Costume inspired by Peranakan heritage

cover pic
Image adapted from: Miss Universe

Mention Miss Universe and the first image that comes to mind is probably pretty girls in a pageant. But mention Miss Universe Malaysia 2017, and everyone will remember the infamous Nasi Lemak dress – you know, the one that came with pandan leaf wings. 

For this year’s competition though, we’ve stepped up our pageant game with a costume called “A Peranakan Indulgence” – a 28kg outfit that comes with trays of traditional kuih-muih, batik wings, and an elaborate headpiece inspired by the culture and worn by Miss Malaysia Shweta Sekhon

Miss Malaysia (1)
Image credit: Shweta Sekhon

An extravagant gown that encapsulates Peranakan culture

It’s hard to pack everything significant to a culture into a costume design, but it’s not impossible, as demonstrated by Carven Ong, the Taiping-born designer who gained fame for his gorgeous dresses in “Crazy Rich Asians”. The level of authenticity and thought put into “A Peranakan Indulgence” would even earn stamps of approval from the community’s Babas and Nyonyas.

Crazy Rich Asians wedding dress
The gorgeous wedding dress from this memorable scene in “Crazy Rich Asians” is also one of Ong’s work
Image adapted from: @carvenong_couture

From an assortment of traditional kuih-muih like ondeh-ondeh and kuih lapis, to dyed-red eggs, even the most keen-eyed Peranakan might not be able to spot all the traditional motifs in one glance. The bodice was made out of songket while the vibrant pair of wings were made from kebaya fabric, and you can spot familiar flower designs in both. 

Still the “Best National Costume” in M’sians’ hearts

Global audiences were stunned by the Nyonya-inspired gown when it was first donned on stage because of its extravagance. That was, in itself, a winning moment for us because the iconic dress brought the rich heritage of our Peranakan community to people across the world – haute couture-style. 

While an unfortunate series of missteps led the audience to think that Shweta Sekhon was the winner for “Best National Costume” – when instead it was Miss Philippines who won the category title – it didn’t put a damper on our celebrations. To the rest of us Malaysians, “A Peranakan Indulgence” has become the gold standard of Miss Universe’s pageant gowns. 

Miss Malaysia (2)
Image adapted from: Miss Universe


While we didn’t bring home a trophy this year, we’ve achieved something much greater – shining a light on one of the many Malaysian cultures we have here. Miss Malaysia’s gown wasn’t just the talk of the town, people from other countries were singing praises for the stunning design too. 

Who knows, this now-renowned gown might even bring with it an influx of tourists to our homeland as it comes back home from the international pageant with Shweta Sekhon. 

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