Fashion Insider: Designer Kel Wen of Behati on refreshing traditional wear for the Lunar New Year

Old meets new


By Benedict Unang

Featured images courtesy of Kel Wen
Fashion Insider: Designer Kel Wen of Behati on refreshing traditional wear for the Lunar New Year

Fashion, transcending its superficial charm, harbours the profound ability to spark and fuel meaningful conversations. It evolves into a dynamic medium, offering individuals a platform to express their identities, challenge societal norms, and participate in a larger dialogue. Often, it is the visionaries in this domain, the fashion designers, who wield the transformative power to shape and influence people through their creative expressions. Within our local landscape, Kel Wen from Behati emerges as one of those courageous few who dares to break away from conventions. 

For those unfamiliar with Behati, the six-year-old label revolves around traditional wear, leading the push to rejuvenating classic codes. Despite becoming entangled in controversies in recent years, the resilient Malacca-born designer persistently pushes the boundaries of conventional fashion narratives each season. This Lunar New Year holds special significance for the Raffles College alumnus, as he launched over 100 designs and partnered with not one, but two other homegrown brands—Machino and Revelot.

In this edition of Fashion Insider, we spoke with Kel Wen about his latest collections, favourite pieces, and dream collaborations.



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A post shared by KEL WEN (@kel__wen)


What was your first memory of fashion?

“My initial encounter with fashion is anchored in the vivid image of my mother’s striking purple lips. I recall her confidently wearing dark lipstick to her school’s annual dinner, an unusual choice in the setting of Muar, exuding a powerful and assertive feminine image. What stood out even more was how she embraced traditional clothing pieces for everyday use, like the qipao top, which shows her experimental and adventurous approach to fashion, a quality I have always admired.”


Who have been some of your role models or inspirations, and why?

Alexander McQueen has always been my primary muse. I am drawn to the theatrical flair he instils in his designs. But, at the moment, Demna has become a major influence on the direction I aspire to take in my career. His ability to create collections that are both impactful and relevant to society has inspired me to strive for a similar impact in my work.”


How did you get started as a fashion designer and what inspired you to launch Behati?

“I didn’t plan on a career in fashion—it found me in high school. I had contemplated other industries like animation or music, but the idea of creating clothes intrigued me. My passion for it eventually led me to start my label. The unwavering support from my family has also played a crucial role in encouraging me to establish this brand, especially given that all my siblings are thriving in the creative industry.”


How would you describe your style?

“My style is sleek and minimalist, but it still makes a statement. I like to create looks that leave a lasting impact, prompting people to question and appreciate the choices in my wardrobe.”



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What was the inspiration behind your Lunar New Year’s collection?

“I began designing this collection in October of last year, and the name ‘Dynasty’ symbolises my five-year journey, particularly in updating Chinese traditional wear. It blends elements from the ancient dynasties with contemporary influences like cybercore and oversized aesthetics. Even with the subtle silhouettes, intricate craftsmanship can be seen in the details, like the dragon pattern.”


What is your favourite piece from the series, and how will you style it?

“My favourite piece is the black Chang Tang Krop top and I would style it with black shorts, blue jeans or khaki pants.”


You also teamed with Machino for Lunar New Year. How did that happen?

“This year, my mission is to expand my brand beyond clothing. Recognising the strength of our women’s market, I saw the opportunity to work with a local brand, and that’s where Machino came into play. We share a common language, and I’m attracted to their minimal aesthetic, specifically the distinctive thick soles. Since our business has cultural roots, I want to bring back the Chinese buttons that have been neglected for a while by using leather and denim.”


Can you tell us more about your partnership with Revelot?

“Kevin from Revelot reached out to us, and as someone who is always open to unique opportunities, I thought, why not? And, so, it happened. We tried to infuse cultural elements into the watch, with a specific emphasis on Mahjong. The Chinese letters on the dial add a unique touch to the overall aesthetic.”



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A post shared by KEL WEN (@kel__wen)


What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started your label?

“I think it’s important to know your market. I wish I had grasped this idea better when I started, but I learn as I go. Now, it’s not about pursuing my creative desires but more about meeting the demands of the market to ensure long-term sustainability. My personal wants take a back seat now [laughs].”


What advice would you give someone who wants to start their label?

“Find a reliable investor! Building a brand is more than creating a single collection and making profits from it alone. This is a common misconception and I’ve learned its importance firsthand. Thus, my advice is to find a solid investor as they are essential in brand development. What’s equally important is identifying a unique selling point. This has been pivotal in sustaining my brand—it not only sets us apart but also makes us stand out in the market as no other brand approaches it as we do.” 


What hopes do you have for the brand in the years to come?

“I hope to have Behati stocks in every state. Instead of exploring international markets, I want people to truly appreciate my designs. That’s why we’re entering the commercial line—to make Behati more accessible. The ultimate goal is to have more people wearing Behati! I also wish for Malaysians to develop a wider appreciation for fashion. I hope more of our people invest in local crafts, as many tend to lean towards comfort and familiarity. Embracing the idea that fashion can be unconventional and sometimes uncomfortable is essential. It’s the collective efforts to go beyond the norm that propel the local fashion scene forward.”


What is your dream collaboration?

“A dream partnership for me would be with Billie Eilish. I think she can effortlessly carry off the oversized aesthetic that has always been synonymous with our brand.”


What would you be if you were not a fashion designer?

“I would be a singer-songwriter. During my high school years, I did musicals and choir, and music has always run in my family—my dad writes songs, and my mother teaches piano.”





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