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Bright and beautiful fashion of Malaysia

Malaysia’s vibrant landscapes inspire its designers to create equally colourful collections. Sally McIlhone discovers some of the country’s most bright and beautiful designers, from luxury footwear to catwalk collections

Sally McIlhone,

You’d be hard pressed to find citizens who celebrate the vibrant colours of their homeland to quite the extent that Malaysians do. So important are the country’s vivid tones – from the natural hues of the Taman Negara rainforests to the searing shades of the buildings in the Genting Highlands resort – that the nation hosts an annual festival celebrating colour. Held at night, Citrawarna (or Colours of Malaysia) occurs in May and attracts approximately 100,000 visitors. It involves more than 7,000 people, from school children to artists and creatives. Head to Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur to soak up the best of this dazzling event.

Lewré takes colour from day to night
Colour is so deep-rooted in the Malaysian consciousness that it’s no surprise that the country’s top designers regularly draw inspiration from their kaleidoscopic, multihued surroundings.  ‘Malaysia presents a unique variety of traditions, festivals, arts, costumes, food, religions and architectural styles. From its people to its food, a colourful heritage and an amalgamated culture is reflected. All these factors have manifested the birth of colourful and vibrant fashion designs compared to other parts of the world,’ says Tricia Lew, CEO of Malaysian footwear brand Lewré.

Founded by Dato’ Lewré Lew in 1997, Lewré has three lines, all of which are inspired by its homeland’s colours. The Day range has been inspired by the tropical rainforests, where a diverse array of wildlife and vegetation can be found, and it makes use of materials such as jute, wood and cork, and features weaves, floral appliqué, and butterfly and floral motifs. In contrast, the Work range has looked to the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur, dominated by the Petronas Twin Towers, and Malaysia’s vibrant nightlife has inspired the Night collection, where glamorous elements such as crystals, bold ornaments, glitter, satin, silk and lace have been used.

Cassey Gan embraces colour blocking
Cassey Gan is another Malaysian designer who takes inspiration from the colours of her homeland. Her spring/summer 2016 collection features panelled minidresses, tops and skirts in black and inky blue with patterned sections in contrasting colours such as teal and tomato red. ‘Malaysia is a multicultural country. I grew up in an environment where I was always exposed to the vibrant colours in Indian saris and the intricate prints and embroidery in Malay costumes. It has inevitably become a part of me. I’m naturally drawn towards colours and will always use them in my collections,’ says Gan, who converted acrylic paintings into digital prints for her latest collection.

Bernard Chandran champions colour for summer
Designer Bernard Chandran describes his spring/summer collection as featuring ‘a palette of modern neutrals – beiges, peach, pale blue and yellow – next to hot metallics, finished with extreme sport trimmings.’ The result is a selection of summer separates and dresses in a variety of styles. ‘I’m often inspired by my surroundings, whether when I’m travelling or if I’m just taking a look out of my office window in Kuala Lumpur. My inspiration also comes from having an insight into what’s in the air – what’s appealing and what interests people.’

Melinda Looi paints a rainbow
Melinda Looi utilises colour in an innovative way in her collections, using it to emphasise the patterns within her graphic paintings, which can be found throughout her latest collection. ‘I love mixing colours and prints into one look, so instead of having the same print on just one material, I use a variety of fabrics which are printed in the same print to get a different effect and texture.’ This technique is incredibly effective, with Looi’s patterned miniskirts, tops and maxidresses contrasting with colour-pop shorts and embellished shirts. ‘I am not afraid of mixing colours and materials. I always tell myself to be different and adventurous.’

Golden ticket
As well as being adventurous in the use of colour, many of Malaysia’s designers can pinpoint a colour or a palette that evokes the country’s spirit. For Lewré, that colour is gold. ‘Gold symbolises abundance, and in Malaysia we are abundant in many things: from natural resources to ethnic diversity, we have it all,’ explains Tricia Lew. ‘Optimistic and positive, gold also adds richness and warmth to everything associated with it. Gold illuminates and enhances the things around it, in the same way as Malaysia’s different races – the Malays, Chinese, Indians and many other ethnic groups who have lived together for many years – influence and enhance each other, creating a united Malaysian culture.’



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