There’s one garment in Southeast Asia that embodies fashion, heritage and national pride. And now the kebaya is being nominated to join Unesco’s Intangible Heritage List for 2023.
Under the studio spotlights, Indonesian-born designer Stacy Stube smoothed out the chocolate-brown lace on her cutting table. She carefully pinned the pattern to the fabric, determined not to tear it, then dutifully traced its outline in chalk. The task weighed heavy on her shoulders, knowing that she was not just creating a dress, but making a garment that was once a symbol of rebellion and remains endowed with history.
The kebaya is a garment that women like Stube’s seamstress great-grandmother made in the islands of Indonesia, and one that is also found in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand. Each region has made the kebaya their own, and each stitch tells a tale of their own history. It is so beloved by these five countries that they have joined together to nominate the kebaya for the Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List in March 2023.
“The kebaya cuts across countries and ethnicities,” said Cedric Tan, former president of the Persatuan Peranakan Baba Nyonya Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, a society in Malaysia for Peranankan people, who was involved in the nomination.