KL Fashion Week 2014 organised a pop-up store at Parkamaya, Fahrenheit 88 and as I was perusing the clothing on display and genuinely admired the über-cute and quirky designs, that look like something that come from a Japanese/Thai/South Korean designer for an untrained eye, when a girl appeared. It was a serendipitous occurrence as I wasn't expecting anyone so kind to walk me through the collection. Turned out that I was speaking to Chiyo designer herself, Isabel Lam. The label Chiyo is her brainchild (the name came from Isabel's Chinese name 'Chi Yoi', and as she's heavily influenced by Japanese fashion, she decided to make it Chiyo which means 'thousands of generations/ everlasting' in Japanese).
She has come out with four collections to date, with the two latter ones being a more 'proper' collection, according to Isabel. As clichéd as it may sound, as the collection expands Isabel tries to break free from 'safe' and 'commercial' design and she now rather prefers to design to her heart's content. This is evident from the more focused and themed Cloud Crayon collection - clouds and lightning motifs on dresses, hair accessories and shoes tie the whole collection together. There's a sense of cuteness or kawaii as the collection revolves around one of Tokyo's popular subculture style 'pop kei'. But it's not kawaii-overload per se - other elements like cube-shaped fabric prints and soft denim adds some toughness to the otherwise girly collection. And if I was a girl in my teens/early twenties I'd love me some of the dresses because of its genius pastel/denim combos...
It's quite a rare moment for me to really sit down and delve into a collection and the laborious process behind it, and it's definitely once in a blue moon that I could get the explanation from the designer firsthand. Therefore I feel so excited for the opportunity of digesting the ins and outs of Chiyo from Isabel, who is quite eloquent at explaining her viewpoints, no less (the designer herself if the best brand spokesperson IMHO).
I was taken aback to learn that Chiyo is almost a one-man show with Isabel taking the full rein in the design process and the ideas being executed by her aunt, who is a tailor. (The shoes, on the other hand, are custom made locally). She admitted that it's quite a strenuous task handling everything quite literally, but the thing is she finds obstacles achieving the things she wanted in order to reduce said burden - e.g. searching for willing local tailors who could mass-produce her collection in quality that is up to her standards. And as a fledgling label, she had her own ups and downs learning the pros and cons of consignment versus boutique and where her collection could potentially sell more (Bangsar is better than the likes of KLCC or Avenue K demographically).
It's safe to say that price-wise this label falls into the 'affordable' category (basically tops and skirts are in the RM149-200 range and the dresses with structured cloud shoulders are priced at around RM300 - all quite affordable indeed to me, considering the detailing and hand-sewn processes and judging from the the steeper price tags of overseas independent designers) but sadly it seems that customers still haggle for discounts! It's no surprise to me though, considering the fact that Malaysians would generally pay top dollar for imported luxury brands with its perceived high status (including yours truly), but only to skimp on local designers...
Straying off the collection we also discussed about Malaysian fashion 'scene'. Evidently there's some interesting insider's story discovered. Certain Malaysian designers who prefer having shows in Singapore. 'The army of black'. The selective and 'exclusive' nature of fashion in KL and more juicy gossips abound...
Apart from that we talked about social media and its role in fashion. Growing from an online business (Chiyo's currently stocked on her e-shop and Zalora, among others) and subsequently evolving into a physical one (Bazarro in Bangsar plus a store in Australia, and now she's vying for a longer stay at Parkamaya), Isabel is definitely yearning for that established online presence. Sponsoring fashion bloggers is one thing, and finding a worthwhile one is another. A blogger with a big audience sounds wonderful, but the catch is she's looking for someone with a genuine interest in the brand and a Chiyo aesthetic to match (Dunia Fashyon is definitely out of the question - as much as I love the design, I'm still not a girl, tee hee). A fashion blogger is currently the face of her lookbook, though. I jokingly mentioned about Susie Lau from Style Bubble who could be her perfect muse with her unconventional/extraordinary/not-so-cookie-cutter style. One could only dream, yes?
Hair accessories, having played an important role in the pop kei style, are also included in the collection in the forms oversized head-bows, clouds, fried egg, pair of eyes. Literally gushing like a teenager right now.
Chiyo pieces of past season glory are also available at Parkamaya, all at a heftily discounted price!
Text by Hafidzudin Zainal
Images by Hafidzudin Zainal / Chiyo lookbook