It is a story right out of a fairy tale; a girl dreams of making it big, chases her dreams and builds a fantasyland that makes other girls’ dreams come true! In a journey of self-realisation and exploration, one Penang-lass makes it to the big league with her large dreams and bold ideas. For this issue of EZ, we talked to Anne Lee, the bridal industry maverick and fairy godmother to a host of brides and brides-to-be.
When Malaysian king of badminton and world champion Datuk Lee Chong Wei decided to tie the knot with his sweetheart, former Malaysian badminton singles player, Datin Wong Mew Choo, only the best would do for the special occasion. He and his now-wife turned to Anovia Bridal, more specifically Anne to capture and immortalise the couple’s love.
To Anne, this celebrity wedding was the most outstanding one that she has been involved in and goes down as one of her most memorable projects. ‘There are a lot of celebrity weddings, but there’s only one Datuk Lee Chong Wei, and I’m proud to have had the opportunity and ability to handle his wedding,’ said Anne when met at her latest bridal boutique, Obsidian in Penang.
‘He is one of the world’s top badminton players and he makes Malaysia proud. He even asked to visit Anovia and have a look at the chapel. That made me feel very proud because before that, he already had his wedding photos taken at Sepang. He was training there, and therefore he couldn’t come to my place in Penang. But at the very last minute, Datuk Lee suddenly said that he wanted to come to Penang. ‘I want to go to Penang to take photos, your shop is very nice,’ he said.’
‘There are a lot of celebrity weddings, but there’s only one Datuk Lee Chong Wei, and I’m proud to have the opportunity and ability to handle his wedding.’
– Anne Lee, Managing Director of Anovia Bridal and Obsidian Production Studio
Long before Anne’s Anovia Bridal captured the attention of Malaysia’s golden boy, the bridal house was already generating positive buzz not only within Malaysia, but also overseas. Housed in a sprawling heritage mansion with an immaculate garden adorned with angelic sculptures, Anovia Bridal has a celestial wedding chapel built on its grounds where love-struck couples can pledge their love and seal their marriage.
The idea for Anovia Bridal came at a time when Anne had decided to take a break from the bridal industry, which she was involved in for almost two decades as a wedding gown designer, a sales person, a bridal house supervisor and then as a bridal house manager. Knowing the ins-and-outs of the industry and having worked with top bridal houses in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang had prepared her to build and run her own business in the bridal industry.
Invited by her friend to view a property, which used to house the famous Penang establishment, Bagan Bar, Anne was reluctant at first. This would however change the moment she entered the mansion. ‘When I reached Bagan, I don’t know why but I immediately felt a connection to the place. I could visualize so many changes to the place; this is where I could have my reception, and there would be the gown department, and I kept talking and talking about my ideas,’ recalled Anne, saying that it was almost akin to a ‘love at first sight’ with the mansion.
That deliberate maneuver by her friend was successful in reigniting within Anne the passion for the bridal industry. ‘From then on, my dream started once more. I wanted this, I wanted that, I wanted a chapel; I didn’t want this tree… I talked a lot with the designers to create and realize my own dream bridal house. When I first entered this area, the premises were derelict and unkempt. It was like a jungle, with trees here and there. But it had such a big compound that I could make a dream wedding house of my own,’ she said.
Any visitors to Anovia would feel like they are entering a surreal world, one that is magical and serene. The concept of this bridal house is very clear and tactical, and it is all credited to Anne’s vision. ‘Last time, my dreams and ideas were restricted by my superiors. But now that I had a place of my own, I could let my creativity run loose. I could have what I wanted at Anovia, like the statue, decorations, everything which was from my heart. I created a feeling that was welcoming, and with every step you take in Anovia, a story unfolds in your mind. We can feel it inside, in ourselves. That’s what I visualized, that every step is a moment of its own with a different scenery and perspective playing out in the mind of every visitor,’ explained Anne on her concept.
Having established Anovia Bridal in 2011 and receiving rave reviews and accolades for her celestial bridal concept, Anne has unveiled another exciting concept this year. Obsidian, which is right next door to Anovia Bridal, is like the hip, younger sister complete with its exposed brick walls, obsidian black ceilings and glam wedding gowns.
‘Obsidian’s concept is completely different from Anovia’s. It is urban, contemporary and bold – a different way to present a wedding. It appeals more to the young generation. Another thing is I think that in the whole of Malaysia, you’ve never seen a bridal house with a black or grey ceiling. It’s a very strong colour, and it’s such a bold concept that I had to spend a few months mulling it over,’ said Anne.
Introducing such a novel concept to an already saturated industry could be daunting, something that was certainly not lost on Anne. She had to ensure that the concept was not just a superficial one that was contemporary in its aesthetics but one that was daring to create new trends within the bridal industry. ‘One of the main products we offer here in Obsidian is short film productions. Out of the whole of Malaysia, this is the only bridal house with its own screening theatre. We create short bridal videos, and hold previews as well as screenings for the customers to present the finished product to their family and friends,’ said Anne.
‘In my opinion, photos capture memories without sound and movement. Many years after the photos are taken, they still evoke nostalgia but we can only make simple statements while looking at them. However, videos and short films are different. We create short bridal films because a marriage doesn’t concern just two people; it involves the joining of two families and their worlds. Only a short film can capture the worlds of the bride and the groom. So, one day, when the customer watches the short film of their wedding, he or she can listen to the voices of loved ones and relive the moment.’
Another key aspect of Obsidian’s short film concept is its technical and creative crew, which Anne assures are all professionals – both from the bridal industry and international film industry. ‘When a customer signs up for the short film package with us, we create a story for them. We prepare a script, a director, art director, producer … basically everything for the customer. Obsidian has invested in an overseas movie crew, and so we have a team of specialists whose expertise lies in making short-film movies,’ she said, ‘You can make a short film with your girlfriend, or a short movie with your friends. That means this service is not restricted to just newlyweds or engaged couples. This is Obsidian’s new challenge for the market. This is our new plan for the millennium.’
With Anne realizing her own dreams and ideas, what she has done is give this generation a channel to make their own dreams come true and to capture it for all eternity.