Duchess & Co deviates from the norm with its new Dawn collection, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup
THE floor of the Duchess & Co office in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, is scattered with parcels of clothes as I arrive there.
“Pardon the mess!” says creative director Phang Ju Nn, who assures me that this is not a normal occurrence.
“Our recent collection, Dawn, is our biggest yet and it’s also our biggest production that we ran out of space in our store downstairs,” she explains.
Dawn features all the hallmarks of Duchess & Co — body-conscious silhouttes with ruffles, pleats and lace details.
Different materials are combined and layered together to form flirty skirts and dresses, as well as cute jumpsuits and off-the-shoulder tops.
Fabrics are soft and flowy, and the prints tasteful and restrain. Most pieces can be styled multiple ways, like a skirt that can be worn on either sides or a top that can double as a mini dress. But what sets Dawn apart are the bold colour choices.
“Most of our designs are in pastels or black and white. That’s what we’re known for and that’s what our customers like. But for Dawn, we thought, let’s go crazy. So we picked bright reds and orange, and it’s doing well,” says Phang.
Dawn is meant to signify Duchess & Co’s journey and growth. The company has been around for four years and opened its first store in Bangsar in April 2014.
This is followed by an outpost in Penang on Christmas the same year. Duchess & Co will also open stores in Singapore this month and Jakarta later this year.
“Every sunrise is a new day. The possibilities are infinite,” says Phang.
Phang co-founded Duchess & Co with friends Wendy Tai and Michelle Chong, who has since left to focus on raising her family.
Currently, Phang is in charge of the creative side, while Tai focuses on the business end of things, including the ongoing expansion plans.
“We actually changed roles because I studied accounting, and Wendy studied fashion marketing with a side of fashion design,” says Phang.
But Phang has always been interested in fashion. In college, she started a fashion label called Rebels with a friend; they designed clothes and organised runway shows. They’d take orders from customers and have the outfits made by local tailors.
It was then that she got acquainted with Tai. “We met while partying at ZoukOut. She had a boutique and offered to lend us racks and hangers for the fashion show. She was always very helpful even though we weren’t that close at the time.”
Upon graduation, Phang went to work for an accounting firm for two years before deciding that it wasn’t for her. Tai came with the idea to start a fashion label, and that was the beginning of Duchess & Co.
“We wanted this concept of classic, regal, feminine designs that we observed were lacking in this country. Our designs are intricate and our pricing is between RM100 and RM600. It’s affordable for this kind of quality and design,” says Phang.
They started selling online from a small office space in Subang Jaya. But customers kept turning up wanting to try the clothes before purchasing them. Phang believes their price point is a bit too high for online retail and this prompted them to venture offline.
“It’s important for us to have both online and offline stores,” she says. “With offline retail you get personal interaction with the customer but with online, you can sell to the world. It’s also a matter of convenience and people buying from us through word of mouth.
“We have just revamped our website www.duchessandco.com this year in anticipation of our stores opening in Singapore and Indonesia,” she adds.
Phang is nervous yet excited to see how Singaporean consumers will take to Duchess & Co’s sensuous, feminine designs, considering their reputation of being minimalist dressers.
She’s more optimistic about Jakarta shoppers, given their love of dressing up, but on the ground, the market is unfamiliar so only time will tell.
In the meantime, Phang is focusing on the next collection. Duchess & Co drops new designs every two or three months so she’s always looking out for new ideas and inspiration.
But there are some design choices that she will always adhere to.
“I love a high waist,” Phang says. “I don’t do low waist or mid waist because a high waist enhances a woman’s figure. I also like to cut the hips a little looser so the outfit doesn’t hug you there too tightly.
“We do off-shoulder tops because showing your collarbone makes everyone looks slimmer. Also, with an off-shoulder, it covers your arms a little bit. Everyone’s conscious about their arms. And we don’t do the oversized thing; it’s always cinched at the waist.”