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This Malaysian Reinvented Batik From Her Travels, And The Results Are Captivating

After a life-changing accident that left her hand paralysed, Fern Chua began painting and practising batik as part of the healing process. Captivated by the art form itself, she started experimenting by assembling garments out of loose pieces of fabric, and created prints and silhouettes that launched her into the spotlight. She quickly became one of Malaysia’s newest and most promising fashion designers.

Fern Chua. Image: FERN

Inspired By Travels

“Travelling I would say is a special thing to me as it is my true source of inspiration,” says Fern. “I enjoy picking bits and pieces from my travels and being inspired by nature.” She adds that she constantly looks out for interesting patterns or colours from nature like plants and the sky, and even through immersion of local cultures and delicacies.

Fern Chua, painting a design for her batik collection. Image: FERN

The Batik Appeal

Many may think that Batik has a tendency to look outdated – or worse, tacky – but Fern reaffirms that handmade batik is unique and no two pieces are usually the same, so it’s perfect for those looking to stand out and have a unique piece of their own.

Pro tip: It is very easy to spot a handmade piece from a printed one. With the former, each piece is different, the print placement might not be the same and the colours might vary.

While old-fashioned batik is bolder and loud, Fern’s designs are softer, subtle and modernised to look in-trend and edgy with little details that make it more interesting. For example, ruffles, broader collars, special necklines, wrapping skirts and kimonos are included in the design – something which is quite uncommon in the batik market.

Ruffles, special necklines and kimonos are part of FERN’s batik collections. Image: FERN

Risky? Definitely. Mind-blowing? Absolutely! Check out some of these other beautiful pieces:

The New Coral Series: Inspired By A Trip To Perhentian Island

“The collection is one that is close to my heart as I have a strong affinity and love towards marine life and its ecosystem,” says Fern, who is an avid diver.

The Coral Series draws its inspiration from nature’s diverse colour palettes and geometries and forms of marine life, all found within the shores of Malaysia. Expressing the true beauty found underwater, this collection interprets the motifs, colours, and textures found on corals.

Part Fashion, Part Preservation

One of the reasons for producing The Coral Series is to create awareness towards the preservation of corals and the beauty of their environment.

“I’ve always been drawn to corals and I have been wanting to work on this project for a long time. I think it complements the rest of my Series quite well as it reflects once again, to my main inspiration which is nature,” says Fern.

As such, part of the profits from this collection will be donated to the Perhentian Marine Research Station (PMRS), for their efforts towards the preservation of marine life in providing data to forward to the Marine Park Department. This will hopefully influence future management decisions such as which snorkelling or diving sites needs to be temporarily closed.

Other Series Inspired By Japan, And The Sea

Japan has also always been a big part of Fern’s work, obvious through most of her collections, such as the Ginkgo Series, which was inspired by a trip to Japan during the autumn season.

Some pieces from the Ginkgo series. Image: FERN

“A lot of my collections are the product of my travel adventures. I mostly just capture images from my phone to document the moment or the things I’ve seen. This can be as simple as gingko leaves on the ground, which eventually became my Ginkgo Series. These photos are then used as a base for me to create my patterns and colour palettes,” explains Fern.

The Wilderness Series, on the other hand, was inspired by the beautiful French countryside where Fern’s sister lives, and the Waves Series was inspired by Fern’s obvious love for the sea.

Pieces from the Wilderness and Wave Series. Image: FERN

The Making Of

  1. Typically, it takes about a month to create the prints on the fabric. This long process during the initial phase is due to the fact that it involves many different steps, according to Fern. From mood boards and research that are in the inspiration stage, the focus then moves on to colour palette and print design.
  2. Once the idea is set, Fern will send the selected colour palettes to her batik artisans, where they will work on it. Most of the time, it will have a different outcome. Despite trying their best to get the colours as accurate as intended, it usually varies during the batik process. Colour tweaking is then done to match it as closely as possible.
  3. Samples are then made, and different prints are created. Production of the actual garment follows after, as wax is removed and the fabric left to dry before sending it back to the studio for sewing.
  4. Customisation takes about three to four weeks, but seven to eight for festive seasons (so, remember to start booking and customising early!). Fern’s team has to familiarise themselves with the prints to quicken the replication process onto the selected colours chosen by the customers, based on their colour range. Once the fabric is done, it is once again sent to the studio for sewing.

Favourite Travel Spots In and Out of Malaysia

Japan has proved to be one of Fern’s favourite spots, as she has been there for about 13 times now, drawing a lot of inspiration from their culture and beauty in nature. However, the scenery of beaches, wide open forests and mountains in Australia and New Zealand are Fern’s firm favourites as well.

As a lover of architecture, art and nature, Europe is the best while Italy is renowned for its food and Brazil for its beaches and people. As a matter of fact, Brazil inspired her Waves Series.

For Asian and Malaysian destinations, Fern recommends Bangkok for their busy city life and bazaars, Redang and Perhentian for beautiful islands, and Penang for the food. Last but not least, despite all her travels, she still calls the quirky, diverse and charming KL city unbeatable.

Fern’s Tips On Choosing Batik

  1. Find a piece that offers comfort, yet still looks elegant. With our given climate and tropical weather, you need a piece that is breathable and comfortable to move around in. It is also nice to choose a piece that has exclusivity. It has to be something out of the ordinary and is unique for the festivities.
  2. With batik, less is more. Go minimalistic with the accessories and style pairings as batik prints can be quite bold. The prints and patterns should be the emphasis here, and paired with more simple shoes.

As for what’s next, a special collaboration by FERN Batik + Artisanal Collective will unveil itself this month. FERN will also be working with W Hotel Kuala Lumpur, to offer a unique luxury experience to clients by showcasing Malaysian Batik in a modern way. Plus, a new collection is underway – in the form of swimwear. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, check them out on Instagram here, or visit their website.

What do you think?

Written by Kathlyn Ursula D'Souza

Professionally a journalist, personally a lover of all things fried chicken, Gogorn (her big black German Shepherd) and ice cream.

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