By Aisha Hassan on March 24th, 2021
A few of his favorite things
As a child, one of Khoon Hooi’s favorite activities was eating at the char kuey teow stand behind his house in Perak, Malaysia. Other Malaysian meals like roti canai and nasi lemak dapple his childhood happily, as do memories of his family.
“As a kid, spending a lot of time with siblings, my grandmother, my parents...that’s the most cherished time,” he says.
Fast forward to today and Khoon Hooi is one of the country’s most enduring and well-known fashion figures. After graduating from the Malaysian Institute of Art in 1993 and winning a smattering of awards, he began his eponymous label in 1999, which has shown at Paris Fashion Week since 2010.
With one look at the sumptuous pieces filling Khoon Hooi's showroom in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, it’s clear the brand’s creations are as vibrant as the designer himself.
The Chiasa Short Handle Bags, for instance, are handmade from lush upcycled brocades adorned with striking motifs. Inspired by traditional Japanese bento box bags, known as azuma bukuro and designed to be endlessly practical, each Chiasa piece also has a sculptural knot that acts as a clasp. Beyond their textural aesthetic, the pieces in Khoon Hooi’s Lifestyle Collection are also an experiment in upcycling.
“We thought about how to use leftover fabric,” Khoon Hooi says, noting that as a result of the pandemic, people had fewer reasons to buy new clothes, let alone occasionwear. And so the Lifestyle Collection was born, with items like masks and scrunchies and the Gilligan Bucket Hat.
“They’re sustainable products and it’s all one-off fabric,” Khoon Hooi says, referring to how the materials for some products, being remnant textiles to begin with, are in limited quantities. “You see it now, you’ve got to get it now,” he says.
Constantly evolving, like pivoting during the pandemic or reveling in different textures, is something Khoon Hooi relishes. His favorite part of the creative process, in fact, is turning uncharted imagination into a wearable reality. And he’s thankful to do this every day.
“I’m grateful for what I’m doing now,” Khoon Hooi says. “I’m really grateful it’s my hobby and at the same time it’s my career.”
And with a multitude of loyal fans who continue to inspire him — “All my ladies who love Khoon Hooi, that’s my muse” — the designer is ready for the road ahead, especially with all the possibilities that the fashion realm provides.
“For me,” Khoon Hooi says, “fashion is always looking forward.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.