by Adline Abdul Ghani
Saloma’s iconic retro garments were displayed in custom-made showcases that allowed visitors to see them a 360 degree angle.
Puan Sri Datin Amar Salmah binti Ismail, more lovingly known as Saloma, is a primadona who has had an immense influence on our nation’s music and film industry, particularly during the late 1950s to the early 1980s.
Though she is remembered mainly for her extraordinary singing and acting, she also had a true talent in cultivating her own style and identity. Therefore, it’s fitting that the nation’s first songstress has been crowned the “Icon of Retro Fashion,” as Saloma was a pioneer, trendsetter and fashion inventor.
Saloma’s outfits were very much part of her glamorous image and persona, complementing the way she sang, spoke and moved, as well as her coy gaze and magnetic smile. Always dressed to impress, Saloma was among the first in this country to merge fashion elements of the East and West. Her iconic garments included Kain Kapas, Peplum, Kain Sempit, Kain Belah and Kebaya Ketat, with added touches of Western elements. Due to her attention to detail, she also added personal embellishments in the form of sequins and beads, as well as stitching techniques and twining. During her heyday, young women across Malaysia and Singapore emulated her style from head to toe, including the way she wore her hair and accessories. Today, some of Saloma’s iconic and enduring retro fashions and silhouettes are again all the rage, experiencing a revival in contemporary fashion design.
In order to organise this landmark exhibition, which was held at the National Museum from 8 August to 31 October 2017, the Department of Museums Malaysia collaborated with the National Archives of Malaysia, as well as Saloma’s family and friends. 65 garments, in the care of the National Archives, were selected for the exhibition, and they were all handled with care using professional textile conservation techniques recognised by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). Some of the display methods used by the museum include the 3D invisible mounting system (bukrem and ethafoam), padded torso and mannequins, t-bars, hanging cylinders and padded slants. These methods were employed to ensure the sustainability of the collection, as well to maintain their aesthetics. However, museum curators and conservators were faced with a unique set of challenges in handling Saloma’s garments. This is because the garments are much smaller than average, due to Saloma’s very petite, slender figure. Therefore, the display supports they used had to be painstakingly handmade to size.
The warm response that the exhibition has received from the Malaysian public is testament that Saloma’s legacy has endured and will continue to do so in the future.