PETALING JAYA • It is not as outrageous as Lady Gaga's meat dress but Malaysian beauty queen Samantha Katie James' nasi lemak-inspired national costume for the 66th Miss Universe pageant final has garnered much attention - and reaction - since it was unveiled this week.
Created by fashion designer Brian Khoo, the homage to Malaysia's much-loved national dish features an ivory silk gown that is hand-embroidered with beads to represent steamed coconut milk rice. It is accentuated by a dollop of sambal (spicy chilli paste) on the bodice with a side of fried ikan bilis, hard-boiled egg and cucumber slices. Huge banana leaves made of silk fabric complete the picture.
The dress received some unfavourable response following its debut on Tuesday, with netizen Napsiah Wan Salleh commenting that "maybe the dress is relevant in a celebration parade but not in a beauty pageant", The Star reported.
The Miss Universe Malaysia Organisation national director Elaine Daly defended the creation. She said: "It's an iconic national costume. We have people who like it and we may have people who don't. Same as last year when we had the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, this year, we have the iconic food."
"We love it and can't wait to showcase it," she added.
Contacted by The Star on Tuesday, the dress' designer, Mr Khoo, said: "Nasi lemak is loved by all Malaysians. Previously, traditional costumes were used but there hadn't really been one that could represent all of us."
Earlier, at the dress' preview on Tuesday, Ms Daly said the theme of the dress was to reflect the nation's identity as traditional elements such as songket and batik had been used numerous times.
She expressed confidence that Ms James, a 22-year-old Chinese-Brazilian model and aspiring actress, would give nothing but her best at the competition to be held in Las Vegas on Nov 26.
"We hope she will be able to bring home the country's first Miss Universe title. Even if she does not, we are already very proud of her and her accomplishments."
But fashion designer Hatta Dolmat was unimpressed.
"How can they use this to represent Malaysia in the Miss Universe?" he wrote on Instagram.
He added that the traditional songket should not be dismissed as a possible concept for the dress.
Facebook user Chris Liang wrote: "This is getting out of hand. Please bring back our traditional costumes and make Malaysia proud again."
There were also netizens who embraced the inspiration behind the dress, which Mr Khoo said took 400 hours of craftsmanship to be made within a month.
"I like the whole idea. National costumes don't have to make sense. They have to be different, over the top, interesting," Mr Firdaush Jaafar wrote on Facebook.