November 01, 2017

The Nasi Lemak Dress for Miss Universe 2017 by Brian Khoo. My outraged thoughts.

Co- founder of Pixar, Ed Catcall said, the greatest enemy of creative success is the attempt to fortify against failure.’ If you want to create the future, the new, and the better… you are going to make some glorious mistakes, graze your knees, and feel a little downhearted. But this is the process we all go through to create the truly valuable and original.

We should not look at what Brian designed but rather ask: What world was he trying to create? It was Brian’s motivation, his purpose, his vision that should inspire us, so we can ask ourselves the same question: What world do I want to create? If you cannot describe a new destination, you will never get there. A world with no nasi lemak design ever existed? A world where creativity has no limits or boundaries? An acceptive community to nurture our future designers? 

I speak on behalf of my generation, who ignorantly only have their heads glued to their phones, I question, who are OUR cultural leaders online who are developing a narrative of our best possible future?
The world I envision for Malaysia, is a close knit industry panelled by powerful visionaries equipped with high technical competence. The industry today has provided the means to mass produce beauty, or at least have an agreed version of it. They say “Put it on Vivy, she looks good in anything.” The concept of authenticity depends on the notions of morality and honesty which is absent in the 20th century. If fashion was easy as you judging it according to your taste, their would not be a whole 3 to 4 year degree in Fashion Design all over the world. You want to blame how ridiculous that dress is? You cant just blame the bad, but you have to blame him for all the good. I quote Tony Robbins, “If you’re going to give them credit for everything that’s fucked up then you have to give them credit for everything that’s great. I’m not asking you to stop blaming. I’m saying blame elegantly, blame intelligently, blame effectively, blame at the level of your soul not the level of your fucking head” . Blame him for all the heads he turned, blame him for making you feel hungry to research better, blame him for going against the stereotypes. If you want to discriminate his design aspect, back it up with technical credibility, you're a designer, there is no one more UNDERSTANDING than you. You want to reject the design, thats fine, but you have to have the knowledge in order to reject or edit. Who else if its not our best designers to educate the society to think more openly, make them understand a creative process, to create intellectual creative dialogue. It is absurd in to persist in refusing to see, that designers, are cultural shapers. Muhammad Ali was once asked what his shortest poem was, he replied  ‘Me, We’. In these two short words Ali gave  insight into our true human nature. We need to be truly ourselves as individuals, but we can only be one when connected to greater ‘We’. The Me needs the We to create more than what is possible as a an individual; and the We needs Me - every Me - to come with their full capacity and vibrancy in the community. 

Im sick of us bullying each other, not only that, but allowing us amongst designers to shame? Ask yourself a simple question: Do you want to create an ugly society or a compassionate one?  I come from a perspective, that i witness way more ridiculous designs made on a DAILY  basis than that, WAY MORE. Designers, are strange, egotistical people. Sadly, this is true. But one thing my baba taught me, be kind, talk humbly and politely in any situation you find yourself in. Im sure all our fathers had said that once or twice. 

Lets talk about the dress. 

There is the potential for inspiration in virtually everything around you. Nasi Lemak, long story short, from attending UCL for business, the portfolio I submitted to London College of Fashion that got me accepted, was a collection inspired by nasi lemak. What I was inspired by was the, that textures of the crunchy anchovies, zesty oily sambal , fluffy coconut rice, jelly-like egg all packed in one-freaking-spoon. Have you tasted anything like it before? Also, in my point of view, I love striking, clear, ridiculously in your face kinda-things. Does Nasi Lemak carry a low cultural capital based on the discrimination it has been receiving? Cultural capital  argued by Pierre Bourdieu written in Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, published in 1979, is that taste, is the ability to choose and is socially shaped and culturally learnt, something deep rooted in a class-based hierarchy that is imposed on society by the culturally dominant. Having said this, lets be frank, nasi lemak is uncategorizable, the nasi lemak is able to significantly transcend from lowest class house-made-of-wood/kampung dining table, to the most extravagant families in Malaysia. Us Malaysians, we simply could not live without it. We all have our favourite nasi lemak stall. Still, why nasi lemak? Theres something about it that reminds you of your grandma, or your date with your late-dad you used to go to together, those times you were in the hospital bed dreaming of nasi lemak the first thing you get out, you remember those breakfast meals out with your school mates. “You remember Malaysia - her pettiness and greatness, her beauty and squalor, her din and disorder and wonderful warmth” described Adilah Amin in her book, As I Was Passing. 

Where there’s life, there’s hope. Where there’s hope, there’s a way forward. Brian has spread and shared with others the sensitivity and mind of a designer through this medium that we call clothes. In terms of design, its difficult to analyse it without physically looking at the seams, hems, and cut. It is clear that he aimed to design a dress visually symbolic. I feel like if Brian had two more weeks to go into research and development, he could have created something greater, more in-depth to interpret the Nasi Lemak in more thoughtful representation that would have been controversial in a glance.  However, Brian sourced out the right materials brilliantly, to represent each nasi lemak element, and the hand-sewing was impeccable, more than 30 THOUSAND beads on delicate fabric. This was not sent to factory in India, this was made in-house ok, hashtag I am home grown. I can't stress enough how incredibly challenging that must have been in the time span they were given. For him and the team, it must've been a torturous experience.
Photo courtesy of Brian Khoo

Brian, thank you for creating a conversation that is going to be taking place in 5-10 years time. A design student in a class can directly reference in his presentation “in 2017 a nasi lemak dress was created, that inspired me to design my collection fearlessly, nonconforming to the rules”. And in Malaysia, we need that more, more starters. We express opinions as if were on par with the Italian or Parisian fashion industry that have matured over 100 years forgetting that our industry still has a long way to go. One of us has invented a nasi lemak dress, fantastic or outrageous it maybe, its historical. Its a beginning of a new creative chronology. Young designers who wants to challenge this, go with all your might. 

Also, thank you for creating a way to run away from the harsh reality to build a new one. The dress was a miss, but what you did was reveal how much time and effort these “designers” took to let them judge something that was not according to their beauty standard. 3 minutes? Did you know Leonardo da Vinci before arriving to the Mona Lisa, he was interested in human ugliness as human beauty. Picasso did crazy shit. In Prada’s Autumn/Winter 2010 collection, Prada intentionally chose various shades of fecal brown because it is “difficult and unappealing”, yes the colour of poop. Jeremy Scott for Moschino. We do what we do as designers because our creative brains are gifted to think beyond what is normalised. Lets be powerful creatives, cultivate growth, inspire each other, help each other and create a damn good fashion industry for generations to come. Collectively.

Anisah Mohd Farid
Second year in BA Fashion Pattern Cutting
London College of Fashion

p/s I wrote this so impulsively, my thoughts are so scrambled,  im dead scared to press publish but here I go. in my About page i state, the firsts, never comes out straight or logical anyway.



  1. No doubt this The Nasi Lemak Dress looked so beautiful on this year Miss universe.It was surely a piece of beauty.I have not seen any dress beautiful like it was.

  2. why did i only read this now?? this was SO beautifully written! much love xx