Three lo­cal de­sign­ers you should know, the SUV you should drive, and the gin you should drink.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - Words by Ian Loh Pho­to­graphs by Mar­cus Wong

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.

Mod­ern old-schooler Kaer azami of Kazami Homme and Quhji

Zak­wan anuar of Zak­wan anuar Dark lord of min­i­mal­ism

Vin­cent siow of Co­mod­dity Part-time de­signer, full-time over­achiever

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