What Really Happens Before A Fashion Show

Shahrezzan Ezani, creative director of Malaysian label Alia Bastamam, gives us the good, bad and crazy of preparing for fashion week

We might have called the collection ‘Sanguine’, but the weeks leading up to our KLFW15 show were anything but! The tight time between the Raya ’15 season and KLFW this year made the ride a little less than smooth, as (the label's designer) Alia juggled between Raya made-to-measure orders and churning out samples for our Spring/Summer 2016 collection.

And Alia and I work in our own special way when it comes to new collections – we work best amid speed, indecision and last-minute tweaks. We like calling it our “make it happen” phase – as Tim Gunn says on Project Runway. A whole collection made in a week kind of situation. Whether or not we really created the collection in a week, we’ll just leave you guessing.

We knew the colour palette we wanted, and the mood and feel of the collection. The past two KLFW collections have been about glamour and excess, full of dark tones, sequins, heavily hand-embellished detail, lace, embroidery – you name it, we put it out there. We were celebrating richness where more is more. But that’s not how we started the brand. Alia debuted with a Resort collection back in 2011 – solid pastel tones, light fabric flowing dreamily, and a lot of ease sans corseted constrictions, with not a sequin or bauble in sight. At the get-go, Alia and I knew we wanted to go back to where we started for this SS16 collection. We pared everything back, but of course we couldn’t let the show-stopping appeal disappear completely.

Where there had been heavy brocade fabric or fine beading, we replaced it with pleats, which would be the main focus for the Alia Bastamam main line. Yes, there was a strong echo of Issey Miyake and I admit to referencing what he turned into a chapter in fashion history. For me as Alia’s creative advisor, rather than just updating myself with current trends, I prefer to look back at all the things that have caught my eye in my life to find a point of inspiration when we work on a collection – I’m a major data hoarder, so my Tumblr and Pinterest are my visual libraries. A particular woman is always in mind as well while developing a collection – we’ve done Bianca Jagger, Theda Bara (the world’s first-ever sex symbol) and Catherine Baba, just to name a few. But SS16 was less about one woman (although we did look back a couple of times to Vanessa Paradis and her languid ’90s grunge chicness).

This time Alia’s design process was more intrinsic and personal. She wanted to come back to making clothes that she would wear – a mantra she had first started with that had drifted into the sea of glamorous gowns.

Fast forward to Thursday, 13 August, 9pm – showtime! As usual, the whole Alia B team are manic. Jimmy and Shamin (respectively, PR and Operations), Fatin our assistant and our team of good-looking ushers are front of the house sorting the goodie bags, placing the names on seats and handling the throng. Backstage, Alia and I are with Saiful, our junior designer, and Nana, our intern, steam-ironing the clothes, lining up the shoes (which were designed by Alia for a collaboration with Lewre Bespoke), separating the accessories, tagging the look numbers to the model names. All this as well as two other designers, about 40 models, 15 dressers, hair team, makeup team, runway coordinators and even steam pressers crammed backstage without air-conditioning, let alone a fan!

Mind you, we were still fitting models. Backstage. Before the show was going to start at any moment. Pins poked models’ butts as we hiked up and tightened waistlines, shoes flew left right centre when they didn’t fit or go with the look, looks were switched between models because suddenly she became too skinny or she had just had dinner. One girl had her hair changed three times because it was just not happening. Her ass is showing, I can see your bra strap, take off your bra, no you’ve put the dress the wrong way around! The utter madness only made the pre-show rush more intense. The energy is unmissable.

And then just like that, it was all over and done with in a flash. The weeks of screaming fits, creative blocks and screw ups all done in 12 minutes. This would be the 16th and 17th collections (for Alia B. and Alia Bastamam) that we’ve shown, and each time has never failed to leave us flabbergasted, catching our breath saying what just happened, is it over? This will also be Alia’s fifth year in the industry, and every time we complain about losing our breath and being so “over it”, we find ourselves hungry to create the next collection. And the next. So ’til the next one.

Photos: Shahrezzan Ezani

This article was originally published on ELLE.my. Check out ELLE Malaysia's full coverage of KLFW here and coverage of Alia Bastamam KLFW 2015 show here. Kuala Lumpur’s annual KL Fashion Week Ready-To-Wear ended on 16 August.

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