Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Young & Restless

The Edge Malaysia , November 2nd 2009
Feature : The Young & Restless
Written by Anandhi Gopinath and Elaine Lau

In Syaiful Baharim’s reserved nature, there is a great deal of personality brimming. He chooses his words carefully and is economical in his replies to our questions and queries, and yet each explanation is informative and expressive without being overly effusive. This is a man who understands that fuss and frills often don’t work, and keeping things simple is the best way to go.

As a designer, that quality is a prevalent trait. Syaiful’s ready-to-wear collection, which he debuted last year, was sheer simplicity at its best, relying on clean silhouettes and classic, timeless styles. “I like that sort of look,” he says. “Simple, easy to wear… I make clothes for real women to wear, and to wear again.”

Syaiful runs his own boutique, specialising in custom designs for an exclusive clientele. Prior to that, the fashion design student from Universiti (then Institut) Teknologi Mara (UiTM) was working under several other major designers in Malaysia and in other fashion-centric cities like Tokyo, Singapore and Jakarta.

“After university, I was winning a lot of awards,” he recollects. “I participated in a lot of competitions and surprisingly, I won. So, tentulah I would keep at it. My first award was second prize at Piala Anggun Rias, organised by the Utusan Group in 1998… it made me realise that I was actually good at all this. In 2002, I won Jarum Berlian at the same awards, and that really opened a lot of doors for me.”

Syaiful’s first foray into M-IWF was way in 2004, when the fledgling designer was just starting out. As a testament to his vision and creativity, he won two awards that year: Best Casual Wear and Best Avant-Garde. In 2005, he went on to beat designers from around Asia to take home the grand prize at the prestigious Mercedez Benz Asia Fashion Awards in Singapore, what he considers his biggest achievement thus far. The following year, he decided to “get real” and set up shop on his own.

His sense of style is less the flamboyant, loud variety of couture, and more the simple, elegant variety. “My stuff is simplicity at its best, with a touch of couture,” he says. “I follow trends, of course, as it helps me ensure my stuff isn’t outdated. But I make clothes for real women to wear, and of course it has to be something that works with whomever wears it.”

While his practical side keeps the business running, his artistic side — Syaiful loves sketching, and as a young boy, used to sketch his mother dressing up — comes alive when he does one-off couture collections. “While I love Tom Ford for his commerciality, I love Alexander McQueen for his artsy stuff,” says Syaiful. “Couture is for me to exercise my creativity and push the limits in directions I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. And it’s something I really enjoy doing too.”

The collection that he is presenting at the Bumiputra Designers Association (BDA) Gala exemplifies both his commercial sense of styling and his sense of artistic flair with a couture collection called Une Soirée Enchantée. Taking inspiration from old-fashioned French styling and putting it in a contemporary context allowed Syaiful the generous use of flowing fabrics and graceful silhouettes. Delicate lace crinolines and fluffy skirts are both girlish and elegant, while soft pastel colours allow shapes to emerge strongly.

“Couture is my playground,” says Syaiful. And oh, what a playground it is for him.


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