Cou­ture Royale

BAZAAR gets the ex­clu­sive on iconic Malaysian de­signer Dato’ Rizal­man Ibrahim’s daz­zling mod­ern man­sion, where Moroc­can flair meets Belle Époque glam­our. By Em­mi­lyn Yeoh. Pho­tographed by Soon Lau.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Contents -

It’s 7.30am on a Mon­day morn­ing, and I find my­self wan­der­ing through a beau­ti­ful château hall­way, dis­cov­er­ing the grandeur of this space that ab­so­lutely takes my breath away. Sur­rounded by vin­tage Louis XVI-style wall ap­pliqués, clas­sic Belle Époque chan­de­liers, and 15th-cen­tury Ming dy­nasty vases that are as del­i­cate as they are dec­o­ra­tive, a mood is set. In the back­ground, an in­stru­men­tal ver­sion of Charles Trenet’s “La Mer” is play­ing, an ex­quis­ite brew of Earl Grey is pour­ing from a fine china teapot—tea first, milk sec­ond. Then, this per­fect French ide­al­ism takes a turn, as tri­an­gles of nasi lemak are served from a sil­ver plat­ter. This is dec­o­rated Malaysian fash­ion de­signer Dato’ Rizal­man Ibrahim’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of “Parisian liv­ing”—a lais­sez-faire at­ti­tude en­hanced with Malaysian hu­mour. It should be noted that this would be my first time meet­ing Rizal­man #IRL. It’s also fair to say that I’ve had a glimpse of his per­son­al­ity through episodes of his re­al­ity TV se­ries on Life In­spired, and have spent many an hour plough­ing through pages of Google searches, hop­ing for a re­cent up­date on his pri­vate life. Can I re­ally say that I am sur­prised by this glam­orous, over-thetop set­ting? I al­low my mind to sneak in a small thought, “Are th­ese lit­tle the­atrics a pre­lude to to­day’s photo shoot, in which the iconic de­signer takes cen­tre stage? Or could this be ... an ac­tual day in Rizal­man’s life?”

Just as “La Mer” hits the bridge, I get my an­swer as the dou­ble doors to his bed­room slide open, and Rizal­man struts out in a white T-shirt, tai­lored pants, em­bel­lished socks, and a sweep­ing black cloak, fit for a vil­lain. It’s show time.


“I took the grand his­tory of a 17th-cen­tury château and scaled it down to a liv­able 21st-cen­tury space,” Rizal­man be­gins, as we move from his crim­son Jaipur-es­que study—in­spired by a stay at The Su­ján Ra­jma­hal Palace—to his rus­tic and charm­ing French kitchen. Get­ting into char­ac­ter is noth­ing new for this flam­boy­ant de­signer. A house more than eight years in the mak­ing, Rizal­man is some­one who be­lieves in, “If you aren’t go­ing all the way, why go at all?” His bold jour­ney as an an­tique col­lec­tor be­gan from him rum­mag­ing through Porte de Clig­nan­court mar­kets in Paris and other his­tor­i­cally rich Euro­pean ci­ties such as Florence, to brav­ing the bustling souks of Mo­rocco and lively In­dian bazaars. “When I look at th­ese pieces, I imag­ine the spirit of th­ese ar­ti­sans, in a time when tech­nol­ogy did not ex­ist, and in­spi­ra­tion was as sim­ple as look­ing at your sur­round­ings,” he muses.

His pas­sion speaks vol­umes of the deca­dent and cu­rated neo­clas­si­cal space that we’re in right now. We turn a cor­ner, and spot a taxi­der­mied pea­cock perched on top of a wooden lad­der, and in­sist he strokes it as if it were still alive, for a quick video

mon­tage—he obliges. Is there any­thing this man won’t do? “I refuse to meet peo­ple nowa­days. It’s the way I detox,” he says, com­pletely aware of how laugh­able this state­ment is, given a man of his stature. “Some­times, I just lock my­self in my bed­room, so that un­wanted images don’t cloud my mind. With this house now, I can come home from work and pre­tend that it’s Paris.”


And we could have been in the beau­ti­ful City of Love, save for the sti­fling hu­mid­ity and glar­ing blaze of the swel­ter­ing sun­light. But I, for one, am very com­fort­able in a vin­tage Ro­coco vel­vet chair, set against Baroque wall­pa­per in the hall­way lead­ing to the liv­ing room. On my right, a pair of lav­ish chan­de­liers glis­ten in the day­light, while gilded mir­rors sit above mar­ble fire­places, giv­ing the il­lu­sion of a wider, big­ger space.

Up­stairs, bed­rooms are decked in neu­tral shades of cream and grey, fea­tur­ing metal spot­light lamps, ma­hogany floors, and clean lines that ex­ude ef­fort­less Tom Ford so­phis­ti­ca­tion. We’re talk­ing about a mad­cap ge­nius who has no qualms about plac­ing a 1970s brass glass ta­ble by an 18th­cen­tury ar­moire. “I wanted to

cre­ate a home that wouldn’t de­mand a re­dec­o­ra­tion project for a re­ally, re­ally long time,” he ex­plains, when asked about his de­ci­sion to com­bine Belle Époque glam­our with con­tem­po­rary flair. “My per­son­al­ity is ob­sessed with French cul­ture and de­sign. It took a lot of work, money, and re­search to lo­cate spe­cial pieces from dif­fer­ent cen­turies. I can live this way for­ever and ever.”

He fash­ions him­self af­ter the French—an air of ar­ro­gance upon first im­pres­sion, yet the flinty ice queen façade melts away quite eas­ily. “You have to open the win­dow and dis­cover what’s be­yond”— his ad­vice, on ex­plor­ing the city of Paris and the other as­pects of life. “I know it sounds ex­tremely cliché to peo­ple, but the French are the epit­ome of per­fec­tion. I love go­ing to marchés and watch the way they carry their bas­kets and buy their boulan­gerie,” he says. Rizal­man gets in­creas­ingly an­i­mated as we zoom in on the smaller de­tails of his favourite coun­try in the world, talk­ing depart­ment store win­dows and an­tique shops.

My next ques­tion—“If you could live life as some­one else, who would you want to be?”—stops him in his tracks. “I was think­ing per­haps an aris­to­crat or a noble ...” he trails off, be­fore say­ing, “Come to think of it, I would love to be a but­ler and work in a noble’s house; spend my days fold­ing nap­kins, shin­ing sil­ver, colour cod­ing plates, and man­ag­ing a house­hold. That’s the dream,” he en­thuses.


Rizal­man’s ven­ture into the ever-evolv­ing world of fash­ion be­gan af­ter he re­ceived a re­jec­tion let­ter to study ar­chi­tec­ture, which even­tu­ally led him to ma­jor in fash­ion de­sign. “I draw sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween in­te­rior de­sign and fash­ion de­sign. The medium varies, but the idea is about form­ing your own aes­thetic with dif­fer­ent colours and tex­tures,” he muses. Per­haps, you could call this fate. Or per­haps, ta­lent. But af­ter hus­tling to es­tab­lish his brand in the past two and a half decades, he took the plunge into the world of in­te­rior de­sign, and has never looked back since. “I think this is my sec­ond chance at life. I see things very dif­fer­ently. I man­age ev­ery project straight from the heart, and I im­merse my­self as the owner of the space,” he ex­plains. “It’s about be­ing a bit more dar­ing and artis­tic. Be a leg­end or be for­got­ten.”

It’s this quest for per­fec­tion that has ce­mented his stand­ing as the cou­ture king of Malaysia, but it’s also the free­dom of ex­pres­sion as a cou­turier that has kept him go­ing. He sees it as a very in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ship be­tween the mind and the soul. “Cou­ture is a con­ver­sa­tion of dreams,” he says. “Be­ing a de­signer means be­ing able to dic­tate, and go­ing the ex­tra mile to cre­ate beau­ti­ful things.”

There’s some­thing about Rizal­man that I can’t quite place; the way he car­ries him­self, how he com­mands pres­ence in ev­ery room, or

even the way he never smiles for more than two sec­onds. As a jour­nal­ist, I’m drawn to the psy­cho­log­i­cal enigma of this man. We end our in­ter­view with an un­mask­ing of the real Rizal­man, when the con­ver­sa­tion starts veer­ing to­wards him be­ing a fam­ily man. His two beau­ti­ful sons, Umar and Aali Nail, he claims, are the peace­keep­ers of his im­bal­anced, creative mind. “I know I can never get mar­ried but by hav­ing chil­dren and start­ing a fam­ily, I feel like I can be a lit­tle bit nor­mal ... just like the story of the vil­lain Malef­i­cent,” he says.

“One day this house could be a mu­seum, and peo­ple can see how Rizal­man Ibrahim has lived,” he con­tin­ues. “It’s to im­mor­talise my legacy and un­der­stand the chore­og­ra­phy of this place.”

As a spe­cial treat, Rizal­man whips out his iPad to show us the lat­est Rizal­man for Zalora 2019 col­lec­tion, also shot in this mas­ter­piece man­sion, that had us clutch­ing our hearts—and wal­lets. Shortly af­ter, we say our farewells and I men­tally pre­pare to re­turn home to re­al­ity, where chan­de­liers don’t ex­ist in my bath­room and chaise lounges are sim­ply called “so­fas”. As I walk out the Vic­to­rian front door, I could have sworn I caught a glimpse of the de­signer, amused at my joke and break­ing into a laugh ... au revoir, Paris!

Hand-painted De Gour­nayin­spired wall­pa­per in the mas­ter bed­room Song­bird ser­e­nade in the hall­way that leads to the château-like res­i­dence

Elena wear­ing one of Rizal­man’s creations

Walk-in wardrobe of the gen­tle­man with class

“I love hav­ing pho­tos of my child­hood around be­cause they re­mind me of how far I’ve come.” – Rizal­man Ibrahim

The de­signer with his 6-year-old son Aali Nail

How to be a mon­sieur: suit, top hat, walk­ing cane, and an at­ti­tude

The flam­boy­ant essence of Jaipur brought to life in Rizal­man’s crim­son shade study

Belle Époque chan­de­liers, per­son­alised nap­kins, and sil­ver pol­ished to per­fec­tion

Bold di­a­mond tiles and ex­quis­ite mar­ble walls in the bath­room

Tom Ford chic in the guest bed­room

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