KLFW: More to fashion than just the shows

It’s not all about the hashtags and business, says Malaysian fashion industry icon


ANY true-blue fashionista would tell you that fashion week is the event no one should mess with. For the uninitiated, a fashion week is an industry event that lasts for seven days on specially chosen dates of the year when designers, brands or houses come together to showcase their best and latest creations for the world to enjoy.

It is a week of runway fashion shows, with buyers and the media scurrying to get the latest dibs on current trends and the upcoming looks that could “shake the world”.

Andrew Tan, who has been in the Malaysian and international fashion industry for over 30 years, knows this too well, and it irks him when certain quarters use the term “fashion week” loosely, and use it as an excuse to put on a parade (or charade, if you may).

“There are many other ideas for your fashion events, and I genuinely do not wish to be associated with malls that use the title ‘fashion week’ for their own celebration or to drive up their sales,” he said.

The true spirit of fashion week, Tan said, is to connect designers and fashion enthusiasts together.

“If your focus is only on one part of it, you’re better off changing the name of your platform,” he said.

Tan has been the driving force of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW), an annual event that is now breaking boundaries, apart from being a platform for new names to shine.

Bold, minimalist designs herald Afiq’s unique mark with muted colours

“People from all over the world come to KLFW to meet designers and seek to be invited, not just people getting inspired by me and what I do and then name their own event ‘fashion week’,” he said.

He added that while he is grateful that people are inspired by his movement in the local fashion industry, he questions their motives.

“I’m thankful, but first of all, are you doing it with the right reasons in mind? It’s very important because people don’t understand the amount of challenges and hard work that goes into doing this,” he said.

With KLFW moving into its seventh year (the upcoming installation will begin on Aug 21), several segments and topics will be making their debut in the upcoming instalment to address the challenges present in the fashion industry.

People in the know would also tell you that the most prominent fashion weeks are held in the fashion capitals of the world like New York, London, Milan and Paris, which would usually see the creme de la creme of the business “fighting” for attention.

Paris was where the concept of fashion week began. Marketers then would hire women to wear couture items in public places and the parades later evolved into exciting social events.

Alia’s designs, known for timeless and effortless silhouettes, flatter and flow over the figures on the catwalk

Other newer centres include trendy cities like São Paulo, Mumbai, Beirut, Berlin, Dubai, Los Angeles, Madrid, Monaco, Rome, Taipei, Shanghai, New Delhi, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Jakarta, Tokyo and Amman.

Tan said KLFW was definitely developed to set the record straight — that there’s more to the local fashion industry than just the shows.

And yes, it is certainly not just about people posting their outfits at the event, hashtagging them with “#ootd” on social media.

Tan said the whole industry needs a reset with a proper direction, and that is exactly what he intends to promote via KLFW.

Resetting Fashion to Zero

Prior to KLFW, Tan said other platforms had already existed in Malaysia.

However, he felt strongly that everything needs a reset. In 2013, he founded the KLFW Ready-toWear event.

The decision to name it The New KLFW Ready-to-Wear was a signal that the industry needed a reset.

“The platform is strictly for the Malaysian fashion industry. Sometimes, we need that little feel of something new is coming. Starting from 2014, we began calling it the KLFW,” Tan said.

Fitton’s architecture background contributes to the dark, edgy buttons and lapels of his designs

While giving the feel of a new atmosphere for the industry was the main concern, Tan also tried to address concerns by local designers who were not quite sure about the objective of their designs.

“Prior to this platform, and even occasionally nowadays, designers would ask organisers of fashion platforms and events, ‘What do you want me to design for the show?’

“The answer would be anything. Go crazy, or whatever…but for what purpose are you designing when you do that?” Tan mused.

He added that the harsh truth is that some designers are unsure about where to go with their designs. Some also had the notion that Tan is just “all about the business”.

“Prior to KLFW Ready-to-Wear, fashion designers were designing essentially anything and everything, when they could be designing finished clothing for people to wear, instead of made-to-measure items,” he said.

However, putting KLFW on the map and building its reputation also came with certain difficulties, which Tan had to circumvent. Still, all his efforts had its pay-off.

“Since then, people have started branding themselves as ‘ready-to-wear’ and also name their events as ‘fashion week’. But we are here to set the record straight — from resetting the industry when we began, and develop(ing) the industry from there,” he said.

Unmixed, Unmatched

Ready-to-wear, or prêt-à-porter, is the main focus of every KLFW inception. Designers who make the cut to be part of KLFW would have to create designs based on standardised measurements.

Tan said initially, the ready-to-wear concept intimidated designers because they would need to produce and sell accessible designs.

Fitton’s architecture background contributes to the dark, edgy buttons and lapels of his designs

“It has been such a challenge for the designers, but this is one of the cores of their business. You want to see someone excited with your top and bottom, and go ‘I want a piece of this’ — whether it be by Syomirizwa Gupta, Nurita Harith or Alia Bastamam…and it can be bought online, at their boutiques or departmental stores,” Tan said.

Tan said there is no such thing as “in-trend” styles that designers should incorporate in their designs.

He said that designers are now more individualistic in their designs while buyers would choose their designers for their distinctive traits.

“I wouldn’t say there is a design that is considered ‘in’, but in Malaysia, people seem to be more keen on brands and names,” he said.

While the term “ready-to-wear” works great for marketing purposes, there is a danger that it could be likened to “fast fashion”.

Almost similar in terms, fast fashion are mass-produced products that are inexpensive and in line with the latest trends.

Tan said designers who have worked with him and KLFW should be compared to the style of Zara.

“Zara markets itself as mid-luxury, but still wearable and reasonable, and they essentially determine the staples; instead of responding to trends, they create it,” he said.

Heritage and Sustainability

However, with the concerns of sustainability surrounding fashion — regardless whether it is fast-fashion or not, the main issue is sustainability at the manufacturing level, if it contributes to pollution and waste.

Tan said at the upcoming KLFW, a segment called “Design to Sustain” will make its debut.

He said it will feature designers who have incorporated upcycling and ethical fashion in their designs.

“This segment will be appearing every year from now on to feature designers who have been involved with sustainable and ethical fashion.

“In fact, this year I have brought back 14 winners and finalists from our partner AirAsia Runway Ready Designer Search to a bundle shop in Cheras and told them to go in, rethink, (and) reconstruct a piece,” he said.

Also making an appearance at the upcoming KLFW is an exhibition of three traditional textiles, namely Tenun Pahang Diraja, Batik Kelantan and Royal Songket Terengganu.

“These textiles are being produced everywhere nationwide, but I want local and international visitors to get to know the heritage and each of the three individual textiles specifically,” he said.

He said to take that education further, students from three fashion institutes will be involved in curating the use of the textiles alongside their advisors.

“I think that this would be a great opportunity for students to be involved and have a part in the platform, so that they get to see how it’s like as well and feel like they have a chance,” he said.

Eager Beavers Abound

Tan said he would receive over hundreds of applications every year. The sheer number, however, does not stop him from meticulously looking at each candidate before deciding on the right participant.

“I’d hand-pick them…even if they get to meet us, that doesn’t mean they’d have the green light to put on a show.

“At the initial meeting, I would require four boards from the candidates. The first board tells me about the brand and personality. The second board is the mood board for what they want to show to me.

“The third board comprises sketches, and I expect to see 30 to 50 sketches. Lastly, the fourth board is the fabrication of the looks.

“The thing is, not a lot of event organisers or producers will do this. It is time-consuming and I have taken the time to do fashion edits, where I give my input to the designers, and they return with their input as to why they make certain design choices.

“Not one designer I meet should feel like I wasted my time on them, even if they don’t end up being selected for the runway, because these young and new designers will be the ones holding the mantle later,” he said.

To further assist newer designers, Tan said KLFW is also envisioning a symposium in September that would help develop their works.

“This will be a place where new or learning designers come to see if they can also be the businessperson they are required to be in the industry. If there (are) any question(s), the symposium will also be the place where they can hear what current players have to say.

“We need this so that aspiring designers have a view on the reality of the industry, and to further emphasise that KLFW is not just about the show,” he said.

On With the Show!

This year, KLFW, which is also an official member of the Commonwealth Fashion Council, will be held between Aug 21 and Aug 25 this year.

Among the designers that are lined up to grace the stage are Afiq Mohamed, known for bold yet minimalist design in his collections, and Alia who was known for her custom bridal gowns before shifting into timeless and effortless silhouettes in her designs.

Another well-known brand is Atelier Fitton, whose designs infuse the method of design and construction from his architecture background.