Reinventing Peranakan Fashion, reviving one of Southeast Asia rich traditions
Showcasing 20 outfits designed by LASALLE students, the fashion show held at Singapore’s Peranakan Museum on the 19th of November 2011 was the culmination point of a unique project organized by LASALLE College of the Arts in collaboration with the Peranakan Museum and the support of Singapore’s Peranakan community.
Lionel Roudaut, Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Fashion Design & Textiles course at LASALLE explained to Modeconnect his belief that: Understanding traditional techniques is vital to create fashion.
The Reinventing Peranakan Fashion project, the first of its kind in Singapore encouraged students to reinterpret and redesign the regions centuries-old Sarong and Kebaya. Collaborations between Textiles design and Fashion Design students led to exceptional outcomes.
Singapore’s Peranakan Museum holds one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of Peranakan objects. It explores both the modern and the historical cultures of the Southeast Asian Peranakan communities. Peranakans are the descendants (the meaning of the word both in Malay and Indonesian) of Chinese populations who immigrated to the Indonesian archipelago and Malaysia in the late 15th and 16th-century. They were mainly Hoklo (Hokkien) but also Teochew and Cantonese Chinese. Although they kept their ancestral religious beliefs Peranakan populations adopted local languages and appropriated part of the indigenous culture, including its garments.
Worn with a batik sarong (a wrap-around skirt worn all over Southeast Asia) and 3 kerosang (brooches), the Peranakan Baju Panjang (or Long Dress) for example, is an adaptation of the native Malay’s Baju Kurung. In Indonesia, Peranakan populations developed their own kebaya, a traditional blouse-dress combination which is the national costume of Indonesia but is also worn in Java and Bali. Smaller and finer embroidery, lighter fabrics and vibrant colours differentiate Peranakan kebayas from their Javanese counterparts. Peranakan also created their own batik patterns which often feature traditional Chinese designs and symbols (peony, lotus dragon, phoenix …).
The Reinventing Peranakan Fashion project led LASALLE’s students to immerse themselves in the Peranakan culture, both by researching the collection presented at the Peranakan museum and at Heritage Conservation Centre but also by exploring culinary traditions and establishing conversations with the local population.
In parallel students took part in embroidery and batik workshops and revisited ancestral techniques. The project saw the revival of Southeast Asia’s rich traditions and culture. Through creative mentorship, the students developed innovative designs that went beyond all anticipations. Many layers of influences and traditions were deconstructed and reinterpreted to create beautiful and relevant apparel for modern men and women.
Details of the students work
Fashion Design Student Grace Supandy collaborated with Fashion Textiles Student Serene Lin. They explain: Our design depicts the fragmentation of Peranakan culture through broken porcelain and the triangular shape of the Nyonya dumpling. Our powerful Silhouette reflects the new Peranakan woman who is strong-minded and independent.
Fashion Textiles Student Belinda Lim collaborated with Fashion Design Student Catherine Chew. They explain: Inspiration was taken from the empowerment of early twentieth century women who worked in factories after World War II by employing deconstruction techniques on a masculine jumpsuit to create a feminine silhouette.
Fashion Design Josiah Chua says: My design is a fusion of aesthetics between the Peranakans and the Punks which adds a rebellious edge to tradition, to achieve unexpected outcomes.