Having a conversation with Dato’ Sri Bernard Chandran, during his Dreams & Reality showcase, is like attending a masterclass in philosophy. Throughout the interview, reflecting on his rise from humble beginnings, Bernard speaks at length about the power of manifestation. There is oddly little talk about strategies and tactics, topics that usually dominate interviews about the building of a brand. Instead, he reflects on the power of imagination, telling us that even as a child, he had a vision of the life that he would lead many years in the future.
“I have a dream, I put it into action, I develop a plan, and I believe in it,” he states. “Right or wrong? I don’t know.”
But it is his ability to see beyond circumstances that has led him to this exact moment, reflecting on a career that spans more than three decades. As a child, that meant being influenced greatly by popular culture. His dyslexia – something he discovered only later in life – means that he consumes information visually. That resulted in him aspiring to live the life of the individuals that frequently appeared on screen and in print.
“I used to make my father angry, demanding for shoes that cost RM90 a pair,” he recalls. “In the 1970s that was a lot and he would ask me where I was going to wear them. But I would have seen them in a movie. I asked for guitar lessons but it had to be an individual class and my father had to pay RM50 an hour. That was not easy for a working class man but my father knew I wanted the best.”
The “best” also extended to his having a family. The era of the rock star with his supermodel wife intrigued him – Billy Joel and his ‘uptown girl’ Christie Brinkley, Simon Le Bon and Yasmin Le Bon, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall.
“I wanted that too,” he says unabashedly.
It was at that time that he came across a photo of the model Mary Lourdes – his future wife – in the papers. Two years later, he happened to meet her. At that point, he knew, what the next step should be.
“When things appear in front of you, you must make the move,” he says. “If any situation you have thought about appears in front of you, it means that you have been given a head start. The rest is up to you. You have to make the effort.”
It is this he believes that also led him to pursue fashion in Paris. At a young age, he knew that money was important but financial stability to him was really a means to him living the kind of life he desired. This included wearing the labels that he frequently saw on the fashion news programme, Videofashion. It was from watching the show that Bernard set his sights on Paris as the place he would get his fashion education.
“My father suggested going to London, but then the shows looked like students’ shows.”
How he would get to Paris, he did not know. But one day, while on his way to play snooker, he discovered a fashion school in the same building. It wasn’t what he envisioned but he saw it as a step towards achieving his Paris dream.
It was while studying in Paris that the fashion industry took a beating, hit by the impact of the Gulf War. At the time, the big market was the Middle East and as a result, business was down. But instead of wallowing, the designers took the opposite approach.
“They all made more glamorous outfits to keep the spirits high,” he says.
The response resonated with the designer and prompted him to attempt to do the same here as we reel from the effects of the pandemic. Rather than contemplating over the bleak atmosphere, Bernard opted to embark on an initiative that would instead inspire us.
“This is my Covid-19 project,” he says, “a reminder that there is still beauty in the world, a bit of sparkle in times of darkness.”
Bernard had long considered an exhibition, influenced by his frequent visits to museums in Europe. However, it is something that he had not been able to explore as a result of time constraints. Covid-19, however, provided him with the time and space to turn his “dream” into a “reality.”
Hence, the title of the exhibition Bernard Chandran: Dreams & Reality, a retrospective look at his 34-year career in fashion. In embarking on this project, Bernard approached it with the same belief that has guided him throughout his life. He had a vision and then he set about making it happen. The starting point for most would be to consider the mundane, things like sponsorships, partners etc. For Bernard, however, it was about moving ahead with it regardless of whether he had secured the necessary or not.
The venue at Farenheit88, a location that he passes daily, seemed just right. The lockdown, he says, provided an opportunity to explore using the space. He just had to convince the mall management of his plans.
It was during the Relaxed Movement Control Order (RMCO) that Bernard began toying with the idea of an exhibition. The timing seemed right to start doing something that would motivate people to start getting out again. But just as the idea was starting to take form, the city went into a partial lockdown. It was at the end of this two- week conditional movement order that Bernard decided to go ahead, regardless of possibilities of further restrictions.
“I could not wait,” he states. “I decided to put it up so that when they lift the restrictions, I would be ready. I had two weeks and everyone was shocked when I said I was going to do this. But I don’t believe in doing things by the book. I decide on something and push it to become A class. I don’t care about plan B.”
He managed to secure a small team to support him, including industry stalwarts like Natasha Kraal, Wee Chee and Ferhat Nazri-Aziz. “We managed to put it up in a week and a half,” he says. “Everything just fell into place.”
Initially the challenge of filling up the 16,000 sqft space was daunting. “I was shocked when I saw the space, I wasn’t sure how to curate it,” he admits. “But the CMCO gave me a good opportunity to think about it. We had to look at every corner and see how we could beautify it.”
If anything, the exhibition is not just a look at his work but a manifestation of what he has always believed in – that things are possible. “I always think I am very lucky,” he acknowledges. “God has been kind to me. When I think of something, things just fall into place. It has never been challenging.”
Hence, his advice to those chasing dreams is pretty simple, that sometimes one shouldn’t spend too much time thinking. Instead, “if your heart says do it, then do it.”
Now as he stands amidst the backdrop of 150 works of art that reflect his perspective as a designer, Bernard declares that he feels very “proud.” “This is my history,” he says. “When I went through the archive room, everything was so beautiful, I wanted to put everything up.”
Aside from the craft behind the creations, what is interesting about the designs is that there is a timeless element to the work. One can’t really differentiate the creations according to periods.
“I don’t restrict myself,” he says. “I am blessed because my clients appreciate that too. It is not all about using the machine. I get to do my collection but I also manage to push the boundary for myself. I am a designer who wants to be involved in the process.”
The Bernard Chandran: Dreams and Reality, however, isn’t an ode to his achievements. Instead, it is about igniting our imaginations during these challenging times. “A beautiful outfit tells you a story,” he says. “Everyone looks at one outfit but they take it in with different emotions. It is the biggest gift I can give and it is my pleasure to do it.”
The Bernard Chandran: Dreams & Reality exhibition is open to the public from 11am to 6pm daily, until 15 January 2021, at Level 2, Fahrenheit88
Elegance meets performance
Full of character with carefully executed finishes, the sculptural and seductive design of the Bell & Ross BR 05 Chronograph is chic and powerful as embodied by our cover star and visionary fashion designer Dato’ Sri Bernard Chandran
A leading benchmark in the aviation watch landscape with its iconic square models inspired by flight instruments, Bell & Ross has extended its new BR 05 collection designed for urban explorers. Unquestioningly faithful to the brand’s ethos of legibility, functionality, reliability and precision, the collection is now enriched with a chronograph of style and technical complexity that fits perfectly in a resolutely cosmopolitan setting.
Invented to measure short time periods, the chronograph is a loyal ally for those who wear it in their quest to master the fleeting nature of time. In the new BR 05 collection, it has been adapted to the pace and style of urban living.
The latest jewel of masculine elegance from Bell & Ross, the watch features perfectly flat satin-polished surfaces, with polished bevels that give it depth and dimension. The BR 05 chronograph’s identity is also elevated by a multitude of small technical and aesthetic details. It belongs to the family of watches with an integrated bracelet, featuring the same design where the case and bracelet are fused into one cohesive piece. The angle of the attachment to the bracelet has been carefully designed to follow the contours of the wrist, ensuring all-day comfort.
“The case and bracelet form one unit,” explains Bruno Belamich, the brand’s Creative Director. “This type of design harks back to a category of watches which appeared in the 1970s and when infused with Bell & Ross’ signature identity, the resulting graphic style is both striking and modern.”
The pushers, crown-guard and crown form a single piece which is perfectly incorporated into the volume of the case. By blending fluidity and robustness, the continuity of the lines of this piece becomes a part of its identity.
Another signature of its personality, the dial on the BR 05 chronograph ensures optimal legibility thanks to its graphics and its contrasts. Mid-way between round and square, another subtle reference to the 1970s, the shape of its two snailed counters (chronograph minute counter at 9 o’clock and small seconds at 3 o’clock), gives the new BR05 a neo-retro look which in no way diminishes its modernity.
This combination of tradition, fine craftsmanship, performance and contemporary design provides a striking complement to our Jan/Feb 2021 issue’s leading man, Dato’ Sri Bernard Chandran, who is simultaneously acclaimed for his sophisticated understanding of culture, history and materials; high attention to detail, shape and sartorial workmanship; as well as edgy, avant-garde spin on style.
Art direction: Joyce Lim; Make-up: Joey Yap; Hair: David Shaw