Back for its third instalment, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur (MBFWKL), held recently at The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, gathers local, regional and international fashion designers for a showcase of their recent collections. One of the notable names to show in this three-day event is Malaysia-based designer Shaleen Cheah who’s known for her whimsical designs that balance femininity and playfulness, all the while celebrating individuality. As we catch up with her on the launch night of the fashionable affair, Shaleen tells us more about her brand-new designs.
Tell us about the collection you’re showing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur.
“Sure! So, the collection is called Horizon. I’ve always been a bubbly and optimistic person and I wanted it to be reflected in this collection. The key message of this line is about celebrating life, cherishing beautiful moments and chasing new horizons. Basically, it celebrates the joy of dressing up. There are lots of colours and my staple jumpsuits. I just wanted to put out a fun and memorable collection with it being my homecoming debut.”
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Can you talk us through the process of transforming an idea or an inspiration into a full-blown collection?
“The designing process is a long one. I’m an avid traveller and I usually get my inspiration through my travels. However, ideas are everywhere. Sometimes inspiration comes from a fabric I see and then I create a collection based on that particular material. Sometimes it’s, you know, just from watching my kids. Even when I started, I created pieces that I myself would want to wear and what I thought would be cute and stylish. That’s really how it all started and I think my clients see that. I’m glad that they see my vision and they’ve been through this journey with me.”
What do you think women want from their wardrobes today?
“I think coming out of the whole COVID situation, I feel like, yes, they do want comfort, but also, especially for women, we like being pretty and dressing up for ourselves. We like having pieces that when you put on, you feel joy, and you’re confident in. This is what I tried to reflect in dressing the women I do.”
What has been the most valuable lesson on your journey as a designer so far?
“To always be prepared. My whole team is actually down with COVID, but having a really good support system behind me is crucial. Although my team is not present for MBFWKL, they’re with me in spirit and I think that the prep that led to this day is really, really helpful.”
What do you do to ensure you’re relaxed and focused at a time like this?
“Deep breaths. Personally, I feel I handle stress really well. I’ve worn many hats in my life and I’ve got lots of experience that I can pull from to get me through today. I also kind of like working under pressure. I think stress can turn into something good if you work around it. So what I’m currently doing at this moment is taking lots of deep breaths and telling myself that at the end of the day, it will be okay. It always is.”
You are a big proponent of slow fashion. When and why did you decide to pursue sustainability in your designs?
“I know it’s the buzzword these days, but when I started five years ago, that was my ethos, really. I like the fabric itself to tell a story. I started with a lot of embroidered fabrics and I knew where they come from, who makes them, even down to the name of the weaver. So I take pride in the fact that I could actually trace where it came from and that’s how I started. I was collecting all these amazing handmade fabrics and then turning them into different designs. Usually, when you think about fashion, you don’t necessarily think of being sustainable. But I’m glad that the fashion industry is now taking the steps to move forward with that.”
If you could pick a highlight of your entire collection from tonight, what would it be?
“I’m really excited about the piece that I’ll be wearing. Also, there are a few in my collection that I’ve taken inspiration from my recent trip to Greece. It’s very bohemian and very easy, but it has that sass. For me, you can wear something comfortable and still look amazing in it. If I were to pick, there are these three really lovely, pretty long dresses that I feel would reflect where my inspiration came from.”
For more info on Shaleen Cheah, click here.