– An Hour with Toh Puan Mahani
Y. Bhg Toh Puan Mahani Idris Daim, the Founder of Seni Artisan Centre & Gallery reveals her passion for the arts and her affinity for Malaysian Batik…
For a couple of seconds, the Seni Art Gallery freezes in total silence, as if the vibrant and expressive paintings on the walls would want to share a moment of respect for Y. Bhg Toh Puan Mahani Idris Daim. The lady walks into the main saloon. Indeed, the elegant Batik costume she’s wearing reflects her mounting presence perfectly.With a breeze of shyness, Toh Puan Mahani poses for our photographer as we direct the photo shooting for the cover of this issue. Not that this elegant lady wouldn’t be used to pictures and flashlights, but you would always want to look your best on every occasion.
It is the attention to every detail that characterises successful people…and brilliant artists. Later during our extended lunch chat she would confirm though: “I’m not a high profile person.” With the shooting going on and every additional camera flash, the relaxed smiles on Toh Puan’s face multiply quickly. You can sense her passion for the arts emerging through her words when we sit down for coffee around a tasteful little table in the centre of the Seni Art Gallery.
From the early school days, Toh Puan Mahani has been interested in the arts and loved everything to do with “Seni”. Many years later she states the launching of the first all Malaysian Nature Book in 2007 as her most memorable exhibition.
In those early days even though there was no lack of talents, artworks from local artists were not recognized, nor appreciated. In fact, when Toh Puan Mahani founded YSB in 1983, there was only one reputable art gallery – The Samat (d) Art Gallery.
Realising the potential and the need to give local artists more platforms to create and showcase, she decided to open YSB to promote artworks by local artists and preserve Malaysia’s vast heritage and culture. “A group of voices is always stronger than a lone one”, she states.
Today, YSB stands out not only for its fabulous art collections, but by featuring Zizi, its very own in-house Batik designer, the gallery also stands for innovation and pioneering development. After all, “Batik is our heritage and Malaysians should be proud to wear it!” Another speciality is that YSB features not only works from the Peninsular, but also from Sarawak and Sabah. Once a year, YSB invites leading international artists from overseas to stay in Malaysia for three months. At the end of their stay, the gallery holds exhibitions and sells their works.
However, with the exception of Zizi maybe, who started as a teacher in Batik painting at YSB, art galleries may not be the best places to present new artworks to the media, according to Toh Puan Mahani. It is often simply a matter of space constraints. If the Batik industry wants to reach out to a wider clientele, apart from the mass media, venues like 5 star hotels or fashion shows in some of KL’s numerous shopping centres are great places to showcase art works and Batik. That aside, magazines and daily television play important roles as well.
Toh Puan sounds a bit nostalgic when she concedes, “The future is the media, but nothing like seeing the originals in the galleries”.
The Sole of Fashion
by Stephen Hanloon
His name has been echoed from the halls of Princess Diana to the screens of the Sopranos and Sex and the City. His name is on the lips and feet of international stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, Beyonce Knowles, and Shontelle. If you are Malaysian, you know Jimmy Choo was awarded a Dato’ship ’ from the states of Penang and Pahang for his many accomplishments and contributions to the people and culture of Malaysia. If you are British you may know him better for having been conferred an Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his services to the shoe and fashion industry in the United Kingdom in 2002. For the rest of the world, Jimmy Choo the man and Jimmy Choo the shoes are synonymous with the highest level of fashion. With all the international recognition it may be easy for the man to be obscured by the product, so let’s take a few steps back.
Prof Dato’ Jimmy Choo O.B.E. indeed comes from a heritage of shoemaking. His family operated a shoe business out of the first floor of their home in Georgetown, Penang’s capital city. Apprenticing in the family business he made his first pair of shoes by the green age of 12. By 23, while in London, Choo enrolled in Cordwainers’ Technical College which is now a part of London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London. He worked in restaurants part-time and was a cleaner in a shoe factory to help fund his college education. Like many Malaysians after him, by the time he finished his studies he had become so used to life in London that he decided to stay.
In 1986, using his own name, Choo began a custom shoe business in which all his products were handmade and of the highest quality. An opportunity to feature his shoes in British Vogue was the turning point and soon he was making shoes for his favorite client, Princess Diana and other fashion savvy women of London. His personalized handmade range is still kept very much intact with the Jimmy Choo Couture range in London. Located in his by-appointment-only workshop in central London, Choo turns out about five pairs of handmade shoes each week.
“Shoes are a personal thing, a personal touch, “he said in an interview with Rose Shepherd of London’s Mail on Sunday. “Everyone can sketch them, but to understand where they’re comfortable, where they fit, where’s the balance, that’s important.” Choo is now giving himself to that personal touch, being a master of his trade, he brings progress and change to the craft.
Currently, Choo is looking into a project to set up a shoemaking institute in Malaysia, where his iconic status is often evoked to inspire budding shoemakers and fashion designers. Already Choo has been a great influence in the life and career of one such designer, Fion Poon. Fion Poon studied under Choo for eight years and has now started two lines of shoes and handbags made from batik and songket, traditional art and wear in Malaysia. Her aim has been specifically to make Malaysians proud, and in the process she has made the international fashion community raise their eyebrows at the potential of such Malaysian based designers.
Having spanned the spectrum of the shoe and fashion industry, from modest beginnings in his family’s workshop, to international acclaim, Prof Dato’ Jimmy Choo O.B.E. is now seeking to bring up the next generation. No doubt, in many ways he can see himself in it.
Dressed For Success
by Cecilia Tan
This is a story about the humble beginnings of a person in the Batik business who is not in search of great fame. Aliya, a native of Sabah in Malaysia, gave up her dream to be with the Malaysian Custom Services and flew to East Malaysia to work as a legal clerk for 15 years. Her motivation was solely to take care of her children and to give them a better family life. Besides being a good mother and a caring wife, Aliya also put all her energy into making her dream in Batik happen. On the 18th August 2009, she opened the “Aliya Boutique & Collection” which was located in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. Spurred on by vision, sheer hard work and persistence, she has been able to carve out a niche for herself and make her long term goals and ambitions possible.
With hard work and effort, Aliya’s Boutique and Collection has survived in spite of setbacks which threatened its existence at the beginning- financial constraints, production problems and locale. With the support of her loving husband, she was able to establish her business in Kota Damansara. Here she had no near competitors and she mainly targeted the middle and upper income range. Aliya is not an artist but with her strong ambition and deep interest in Batik, she reads books and journals every night to improve her knowledge. With her drive to excel in business and an aim of establishing her own market, she assists her husband and has been learning to do business since she was young, when her family owned a kopitiam in Sabah.
Most women in Malaysia are starting to improve their dress sense and better designs have to be found along with improved quality, different types of beads and batiks made from satin and chiffon. In her batik business, she concentrates on better design, uses different beads, focuses on quality, and plans to roll out lines in XXL sizes as well as Kids’ Batik. She started the “large” sizes business after an uncomfortable encounter with a very large customer and her own painful experience of being overweight when she was young. She wants to see everyone wearing batik regardless of age and size. She makes every effort to create good quality batiks and focuses on work with an exclusive handmade nature. Because of the great effort put into her clothing, the products tend to be expensive. Combining business and family life, she opens shop in the morning, picks up her daughter in the afternoon, closing her shop late in the evening in order to keep up with family chores.
Learning about Batik from scratch, she allows her customers to buy her clothes in instalments and dreams to expand the industry and make her products available to everybody while always maintaining a high quality. For the first few months, she had a hard struggle but never thought of giving up the business. She sees a big future for the Batik industry and her business, which will always be about exclusive designs. She believes that her business will survive in this way and her work will be greater appreciated in the long run. Printed batik can be owned by anyone, Aliya says, and she believes in building up a demand for her unique clothing and superior designs and staying away from a mass-market.
In her journey ahead, she faces a lot of obstacles such as obtaining new designs, maintaining high quality and giving good service. Her clientele are mainly walk-in customers and she promotes her business by giving out flyers. Aliya would like her brand name ‘Aliya Boutique & Collection’ to be a household name in the industry and intends to achieve that through well planned promotional work, fashion shows and a reputation for good service. Her long-term goal would be to promote batik nation-wide and establish more shops in other locations. One day soon, she is sure that she will be considered well-established; she has done the hard work and this goal is now in firmly in sight.
Fashion just won’t relinquish its love affair with the dress but designers are still finding ways of keeping it fresh – for your life and your style. The 2009 body-conscious resurgence is revealed in the allure of the figure-hugging dress. If you have the figure to pull it off, do it. Sure, the trends appear as manifestos-architectural, romantic, graphical, disco-pop, or exotic but that doesn’t mean you have to wear it literally on your body.
This season’s prints are loud, colourful, and digitally enhanced – prairie style in tiered layers with multi-colour lace and embroidery materialized in vivid floral designs. Long sheer dresses in floral watercolour prints are perfect combinations of romance and sexiness, while fluttery of chiffon and silk are fashioned into long vest with sequins embedded into these dresses.
Up your sex appeal with body con dresses
Tie-dye has re-emerged as a key print this season. In a palette of purple, ruby, white, green and bright yellow, wear this pattern in super sexy evening dresses or chic day shirtdresses.
But don’t just stop there. There is splendor in colour therapy and its psychoanalysis. Wear gold and silver because they are super glamorous for their multi-bright electric tones. No one understands just how quickly fashion moves as well as high-street labels do.
2010 Fashion Trends
Wear capes, capelets and cloaks. Capes… Say the word, and images of masked super heroes are what pops into the minds of many people. Capes and cloaks have existed since the early eras – from early Medieval Mantles to 16th century decorative shawl and from military officers’ capes to 1940s fur stoles. As compared to the humble poncho which had its hippie revival, the cape in its more sophisticated form has seen nothing of a major come back on the streets, until now. Wear pants – from fluid trousers to chic cropped cut, pair them with blazers and blouse and carry playful purses. The one statement accessory you really need this season? An oversized necklace, whimsical charm and glamorous shine, keep it exotic with ethnic accessories and python sandals. For a more subtle approach, turn it down one notch with strap platform leather sandals, gladiator sandals in patent leather or pretty patchwork, bold embellishment and charming petite bags.