Local fashion brand Bilang recently showcased its Spring Summer 2023 collection dubbed ‘Reminiscence’, which designs paid homage to Brunei’s forgotten heritage ‘Padian’.
Some seven ensembles made from Thai Silk by Bilang walked the runway of the 3rd International Thai Silk Fashion Week held in Bangkok.
The show which was participated by designers from 60 countries aimed to reflect on the overall sentiment of appreciation for the tradition and heritage of elegant Thai Silk.
The intricately curated designs that encapsulated the spirit and nostalgia of Padian are a combination of vibrant and muted colours adorned with gemstones and tassels.
The looks are made to intertwine and complement each other, styled with the iconic huge hat made of Nipah leaves called ‘Siraung Bini’ that were worn by women traders Padian in the olden days of Brunei.
Prior to the fashion week, Bilang debuted their yellow shirt dress design with an embellished blue bib at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit welcoming dinner in November as a teaser to the collection.
In addition, the brand also launched five supplementary looks called ‘Bilang Eidsential Pieces’ for the upcoming Hari Raya season as part of its Spring Summer 2023 collection.
“This time around, in order to stick with the rendition for Padian, we translate their quintessence in the different eras they existed, their daily attire and even from the nature of their occupation and surroundings,” said Fikri Afif, designer and co-founder of Bilang.
For Bilang, the art of storytelling has been second nature to the brand. For many centuries, it was a mundane occurrence to see sightings of these women traders on boats selling provisions from one house to another in Kampong Ayer. Although, by the early 20th century, glimpses of them began dwindling to a point of extinction around the 1980s.
The brand in a statement said that archived pictures of Padian have proven to help tremendously as a reference and source of inspiration.
The extinction of Padian at this age also means that finding the perfect ‘Siraung Bini’ or giant hat worn by Padian was nearly impossible. As the hat acts as one of the salient parts within the collection, properly re-creating its concave form is crucial yet poses quite a challenge without proper guidance from authentic Siraung Bini weavers.
“We’ve travelled around the country to look for Siraung Bini weavers and for a few months, Bilang has been liaising with the Brunei Arts and Handicraft Centre to navigate through the anatomy of the Siraung Bini,” said another designer and co-founder of Bilang, Zulhelmi Kamaluddin.
“We’re very glad and grateful that they could help recreate the structure that closely resembles the original. We also appreciate the assistance from the weavers we met in Kiudang adding to the Reminiscence’s pieces,” he continued.
Moreover, Bilang aspires to ink not only an indelible moment in the brand’s milestone but to also nudge a grander initiative to preserve this part of Bruneian heritage, lest it becomes, even more, obscured to the younger and future generations.
By adopting Padian as the core inspiration and Thai Silk as the main material for this collection, the duo added, it symbolises the fusion of Bruneian and Thai cultures and celebrates the friendship of both countries.
On top of that, the designers hope that it could evoke a sense of bittersweet for the loss of Padian culture while also serving as a love letter to reminisce a forgotten Bruneian history and heritage.
Bilang, which literally translates to ‘every’ in Brunei Malay, is a premium fashion label founded by Zulhelmi Kamaluddin and Fikri Afif who have dressed actors, models and singers for TV and editorial appearances.
The brand prides itself to be a label that is bold but still affixed with elegance, playfulness and glamour with backstories incorporated in the designs.