By Regina Hoo
When Malaysia’s only couture hat-maker, Bremen Wong first exploded into the local fashion scene, his designs were met with queer stares.
The hats were too dramatic, they said. Too avant garde.
“I guess my designs are what some would call an ‘acquired taste’,” laughed Wong.
A native of Sabah, Wong left the suit and tie brigade for a career in millinery fashion after discovering the headpieces he designed and sold at the local bazaars and flea markets were a huge hit amongst his customers.
Wong promptly made the career switch at 35 years old, boldly defying the industry’s age discriminatory standards.
“A self-taught milliner trying to break into the Malaysian fashion scene was like trying to swim upstream a river at the beginning. It was challenging. But I was buoyed with a heady mix of optimism and drive.
“But I had to learn very quickly from the onset of my career that not everyone will be a fan of my designs. In fact, no one understood my style in the early days.”
With the help of Project Runway Alumnus, Alexander Yeoh, opportunities soon came knocking on Wong’s door.
“The collaboration with Alexander Yeoh was my first big break. People started taking more notice of my designs, doors that were partly shut before were now opened wide.”
Since then, Wong has gone on to represent Asia for the Who’s Next Premiere Classe in Paris while his creations have crowned the heads of Asia’s Next Top Model winner Sheena Liam and Malaysia’s Miss Universe 2015, Vanessa Tevi.
“My headpieces are inspired by themes of humanity and spirituality. I try to harness the energy around me and use them to fuel my creativity.
“The sea and mountains back in Sabah are my muses as well because I am still very much a kampung boy at heart,” he winked.
Despite his success however, Wong still faces a tough road ahead in trying to expand the millinery market and demand in Malaysia.
“I do not think Malaysians wear fancy hats as much as they do caps and simpler hats because of the high price point of couture hats.
“If anything, Malaysians only wear avant garde hats when attending special events or fashion shows.
“But I am confident that it is only a matter of time before millinery fashion will have a much stronger presence in Malaysia.”