It seems fitting that the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur (MBFWKL) was held at the Chin Woo Stadium in the heart of the city, with the skyline eloquently framing a new beginning for Mercedes-Benz Malaysia and for Kuala Lumpur.
After all, the event marks Mercedes-Benz Malaysia coming into its own after partnering local fashion event Stylo for the past 10 years. It is a natural step forward for the German carmaker, considering its fashion footprint around the world across 20 years.
Arguably more exciting is how this brings Kuala Lumpur into an elite circuit of global fashion week events under the Mercedes-Benz brand, which includes Berlin, Australia, Mexico, Miami, Georgia, Russia and Istanbul as well as events held in conjunction with the New York and Paris fashion weeks.
“As we continue to innovate as a leading brand in the premium automotive segment, we should similarly endeavour to push the boundaries in other areas befitting this standing. With such efforts, we aim to provide a holistic lifestyle experience to the esteemed patrons of our brand who understand all manner of luxury — fashion included,” said Mercedes-Benz Malaysia president and CEO Claus Weidner at the launch of MBFWKL.
Beyond a corporate branding exercise, Mercedes-Benz’s commitment to curating a fashion week of international standard can be seen in the four-day event, which saw different themed nights inspired by its vehicle portfolio — compact cars, limousines, SUVs and dream cars.
Weidner gave an insight into the unique idea, drawing from the parallels between automotive design and fashion. “Truth be told, the demands on fashion and cars are very similar. Just like how our clothes are an extension of our personalities, today’s automobiles are an extension of ourselves and how we want the world to see us … and at Mercedes-Benz, we passionately believe in the concept of modern luxury. We have an unwavering focus on design and individuality.”
Helmed by veteran fashion director Adrian Chee, the line-up of the event encompassed designers and labels from Malaysia, Southeast Asia and the world, with illustrious names such as Indonesia’s Sebastian Gunawan, Francis Libiran of the Philippines, veteran Singaporean designer Thomas Wee and British designer Julien Macdonald.
Setting the tone for the first night was the ConnectionAsia Showcase, which, by highlighting regional designers, emphasised the wider focus of MBFWKL. This was followed by the International Trends Showcase — characterised by the adventure-centric SUVs — where different genres within fashion were showcased.
“You have the AM to PM clothes (day wear and evening wear) and leisure wear as well as a bridal collection by Malaysia’s very own Celest Thoi,” Chee summed up. Also presenting for the first time in Asia was London menswear label Tourne de Transmission. Its strongly conceptual visuals, avant-garde use of fabric and street-style designs were a treat for the audience.
The third day marked the Mercedes-Benz Gala Night, where the brand showcased a host of its dream cars, including the newly premiered EQ “Electric Intelligence” concept car. To round things up, the final event was dedicated to cutting-edge Malaysian labels, focusing on the younger demographic with its compact car theme.
Showcased were CMDI, a menswear brand featuring distinctive painted prints; Duchess & Co, which presented a floral, youthful and decidedly urban chic collection; Ivan Young, in a feminine collection that placed emphasis on materials such as premium silk; US-born streetwear brand Nerdunit, which partnered jazz-funk band Ryot Jones for an energetic takeover of the runway; and newcomer Payahui, whose collection struck tones of whimsy and edginess.
Overall, as a curated experience that saw its fashion net cast beyond just local designers, MBFWKL did well in tipping the balance with more menswear representation and a noticeable focus on emerging and young designers. On that, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia vice-president of sales and marketing Mark Raine drove the point home, stating, “I want to emphasise that MBFWKL is about supporting and nurturing local talent as well.”
It introduced a Fashion Futures “NextGEN” Design Competition, where participants — who needed to have six months to four years of experience — were either recommended to take part or submitted their applications, culminating in a finalist showcase during the gala night.
Raine said of their ultimate goal: “Our aim is to be on a par with global showcases, presenting fashion from Malaysia to the world. We are not going to be there this year or next year, but that is the goal we are driving this towards — to make it an international platform. We want to be the fashion week hub for Southeast Asia.”
Judging from its debut, MBFWKL is on the right track to do just that.
What we saw
Options attended the opening night of the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur (MBFWKL) as well as the glamorous gala night showcase. For the opening night, themed ConnectionAsia Showcase, we had a chance to see the latest creations by some of Southeast Asia’s biggest names.
Kicking off the event on an elegant, fairy-tale note was Sebastian Gunawan. The Indonesian evening wear maestro is not known for holding back on the glamour factor, and we were treated to nothing short of a visual feast of shimmery and vibrant colours, intricate detailing, stunning silhouettes and a play on materials. Among our favourites is a flamenco-inspired blue gown with beautiful ruffled sleeves and skirt.
Thai duo Phisit and Saxit of Tube Gallery followed with a collection of menswear and womenswear defined by its refreshing prints and patterns as well as its playfully edgy reinterpretation of classic and familiar styles.
On the other hand, Philippine top designer Francis Libiran kept his showcase — also featuring menswear and womenswear — in the realm of what he does best: elegance with a technically sophisticated flair, particularly due to his strength in draping.
Venturing away from formal gowns was Indonesia’s Priyo Oktaviano, who brought his La Riviera ready-to-wear collection to the runway. As the models strutted out in double pleats and straw hats, there was a sort of Anne of Green Gables-esque Americana vibe, though the designer has said he drew the distinctive floral and “lattice” lace designs from 1960s summer holiday wear. Most interesting is how Oktaviano mixed and matched fabrics such as tulle, linen, organza and cotton in an overall monochromatic collection.
The Mercedes-Benz Gala Night saw the five finalists of the Fashion Futures “NextGEN” Design Competition showcase their pieces — based on the theme Avant-garde — on the runway. The winner, Eddie Cheow, will be showcasing his work internationally, likely at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin.
Celebrating his 40th year in the fashion industry, Singaporean designer Thomas Wee’s oriental-inspired collection, which he titled Crossing, was a masterclass in sartorial interpretation. Set against a red backdrop, the understated designs, nevertheless, held a strong narrative, expressive and evocative in their cut and restrained styling.
Arguably on the other end of the spectrum with his no-holds barred approach was Welsh designer Julien Macdonald. He is, after all, a designer to the stars, having dressed the likes of Beyonce, Celine Dion and Kylie Minogue, to name but a few. The Kardashians are also on the client list. At MBFWKL, Macdonald presented 76 impressive pieces, many of them his trademark slinky dresses with cutouts designed to flaunt. Also shown was his latest venture, pieces from his menswear line, a street-inspired selection that retains the glamorous factor.
Another menswear label that presented at the gala night was Italian suits brand Boggi Milano. Luxury jeweller Ceres showcased an array of its latest artisanal pieces.
This article first appeared on June 4, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.