Islamic fashion not only for faithful, designer says

KUALA LUMPUR Mon Nov 19, 2007 2:53am EST

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - Islamic fashion is broadening its appeal beyond the faithful as women everywhere are increasingly drawn to its flowing lines, says renowned Malaysian designer Melinda Looi.

Looi, who hails from a dressmaking family, first caught the public's eye with her prize-winning graduation collection in 1995. The award-winning designer spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of the Malaysian International Fashion Week:

Q. Do you think Islamic fashion is catching on?

A. My designs are not very Islamic. I'm slowly making Islamic clothing, because I think the Islamic fashion events are really getting big, so I'm slowly involving myself in all that, since I live in a Muslim country, and there is a huge market for it.

A lot of people like the Europeans really love wearing the abaya dress, it's a huge market, so we are slowly doing that. In our collection every season in our ready-to-wear we try to put in some kind of design that is inspired by the Muslim culture.

To me it's interesting, it's nice, I think we can make it look really modern and yet a little conservative.

Q. How do you see Malaysian fashion evolving?

A. I think Malaysians are all very talented. Because we are all influenced by the three different cultures. We live in a country where we grew up with three main food and costume influences -- Indian, Malay and Chinese, so you get inspired.

That has helped us to be more artistic, and also we look into fashion in a very different way. We like to combine the traditional with the modern and make an internationally acceptable kind of look.

Q. What is needed to carry the Malaysian fashion industry to the next level?

A. Well, just support -- especially financially, because fashion is not a cheap business. So if you want to build a brand, if you want to promote yourself, if you want to sell, you need money. Just to get people to know you, it's a long journey, it's very expensive. So I guess if there is a lot of support from the government, from the private sector, we will grow faster.

Plus, in Malaysia the resources are very little. For designers it's very difficult, we have to import everything. Otherwise I would love to have Malaysian-made fabrics, to put into my collections. So in a way, its kind of sad.

Q. What's your biggest market outside Malaysia?

A. For the ready-to-wear, it was the United States, now it's more Europe and slowly, more of Southeast Asia. The couture is mainly Middle Eastern, some Malaysians, royalty and also some from Australia. I think the Middle East has more parties and they need more of that kind of dresses. Whereas Asia, as long as it's long dresses, you can consider yourself well dressed for a formal event. I think the Middle East culture is different. They really want to pay for designer clothing.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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