Inspired by a deep love of museum culture, Datuk Seri Bernard Chandran, 52, opens his much-awaited Dreams & Reality exhibition this week at Fahrenheit 88. “Since young, I have loved and have always been inspired by museums,” says the couturier. “Every single visit to Europe, I will not miss visiting as many museum exhibitions as possible.
"If I am in Paris and I hear of something in Antwerp, I’ll be on the next plane or train there. I have been to the Louvre at least 100 times and, of course, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. And nothing beats the V&A in London, where I simply can’t get enough of its porcelain and ceramics collection, which is said to be the greatest and most comprehensive in the world. You can see the same exhibit on another day and it will be a completely different experience.”
On what prompted him to launch the six-week showcase, Bernard says it was pandemic fatigue. “It was two months into the lockdown ... yes, everybody was just worried about the practical things — and rightly so. But if you know me, I like contradictions. I was assessing the situation and noticed how there was an empty space near my boutique, measuring about 16,000 sq ft. It’s very big. And I thought, ‘Why not host an exhibition covering 30 years of my archival pieces?’”
It was also the memory of his time as a student in Paris that triggered the idea. “It was Paris circa 1992,” he recalls. “The Gulf War had just ended and that summer, all the designers had got together to celebrate the spirit of couture, to make the season’s shows extra spectacular. And I remembered that and how even when things seemed down, you could do something to make it inspiring. We, all of us, still need to be inspired in life and that was when I knew I wanted to make this exhibition happen!”
Bernard roped in friends, contacts and suppliers to make the show a reality in a relatively short time. Guests can expect to view at least 130 unique pieces that span 30 years of the designer’s career, divided into themes. There is a Pop Star corner, which pays homage to the dresses he has created for a string of celebrities’ red carpet moments, including Tori Amos, Estelle and Lady Gaga, as well as Silk Route, which encompasses his oriental, Indian and Malay designs, including his famous Petang Raya collections, which pay tribute to Malaysia’s cultural and sartorial identity.
Those interested in the making of couture creations would particularly appreciate the Technique Room, which focuses on various art forms, such as draping, beading, the use of unusual materials such as plastic and canvas, and even traditional ornamental work like kerawang (filigree).
Fans would find the Memory Lane section interesting as it showcases a very small selection of clothing made by Bernard when he was still a teenager. “It was the time of lantern sleeves, ropes and buttons as trimmings, big shoulders and block colours ... very Mondrian. You will also see displays of the books I read at the time, which my parents had lovingly kept. Those who grew up in the 1980s would definitely get a blast from the past,” he says.
“You might think that an exhibition on clothes is meant for the fashion crowd, but that’s totally not the case. I want everyone to come and see and be inspired. Each person will have their own takeaway from this but I want people of all ages, from all walks of life, to come. What I hope to happen is that people will be able to see and then dream. I want young children to come with their parents and for conversations to take place between different generations. After all, Dreams & Reality spans three decades of my career and it should make you think about yourself: what you were, what you are and what you will be.”
'Dreams & Reality' will be held until Jan 15, 2021, on the second floor of Fahrenheit 88, Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL. Admission is free.
This article first appeared on Dec 7, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.