Known for his jaw-dropping couture pieces, Malaysian fashion designer Carven Ong tackles the theme of “old Malaysia” for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur 2021, with a playful twist.
When we think of Carven Ong, we think of wedding dresses, or chic evening dresses. It is the brand on which he has built himself, from his first collection in 1991 at the MODA Wanita Fashion Show to his eponymous brand, “Carven Ong Couture”, specializing in exclusive bespoke wedding and evening dresses.
With over thirty years as a renowned designer in the local fashion industry under her belt, Ong’s continued dedication has turned her passion and hobby into a lifelong career. But Ong is always looking to try new things, and that includes exploring new styles as well as working on various platforms.
In 2017, Ong had the opportunity to work with Hollywood’s first costume designer, Mary E. Vogt, to produce couture pieces for the hit film, boobies rich asian. Ong designed and custom-made the iconic waterproof wedding dress and sequined jumpsuit worn by Araminta Lee’s character.
“It was the first time that I collaborated with a film. It was a very difficult experience,” Ong says of his time working with Vogt on boobies rich asian“but overall it was a lot of fun. I would definitely like to venture there again.
Ong laments the slow season and stagnation in the fashion industry that has been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but says it has given him the opportunity to explore beyond the style he is for. has always been known and experimenting with new designs. .
At the recent Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Kuala Lumpur, Ong showcased thirty-three new pieces centered around the theme of “old Malaysia”, with various pattern throwbacks reminiscent of fashion styles from the 1960s to 1980s. Bright, bold colors take center stage, accentuated by patterns from the past that somehow to feel Malaysian while evoking a foreign concept.
Just before seeing the show up close at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week KL, we caught up with Carven Ong to talk about his inspiration behind the show collection, as he shares his experience working on boobies rich asian.
What would you say you bring differently for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur 2021?
The collection I’m showing at the show will be for my spring/summer collection next year. And I think people will find my latest collection very interesting, because I’ve never done anything like this before. A lot of people assume that I would do a collection of evening or wedding dresses for the runway, and that’s exactly why I decided to make this collection different from my couture brand.
Mercedes-Benz actually invited us, the designers, to do this show in June of last year, but it was pushed back because of the pandemic. And so, I felt that if I were to present the collection that I had planned for last year, it would be quite dated by now. So after they announced the show would be premiering this year, I had about a month to work on a brand new collection. I decided to make it “easy”, simple, bright and joyful.
Tell us about the inspiration behind this collection.
Since we can’t travel, I thought it best to stay true to my roots and so I chose to design around a Malaysian theme, “Old Malaysia”. The inspiration for my collection is purely Malaysian, yet international. I think the cultures of our country are very rich and amazing, with outfits coming from Malay, Indian and Chinese culture, and mixing them all together while keeping an international air. That was the idea.
So, would you say it’s like a fusion between different cultures?
Yes exactly. It’s a very simple idea, but what I wanted to do was make it interesting. The theme is called “Old Malaysia” because it’s taken from a song by a Japanese singer in 1963. I love the song and got my ideas from it. This same song will also be played during the show! (Laughs)
I’m also using a lot of colorful outfits in this collection because I feel like the pandemic has lasted so long and everyone is feeling down so it’s nice to celebrate the fun before we close out the year . I played with all kinds of colors and merged them with Malay patterns like wayang kulit and henna, which are also imprinted on outfits. I would say that the color combination I have chosen is interesting and striking, at the same time very unexpected.
As you draw on the ‘Old Malaysia’ theme for the collection, would you say this is also your way of modernizing it?
It’s correct. I thought to myself: this is a show, so why not make it more fun? Especially since we have to compromise, due to SOP restrictions. Our models have to wear their mask, so I took the opportunity to incorporate it into the outfits as well – turning them into accessories, instead of something that covers their face. I designed the masks in different shapes, like the Petronas Twin Towers, to make it more fun.
What is your opinion on current fashion trends, and the return of retro fashion in fashion?
Old fashion trends will always make a comeback. I see it a lot in everything, especially shoes. I noticed that platform shoes are coming back into fashion, and they were very popular in the 1970s. But now everyone is wearing them! (Laughs) I also like to put this concept in my pieces, so you will notice that the shoes during the show are very high and in vibrant colors. What I love about platform shoes is that they go with almost everything: jumpsuits, short skirts, dresses. It adds a really fun layer to the whole look.
Speaking of fashion returns, what is your definition of “timeless” in terms of fashion?
I think it all depends on the design. For me, I would put it in relation to elegance. Timeless fashion is also something elegant.
You’ve accomplished so much within the fashion industry, from your label “Carven Ong Couture” to your ready-to-wear label, to collaborating with Vogt on Crazy Rich Asians. What have you not yet accomplished that you would like?
I am very proud of my involvement in boobies rich asian. Because of my dress design in the movie, I had clients from all over, including New York. It is truly surprising and surreal to me that a celebrity traveled to Malaysia to see me, asking me to design their wedding dress. It is truly an honour. She also invited me to dress her for the Met Gala in 2022. When I asked her why she chose me to be her designer, she said that she was inspired by my designs in boobies rich asian. And now, every time she goes to an event, she calls me and I draw her outfits, since I already have her measurements.
Tell us about your experience working on Crazy Rich Asians. What was your inspiration for this iconic wedding dress from the film?
When I was first approached to join the project, I had no idea it was going to be such a huge thing. I thought it was just someone looking to lend dresses or looking for sponsorship. They told me that I had been chosen to design the main dress, the outfit for the wedding scene.
They wanted it to look very exclusive and expensive. I worked closely with Mary E. Vogt on it. Vogt also designed the costumes for movies like catwoman before, and she’s a big fan of jumpsuits. So I said, “Why don’t we do a combination for the wedding?” This has never been done before! (Laughs) She agreed, and so we continued.
The whole thing lasted about three weeks. The schedule was very, very tight, but somehow I managed to get it all done. And I was also asked to design quite a few outfits for the film – I created nine in total, including the outfits the characters wore to the beach. They also wanted me to design outfits for the other actors, but I just couldn’t because of the tight schedule. If I had had more time, maybe I could have done more. But overall it was a very good experience for me.
For you personally, what are the most important facets of the fashion industry?
I’m thinking, from now on, about exposure and going out. We had one or two very slow years of doing nothing. I hope it will resume soon and our fashion industry will have more opportunities to develop our very talented designers than we have in Malaysia. This is why trade shows like Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and KL Fashion Week are important, as they are platforms for young local designers for us to have the chance to be exhibited and showcase their work. So hopefully we can resume, and also that the government will extend its support to Malaysian designers.
I feel like in Malaysian culture – even when I did the Miss Universe designs – I learned that we actually have so many ideas that we want to express. In Asian countries especially, our culture is so rich and amazing. We’re very lucky to have multicultural communities, and because of that, we have so much to work with. Hopefully with this people will start to see that fashion is actually very interesting and an art form in its own right.