Aina Abdul’s rattan gown pays homage to Malaysian artisans

By Nurhafizah Tan

KUALA LUMPUR, June 13 (Bernama) — Singer Aina Abdul definitely turned heads with the outfit she wore when she performed at a recent event marking National Unity Week 2024. And it’s no wonder, as her voluminous gown was made from rattan – yes, rattan is the same natural material used to make furniture.

The unique dress, made from the natural colour of the rattan and embellished with pink embroidery, looked great on Aina, who won the Best Vocal Award at last year’s 37th Anugerah Juara Rug Competition. The gown was specially created by renowned fashion designer Melinda Looi in collaboration with Penan rattan artisans from Sungai Tute village in Baram, Sarawak.

Loei, who has been involved in the local fashion industry for 20 years, said the dress, which took almost a year to complete, was a tribute to Malaysian artisans and craftsmen.

“It’s more of a piece of art than a dress. I created it as an artistic inspiration, not as a commercially wearable garment.”

“I hope this work will inspire the younger generation to appreciate and preserve Malaysian traditional crafts. We must enable artisans, craftspeople and local businesses to sustain their crafts for a longer period,” she told Bernama.

The fashion designer, who represented Malaysia at the World Fashion Awards and World Fashion Week in Paris in 2014, said her interest in “ikat” textiles produced by the Iban people of Sarawak was also a major motivation for creating the rattan gown.

Elaborating on the dress, Louie said the rattan weaving process itself took eight months to perfect.

“It took another month to finish. The most tedious and time-consuming part was creating the rattan itself, which first required smoothing and then hand-stitching the rattan to create the design of the dress.

“Rattan is not an easy material to make into clothing, nor is it flexible or easy to work with. This is definitely a 100 percent hand-sewn and hand-woven haute couture garment,” she explained.

She said they also collaborated with Tun Jugah Foundation for patterns, Tanoti Crafts for rattan weaving and Jo Textile and Printing for digital textile printing.

The gown is made from hand-picked and woven rattan by Eran Ipoi, Selina Melai and Suppan Sigak, with complementary patterns by Mandona Jucery and embroidery by Maya Rubato.

She said the woven shoulder petal-like sculptures were made by women living in Iban longhouses in Ulu Ai area, which is only accessible by a two-hour boat ride from the Batang Ai Dam in Lubok Antu.

Speaking about collaborating with Aina, who often wears bold and unique costumes on stage, Loui said that Aina also appreciates the artistic value and craftsmanship of his work and that he felt comfortable creating costumes for her.

Loui added that she needs to “fall in love” with the concept of the clothes she wants to make before she embarks on the project. As for the cost, she said it has to be justified by the effort it takes to make the garment.

“I don’t charge exorbitant prices, but I have to be able to pay the artisans and craftsmen who put their souls into their work. So, in most cases, I pay them after deducting the cost price. I don’t make any profit designing for artists as I am an artist myself who needs support,” she said, adding that her dream is to become a costume designer for big-budget films such as Hollywood movies.

— Bernama

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