Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Carl Kapp's couture capers in KL

via balik pulau
A burgeoning Aussiewood fanbase already lusts after Carl Kapp's chic draped silk evening gowns and killer tailoring, but now Kapp can add political stylist to his repertoire. On December 30, the South African-born, Sydney-based designer (pictured below, backstage at his debut Australian Fashion Week show last May) took a call from someone claiming to work in the Malaysian government, asking about the availability of limo parking near his Paddington store/studio. Shortly afterwards, Kapp found himself receiving a party of six and being introduced to the "the First Lady of Malaysia", Rosmah Mansor (above). Kapp was told that the group had come straight from Sydney department store David Jones, which is in its first season selling Kapp's brand. Having apparently become so smitten with his collection, Rosmah wanted to see more. After making multiple selections in Kapp's Paddington store, which was already filled with regular customers, he proposed a far more civilised private appointment. SEE UPDATES BELOW.  

Around 6pm the following day, in other words New Year's Eve - a time when most Sydneysiders who are not already away on summer holidays are either securing a harbour vantage point for Sydney's celebrated NYE fireworks or else fleeing the madness which descends on the city at this time - Kapp was summoned to the penthouse of The Darling Hotel at Pyrmont. Officially opening to the public in April, the penthouse is part of the revamped Star casino and boasts spectacular views of Darling and Sydney Harbours. A perfect fireworks viewing position in other words - which, according to The Darling, was definitely operational that night and costs anywhere from AUD 15,000-20,000 per night.

There, surrounded by samples, fabric swatches, sketches and Rosmah's many attendants, who appeared to be gearing up for a New Year's Eve party, Kapp was introduced to a casually-attired Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"It was unbelievably surreal" Kapp told frockwriter. "He was really nice, very friendly. They were obviously relaxing, snuggling up and looking very happy together. He was just curious, he didn’t have to be there. He made a comment at one point about the way I was dressed, saying something like 'In Australia, you guys don’t dress up, it’s all very casual'. He also asked if I knew of any good menswear stores in Australia. I mentioned Harrolds and sent him there, but I wasn't sure if it was open. Then he told me he has all these suits tailor-made by an Italian brand. Obviously he likes his bespoke suits". 

Rosmah wound up ordering 61 silk pieces from Kapp's Spring/Summer 2011/2012 and Autumn/Winter 2012 collections. Not being a standard size in Kapp's range and notably, in need of far more modest attire for Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim nation, all of the garments are being custom-fitted.

"Everything has to be covered: long sleeves, down to the ground, with no bare ankles or wrists, lots of pants and then layered with other pieces such as dresses" said Kapp, who is also being flown to Kuala Lumpur next month for fittings. Below are some pieces from Kapp's SS1112 runway show and (bottom) his AW12 lookbook, which include some of the items ordered by Rosmah. 

According to the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra, the Malaysian PM was in Australia at the time on a "private visit", which included some golf. 

A rather interesting manner for Najib to see out 2011, a year in which he visited our shores on it now appears at least three occasions: in March, his first trip down under since taking office in 2009 and then again in October for the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in Perth. In Perth, discussions were continued with Australian PM Julia Gillard over the hugely controversial Malaysia Solution asylum seeker swap proposal which was first floated in May, but scuppered by Australia's High Court in August.

Kapp politely declined to mention the size of the order. Based on the average prices in his collections - which start at AUD 400 and reach several thousand dollars - frockwriter estimates it could be approaching AUD 100,000. Kapp was paid upfront.

Fantastic coup for Kapp, however frockwriter can't help wondering just what Malaysia's media might make of the news. Politics is a nasty business and miffed local designers, annoyed by Rosmah's patronage of a Sydney-based designer for such a large chunk of her wardrobe, may be the least of her problems.

Since Najib took office, the knives have been out for his wife. Dubbed by some uncharitable critics as a Malaysian Imelda Marcos, her expensive tastes have been well documented. It is unclear whether these photos have been digitally manipulated. If not, then she may own at least eleven Herm├Ęs Birkin handbags. Pending the type of leather used, the latter can reach six figures. Last month, the Malaysian blogosphere speculated that Rosmah could be the mystery bidder at the centre of the sale of a red crocodile Birkin with white gold and diamond hardware in the US for USD 203,150 - reportedly the most expensive handbag ever sold at auction.

Earlier last year, the Malaysian media whipped itself into a frenzy over Rosmah's alleged purchase of a USD 24million ring from New York jeweller Jacob & Co - claims which attracted the attention of Malaysia's Anti-Corruption Commission. The claims were flatly denied. According to subsequent reports, the ring was briefly in Malaysia for "exhibition purposes".

In November, Najib was forced to respond to a report in The West Australian that his daughter had purchased AUD 60,000 worth of goods from David Jones and that a "first lady" bought AUD 150,000 worth of pearls during Perth's CHOGM summit. Najib told the Malaysian press that his daughter was not in the country at the time and his wife did not purchase any pearls - prompting The West Australian to publish a correction about Najib's daughter being in Perth at the time.

UPDATE 25/1: Rosmah Mansor has told the Malaysian press that the reports of her Sydney shopping spree on frockwriter and subsequently in The Sydney Morning Herald's Saturday edition - are "wildly exaggerated" "rubbish" and that she is "a victim" of rumours. 

UPDATE 26/1: Yesterday, Carl Kapp issued a statement denying that he revealed how much Rosmah Mansor spent and that he is being flown to KL next month for fittings. According to the statement, "the article has unfairly given the impression that the Carl Kapp establishment is indiscreet and is willing to divulge personal and private information about our clients".

For the record, it was Kapp's publicist, Sydney-based Little Hero, that drew the story to frockwriter's attention in the first instance after, we were told, having unsuccessfully pitched it to the fashion editors of two Australian newspapers. Kapp himself had already told his 400+ Facebook friends that the "First Lady of Malaysia" had purchased 61 pieces. While that post and comments have since been removed from Kapp's Facebook profile, Kapp's "Like" of frockwriter's Rosmah Mansor post on our Facebook page was still there at time of writing. We have taken a screen grab for posterity. After the Rosmah Mansor story was posted on frockwriter, Kapp linked to it on his Facebook page (also since removed) and sent an SMS thanking us for the "brilliant writeup".

Kapp's rebuttal of the reports that he is due to be flown to KL next month at Rosmah Mansor's expense directly contradicts information in one of two emails we received from Little Hero on the subject of the order. It also contradicts statements he made during interviews with both frockwriter and the SMH.

Kapp has not denied that Rosmah Mansor purchased 61 items - although he claims in his statement that "members of her party.... made various purchases". This is the first time he has mentioned this and, once again, it's at odds with everything he said in his original interview with us and everything that his publicist told us. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to downplay the size of the order. He has not denied that he attended a private appointment with Rosmah Mansor and the Malaysian Prime Minister in the penthouse of The Darling hotel on December 31st or that he was paid upfront for the order.

We stand by our original estimate that the order "could be approaching AUD 100,000". The calculation of this estimate was based on the average prices of Kapp's off-the-rack garments, taking into account that a very high percentage of these clothes are to be custom-fitted, with additional fabric added to cover the arms and legs. Very well-placed industry sources confirm this estimate is realistic.

There is some privileged information that frockwriter is sadly unable to report but which, given the extraordinary effort that appears to be going into covering this story up, we feel is in the public interest.

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew Hornery, meanwhile, who picked up the story for his Private Sydney column in last Saturday's edition, has become the target of an undignified vilification campaign in Malaysia.

More to come.

AFW backstage image: frockwriter
all other collection images: supplied by carl kapp 


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