Asia Pacific leaders to don Malaysian technicolour dreamcoats

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - Asia Pacific leaders will be obliged to strut their stuff in traditional garments for the second time in days when Malaysia provides them luminously coloured dinner jackets for a weekend summit it is hosting.

US President Barack Obama and his counterparts from China, Russia, India, Southeast Asia and around the region will this time don custom-designed, hand-woven Malaysian "songket" jackets.

Earlier this week, the Philippine hosts of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila extended the much-mocked tradition of attiring world leaders in host-country garb, decking them out in the Philippines' traditional "barong" formal white shirt.

The practice has spread over the years to the annual summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its regional partners, hosted this year by Malaysia.

Malaysian designer Radzuan Radziwill spent three months working on the luminous garments, which he said would be worn at a gala dinner and group photo in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday night.

They are based on a woven fabric and design native to the state of Terengganu in Malaysia's northern Islamic heartland and are made of silk, intricately patterned with silver threads.

Radzuan said he added touches evoking Chinese-style Mandarin collars and Indian-inspired Nehru cuts to represent the gathering's regional diversity.

Obama asked for either a blue or grey jacket, but Radzuan said, "we gave him blue", the same colour chosen by summit host Prime Minister Najib Razak.

In all, jackets were made in five colours - blue, red, orange, green and black.

The sartorial tradition has frequently elicited snickering, with the tunics worn last year by APEC leaders in Beijing going viral on the Internet for resembling Star Trek uniforms to some observers.

In 2008, ponchos worn by the leaders in Peru were ridiculed as looking like potato sacks, while global power players looked visibly uncomfortable two years earlier shuffling out for a photo op in Vietnam's "ao dai" tunics.

The tradition harks back to 1993 when US President Bill Clinton put his APEC colleagues in leather bomber jackets - the kind worn by World War II fighter pilots.