Fashion is Textile, Textile is Fashion

17 January 2018

The Malaysia National Textile Museum houses cultural gems that are begging to be noticed by you.

“Textile inspires me a lot because I love fashion. If there is no textile, there will be no fashion,” says Hadijah Mohd Yunus, director of Malaysia’s National Textile Museum.

It’s a sentiment shared by the museum’s senior curator and deputy director, Mohd Syahrul Ab Ghani, whose passion for fashion also led him to work at the National Textile Museum. These days, he works on curating temporary exhibits to entice the younger generations of Malaysians to visit the museum.

Mohd Syarul Ab Ghani and Hadijah Mohd Yunus.

Located near Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur, the museum is aptly housed in an 1896 heritage building featuring Moghul-Islamic architecture. It was originally the headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railway, and subsequently home to several other government departments and agencies up to 1980. In 1983, the building was gazetted as a heritage building under the Antiquities Act 1976. It was then leased to the Malaysian Handicraft Development Board in 1986 as a showroom for arts and crafts, which housed an earlier version of the Textile Museum.

Finally, as laid out in the 9th Malaysia Plan, the building was converted into the National Textile Museum, which officially opened in January 2010.

The museum’s current entrance.

Established as a way to preserve Malaysia’s diverse textile heritage and culture, the museum has four permanent galleries: the Pohon Budi Gallery traces the history of textiles in Malaysia – from ancient traditional clothing made from bark to the arrival of textiles to the peninsular via trade; Teluk Berantai Gallery exhibits textiles and techniques used predominantly in Malay attire such as songket; Pelangi Gallery follows the evolution of traditions and fashions of various ethnic groups, while the Ratna Sari Gallery displays some of the more opulent jewellery and personal adornments made of gold, silver, copper, precious stones and beads which accompany traditional clothes. A fifth gallery, the Saindera Gallery, holds special exhibitions and educational activities.

An exhibit of the batik making process in the Pohon Budi Gallery.

Museums in Malaysia don’t garner much attention from locals, as Syahrul laments they are competing with the city’s many shopping malls. Hadijah elaborates that three out of every four visitors are tourists, but they are constantly brainstorming new ideas for exhibits that will appeal to young Malaysians.

Exhibits in the Pelangi Gallery.

“To choose what is best for Malaysians and what they need – you need to be curious. That is a curator – curious,” says Syahrul. “We work together as a team, brainstorming together, generating the ideas and then doing the research.”

To illustrate, Syahrul cites his favourite temporary exhibition at the museum – Saloma: Retro Fashion Icon – which ran from August to October last year.  The exhibit took months to curate, and featured 65 couture pieces worn by the iconic singer and actor loaned from the National Archives.

Tekatan (a gold embroidery created by stitching gold thread to create a raised relief on velvets). 

Aside from the cultural and educational elements in the exhibition, the team was also able to showcase their expertise in textile conservation techniques. Each of the 65 pieces was mounted on a handmade bodice – a three-dimensional invisible mounting system that’s recognised and approved by the International Council of Museums. According to Syahrul, Saloma: Retro Fashion Icon was the first exhibition of its kind in Southeast Asia, which he feels was comparable to the exhibits at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England.

An exhibit depicting the traditional block-print technique in batik making.

Both Hadijah and Syahrul believe that if Malaysians were to visit the museum they would understand and appreciate for themselves the importance of textiles in our cultural heritage. In an effort to actively engage a wider audience, the museum regularly holds textile talks, batik canting (a pen-like tool used for hot wax in making batik) workshops and guided group tours upon request.

Syahrul also believes that participating in museum activities can be therapeutic, “It’s a good therapy for people who are very stressed out in this day and age. People need arts, and canting and weaving are all good for the mind.”

Address: National Textile Museum, 26 Jalan Sultan Hishamudin, 50050 Kuala Lumpur (03 2694 3457). Open daily, 9am-6pm. Free admission. For updates, visit

By Tamanna Patel
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi


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