updated 9 May 2012, 14:30
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Thu, Apr 05, 2012
The Star/Asia News Network
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Looking East
by Robert Chan

Eight years is a long time to be under the fashion radar, but for Syomir Izwa, who began making skirts during Home Science lessons in his school days, fame is finally beginning to set in.

The KL-born designer's inspiration comes from unlikely sources - at the Malaysia International Fashion Week (MIFW) 2010, his collection of Tina Modotti-meets-Frida Kahlo sundresses and kebaya wraps added a heightened sense of glamour to the show.

For his Spring/Summer 2012 collection, the mandate is to go East.

"I was interested in Shanghai being the Paris of the Orient in the 30s, and from there it tied in with my fascination with the last emperor of China and the famous Soong sisters, so I continued the look of ladies at lunch in New York in the 30s and 40s with some Oriental influences.

"The challenge was to come up with a modern Oriental look without using the cliché of Mandarin collars or Chinese button details," said the 35-year-old designer.

Every designer takes pride in his creations but Syomir goes the extra mile to ensure that his designs are up to mark by personally sewing on semi-precious beads by hand on his outfits, and in the dead of the night if he has to.

There is a dedication to his craft that is rarely seen in today's "cash-and-carry" culture, and the finishing of his garments and construction quality speak for themselves.

His currect concern is how to keep up with the steady stream of orders for his line of ready-to-wear and made-to-order dresses, which is a "happy" problem, really!

His customer include high-society women and members of royalty from various states.

Last year, he upgraded his boutique that was located below his apartment to a proper workshop, office and salon at a more upmarket address - Solaris Dutamas in Kuala Lumpur.

Having had experience working on projects at the Island Shop helped Syomir hone his skills and technical know-how.

But it was really under the tutelage of of veteran designer Douglas Chew at Raffles International College (formerly known as LaSalle International Design School) in Singapore that he found his mojo.

Chew advised him to "know what's your direction. Don't copy trends but be aware of the latest trends".

From the fateful day when he first "sold a jacket paired with kebaya in raw silk to a Chinese lady at my gym", Syomir hasn't looked back since.

Pleats used to emphasise a woman's curves, an artfully hidden corset, and gorgeous fabrics such as silk satin, chiffon and lace are all part of Syomir's trademark.

The glam of old Hollywood is often reflected in his wedding gowns and cocktail dresses, a classic trait that endures the test of time.

What can we expect in the Spring/Summer 2012 collection?

"High-waisted, wide-leg trousers! It makes the waist appear tiny and the legs longer. Cleaner lines with subtle pleats/drapes details," says Syomir without hesitation.

For one who doesn't believe in mimicking trends, what's Syomir's take on fashion, then?

"Killer heels, white shirt and a basic black long dress which you can dress up or down are wardrobe esssentials. Jeans that hold up your behind and tons of statement accessories help," he adds cheekily.

No wonder stars have come a-calling. Trip hop soul songstress Yuna has Syomir on speed dial for occasions which require mega wattage glamour, namely her showcase at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra last September and on the blue carpet of the 26th instalment of Anugerah Juara Lagu in January.

"She fell in love with one of my pieces in the MIFW '10 collection, and then she mentioned it to her cousin, Puteri who happens to be a good friend of my business partner, Ena Rusli. We were already fans of each other's work," explains Syomir.

"Now, his duties include tending to the wardrobes of stars such as Juliana Ibrahim, Aishah Sinclair, Diana Danielle, Sazzy Falak and Yasmin Hani."

You can expect personalised service from Syomir every time. "For made-to-order pieces, I would normally do a sketch on the spot based on the customer's description. Sometimes, they would bring the fabrics and I'd design accordingly.

Most of my customers know me through word of mouth or from my Facebook page, so when they come to my shop, they already have an idea of my work and would usually bring a print of what they want."

After two fitting sessions, the dress is hand-delivered about three weeks later.

While made-to-order dresses start from RM1800 (S$740), Syomir's ready-to-wear starts from RM400.

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