#UnlockingHerWardrobe: Zaihani Mohd Zain

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You know what they say: in fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out. But one look at this stylish lady and you’ll know she’s part of the ‘in’ crowd. Often spotted in her signature one-piece ensembles, circular glasses and a statement necklace, the former Head of Wardrobe and fashion advisor for a TV station is considered a veteran in the industry. When she’s not busy attending fashion shows (seated on the FROW, no less), she’s sharing her knowledge and experience with the younger generation by conducting talks and coaching up-and-coming designers. Here, she shares a few more nuggets of advice.

Style Tribute: How do you differentiate fashion versus style?
Zaihani: Fashion is part and parcel of style; you can’t be oblivious to fashion and hope to be stylish at the same time, though you don’t have to be a fashion slave to be stylish. Fashion provides the options, whilst one’s attitude determines style. Also in creating a look, one has to be conscious of the elements that’re involved for the whole look. I’ve seen some ladies who think that being stylish is just being ‘different’, disregarding the fact that the elements – colours, textures, accessories, etc. – should come together cohesively and present an image which is visually pleasing. So, what happens is they look like that image of Maggie Smith in the movie The Lady In The Van!

ST: You often help and support many young designers. How do you feel you contribute the most?
Z: I feel most fulfilled when I am able to guide them in coming up with a collection without imposing my values onto them. It’s easy to indirectly imprint your ‘signature’ into the work that of a protégé. The challenge is, for the designer to come up with a collection completely theirs under my coaching and guidance. Last year I coached a designer, Eggie Azman, and the collection was hailed as one of the trends to look out for the Raya season by The Star newspaper.

ST: In your opinion, what’s the biggest challenge for these up-and-coming designers?
Z: Not just young designers but to all practicing designers – that they need to observe and digest what’s happening around them and how to stay relevant. It’s about sustainability. If they don’t, then their shelf life will be short.

ST: How has the fashion scene evolved in KL in the last 20 years? What about globally?
Z: In KL, I noticed the emergence of Islamic fashion, which is actually a contradiction. In Islam, the concept of wardrobe for women is to cover themselves in modest clothes, not to attract attention. But how can you not attract attention when you’re a spitting image of Carmen Miranda? What is happening actually contradicts the very concept of wardrobe for women in Islam.
Globally, street fashion is the trend. It is a known fact that fashion evolves and I think as with other trends, this trend will one day be replaced with newer trends. Who knows, one day the colour-coordinated trend of shoes and handbags of the ‘80s and ‘90s will be ‘in’ again.

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ST: Tell us, which is your most memorable moment in your fashion career?
Z: This happened when I was the head stylist of a television station. It was 2003 and reality TV had just arrived in Malaysia. It was really an eye-opener for me cos that’s when I realized how important it is to be relevant in terms of what is happening on the street and to translate that into what’s suitable for television.

ST: Any style icons you look up to?
Z: I don’t have one particular icon that I refer to every now and then. Rather, I would check out what’s happening on the street of Paris, London, Milan and New York during fashion week: what these people are wearing and how they’re wearing the pieces. I take the inspiration from there.

ST: What’s your signature look in terms of accessory, outfit and cut?
Z: Accessory: Must be the oversized ‘amber’ choker I bought in Kathmandu, Nepal. It’s both spiritual and fashionable at the same time. A version of the amber necklace is seen being worn by Buddhist monks during rituals. Its oversized shape makes it fashionable!
Outfit: I love shirt dresses!
Cut: Voluminous.

ST: Your thoughts on second-hand fashion?
Z: Second-hand fashion is still fashion. When styled differently and worn with a current piece, it’ll offer a new look and new energy.

ST: Do you have a power suit staple?
Z: I have abandoned power suits or jackets a long time ago. Power suits are associated with getting acceptance for women. Women are seen and have been accepted in almost all sectors of the industry for the past 20 years. Women are allowed to be who they are. We’ve come a long way. I am dressed almost every day in one piece ensembles.

ST: Your favourite Style Tribute picks are…
Z: The Prada Saffiano Limited Runway Edition, Prada denim tote and YSL snail earrings.

ST: Complete this sentence: sustainable fashion is…
Z: About cutting down and controlling the ‘pollution’ of the industry caused by fast fashion. Choose wisely, buy smart. Branded clothes can cost a bit more but consider this: it’s of better craftsmanship and hence, will last longer. In the long run, it’s a better investment as compared to cheaper fast fashion pieces.

ST: Do you have a favourite vintage piece?
Z: When I hit my 40s, I stopped wearing vintage. It is okay for a younger person to wear vintage because the youthfulness would be able to counter the rather low-energy of vintage. I feel if I were to wear vintage now, it’ll bring me down and age me even further.

ST: A styling tip you’ll always remember when it comes to accessorizing?
Z: Before leaving the house, take a look in the mirror and take one item off – Coco Chanel.

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ST: Finally, what’s the one trend you’ll never see yourself wearing?
Z: If ever the Islamic fashion becomes a world trend – that’s something I’d stay away from.