Now, who the heck is Jovian Mandagie? In my opinion, any Malaysian designer worth their salt needs to be featured first in the ultimate Malaysian fashion magazine, Glam. When Glam editor Wirda Adnan recognises you, you have arrived

Among the Malay celebrities, there will always be a favourite Indonesian designer, remember Anna Avante? Yes, she too did Siti’s wedding outfit (for the celebrations in Pahang). This season and possibly next, it just might be 21-year-old Jovian. 

Yasmin Hani in a gorgeous yellow empire waist gown from Jovian Mandagie

Jovian’s father is Malaysian while his mother is Indonesian, but really, he can be a Martian for all I care, because it’s his designs that should matter not his nationality!  

He got his big break by designing outfits for the funky Indonesian pop duo, Ratu, and he’s also dressed Indonesian singer Rossa and local singer Ning, TV presenter Yasmin Hani and Linda too.  

I took a look at some of his designs, (he describes his style as “Malindo”) and to me it wavers between heavy embellishments (I don’t like what he did with denim) to elegant simplicity in a design that caught my eye, worn by Yasmin at the Anugerah Bintang Popular Berita Harian 2006 recently. It was a yellow empire waist gown with detailing at the bodice.  

For a relative unknown, (he’s been designing wedding gowns and formal outfits for over a year) the Indonesian-born but bred in Kuala Lumpur and recent graduate in fashion and retail design from LimKokWing University of Creative Technology has gotten plenty of mileage out of this affair. He has plans for his first collection soon and a boutique in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, in May. 

I managed to get hold of Jovian and ask him to tell me about The Dress. 

Basically, what he came up with for Linda was a one-piece black and white modern kebaya (instead of the traditional two-piece outfit) in French lace, chiffon and silk. He says he and Linda both worked on the design, but as we can’t get any photos or sketches, we’ll have to leave it up to your imagination.  

The controversy, while bringing him publicity, has left Jovian very uncomfortable. 

He laments: “I’m disappointed that there’s a party that’s not happy with Linda wearing my creation just because of my nationality.” 

If it’s true, that’s quite a sad state of affairs for the industry, and for Malaysians in general. No thanks for making us look xenophobic. I’d also like to investigate this party’s closet, 10 to one I’d find plenty of foreign labels there.  

Radzuan’s dress that didn’t make it to the red carpet.

Another thing, why waste RR’s time and energy and God-know-who’s money flying the dress all the way to Los Angeles via (supposedly) business class? Hello, you’re in the United States, where uber Malaysian designer Zang Toi lives! He’s more familiar with the red carpet than anyone here. 

My sympathies to RR; it’s bad enough to be told at the 11th hour to make a dress and toil over it, only to face the indignity of it not being worn! Welcome to the world of the red carpet, RR. Now you know how international designers feel during the Oscars, when the stars change their minds at the last minute.  

Having only seen the photo of RR’s rejected dress on a dummy, it’s hard to give an opinion on it because dresses need to be worn to see how they really look.  

More importantly, can we stop this nonsense over Malaysian and Indonesian designers? There are more French, Italian, American and British labels in Kuala Lumpur than Indonesian ones. Come to think of it, all these boutiques that have sprung up everywhere carry clothes from Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan.... Fashion is global. It’s also a cut-throat industry, darlings, so deal with it.  

As I said earlier, you can be a little green man/woman for all we fashion-savvy people care but if your designs are super fantabulous, they will speak for themselves. And everyone should have the right to choose because no self-respecting woman or man of style will allow anyone to tell them what to wear. 


  • Fashion lover and bag mad Dzireena Mahadzir lives by two rules: never pay retail and never explain. If you’d like to bring up a fashionable issue, ask some stylish questions or buy her a Chanel bag, send an SoS to her e-mail address. 

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