7 Minutes with Bernard Chandran on the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange

Malaysian pride


By Joan Kong

7 Minutes with Bernard Chandran on the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange


Created by Livia Firth’s Eco-Age, the Commonwealth countries are coming together for a first-time initiative that aims to celebrate both established and emerging design and artisan fashion talents across 52 countries, with Malaysia’s representative being none other than esteemed local fashion designer Dato’ Sri Bernard Chandran.

Known for his exquisite designs, he’ll be presenting alongside designers such as Stella McCartney (representing the U.K.), and Karen Walker from New Zealand at a reception to be held at the Buckingham Palace in London—hosted by the Duchess of Cambridge and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. The looks will then move to Australia House on 21 February, followed by other locations around London where it will be open for public viewing, culminating with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in April 2018. 




We spoke to Bernard Chandran who gave us a low-down of the project prior to the event:

How did your participation in the first Commonwealth Fashion Exchange (CFE) come about?

Having already studied and showcased my collections in Europe over the years, I was approached by Eco-Age, who is the official organiser of The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange to work on a custom-made piece for the exhibition.


How do you feel about being the sole representative from Malaysia?

Malaysia is my home and I am honoured to represent my country on this prestigious platform. I like that the CFE allows us to express our cultures and traditional heritage through fashion. I am excited to showcase a design that incorporates elements of tradition and cultures of Malaysia in a new light. I have explored with textures and materials that included the songket—a traditional Malaysian brocade textile that is usually hand-woven, and intricately patterned with gold or silver threads, favoured mostly by the royalties. 


Can you tell us more about what you’re showing?

I am showing one look—a bustier dress and a majestic floor-length overcoat. The former is made from songket updated with modern stripes, and features the brand’s signature hidden form-fitted cut that gives an illusion of a straight-cut shift dress. The embellishment envelopes the bottom part of the dress, and they are kerawang-inspired. The overcoat is made from songket as well, woven in electric blue thread in geometric motif and layered with intricate detailing in the form of black peonies. The bottom left and right of the coat feature a green phoenix, and both the peonies and phoenix are inspired by Chinese culture.


What are you looking forward to at the Buckingham Palace reception?

I am excited to meet with other designers from around the Commonwealth and witness their designs—I’m sure it will be very interesting!


What would you hope to achieve from this experience?

I take every experience as a learning curve. I am inspired by the whole process of putting the designs together and combining two distinct cultures—Oriental and Malay—which largely influenced my childhood, and gave them a contemporary twist.  Back home, I will continue to inspire young people to embrace and be proud of the culture where we are from. Traditions that may be deemed mundane and dull to some can be given a ‘nouveau’ sense of modernity and individuality that is of international standards.





“This is a project rich in partnerships and creative co-design,” says Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco-Age. “For example, one of our very talented designers from India is paired with an artisan group in Tuvalu. As someone who is passionate about joining the threads of global fashion and creating real partnerships you can imagine how exciting it is for us to be involved.” 


The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange is a project that is being developed in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MatchesFashion.com, who will launch an edited collection in September 2018. Through unique digital partnerships with MatchesFashion.com, and Google Arts & Culture, those who cannot make it to the London showcase and exhibitions in person, will be able to engage with The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange via online platforms. More updates to follow.


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