Sarawakian designer’s passion for Pua Kumbu pays off big time

Christopher Anthony Ikus pictured with a model wearing one of his Pua Kumbu creations.

KUCHING: Many are of the opinion that following your passion can be risky business that could very well end in failure. However, an award-winning fashion designer has proven them wrong.

Throwing himself into the cut-throat business of fashion and design about 12 years ago, Sarawak-born Christopher Anthony Ikus has shown critics that throwing caution to the wind and living his passion was the best decision of his life.

Model wears one of Christopher’s evening gowns showcasing Pua Kumbu motifs and Swarovski stones.

“I started off in 2007 as a videographer and later as a make-up artist before a friend suggested I pursue my passion in fashion.

“I was later introduced to well known fashion designers in Kuala Lumpur and that is when I began to read more books on fashion, and learn about the differences in fabrics and how to create unique designs from them,” he told FMT.

Despite never having formally studied fashion or attended any fashion academy, he began participating in every design competition that came his way.

“I have always loved art and fashion,” he said.

“I had to save my earnings from videography and make-up services before I was able to enter these competitions because fashion designers are supposed to finance their own creations and designs,” he explained.

Most of his designs revolve around the cultural motifs the Iban community is famous for, and their woven textiles known as Pua Kumbu.

Model wears an outfit by Christopher, accessorised with a ‘ragak’ (basket).

Christopher’s Pua Kumbu designs are so breathtakingly beautiful, they have become favourites among his clientele, both local and international.

“Personally, I think there is a future for those in the fashion industry. You just need to know how to market your designs through networking events and social media sites,” he said.

The 40-year-old who owns a boutique in Matang Jaya that he opened in 2012, said his customers include Australians, Singaporeans, Indonesians, Filipinos, West Malaysians and Sarawakians.

He puts in long hours at the boutique, which is open for business Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am till midnight since most of his customers only drop by after work.

Christopher’s creations that incorporate Pua Kumbu motifs take a special skill to sew.

“When I was involved in the previous Malaysia Fashion Week event, many Australians bought my pieces because they said the Pua Kumbu designs bore similarities to aboriginal and Maori designs,” he said.

Christopher, who hails from Kanowit, Sibu said his aim was to have Pua Kumbu motifs become part of everyday wear among modern-day society.

“That is why I decided to blend Pua Kumbu motifs and modern styles in most of my fashion designs,” he said, adding that he had won numerous awards because of his unique take on fashion.

Among them were the Seri MEFA award (Malaysia Wedding Festival) 2015, New Fashion Design Talent Search 2016 Award and Sarawak Fashion Award 2016.

Christopher with one of his winning creations at the Sarawak Fashion Awards 2016.

“I also represented Malaysia in Jakarta and received the Asean Beauty Award in 2014,” he said.

Having a deep-seated love for Pua Kumbu, he explained that the motifs feature greatly in Iban culture and are commonly found in their ceremonial attire.

He said members of the Iban community still wear Pua Kumbu during special occasions like the Gawai festival and at weddings.

“Iban males wear the ‘Sirat’ (loincloth) and ‘baju burung’ (vest) whereas the women wear the ‘ngepan indu’ (female traditional costume), and all these feature Pua Kumbu designs.”

These traditional motifs are mostly inspired by “paku-pakis” (a type of fern), crocodiles or any form of nature, he said.

Another fascinating Pua Kumbu-inspired dress designed by Christopher.

Christopher also explained that the older a piece of Pua Kumbu, the more expensive it became.

“My grandmother owns a Pua Kumbu which is more than a hundred years old and is worth more than RM10,000,” he added.

Explaining his craft, Christopher said the art of combining Pua Kumbu motifs with modern designs was not easy as it required a certain skill in sewing.

“The outfit may look simple enough but it is actually quite difficult to sew especially when it comes to the sleeves.”

“Not all tailors acquire this skill. Most people assume that we (fashion designers) sew the outfits ourselves when in fact, we only come up with the creative designs,” he explained.

The Sarawakian fashion designer pictured with several of the awards he has won through the years.

Christopher will be showcasing his new fashion line incorporating Pua Kumbu motifs in the Alta Moda Sarawak (AMS) fashion event in March, and said conceptualising the designs and sketching his creations for the AMS took close to a year to complete.

The AMS acts as a platform for designers to showcase their talents and creations in the field of arts, culture and crafts.

It is expected to be held from March 7 to 9 at the old state assembly building.

When asked what his next plans were, Christopher said he hopes to participate in the Malaysia Fashion Week in November as well as the Borneo Fashion Week.

“Of course, I will be showcasing different sets of Pua Kumbu designs during both events,” he says with a sparkle in his eye.