Singapore Fashion Week

Edgy modestwear breaks convention

"Femininity is cliched in Muslimah wear." - MALAYSIAN DESIGNER JOVIAN MANDAGIE, who put together an eight-piece streetwear collection (above), titled Against Barricades, for Singapore Fashion Week
"Femininity is cliched in Muslimah wear." - MALAYSIAN DESIGNER JOVIAN MANDAGIE, who put together an eight-piece streetwear collection (above), titled Against Barricades, for Singapore Fashion Week
"Femininity is cliched in Muslimah wear." - MALAYSIAN DESIGNER JOVIAN MANDAGIE (above), who put together an eight-piece streetwear collection, titled Against Barricades, for Singapore Fashion Week
"Femininity is cliched in Muslimah wear." - MALAYSIAN DESIGNER JOVIAN MANDAGIE (above), who put together an eight-piece streetwear collection, titled Against Barricades, for Singapore Fashion Week

"Femininity is cliched in Muslimah wear," says Malaysian designer Jovian Mandagie. "Where I come in - that is the future."

That is why the 31-year-old sent a collection of streetwear-inspired modest fashion looks down the Singapore Fashion Week runway last Saturday at National Gallery Singapore, featuring blue cotton and denim, caps, trousers, oversized silhouettes, pleated embellishments and tiny red glass beads.

"Islamic fashion has always been known to be conservative, feminine, romantic and luxurious. But there's never been an approach that goes in the direction of streetwear," he says about the eight-piece collection, titled Against Barricades.

"Nowadays, streetwear is the trend. It's what people are wearing, whether they're youngsters or the middle-aged."

It is a departure from his usual style of "pretty dresses" made of silk, he says, towards "something that is a bit more androgynous and also, I would say, daring".

"Normally, I would be doing evening dresses and ball gowns. It turns out that I do have a flair for streetwear."

The new collection, which was put together in just three days, is intended to give audiences a taste of a dedicated streetwear brand that he will be launching some time next year. "There will be a new label designed by Jovian Mandagie, called Against Barricades. This is more or less an introduction to it," he says.

As women are donning hijabs at a younger age, it is clear to him that modestwear will become edgier, "sportier and trendier". Young designers like himself have revolutionised modestwear, making it "very current and accepted even by those who are not Muslim", he says, explaining that Muslimah fashion is modestwear with the addition of a hijab.

Innovation is not new to him. "I have always been the trendsetter in Malaysia when it comes to modestwear," says the fashion graduate of Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Malaysia.

The Jovian Mandagie label was established in Kuala Lumpur 10 years ago. Five years ago, he branched out from couture and launched Jovian Ready-To-Wear because he saw a gap in the modest fashion market.

"We were the first proper brand to launch a ready-to-wear line and it became big right after that," he says. A total of 25,000 pieces were produced for his first ready-to-wear collection. Today, that number has grown to 150,000 pieces. He has eight stores in Malaysia and Brunei.

Early next year, he will be opening his first Singapore store in Haji Lane. Local fans were consulted about the location of the store and there has been "amazing feedback". Currently, about 30 per cent of his customers are Singaporeans, who buy his clothes online. Prices in the ready-to-wear line range between $80 and $200.

"Singapore will be a stepping stone for us to go international," he says, revealing that there are also plans to enter the British and European markets in two years.

The designer, who was also a host on TLC's wedding fashion reality television show Say Yes To The Dress Asia last year, is clearly business-minded. Under the Jovian Mandagie brand, he runs an Indonesian restaurant called Bakso Monster in Kuala Lumpur, as well as services offering events planning and wedding decor.

"I have become more of a businessman than a designer," he says, laughing heartily. He calls himself "practical, aggressive and impatient".

In the near future, he says, he may expand into children's products. That is because his wife Nina Sabrina Ismail Sabri, 30, who owns a kindergarten and hair salon, is expecting their first child, a baby girl.

Meanwhile, he has his hands full - there are already orders for the collection that debuted on the SGFW runway. More than 10 pieces have been snapped up. "For a collection that has not been launched, that's good," he says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Edgy modestwear breaks convention'. Print Edition | Subscribe