Three local designers you should know, the SUV you should drive, and the gin you should drink.
Home science classes changed Zakwan Anuar’s life. Although it was in secondary school that he first learnt sewing and pattern cutting, the Pahang native only started dabbling in fashion design at the age of 19 while studying law at a local university. “My first choice was obviously fashion. But I was offered law instead. Education is important in my family, so I took it as a challenge,” Zakwan says. Between classes and court, Zakwan showed his first collection in 2011, at a young designers showcase during Malaysia International Fashion Week (MIFW). “It was tough, of course. I tried to strike a balance, but sometimes, you have to skip classes and miss out on school life,” Zakwan says of deciding which path in life to take. Instead of feeling discouraged, Zakwan took it to another level by launching his label that same year. He also completed an internship at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur and held his first solo runway show—all at the age of 21.
“I think my designs are evidently influenced by law and the courts. One thing’s for sure: there’s a lot of black and white,” Zakwan notes. After graduating from law school, he devoted his time to building his label. These days, he’s busy designing a collection for an online fashion portal as well as a new menswear collection. But the real career highlight so far has been the collection that he delivered last year. He stunned the industry with a solid line of monochromatic, minimalist looks: think oversized sweaters, military coats, fitted high-waisted pants—all sharp lines and stiff silhouettes with a dark edge. More recently, he teamed up with local streetwear brand Bad KL for a sportswear-inspired tailoring line—and even if it came off as a little too cool for school, we’re okay with it.
When asked if fashion is his future, the designer hesitates before answering, “I am trying my best to be successful. I know my strengths better now. And I can see where I am headed.” Let’s just say whichever direction he goes, we’ll be watching his every step.
Kaer azami’s story sounds all-too-familiar: friends sign him up to audition for a reality-tv singing competition, even going so far as to drive him there. The next thing you know, he’s one of the biggest pop stars in the making.
Kaer was barely 18 when he joined Akademi Fantasia (AF), one of Malaysia’s most popular reality shows. After coming in sixth in the second season of AF, his singing career took off. Within two years, he had released three albums with one huge hit under his belt. “It changed my life. AF has such strong branding. Even until today, people still recognise me,” Kaer says. “But after AF, I realised that my passion was more than just singing.”
So he left his singing career behind and enrolled in architecture school. The decision wasn’t exactly unexpected. Kaer’s father, who is a prominent local architect, had always wanted his son to take over the business one day. But what did come as a surprise was his decision to drop out in his last semester and pursue a fashion business course in Jakarta instead. “I just didn’t think I could do a nine-to-five job. My passion for fashion is just too strong,” Kaer enthuses, citing that his first brush with fashion design was actually back in his AF days. “I had to do shows every day, and I had to choose what to wear every day. I even hired a stylist! It was then that I learnt about fashion.”
After spending several years in Jakarta, Kaer launched Kazami Homme in 2009 without much fanfare. In a local menswear scene that’s all about peacocking, the line offers an alternative in the form of embellishment-free classic cuts with a relaxed fit. This season, under the same label, he launched a basic line with clean silhouettes and urban influences.
“But I realised Kazami was too ‘selamba’ for our market,” Kaer explains, in recognition of the fact that a different approach is needed for a different market. “That’s why I started Quhji, a more conceptual, avant-garde line. It’s like a playground for me. I have so many ideas and I don’t want them to go to waste.” Quhji is the complete opposite of Kazami Homme. It thrives on being experimental—for example, Kaer has put kilts and skirts on the runway that are an amalgamation of reflective fabrics and pleats.
Of course, Kaer is more than just a designer, and this is where his fashion business training has certainly come in handy. “These days, it’s not enough just to be a designer. I believe that, to build a good company, you need to be hands on, you need to be fully into it, and you need to look at the big picture. Just look at Victoria Beckham,” Kaer says. With two strong labels under his name, he could very well be on the way to emulating the much-lauded success of the pop-star-turned-designer.
Before KL fashion Week (KLFW) 2014, Comoddity was relatively unknown, as was the name Vincent Siow. “A lot of people were like, ‘Who’s this guy?’” Siow says with a grin. The “unknown” guy then delivered a modern but accessible collection, which was a breath of fresh air for the local menswear scene. Overnight, both Siow and Comoddity became the talk of the town, and quickly secured a place on the local fashion map.
At the age of 26, Siow’s résumé reads a lot older than his years. By 19, he had graduated with a double degree in Accounting and Finance, as well as Computer Science, from the University of Kent. “I wanted to do arts, actually. But my parents stopped financing me,” Vincent explains. After graduation, he moved to London in search of employment. Fluent in five languages, Siow quickly secured a retail job with a luxury brand. The selftaught designer then amassed tailoring and pattern-cutting books while attending night classes on fashion buying and merchandising. In his spare time, he visited fabric trade shows in Paris to learn more about fabrication. He also started sketching.
When he returned to Malaysia, Siow joined Tesco as a fashion buyer, and then became a leasing manager of a shopping mall (which is still his full-time job). Similarly, he juggles two phones— one minute, he’s answering a rental enquiry; the next, he’s checking on production for his label. Yet, there’s no hint of weariness in his demeanour.
He started Comoddity with a government grant from Mycreative Ventures. He won the pitch along with two other designers, Pearly Wong and Fern. “Without [the grant], I probably wouldn’t have started my label,” Siow says. “I was surprised that I won because, compared to the others, I was relatively inexperienced.”
Today, he not only designs for the label, but also runs the store, deals with production houses and does pretty much everything else on his own. “I have to find the time. I visit production sites in Bangkok, Indonesia and Hong Kong on the weekends. Sometimes, it’s just a day trip,” Siow explains enthusiastically. “I started the label because I find that there’s a gap in the market. I want to design something affordable, something that’s more accessible,” he says of Comoddity, which offers fashionable clothes at wallet-friendly prices. For spring, he has a small collection of hand-painted shirts, which brings a pop-art sensibility to his otherwise contemporary silhouettes.
“My design process is very different from others. My designs are more calculated, as in they’re based on parts, data, on what works and what doesn’t. For things that work, I’ll expand on the idea. As time goes by, I’m getting a better feel of things and slowly tweaking them. Hopefully, future collections will be more focused,” Siow says. “Even to this day, I don’t know a lot of people in the industry,” he laughs in tacit acknowledgement of the fact that he is still considered a newcomer. Perhaps the fact that he stays out of the limelight and the scene gives him a different perspective of fashion. You know what they say: those on the sidelines see most of the game. And Siow is a strong new contender.
Zakwan anuar of Zakwan anuar Dark lord of minimalism
Modern old-schooler Kaer azami of Kazami Homme and Quhji
Vincent siow of Comoddity Part-time designer, full-time overachiever