Sarawak’s most progressive songket atelier

It was indeed a very special occasion in Kuching City earlier this month as the Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF2019) in its third edition, held its Opening Show at the new State Legislative Assembly building.

The Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah graced the audience with her presence at the ‘Lembaran Emas: Songket and Keringkam’ event which include a panel exhibition and a fashion show.

The fashion show saw the participation of three designers namely Datuk Bernard Chandran, Datuk Tom Abang Saufi, and Tanoti House, a renowned local producer of exquisite songket.

In this feature I will be highlighting the collection by Tanoti House as I was backstage carrying out my role as the choreographer of Tanoti’s round which featured outfits fashioned out of Sarawakian songket produced in Kuching and enhanced with keringkam embroidery. The 10 models from Kuching are of different races and ages, showing that the heritage textiles are versatile for all.

Jo Sidek, the director of Rainforest Fringe Festival (RFF2019), posing backstage together with Azerina Mohd Arip who surprised everyone as she modelled for Tanoti House.

Centre is Jacqueline Fong of Tanoti House flanked by her designer and artisans, and the 10 models from Kuching.

Tanoti is Sarawak’s most progressive songket atelier, housing a community of artisans entirely dedicated towards the preservation of the craft of songket weaving. Every process of producing handwoven songket is executed entirely by hand and in the most purist of ways — the artisans, using the skills practised by their mothers and the generations of mothers before them. By infusing design and science into traditional techniques, Tanoti catalyses an imminent songket revolution.

Tanoti’s collection for Lembaran Emas was entitled ‘Prophesies’. It belied the stature of songket in the world today and the explosive qualities of songket to be the fabric of tomorrow and beyond. A sparkling collection of drape fashion, each piece represented a grand manifestation of celestial story telling and is in itself an exquisite presentation of art-for-wear.

The first dress to appear on the catwalk was bridal wear worn by university student Adeline, which saw the combination of two heritage techniques — songket weaving and keringkam embroidery presented in a bold contemporary fashion.  The pure looking dress with a lovely veil gave the traditional textile a fresh new look.

Beauty queen Viviana wore an Iban reinterpreted ensemble celebrating the Iban maiden’s graceful dress and sending the message that songket has no boundaries. It can transcend cultures and have the power to unify.

Model Angel in a Songket piece of flaming fushia mixed with bronze and black.

Model Criselda walked tall in a silver coloured textile wrapped up like a long dress. According to Tanoti’s Director, Jacqueline Fong, “That is bidadari.  She is the angel sent from the gods to beckon revival and renaissance. Using traditional Malay motifs, the handwoven songket piece breaks out of tradition by inviting outside influences.”

It is amazing how a piece of songket textile can be well wrapped up like an evening dress. Miza wore a piece titled Oceania. Like waves lapping onto the shore, it is a display of how different parts are able to merge to create a harmonious symphony of elements: earth, water and sky.

Model Cheryse’s piece is titled Santubong. The fabled stones on the shores of the sleepy coastal village hold secrets of eras before. Strong, sturdy and scattered wildly on the shoreline, these stones promise to be the custodians of our futures.

Models Diana and Angel presented blue and flaming pieces titled ‘Fuchsia — Prophesies of peace’ and ‘Angel — Prophesies of fire’. Our futures are foretold beyond the stability of our present. Whether there shall be the calming sense of peace or an explosion of flames, there shall always be beauty.

Sixteen-year old Samantha wore a renaissance Malay dress with songket motifs that has been evolved to develop new identities. It was like the majesties of yesterday adapted into beauty for the present age.

Miss Malaysia World 2018 Larissa wore a short dress with a cape highlighting a renaissance with Orang Ulu motifs in an entirely new character and presented in soft flowy fabrics. Cosmic emblems are transposed into modern day thoughts and way of life.

A bridal wear worn by university student Adeline saw a combination of two heritage techniques — songket weaving and keringkam embroidery presented in a bold contemporary fashion.

The last model to appear on the catwalk was Datin Hajah Azerina Mohd Arip @ Gertie Chong, who surprised everyone as it was not disclosed beforehand that she would be modelling that night for Tanoti.  Datin Azerina’s own antique keringkam piece was fixed onto Tanoti’s songket design. The fabric as well as outfit was designed to fit her style, grace and distinguished status. Loud applause came from the audience as she walked down the long runway.

The round with ten outfits may have seemed short, but it had demanded a lot of thought into the production of each piece and in this case, each outfit has a story to tell.

Jo Sidek, the director of RFF2019 who had been busy welcoming our Queen, the local dignitaries and invited guests at the exhibition and show, did manage to pop round backstage to wish everyone luck prior to the show.