Cover Photo: Courtesy of Left & Right

This Merdeka, we highlight three homegrown brands and their eclectic creations that personify the many ways it means to be Malaysian

Malaysian stories matter. They are the triumphs, the tragedies and the values that have kept us united in isolation, grounded during untold crises and hopeful amidst uncertainty. It's hardly a surprise then that art and fashion here should reflect this, culminating in creations that are global in their appeal and local at heart. 

See also: Discover The Untold Stories Of Malaysia This Merdeka

In honour of Malaysia's National Day this year, we turn the spotlight on three homegrown jewellery brands that are uniquely different in their offerings but that share the unspoken themes of home, hope and strength that all Malaysians hold dear.    

The social enterprise: Fugeelah

In May 2021, social enterprise Fugeelah's first ever Eid collection, Peace and Power launched in collaboration with actress and entrepreneur Siti Saleha, received an overwhelming response from buyers who resonated with the brand's impact-driven ethos, 'Wear your change'. Boasting necklaces and broaches inscribed with the Arabic words for 'love', 'peace', 'hope' and 'strength', the collection was all about reconnecting with what's important in life.

The 'Lah' necklace and broach were a part of this exciting project: a playful and pretty ode to the popular, quintessentially Malaysian slang word.

"We started this year thinking about what’s next for Fugeelah in terms of the design of our jewellery," explains Fugeelah founder and human rights advocate Deborah Henry. "I had a chat with my team about what that would look like, what people might like, what they would wear, what would get them excited and say 'That’s cute, I’d wear it or give it as a gift'. We were looking at things that were uniquely Malaysian, going through Malaysian symbols and what they meant, when one of our team members said that it would be nice to have the word 'Lah' as a necklace."

Related: Deborah Henry On Why Education Is The Best Gift You Can Give Anyone

Two months later, the collection debuted and was such a success that it still sold even long after the Hari Raya period was over. During the lockdown, the pieces served as a timely reminder not to give up hope and became a symbol of strength, both to the refugee artisans who crafted them and the wearers themselves. According to Henry, the 'Lah' necklaces were even a hit with foreigners who had returned to their home countries with a longing for some poignant reminder of their time in Malaysia.     

"Malaysian culture is worth celebrating in our art," Henry says. "Because it’s who we are as individuals, how we live, it's our heritage, the stories our grandparents told us. It’s who we are with each other everyday, what we discuss over a medley of food on the dinner table, and how we enjoy each other’s company.

"I see our culture and I believe it’s up to us individuals to hold on to it, to own it and to share it. With Fugeelah, I’m unapologetic in our Malaysian-ness, and owning our culture and owning what Malaysia means to me, all while remaining inclusive and doing what's right as a society." 

See also: Former First Lady Michelle Obama Inspired The Fugeelah By Dhani Illiani Collection

The fine jewellery artisans: Left & Right

Eileen Phoan, co-founder of bespoke fine jewellery brand Left & Right believes that exceptional jewellery starts with a story. Hence, the handcrafted engagement rings and other finery in Left & Right's stunning repertoire are truly one-of-a-kind, tied irrevocably to the wearer for all time.

"As designers and storytellers, it is almost our second nature to be able to visualise and translate the design elements of our clients' stories into our language of wearable art and design, handcrafted specially for them," says Phoan. "Many of our pieces are based on the nature of the Malaysian landscape."

One dazzling ring in particular was born of a marriage of East and West Malaysian inspirations, both literally and figuratively. 

"Our client wanted a proposal ring that represented both his Punjabi and her Bidayuh and Iban culture," Phoan explains. "His fiancé is very close to her family in Sarawak, so he wanted to let her know that starting a new family with him in West Malaysia did not mean that he wanted to take her away from her roots but instead bring the family even closer together."

The ring, which features a custom-cut spinel stone, incorporated elements of garlands, beads and betel nut, signifying salient objects used in traditional Punjabi, Bidayuh and Iban wedding ceremonies.               

Related: Left & Right, Sarawak-Born Fine Jewellery Company, Spins Your Stories Into Bespoke Bling

A designer who has showcased Left & Right's stunning creations internationally, Phoan is confident that Malaysian art and jewellery can and should be displayed on a global level.

"We’ve got the talent all around us to do that. I think the key to doing that lies in telling stories that can resonate beyond borders and touch us on a human level. There’s something about the way that art, or in our case – jewellery – can transcend language," she says. "Malaysians have shown recently despite tremendous struggle, we’ve united in strength to be kind. From movements to check in with friends’ mental health to showing gratitude to frontliners and unsung heroes, this spark, no matter how small, shines in the darkness, and that's worth celebrating."  

See also: 3 Of Asia's Most Influential Jewellery Designers

     

The jeweller of longevity: Habib

When it comes to brands that have created a lasting legacy, Habib has certainly been a household name for over 60 years. This premier Malaysian jeweller continues to captivate with its diverse collections, from minimalist and modern bling to heirloom-worthy pieces that mark life's milestones. This year, the brand's Merdeka campaign takes inspiration from the life cycle of a butterfly, likening its metamorphic struggle to the endurance and tenacity displayed by Malaysians during the pandemic. 

See also: 4 Homegrown Malaysian Brands On Standing The Test Of Time

Entitled Keindahan Merdeka, the campaign's main visuals are the work of local artist Najib Bamadhaj. The jewellery collection that it accompanies represents a delicate interpretation of the butterfly silhouette in yellow, white and rose gold pieces set with gemstones and diamonds—the perfect gifts to show loved ones and family members that you're thinking of them, even from a distance.

"It's said that jewellers are the tastemakers of the society. As a homegrown brand, Habib always strives to celebrate our unique cultural identity with intricate jewellery designs," muses Habib Group's executive chairman, Dato' Sri Meer Habib. "Buying jewellery is synonymous with Malaysian culture, so much so that we see generations of families coming to us to celebrate happy moments and occasions in their lives – and this is in line with our mission of delivering happiness since we started 63 years ago."

The Keindahan Merdeka campaign this month also saw the release of Habib's limited edition 999 Gold Wafer Collection, bearing insignia that pays tribute to several butterfly species that are unique to Peninsula Malaysia and Borneo, including Rajah Brooke’s Birdwing, Long-Tailed Blue, Malay Lacewing, Paper Kite Butterfly and Emerald Swallowtail.    

"Living with Covid-19 for almost two years should make us more appreciative of the word ‘independence’, as we were all forced to be in our ‘cocoons’ to curb the transmission of the virus," adds Habib. "This has also given us time to grow, reflect and come out stronger after facing hardships together as a nation."

So, as the jeweller that has served generations, what inspires Habib's core values and long-term success in a world where change is the only constant? "Being a heritage brand, we uphold and preserve the evolution of our culture through jewellery. At the end of the day, we always go back to what we believe in, and that is to offer world-class pieces that are modern, timeless and that capture the essence of Malaysia," he enthuses. 

Whether it be through jewels and gems, or some other wearable art that inspires, here's to celebrating the unbreakable soul of Malaysia, in all its wonderfully diverse forms.  

More: 4 Malaysian Jewellery Brands We Love

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