Seow models the traditional kebaya labuh inspired by the legendary Mahsuri.

Miss World Malaysia 2019 will showcase a heritage costume at the international pageant, writes Meera Murugesan.

INSPIRED by the beauty and elegance of Langkawi’s famous maiden — the legendary Mahsuri — a classic kebaya labuh will be making its debut during the finals of the Miss World pageant in London on Dec 14.

Malaysia’s representative to the pageant, Miss World Malaysia 2019 Alexis Sueann Seow, will be wearing the outfit during the national costume segment of the finals.

The “Legend of Langkawi” as the kebaya labuh is called, has been crafted by established batik designer Kartini Illias and pays tribute to Malaysia’s roots and draws from the designer’s love of local flora and fauna and the traditional fabrics which form our cultural heritage.

Kartini, who resides in Langkawi, was drawn to the classic elegance of the kebaya labuh which originated from Kedah and is now popularly worn throughout Malaysia. She felt it would be the most appropriate representation of Malaysia at the international pageant.

The two-piece traditional outfit has a kebaya made from shimmering gold organza fabric with maroon lining and a matching sarong crafted from songket Terengganu which boasts the traditional tampok manggis motif, the distinctive pattern at the base of the mangosteen fruit which has inspired local craftswomen for ages.

The outfit is complemented by a hand printed silk batik shawl with striking gold motifs which Seow will be holding while wearing the kebaya.

Songket is a highly prized traditional fabric woven on a hand loom. Songket weaving has, over the centuries, remained the domain of women, mainly in the east coast states of Terengganu and Kelantan while batik, an ancient wax resist technique of dyeing fabric, continues to be synonymous with the Malaysian identity.

Kartini believes local fabrics and traditional crafts deserve more attention and we need to look at what we, as a nation, have to offer the world.

“We don’t need to be like everyone else. People will appreciate us for who we are and we cannot pretend to be anything else.”

Katini, started her label, iKARRTiNi in 1990 which has since established itself as a fashion forward name in batik designs.

She has always believed that in order to stay relevant in the fashion industry, especially when working with traditional fabrics, one must design to suit the market.

To craft Malaysia’s national costume for the Miss World pageant, she reconnected with an old acquaintance, Datin Majean Majid who started Needlewoman in 1974. The two women first met in 1977 in, at that time, Institute Technology Mara, where Kartini was a student and Majean a part-time lecturer. The process of working on the costume proved to be a delightful experience for both.

Kartini says given that Malaysia is a melting pot of different cultures, she wanted this diversity translated into Seow’s outfit as well. As a result, the accessories to match the Mahsuri inspired kebaya labuh, have been drawn from Chinese and Indian influences, particularly the elaborate, gold coloured headdress that Seow will be wearing.

The headdress is typically worn by brides even today. The influence of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures is clearly apparent and in East Malaysia, this kind of headdress is further adorned to reflect the identities of the different tribes.

Seow will also be donning a “kerongsang Tok” or traditional brooch which comes in a set of three. The ibu or mother brooch is the main brooch followed by two anak (or children). It used to be worn by aristocrats in the olden days, both of Malay and Chinese descent.

The traditional bangles with ornate motifs which will adorn the hands and feet of Miss World Malaysia 2019 also clearly reflect the different cultures in the country.

Seow, who is thrilled and proud to represent Malaysia, says unlike other beauty pageants, Miss World encourages and embraces the cultural diversity of its contestants and what each woman can bring from her country.

“That is why traditional designs and fabrics like batik and songket are so important at the pageant because they reflect our identity,” says Seow, an actress and TV and radio host who was crowned last month after beating 19 other contestants.

During the finals in London, she will also be performing the zapin while wearing the outfit designed by Kartini. She has taken lessons from a professional dancer from Istana Budaya to hone her skills in the traditional dance form. Seow will also be wearing several other batik-inspired ensembles created by Kartini during the duration of the pageant.

Seow will also auction off an autographed copy of A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at a charity auction for the pageant. Sponsors for her trip include Tourism Malaysia (Visit Malaysia Year 2020 is only a month away), Dorsett Grand Subang and Malaysia Airlines.

[email protected]

Grab discounts on all fashion styles with Zalora promo code