If a Merlion kebaya sounds like a trippy idea, spoiler alert: it actually existed. That piece of fashion trivia popped up on our social media recently when the Instagram account Kebaya Societe uploaded a post on Sep 15 to highlight the 50th year anniversary of the Singapore icon which was designed in 1964 but officiated in 1972.
We’re talking about handprinted images of the Merlion on a buttercup yellow kebaya which had been cut in the silhouette of a short body-hugging kota bahru style, which is known for its square-shaped collar. This mini fashion history bite is just one of many riveting posts on Nusantara fashion in Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia from the turn of the 20th century right up to the ’80s that Kebaya Societe is reputed for since it began earlier this year.
The brains behind the account are Paris-trained fashion designer Sufiyanto A.S. (Sufi), who has worked in the creative teams of couturiers such as Stephane Rolland and Elie Saab, and Afiq Juana, a fashion business consultant interested in the intersections of fashion, data and web 3.0. While Kebaya Societe may be best known for sparking online discourse in March for questioning designer’s Ong Shunmugam definition of progressiveness of Malay women which she made during a panel discussion, the account has become a veritable resource for vintage Nusantara fashion. Just clock their vast clippings from the now-defunct Malayan fashion magazine Fesyen and the collection of archival kebaya designs they have amassed.
At a time when vintage is a hot commodity and the resale and pre-loved market is buoyant, Kebaya Societe’s approach on the people and stories behind the clothes – in the same vein of fashion accounts like Luke Meagher of @hautelemode and Brynn Wallner of @dimepiece.co fame – puts it in a special anthropological bubble. “We try to bring our pieces to life because museums tend to focus on the piece itself without the wearers and their story. If you look at our posts, we share the stories of the owners who wore the kebaya,” says Sufi.
Ahead, we sat down with the low-key duo for a chat.
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