Peranakan Love – Kebaya & Food !

My curiosity for Peranakan culture started young when I asked my mom if those ladies wearing the pretty kebaya were Chinese or Malay. My mom replied Chinese and my thoughts started running again on why they have this tinge of Malay culture with batik prints on their dressing. These thoughts were placed aside for many years until I was invited by Executive Chef Raymond Khoo of The Peranakan restaurant to sample authentic Peranakan cuisine.

The restaurant was filled with beautiful old school decor with kebayas hanging at the window panels, furnishing and utensils used all well taught to give diners a homely feel. Thereafter, I had the opportunity to invite my media friends to try his cuisine too which was well received by all of them.

Thank you to the below guests for making the time to come together despite your busy schedule.
Jerry Hoh, Artiste
Gillian Tan, Artiste
Debra Teng, Artiste
Vincent Tee, Artiste
Francis Tan, Travel Media
Desmond Raphael Ang, Travel Media
Ann Poh, Artiste
Michael Kwah, Artiste
Joanna Portilla, Chairman of WIN

Besides the food, I was once again mesmerized by the kebaya displayed right outside the restaurant that was sold by Ms Christine Ong Kiat Neo. I picked up the book she wrote and stood there for a good 10 mins and knew that I should get in touch with her soon and her kebaya would be the theme for my 2017 Chinese New Year shoot instead of the usual qipaos that I wore in the past years.

I made a visit to Concorde Hotel outside Spice Restaurant where she had a table space displaying all her kebayas, beaded shoes, accessories and ceramic ware. 

Christina was born and bred in Singapore from a Chinese Peranakan family whom both her paternal and maternal roots were Peranakan. She was sponsored by the Singapore Airlines (SIA) in 1997 for a degree in Business Administration (HR) from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in conjunction with Singapore Institute of Management. She worked with with SIA for more than 25 years before starting her Peranakan retail business.
Her passion for her exquisite collection of kebaya prompted her to write this book “Nyonya Kebaya” in 2011. In this book, she shared on the history of Nyonya Kebaya,/Batik Sarong,/kebaya embroidery how to wear Kebaya/Sarong, wearing your Kebaya regardless of your body shape, evolution of Kebaya, Kebaya care and not forgetting loads of beautiful kebaya photos. Her elegance poise shone as she spoke passionately on Peranakan culture. I was very fortunate to be blessed with one of her personal autographed books.

After happily collected my set of kebaya with my beaded shoes and belt with brooch, I was all ready to have my photoshoot the next day. Early morning at 630am, I set off to my sweet makeup artist Saydanar place all ready to be the little nyonya. 

And I was all ready to be little nyonya! I love the flawless finish and bronze finish on my eyes, giving me a clean and elegant look right for a nyonya! The hair was bunned up with a modern yet chic soft curl finish adding a womanly touch to go along with the kebaya. Thank you dearie for making this magic.

My look for the 2 kebayas that I wore for the shoot.

Let’s start with some background info on Peranakan. Some info from this blog were taken with permission from Christine’s book to add some background to a non Peranakan like me and my readers. 
A Peranakan, a word derived from the Malay root word anak which means child, is a descendant of early Chinese migrants who settled historically in the Straits Settlements of colonial Malaya which comprised the territories of Penang, Malacca and Singapore.

Many notable and respectable figures in Singapore who are Peranakan:

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peranakan

It is popularly accepted that a Peranakan, whether a baba(male) or a nyonya(female) is distinguished by
(1) descent from the marriage of a baba to a nyonya
(2) ability to speak the Baba Malay language
(3) preference for the the Nyonya cuisine
(4) liking for the dresses of the womenfolk who like to wear the sarong kebaya and the kasut manek(beaded slippers)

Peranakans speak a Malay based patois that contains a mixture of Chinese dialects, Tamil, Portuguese and English. Initially, the nyonyas wore baju panjang (loose, long sleeved tunic that ended at the knee or calf) matched with a batik skirt tube skirt). Under the baju panjang was another long sleeved, white cotton undershirt called baju dalam.

Source: http://peranakan.hostoi.com/page9.htm

The baju panjang was later shortened to become kebaya. This elegant two piece set consists of the sarong and kebaya (made of muslin or voile and lacework worn over a cotton inner vest or camisole). The main motifs include flowers, insects, animals, phoenixes, dragons, musical instruments and even people.

A batik sarong is divided into two panels, the head (kepala) which usually has a more elaborate pattern and takes a third of the length, and the larger two-thirds of the body(badan). Batiks come from the island of Java towns such as Pekalongan, Cirebon, Semarang, Lasem and Surabaya and also from Madura Island.

Some popular patterns/motifs:
phoenixes (good fortune/great achievements/female)
butterflies (long life/attraction)
peonies (personifying beauty)

A typical way of securing the brooches on the kebaya would be to overlap the right side of the kebaya over the left by 2cm and pin the brooch through. The final look would be a securely and neatly fastened top with brooches facing up.

In modern times when camisoles are not necessary, you could wear a skin-tone brassiere. Christine recommends the dangling drops or intan earrings as it will help frame the face to bring life to the outfit!

Complete nyonya set:
Batik Skirt
Beaded Shoes
Kerosang (brooch)
Accessories(Good to have): dangling drops/intan earrings, “cana” or olive-shaped rings, gold/sliver plated belt

After sharing bits and pieces of what I learnt from Christine, I hope you had learnt a little more about the kebaya not by just a traditional costume. On a personal note, I love kebaya because it accentuates a woman figure with its pretty embroidery and comes in bold colours and prints. It represents an unique culture in Singapore that should be preserved and respected. The rich culture evolves round the fusion food, intricate elegant costume, closely knitted community and unique language that formed part of a uniquely Singapore. 
Huge thanks to the kind sponsors:
Location: The Peranakan
Kebaya/Beaded Shoes: Christine K N Ong
Makeup: Saydanar Khin
Photography: Macrostudios
Styling:  Ministry of Image Consultancy

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About me
Celestia Faith Chong

A blessed single mom of three kids, Celestia came from a humble background with a roller coaster life journey. Single-handedly, she overcame the challenging hurdles and strived for success.