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Endon's legacy

New Straits Times, October 24, 2005

Apart from her tireless charitable work as well as efforts to raise cancer awareness, the late Datin Seri Endon Mahmood was well-known for bringing back the allure of traditional attire. DAZMAN MANAN writes.

THERE would always be the pangs of guilt if you’re a journalist who had been assigned to interview her on a weekend because you knew you’d be encroaching on her privacy.

At the back of your mind, you’d feel a tad uncomfortable for the time you’d be stealing from her when she could be using it to recuperate or spend with loved ones.

She needed the rest and had been advised to stay away from crowds to keep her immune system up.

Yet, the moment she greeted you, and when you saw her face lit up, you’d forget that she had breast cancer.

The late Datin Seri Endon Mahmood, who succumbed to the illness on 20th October at age 65, always gave her all in everything.

She always spoke of her interests with great passion. She was a person in love with life.

Apart from her tireless charitable work as well as efforts to raise cancer awareness, Endon was well-known for bringing back the allure of traditional attire.

She brought batik, nyonya kebaya and songket, once considered banal by some, to the fore. In fact, she had been called the First Lady of Fashion by the fashion fraternity.

A committed champion of culture, art and craft, she opened our eyes to bygone beauties. It was Endon who made local fashion a la mode.

Even local designers, who sometimes tended to steer toward Western creations, became more watchful of our style heritage.

“People were not apprehensive about wearing batik when she brought it to a higher level and designers used it in their collections. She made us (designers) look within Malaysia to come up with good designs,” said Kem Salleh of Kapas Couture.

“She was an inspiration to us all. Her demise is a great loss to the fashion industry,” added couturier Albert King.

Her campaign to promote the batik industry resulted in the industry experiencing a new lease of life.

Within 10 days of the Piala Seri Endon Batik Design competition and Batik Extravaganza event held in Sept 2003, batik vendors and retailers made RM3 million.

The striking shades and attractive prints of batik designs had its international presence too under her patronage.

Batik produced by Malaysian Batik designer Masrina Abdullah, the first-ever winner of the Piala Sri Endon Batik Design contest, was incorporated into Italian fashion designer Roberta di Camerino’s comeback collection shown as part of the Milan Fashion Week last month.

Batik fabrics produced by Piala Sri Endon ‘03 third prize winner Azizi Hassan was used by Dutch designer Monique Collignon at a show in The Hague.

As part of the Malaysia Batik –– Crafted for the World movement which she initiated, 30 batik outfits were showcased at the exclusive Dorchester Club in London in May last year.

Five months later, Endon was invited by the British Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, to display some batik outfits at a charity fashion show involving breast cancer survivors. She had expressed interest in doing the same in Malaysia and the plan materialised in August this year.

The “Walk With Pride” fashion show-cum-charity dinner was organised by Pink Ribbon Deeds (Pride), an organisation set up to help people with cancer and improve the standards of diagnosis, treatment and care of breast cancer patients in Malaysia. Endon was the patron of Pride.

Another national treasure supported by Endon was the nyonya kebaya. Ever since the launch of her 122-page coffeetable book entitled The Nyonya Kebaya in 2002, there had been many exhibitions, symposiums and meetings by collectors to revive the garment. A second edition was released last year for the international market.

The reason why she wrote the book was to collect and record whatever little pieces of information about the outfit.

“It is my fervent hope that this book will encourage others to contribute their knowledge to the preservation and continued existence of the nyonya kebaya,” she had said.

Endon wore the kebaya when she worked in the public services in the 1960s.

“I must say we were a very smart and fashionable group of young, confident women those days. We wore the kebaya proudly as it was the fashion statement of those times.”

Now, thanks to her, the feminine attire is very much in vogue.

As she had successfully revived batik and the nyonya kebaya, she felt it was time for the songket to regain its glory.

Songket achieved its renaissance of sorts this year through symposiums, seminars, workshops, fashion shows and exRenowned French brand Philippe Charriol even launched a range of songket and batik watch straps for its Actor timepiece collection.

According to Faisol Abdullah, chief operating officer of Jendela Batik, Endon had wanted to further promote kain lima and pua, as well as Asian textiles like sari and brocade.

Faisol, whose sister is married to Endon’s brother, added that she had also planned to set up a textile museum where songket, along with other national heirloom fabrics, could be preserved and displayed.

While she always saw what she was doing as a modest contribution, in reality Endon’s contribution is actually substantial and has raised the profile of humble traditional fashion to not only national prominence but also international recognition.

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