Melinda Looi's coffee table book celebrates Malaysia’s most talented fashion designers

The former president of the Malaysian Official Designers’ Association also shares her wardrobe staples and her personal definition of style.

'Malaysian Fashion — A Journey in Colour' is available at at all major BookXcess stores

Options: Congratulations on the newly released Malaysian Fashion — A Journey in Colour. Tell us what readers can expect from it.
Melinda Looi: This new coffee table book is a stunning showcase of Malaysia’s most talented fashion designers. Filled with beautiful illustrations and designs, it provides a fascinating insight into the journey of each featured designer and his or her unique stories, struggles and triumphs. It’s a must-have for anyone who appreciates fashion, art and design and a true collector’s item, as this marks the very first time MODA has come up with a coffee table-cum-colouring book.

What inspired it, though?
MODA turned 30 in 2020. In the past, we had collaborated with Raffles Institute’s final-year students to brainstorm ideas as part of the celebrations, and they suggested we do a colouring book. Three years on and post-pandemic, this volume is a tribute to the creativity, passion and dedication of MODA members, who remain Malaysia’s top fashion designers and creative artists.

How did you choose the 39 designers featured in the book?
We opened it up to MODA members to decide whether they want to be part of the project. Besides members, we included fashion icons and legends of Malaysia’s creative industry such as Datuk Jimmy Choo and the late Sonny San. We wanted to make sure we had a variety of designers, and were not limited to just fashion. Many fashion designers are featured, but textile artists, jewellery and shoe designers, and illustrators are also included in the mix.


Datuk Jimmy Choo and the late Sonny San

If you weren’t a fashion designer, what do you think you’d be doing today?
Definitely something artistic like painting or sculpting, but I had once wished to be a chef. I love art — any form of it. I took up fashion and treated it as my way of expressing my passion for art. However, I also enjoy cooking and feeding people very much. It’s therapeutic for me. I feel good when cooking and seeing everyone enjoy the food I prepared.

How would you define style?
One can buy fashion but cannot buy style. Style inherently reflects who we are.

How do you think Malaysian fashion has grown and evolved over the years?
Malaysian fashion went on pause the last three years and it was a painful experience for all of us. Even though the economy is kind of back to normal, fashion is still not the priority for most people. But as more designers bring back their shows at major fashion week events around the world, this will help us all to bring back the glory days. Malaysian designers are very active now in pushing their brands and I have faith all will be well soon. It is encouraging to see more fashion schools being established and also new designers making their debut. I really hope more Malaysians buy and wear local. Support the local designers and their creations. Together, we can help make the economy vibrant once more.

How else do you think the local fashion scene can improve?
We need to encourage everyone to buy local. Many of our neighbouring countries are setting good examples and we should learn from them.


Looi enjoys working with Aina Abdul

Who are your favourite designers of all time and why?
I love Kit Woo and Joe Chia, whose styles suit my look. Internationally, it has to be Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood,

Jean Paul Gaultier and Rick Owens, all of whom are my favourites for different reasons. They stayed true to who they were and didn’t care what others said about their designs and styles.

What is your current go-to look?
I like mixing and matching. I am also very much into denim ensembles now. It’s an edgy and easy look.

Do you have a favourite piece of clothing?
A white shirt or collared top, which I would then pair with an outer jacket or even another top over it plus stainless steel accessories and my all-time favourite — low-crotch pants. I am allergic to certain metals, hence the need for a collar. I also love any type of costume jewellery to funk up my look.


Looi and daughter Myla in the kitchen

If you could dress somebody, who would it be and why?
I would love to dress Björk. She may appear weird in her sense of style, but she is an artist who doesn’t care what others think. In Malaysia, I love working with Aina Abdul, a pure artist whom I admire greatly. I always tell my clients: You must have confidence! Once you have that, you can look amazing in anything!

What are you reading right now?
I like books that are more visually driven, with fewer words. So, to be honest, the only thing I am really reading right now are contracts.

And what are you listening to?
Hip-hop and golden oldies.

Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
Cooking for family and friends, spending quality time together just eating, chatting, laughing and doing silly, simple things. 


'Malaysian Fashion — A Journey in Colour' is priced at RM149.90 and available at all major BookXcess stores. Buy online here.

This article first appeared on Apr 10, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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