The Malaysian designer talks ‘Making the Cut’, the costume parties on Zoom she’s been hosting from her Manhattan apartment, and what she loves and misses most about Malaysia
Malaysian fashion designer Jasmine Chong has been making waves in New York with her elegant, fluid womenswear, and as one of the design hopefuls in Heidi Klum’s new fashion show, Making the Cut, which premiered earlier this year on Amazon Prime Video. Making the Cut sees Heidi reunite with fashion critic Tim Gunn as 12 international designers, including Jasmine, compete to win a US$1 million investment.
“It was a dream, and so very surreal,” says Jasmine. “Tim Gunn is an icon.” Jasmine’s clothes offer a modern, inclusive take on ultra-feminine lines and shapes, rooted in her personal experience of growing up in a family of stylish women in Malaysia. With size inclusivity as a core value, all the label’s pieces are available up to a US size 20.
“When I was really young, I would notice when my mother or grandmother were dressed up to go to a party,” she says. “They both wear sizes above a US 10, and I think in many ways, I was influenced by how glamorous they looked, dressing in a way that just worked effortlessly.”
Currently in Manhattan, New York, Jasmine is working on a new accessories collection for her namesake label and making masks for the elderly residents in her neighbourhood nursing home. Here, she reveals what her day-to-day looks like, her go-to spot for nasi lemak in KL, and where she’s eyeing to vacation next.
Firstly, congrats on everything you’ve accomplished in the past year! Tell us about Making the Cut.
It was such a whirlwind! It felt very surreal to be chosen as one out of 12, to be in rooms with studio executives in LA and then flown off to Paris. I knew very little about the format of the show, so I had no idea what would happen. It was all so very worth it.
What have you missed most whilst self-isolating?
I miss my favourite restaurants, sitting in parks and picnicking with friends. I miss going to the movies (and watching) live performances. I think the first thing I will do is throw on a beautiful dress and sit on a rooftop garden with my friends.
I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert, but all this time at home has made me really enjoy the stillness and quiet. I find myself noticing small beautiful things and making more of an effort to communicate with friends and family.
Out of curiosity, what would best sum up your ‘lockdown persona’: Instagram chef, Zoom pub quiz host, supermarket stockpiler, the Tiktoker, or the home workout buff?
Supermarket stockpiler. Oh wow, you know me so well already! I found an Asian grocery wholesaler who would deliver during the pandemic — but as someone who isn’t amazing at numbers, I didn’t pay attention to units and accidentally ordered industrial-sized items. So yes, I am the not-so-proud owner of cans of bamboo shoots and coconut milk as large as my head.
Any new projects on the pipeline you’d like to share?
I’m really excited about our accessories. We made a silk organza scrunchie that’s hand-pleated and hand-sewn in New York. It’s so luxurious. We developed the scrunchie at the start of the MCO period, with the intention of adding that little bit of added luxury and beauty to everyone’s day. I’ve been wearing them with t-shirts and sweatpants while I cook. Everyone’s been wearing it in all their work Zoom calls — and (actress) Ali Wong loves hers! I’m flattered. I can’t wait to work more on our accessories and loungewear.
What do you love and miss most about Malaysia?
I love the islands and beaches. I miss Langkawi, and the Andaman and how serene it is when the tide is out and you can walk out to the tidal pools. Of course, I miss my favourite hawker centres, curry laksa at Jie Mee in Hartamas Village Park nasi lemak. I also just miss the streets of KL, even on the highways — you look out the window and there’s green lushness everywhere. Living in New York, you really miss that.
How else have you been keeping busy?
Delving into my little apartment garden (I love plants — they remind me of Malaysia and home), embroidering, and cooking. I’ve also been making masks for donation to a nearby nursing home; projects like these give me a sense of purpose. I’ve rewatched a few cult films; my friends and I do a Zoom costume party where we watch period films (like) Amadeus and Dangerous Beauty and dress according to the theme.
Lastly, what’s next on your travel bucket list?
My family and I love snorkelling – I would love to swim amongst vibrant underwater life in Pulau Redang in Terengganu. I’d also love to take a class on traditional Terengganu batik. New Zealand is also on my bucket list, I’ve heard the scenic views are otherworldly. I hope to be able to tackle some travel spots in 2021!