In the world of Bernard Chandran, creativity is the name of the game. He is the great designer who changes every season.
According to Bernard, a creator is an inventor and an inventor is someone who invents something new every season.
Why only last September at the Spring/ Summer 2012 collection at the London Fashion Week, Bernard paid tribute to his mother who loved being fashionable.
Looking at past pictures of his mum who adored the fashion of the Motown girls and the Supremes in the 1950s, he was amazed by the glamour that once inspired his mother.
"I discovered myself through her. I am truly inspired by her younger days of the fifties, where they actually took every effort to be fashionable. Given the limited resources at that time, she would take the pain to create and sew her own clothes and put them together to look stylish. I truly admire her creativity, the passion to create and the effort to look good," said Bernard Chandran adding that one Oriental and 14 black models showed off his collection on the runway.
Creating is certainly something Bernard does all the time in all aspects of his life. In the way he dresses, in the dishes he cooks, in the way he decorates his office, in the way he dresses his clients, in the clothes he designs for his fashion shows; it all comes down to creating, creating, creating.
Dreams are for freeBernard always knew he wanted to design clothes. Back in the 80s, being a designer was considered far from a 'status job' but Bernard had a dream and since dreams are free he dreamt of returning from Paris and designing for the royal family of Brunei.
It was 1993 when Bernard returned from Paris having graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts from the Paris American Academy and at L'Union Des Chambers Syndicales Parisiennes. He was still only 25-yearsold and married to the beautiful model Mary Lourdes Chandran even before he left for Paris four years earlier.
Not wanting to work for anyone else upon returning to Malaysian soil, Bernard launched his own designer label aptly known as Bernard Chandran.
"As soon as I returned, I decided to start on my own. My friends father had this shop lot in Jalan Gurney where downstairs was a motorbike repair shop and my two friends and I used the upstairs as our workshop. We had clients who came to tailor-make clothes and we went through lots of ups and downs.
Shortly after my two friends stopped finding it inspiring but I believed in what I was doing. So they signed out and sold the business to me," recalled the designer extraordinaire.
"When I returned from Paris I made it very clear that I was a creator who invents," said Datuk Bernard Chandran, fashion creator of Bernard Chandran Sdn Bhd.
In January 1994 Bernard paid his first rental for his outlet in KL Plaza (now called Fahrenheit). Day and night he and a pregnant Mary took care of the store as the duo had no other staff.
"It was all very hard. People gave me lots of opinions and there were days I did a lot of marketing and still no one came in. But I am a person who is constantly driven. At that time there was no public relations, no computers and it was just me always making things happen. I did shows in the mall, I took bags with the clothes and ran all over conducting lots of shows. Being new in town, whenever I presented a show I was constantly the new designer," stated the trend setter of Indian and Chinese descent.
And so it begins....Then in 1995 Brunei came in and everything changed for Bernard. The Brunei Royal Ladies Club wanted him to do a fashion show in Brunei and knowing that the royal family had their own designers; Bernard was very inspired that they chose him. Thinking that this was an amazing opportunity, Bernard took all his savings and invested it into making the clothes. Then the bombshell fell. The show was cancelled.
"It was really sad and I was very disappointed but I thought there will be another chance. In December that same year, there was a different show which I went for using the collection I had prepared for the royal family and I put some of the clothes on my window display. The Sultanah of Pahang saw it and wanted it which again helped me with my savings," recalled the creative genius.
In early 1996 Bernard took these savings and had his first ever press show. All the media turned up for it and he had six months coverage non- stop.A new star was now born in Kuala Lumpur and he was already making waves. Bernard had created a trend with a kebaya which was extra long. He brought a style to Malaysia that Malaysia did not have.
As Bernard had predicted earlier, Brunei returned. The year was still 1996 and the timing was perfect because now Bernard had more money and better clothes. "I made the queen of Brunei winter wear with embellishment. I also made her fake jewellery and she loved both my clothes and my jewellery."
Success started to loom in the horizons. Bernard's staff strength grew– a staff he always did right by in paying them bonuses even when money was scarce and he and Mary were renting a little apartment. Despite earlier facing very challenging and scary times when not a soul walked into his outlet for days on end, Bernard refused to move on and do something else because he did not want to abandon his staff. Today his staff strength is standing at 55 strong.
After 1996, clients requested for Bernard to make them his version of clothes thus building his confidence. "When I started designing I learnt modern dress and jackets but when I came back to Malaysia I started modern traditional wear. It was quirky and then I toned it down for my clients and they loved it and then I made it different.
"We created trend setters rather than followers but for the less adventurous we had made-to order. Every season I gave them a new look and as I grew the business, I invested back into the finances," he said.
The French trained couturier today is best known for his success in bridging the traditional lines of his rich cultural heritage to his contemporary creations.
He was the first designer to revolutionise the traditional Malay 'Kebayas' and 'Kurungs', turning them into modern, fashionable and wearable outfits. His is a style that combines sharp silhouette and sexy femininity with an edgy slant which is immediately apparent in all his designs bringing life and pizzazz to all his creations through the deft use of exquisite fabrics and custom made embellishments.
Savvy Mary helped. Despite being a full time mum Mary is still in the boutique seeing to every aspect. Businesslike and passionate about the global brand, it is the ideal partnership.
Getting the right staff in, managing them and the finances were constant hurdles that the couple faced in growing their dream. Bernard has a financial advisor to help and fellow entrepreneurs he speaks to that help him to get things right in these areas.
Moving onAttracting an impressive list of clients including celebrities and artists in the international entertainment industry such as Tori Amos, Estelle and Lady Gaga, the multiple award winner sees himself both as a businessman and designer: "I am a designer when I travel and from 7pm right up to 3am. From 7am to 10am I am a sportsman who spends my time at the gym or cycling, swimming or running because I love keeping fit.
From 11am to 7pm I am a businessman. Being a businessman is also an art to me because I don't conduct business according to people's expectation because I like to blur the creative line," said the designer who launched his very first highly acclaimed Autumn/Winter 2006 Ready-to-Wear collection at London Fashion Week and now has a firm foothold in Europe, Dubai and the Far East.
Wanting to leave a great memory for others, wanting to inspire and encourage people and then to move on, Bernard sees the future of his company being run by his children who are already showing interest in the creative and business sense. They follow their father to London for the London Fashion Week and for interviews and are already amazing at styling.
For now however the Prince of Fashion is kept on his toes with the London Fashion Week, his clients who constantly touch base with him and his latest baby Area27.
Area27A project by designer extraordinaireBernard Chandran, Area27 is Kuala Lumpur's latest uber trendy, hip and sexy fashion destination. Located at Jalan Bukit Bintang, this multi-label store-cum-hip showcase, and its energetic vibe in the industrial looking space, gives an overall edgy unpolished feel to the store. It presents ideal and artistic values and expression on fashion.
Keeping with the unpretentious culture of this intelligent store, the merchandise represents the pop culture of the young and the fun living. Like pop art's take on fashion, it includes popular designs, music of different genres that personify cult abstraction, objects of desire to icons, "villains" and "heroes".
The labels that are sold here include the Puma Blackstation range like Alexander McQueen, Rudolf Dassler, Mihara Yasuhiro and Puma Area27 customised trainers. Area27 views fashion through a more unconventional lens. The store-cum-gallery reinvents itself each season featuring clothes and accessories from off track around-the-world labels including Natalija Jansone, Butterflysoulfire, Ana Sekularac, Rajesh Pratap Singh, Riccardo Forconi, Suzanne Werson, La Boite as well as Area27‟s own labels like Forknspoon, BCArea27, Animal Kingdom, Tanestrran2001, Skullarea, words and Negaraku and a variety of graphic t-shirts by up-and-coming designers.
As Bernard Chandran cited, Area27 is an inspiration and channeling the soul, passion and fire of the teenage spirit. "It is for the individual that would like to find respite from the mainstream but at the same time is unwilling to compromise on style. This is where fashion becomes personal to the individual. We are happy to hear your own interpretation of this place," said Bernard Chandran.