Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pleasurable pursuit

A childhood fascination has bloomed into serious business.

LOCAL celebrities can’t seem to get enough of Von Jolly.

The homegrown couture batik house has seen some well-known folks such as Jaclyn Victor, Asha Gill, Sazzy Falak, Betty Banafe, Noryn Aziz and Corinne Adrienne donning their myriad-hued creations.

But just how did Von Jolly threads end up on the back of these celebrities?

Dressing celebs: Designer Aaron Jolly at his gallery in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, showing off the signature batik fabrics of the Von Jolly house.

Label founder Aaron Jolly’s reply is simple: “They call us.”

Detailing the events leading to the dressing up of various stars, Jolly, 32, insists that there was no fervent chasing or arm twisting.

“For instance, dressing Betty Banafe started with a phone call from her manager, Sharizan Isa,” explains Jolly.

“She asked us to come up with 12 outfits for the Samrah Festival in July 2008. I think we were chosen because our work with batik was very much in line with the Malaysian theme which the organisers were looking to promote.”

Glamorous: Singer Betty Banafe in two of the 12 outfits created by Von Jolly for her concert at the Samrah Festival in July 2008.

Looking at their celebrity scorecard, it may seem incredulous that every name on their list had arrived there by such pleasant coincidence. According to Jolly, it had been simply a matter of making the right connections.

He quotes another example of dressing popular actress Sazzy Falak for the 16th Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) last May. Jolly recalls that it was the result of a brief handshake during the KL Fashion Week in 2006.

As for dressing Asha Gill for the TAG Heuer India Polo Event in 2006, again, it was TAG Heuer Malaysia who buzzed them as they had seen a Von Jolly dress on Wan Zaleha Radzi at another event.

As for actress Corinne Adrienne, the label’s muse, both had met during a photo shoot and had come to the amiable agreement for a “win-win” situation.

Striking: A short ‘train’ adds a hint of drama to this electric blue outfit.

“She had just returned from Singapore in 2006 and was trying to get into the movie industry in Malaysia. We were working on establishing our name so we thought we’d be able to work in tandem. In the end, it turned out well for both parties,” enthuses Jolly.

To put a fashion house on such an esteemed pedestal is no easy feat. Participating in competitions and a regular presence in fashion events run the gamut of Jolly’s itinerary.

“One crucial event that helped to shape the Von Jolly name was winning the grand prize in the Fashion category during the Piala Seri Endon in 2005. That opened many doors for us, including the requests from the celebrities,” says Jolly.

Having a celebrity wear one’s creations makes a good marketing tool because it attracts attention but, as Jolly points out, dressing a famous name is mostly on a sponsorship basis. As such, Jolly still has to look for customers who will buy his work.

Sublime: Jaclyn Victor wore this stunning gown to the Citrawarna event

“Overheads in the Von Jolly house come up to about RM30,000 per month, with a big chunk of it going towards raw materials and wages for staff which includes our 12 seamstresses. As such, we have to cover a wider scope of the fashion industry, not just couture,” explains Jolly who also designs uniforms for corporate companies.

Jolly made the decision to forego a career in architecture by making his foray into the fashion scene with his uncle, Raymond Jolly, now 56, in 2003. He points out the three crucial elements that helped the Von Jolly house to establish their clientele in Kuala Lumpur, Milan and London.

“The first one was passion. Raymond and I grew up in a family of very vain ladies!” exclaims Sarawak-born Jolly who is of Eurasian parentage.

“One example was my mother, Doris George (who is now 68), the former general manager of Sports Toto for East Malaysia. She never wore the same dress twice for all the events that she attended. Let’s say if the function is at 7pm, she would have started getting ready the night before. As a child, I watched all this with awe and it impressed on me that the business of dressing up was a very serious but beautiful and joyful pursuit,” recalls Jolly.

Elegant: Sexy Orientalinfluenced gown.

He also stresses the importance of having a thorough understanding of what one wants to do.

“As a fashion house, you must have your own signature style. In short, we don’t copy. At Von Jolly, our strength lies in our batik prints which carry sweeping brush strokes and abstract art.

“We have a very contemporary feel to our prĂȘt-a-porter and couture lines. This is why we have described our work as ‘the defining authority of Malaysian contemporary batik’ in our business card,” adds Jolly.

Having a sound technical knowledge of tailoring is crucial and this has to be established in a fashion house before any form of marketing can be done.

Jolly says that he and his uncle learned the rudiments of tailoring from the women in their family. He points out that any designer who gives the nod for a chiffon skirt to be put on the rack without lining, for example, obviously does not know what he is doing.

Lastly comes persistence and consistency and it is in this area that Jolly reveals that he has often been chastised by friends for “not having a life”.

“In business, everything boils down to marketing and sales. While many assume that I have a team to do this, I will tell you now that the buck stops with me and my uncle. We brainstorm for new themes and design ideas, organise the literature and photo shoots for our brochures and establish the contacts to develop the business,” says Jolly.

From the very beginning, it had been Jolly’s plan to cater to an exclusive market.

“Let’s be realistic. Without the right customer to support your work, there will be no room for you to develop your creations,” he says.

The early days of establishing the Von Jolly house started within Jolly’s community in Kuching when he and his uncle made evening dresses for his mother’s friends.

Their customer base soon grew as their name spread by word of mouth. Being fortunate enough to have relatives who meet regularly with the well-heeled in society, Jolly did not have to wait long before he was invited to such gatherings.

“The first do I attended was thrown by the association of ministers’ wives in Sarawak and it was from there that I landed my first VIP customer, a lady senator who ordered five batik kurungs from me. I remember being over the moon on receiving our first cheque totalling about RM7,000,” recalls Jolly.

As for the issue of the fashion industry turning a guy “soft”, Jolly’s initial answer is a diplomatic smile.

For him, the task of having to completely alter a dress within a short span of four hours is certainly not for the faint-hearted. This is especially so if the dress is commissioned by a foreign embassy whose intention is to put it on an artiste who will be wearing it in the presence of other VIPs.

“We are creative people and, being in the fashion line, you need a certain degree of flamboyance. Or else, you’d be labelled as boring,” says Jolly.

In any case, Jolly jests that it is always best to adopt a “soft” approach, especially when it comes to advising a woman what will suit her and what will not.

“People assume that the biggest challenge for a male designer is to address bust and panty line issues but, let me tell you, the hardest part is convincing a client to accept your advice. This is especially so when they already have set ideas about what they think they will look good in.

“Some examples are clients who think they will look fabulous in pencil skirts when an A-line cut is more appropriate. The catch here is, though the customer isn’t always right, there is a need to adopt a ‘soft’ approach in explaining why without bruising any egos,” concludes Jolly.

> To find out more about Von Jolly, log on to

published in The Star, Star Two, Thursday December 31, 2009

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Adrenalin Rush, Intense Rides

Ask Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor about all the thrilling rides he’s ever taken in his life and you can expect him to mention hurtling into the sky at 22,000 km/h in the Soyuz TMA-11, the space craft that propelled him to the stars.

“Later, they told me that my father, despite his strong character, screamed when he saw the launch. He thought that all the fire from the rocket thrusters was going to burn us all,” he laughs.

Herein, Muszaphar reveals that he nearly didn’t make it for the space program.

“To fly in the Russian Soyuz, your height from your vortex (top of the head ) to your coccyx (tailbone)

should not be more than 99cm. Mine was 96cm. I was only saved by 3 cm. Phew!” recalls Muszaphar of the close call.

His other thrill ride had been in a Hawk trainer jet with the Red Arrows, RAF’s acrobatic team at the LIMA (Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace) exhibition in 2007.

“Unlike the pilots, I did not have an anti G-suit on and I was straining all the way to keep myself from blacking out. The astronaut training came in handy then,” he says of his whirlwind ride with them.

But long before this 38-year-old became a household name, Muszaphar was already a daredevil in his own right.

At age 10, he snuck his elder brother’s racing bicycle out of the house and pedaled 8 km from Bukit Rasah to Seremban town without telling anyone. This was when Muszaphar had yet to reach his lanky height of 1.83m. If you can picture a small boy balancing precariously on a Shimano that was way too high for him with his fingertips barely touching the handlebars, you can imagine the perilous nature of this journey.

Then, at 15, without a driver’s licence, he took his brother’s Nissan 120Y for secret joy rides to an empty lot so he could do wheel spins and donuts.

“My brother eventually found out that I was sneaking his car out because the tyres were going bald pretty fast. Still, he kept it a secret from our parents for six months,” recalls Muszaphar.

Things came to a head when he came home with a dent and his brother was forced to rat on him for his own safety. Ironically, Muszaphar dented the car when he backed it into a wall while practicing the L-parking maneuver.

“My parents were very cross and they banned me from driving until I was old enough to get my licence which I did on my 18th birthday,” he says.

Still, the brushes with his brother’s Shimano and Nissan are chicken farts when you compare it to the time when he hung on to the roof of a speeding Tata while he was studying medicine in Manipal. This episode came about when another fellow medical student dared Muszaphar to the deed. The ride ended at the edge of a cliff with an abrupt stop. Miraculously, Muszaphar managed to hang on though the Tata was doing 180 km/h before that.

Nothing beats the thrill of an adrenaline rush for Muszaphar. To this former national swimmer who has swum with the great white sharks in Cape Town, Africa, and goes bungee jumping regularly, it is the rush that makes him feel alive.

“It’s better than anything on earth!” he enthuses.

This is also one reason why Muszaphar has a penchant for fast bikes and cars.

His first motorbike, an Enfield Bullet 350 which he bought at age 22, gave him a taste of what it was like to feel the wind in his hair. As the Bullet 350 only had a top speed of 100 km/h, he had it modified by changing the pistons and exhaust so that it could reach a speed of 250 km/h. After four years, man and machine fell out of favour after a bad paint job turned his green bike into a shade of pink. Still, first loves are hard to forget and Muszaphar plans to look up the mechanic and find out what happened to his Bullet 350 when he goes to Manipal, India next.

When he came home to work for UKM Medical Centre (formerly known as Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), his first choice was to opt for a another fast bike, Kawasaki ZZR 1100, a four cylinder sport tourer which has a top speed of 285 km/h. Again, owner and bike were forced to part ways when rainy seasons inadvertently made him late for work, a big ‘no no’ with the boss.

Speaking of cars, currently, Muszaphar is having a major crush on the BMW Z4 3.0i, a two-door inline-6 roadster which has earned a reputation for being a land shark.

“I love it for its sturdiness and sleek looks. The engine purrs and is beautifully silent. You don’t feel the speed, even when you’re going at 220 km/h. And it is very spacious, despite my height. I’d love to drive this roadster with the top down because I love the sun,” says Muszaphar.

And yes, he’s had his day at the tracks, as a passenger in a Porsche.

“The tracks are the only place to speed. As much as I like to drive fast, safety must come first and that means safety belts. I’ve seen plenty of fractured spines and broken skulls when I was working at the Selayang Hospital, an area known for illegal races,” says Muszaphar.

As for his ultimate dream car, it is the red Ferrari that wins hands down.

“I’ve realized my first dream of going to space. Driving a Ferrari will be another one of my aims. Now, don’t ask me why a Ferrari. Isn’t it everybody’s dream to own one?” concludes this Malaysian astronaut with a glint in his eye.

Published in Cars Bikes and Trucks, New Sunday Times, 17th Jan 2010

Unveiling uniqueness

Dermatoglyphics – or the study of fingertip patterns – helps you understand yourself better.

TAKE a close look at your fingertips. Use a magnifying glass if you have to. Look at the whorls, loops and arches. If you have a concentric whorl, high chances are that you have high levels of initiative, enthusiasm and determination. You may also be independent, competitive and bossy. A tented arch is a sign of a good learner but it may also indicate impulsiveness. A loop pointing towards the thumb signifies an easy-going personality but at the same time, you could also be one sensitive soul. If you have a combination of all three, there is a high chance that you possess multiple characteristics and may even be volatile.

Welcome to the world of “dermatoglyphics’’ or, in short, the business of self-discovery through the study of one’s fingerprints.

Creative designs: Sample prints of lunar and radial loops. Individuals with these patterns are purportedly able to think out of the box and can easily adapt to different environments.

Explaining how it all works is Marcus Leng, 29, from GeneCode International, which makes use of dermatoglyphics to provide consultation services on talent profiling for individual and corporate clients.

A member of the American Dermatoglyphics Association with three years’ experience and having handled over a thousand cases, Leng was drawn to the field of fingerprint study when a Chinese professor did a scanning and analysis for him at a seminar. In 2006, Leng took a 10-day course in the subject at the Tai­wan Overseas Chinese Conven­tion Centre. The event was organised by the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission (OCAC) in collaboration with Yuen Ze University.

Dermatoglyphics, asserts Leng, is not palmistry presented in a different packaging.

“We do not give ‘predictions’ on what is going to happen. Instead, we adopt a positive stance by looking at the ridge counts which indicates a person’s learning efficiency and inborn talents,” says Leng.

To show the relation of fingertip patterns and the primal dispositions of an individual, Leng refers to the document entitled Using Dermato­glyphics From Down Syndrome And Class Populations To Study The Genetics Of A Complex Trait. The thesis was written in 1990 by Thomas Fogle, an associate professor and chair of the biology department at Saint’s Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana, the United States. Fogle’s research interests include the chromosomal study of humans and exotic zoo animals.

According to Fogle’s paper, fingerprint patterns can start to form from as early as the sixth to seventh week of fertilisation. Ridge growth and patterning is believed to coincide with nerve and tissue development. The whole process inadvertently boils down to genetic influences on nerve and epidermal growth.

“There is a full explanation on the above theory in a research paper from the Centre of Anthropological Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, in 2003. During practical sessions, the finger and palm prints of mentally retarded children were recorded and studied. This research states that the total number of ridge counts are an indication of a person’s learning capabilities,” says Leng.

Do the math: Measuring intelligence using the dermatoglyphics method. The angle is determined from the triadic point at the base of the palm to the points at the bases of the forefinger and pinky. The normal count is between 35° and 45°. Anything below suggests mental retardation.

And yes, humankind has used the knowledge to their benefit. One of Leng’s favourite examples is revealing how the former USSR and The People’s Republic of China had used dermatoglyphics to recruit talent for the Olympic games in the 1970s. As it turned out, the USSR took home 50 gold medals in 1972 and 125 in 1976. By the 1980s, China had also adopted the Russian method of selecting sporting talents.

“What they did was to check for the learning sensitivity levels of these athletes by measuring their palms. An individual’s learning sensitivity is gauged through measuring the ATD angle (the triangle formed by the points at the base of the palm, forefinger and pinky). A normal reading would fall somewhere between 35° and 45°. “In Genecode’s practice, these readings are used as a means to detect learning difficulties in children so that they can be addressed early,” says Leng.

Not surprisingly, the field of dermatoglyphics is also gaining popularity in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, achieving a market value of several hundred million dollars in Taiwan alone. Most times, it is the parents who send their children’s fingerprints for analysis, in the hope that the results will help them plan for their children’s education.

Vouching for its accuracy, Leng cites the case of a mother who came to him with her daughter’s fingerprints.

“She didn’t tell me much about her 10-year-old daughter but, from the analysis of her fingerprints, we found out that she had very little aptitude for musical talent which requires fine motor skills. When I relayed this to the mother, she confirmed that her daughter had been taking piano lessons for the past five years but had yet to go beyond Grade 2 in the pianoforte exams. The results finally convinced the mother to channel her daughter’s attention to better use elsewhere,” says Leng.

Positive approach: ‘We do not give predictions on what is going to happen. Instead, we adopt a positive stance by looking at the ridge counts which indicate a person’s learning efficiency and inborn talents,’ says Marcus Leng.

In addition to free demos in local schools and universities, Leng has also done analyses for various organisations and companies.

“The whole idea is to help the CEOs understand their staff’s talents for HR optimisation purposes,” says Leng.

No doubt, fingerprint study is seen as an invaluable tool for discovering one’s abilities and in determining the right career paths.

Take Andy Yong, 37, a father of two and a motivational trainer, for instance. It has only been a few months since Yong was first introduced to the subject of fingerprint study. While he does not deny that it was curiosity that prompted him attend a talk on the subject, he had not bargained for the deep fascination that ensued.

Expectedly, not only has Yong submitted his own set of fingerprints to GeneCode for analysis, he has also convinced his wife and two daughters to do the same. In addition, Yong has also paid Genecode RM13,970 for a licensing fee which includes a four-module course on fingerprint pattern analysis and consultation. This latest certificate is another addition to Yong’s many other skills he has acquired over his eight years of experience as a trainer; the art of hypnosis is another one of them.

“I see this as a tool I can use in the course of my personal consulting work as it will give me better insight into an individual’s abilities. This way, I will be able focus on developing the individual with greater accuracy rather than resort to guesswork,” says Yong.

So far, Yong has seen 30 cases, and they vouch that the data is 80% accurate.

Of course, there will always be cynics who opine that people like Leng and Yong are just trying to make a fast buck using the fingerprint reading strategy as a gimmick.

“What people are is a result of the environment and their upbringing. In life, nothing is predestined. Telling people what they can and cannot be may discourage them from pursuing their true calling,” says Phylis Chen, 74, a retired banker who quips that hand-reading, through fingerprints or otherwise, is nothing more than 80% guesswork and 20% “bluff­ology”.

Azmi Ibrahim, 46, a civil engineering lecturer at UiTM does not fully agree though he has never gone for palm-reading or a fingerprint analysis. Still, he believes that the lines on our palms do mean something.

“By their uniqueness, whereby no two people can have the same patterns, it is possible that the lines have something to do with the unique characteristics of the person,” says Azmi.

For more information on dermatoglyphics readings and analysis or licensing opportunities, call Yong (012-383 5383) or Leng (016-661 1642) or visit

Published in The Star 18th January 2010.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Power-ful display

Self-taught artist Daniel Power’s airbrush demonstrations draw crowds by the thousands wherever he goes.

WHAT earns an airbrush artist the lofty title of “The King of Airbrush”? In Daniel Power’s case, a 35-year-old Australian airbrusher who was flown in for the 2009 Autoshow at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil recently, it speaks of 17 intimate years with a steel cylinder and an action trigger.

It is the culminative collection of work on cars, boats, motorbikes, X-boxes, cinema walls and a guitar, which has spanned 14 countries and airbrush demonstrations in front of hundreds of thousands in his home country. The Power line, in addition to a studio in Bayswater, Melbourne, also extends to airbrushing classes which covers teaching locations in Britain and Canada. To boot, Power also has his own series of instructional DVDs.

Blazing: To depict this CRX as one hot ride, Power painted dragons on it.

It also helped that Power has a fan in Jaz Wong, 34, one of Malaysia’s top airbrush artists who was instrumental in bringing the Australian in for the show and who “bestowed” Power with his “crown”. That was not an act of whim, in any case.

“The first thing that caught my attention were his lively airbrush portraits. Every piece has a story to tell. It’s the way he captures their expressions and the little background details. His work has a level of creativity which is seldom seen in the airbrush arena. In my eyes, he is certainly The King, after the thousands of comparisons I’ve done throughout my five years in this line,” says Wong.

Yet, when the Airbrush King descended to the lobby of his hotel for this interview, there was no sign of a royal retinue, save for the characters of Batman and Robin emblazoned on his black tee.

“I am not very comfortable with the kingly title, really,” admits Power as he settled to a warm cup of chamomile tea and honey.

“I think the more appropriate term to use would be to say that I am part of the airbrush royalty. That way it covers all the greats who have driven the inspiration. Realistically, it is very hard to have just one top person for anything. Obviously, it is impossible to do everybody’s work and I guess it would be lonely, too, as there would be no one whom I could learn from,” says a modest Power.

Daniel Power’s amazing collection of work on cars, boats, bikes, canvas and even the human body, displays a level of creativity seldom seen in the airbrush arena

While Power has worked on very unusual canvasses, including skate decks and female bodies for a liquor company, it is the automotive industry which has shown most appreciation for his work when he started on them seven years ago. Herein, the King of Airbrush finds himself in the position of having to answer the sticky question of why automobile owners are so fond of having hideous beasts and the female form, of which Power seems to be especially fond of drawing, on their bonnets.

The question inadvertently entices a laugh from Power, a father of two.

“That’s what my customers want,” he insisted.

Still, Power, whose father is a doctor of psychology, has a theory. The beasties, which he personally considers “cool”, is a primal need for man to exercise the scare factor.

“It’s like the old days when people rode their horse and armour out to war. The more you scared the enemy, the better. It’s just that now the horse has been replaced by a car but there is still this need to outshine the competition. As for the popularity of the female form, I see it as a natural choice for a male owner who regards his ride as the most beautiful object on the road. I am sure that if the car owner is female, she might have an image of a very buffed up Bruce Lee airbrushed on her wheels,” explains Power.

King or not, having a surname like Power has made the artist a favourite subject for puns and it is not uncommon for this amiable character to have to verify if he has any relations to Austin Powers, the movie character.

Life in her palm: Power has the ability to bring life to his pieces, as seen in this image of a woman holding a capsule of human DNA.

“My surname is spelt without the ‘s’ so clearly we are not related,” is Power’s favourite reply.

But talk about his artistic career and the serious side of Power emerges.

The youngest of five siblings, the self-taught artist who started airbrushing in his early teens had started life as an artist for an Australian airbrush art company.

Growing up in a big Irish Catholic family, one of the life lessons that his parents had instilled in him was in making sure everybody has their fair share. It took three months before Power realised that he was not getting a fair salary from the boss who made Power do everything from designing T-shirts and catalogues to setting up venues for airbrush demos.

To rub salt to the wound, Power says, he was also told to stick to cartoons because he was not good at portraits, which incidentally was and still is, Power’s pet subject.

Deciding that it would be difficult to see eye-to-eye with his employer, Power left and, at only 18, he boldly made up his mind to venture out on his own, setting up a temporary studio in his parents’ garage in View Bank, a suburb in Melbourne.

Minute detail: Turning on the creep factor with the face of Terminator on this computer case

On reflection, Power surmises that his establishment in the airbrush world has been uncannily governed by quirky twists of fate. It had to be another case of injustice that landed him his biggest job with the Australian-based Village Cinema in 2002 which saw him doing a 17m-long mural of airbrushed portraits in Taipei, Taiwan.

Power had been approached to do a series of airbrush celebrity portraits by a design company which told him that they only had a A$3,000 budget for each piece. It took a chance trip to the cinema for Power to discover that they had put up reproduced copies of his work. This subsequently saw Power at the management office which revealed that the design company had not only claimed his work as their own but had sold his pieces to the chain for A$12,000 each! In the end, Power got his due accolades when Village decided to deal directly with him.

And while it is fitting that only an airbrush pro can take on a 17m x 4m mural simultaneously with another slightly smaller one for the same client and finish both in 30 days, Power lets on that there is no job too small for him either. In 2004, he was commissioned to airbrush a female face the size of a coin on a guitar for a client whose name he prefers not to reveal.

But tell Power that he has been lucky and he gives a wry smile. It is not easy being “king”. In Power’s case, it means juggling 12-hour work days and family time with his two boys, Torin, three, and Reilly, 11 months. It is a tiring but rewardingjourney.

“The thing about wanting to be good at your work is you need to devote your life to it, and that’s what I’ve done for the past 17 years,” says Power.

Eye of the tiger: Power’s artwork for the Tiger Temple in Thailand.

Knowing well that no reign can last forever, Power is ready for the day when he has to relinquish his “crown”.

“That’s what I’m working on now. Leaving behind my knowledge in my instructional DVDs in the hope that it will inspire another artist to take up airbrushing and become my successor,” says Power.

What will Power do after that?

“Fine art, that’s what I’m heading for,” he concludes passionately.

For more of Daniel Power’s work, log on to

Published in The Star 4th Jan 2010