KUALA LUMPUR — The women are sipping homemade iced lemonade in
between bites of buttery madeleines while browsing racks, tables, cabinets and baskets filled with fabric products in a myriad vibrant prints.
Pompoms, sequins and tassels in a spectrum of neon shades peek out around the edges, enticing with their playfulness.
Virginie Dupuis is bustling around with a cheerful smile, urging the women to untie the rolled-up bundles and “try it, you don’t know how it looks on you until you try it. Don’t worry, open up what you want and make sure you try!”
Her sunny disposition matches that of her beachwear label, Matchali, which she founded in 2016, two years after moving to Malaysia with her husband and son.
Originally from Paris, she and her family were living in Shanghai for 10 years until the pollution got to them. In wanting greener pastures, literally, and some place more central in Asia, they decided to make Kuala Lumpur their home. “After looking at about 30 houses, we fell in love with this and signed on the dotted line!”
Her home, in Damansara Heights, is also her studio and Matchali’s showroom, where she regularly hosts Open House customers who can browse and shop to their heart’s content in comfort while enjoying light refreshments.
Her inspirations — and the DNA of her brand — can be observed there. Visitors walk past her garden and enter through a side entrance near the swimming pool, fringed by potted plants with large leaves. There’s just about all the trimmings of a tropical beach resort, so Matchali’s collections are certainly in their right element here!
From an initial offering of 15 pareos, the brand has grown to includes kaftans, ponchos, bags, towels, scarves, fans, scrunchies, potpourri, and accessories. There are kids’ versions too, and all are made of handprinted organic cotton that she sources from India, then sewn by her two helpers in Kuala Lumpur.
Matchali is thus a 100 per cent handmade brand and for Virginie, nothing less will do. “Every bit is done by me and in association with people who have strong skills. It’s 100 per cent handmade and I am 100 per cent involved,” she asserts.
“Matchali is me, I must be able to stand behind it 100 per cent. The spirit of the brand is just like me — colourful! It carries my vibe, my choice of colours…”
Virginie’s guiding philosophy is this: “With each item I put out, I ask myself first, will I buy it? I believe that if it’s something I want, other people will want it too. And when people buy something from you, they are buying a part of you.”
For that reason, too, she prefers Open House and private viewings upon appointment. “When you open up your home, you open your heart and show who you are.”
And she is all that Matchali stands for: Happy colours, Nature, the beach, beautiful fabrics, Asia, and in particular, her affinity with India. “My mother’s married to an Indian, so my half-brother is half-Indian,” she explains. “And it was during a trip to India that the idea to build my brand came about.”
After moving to Kuala Lumpur, Virginie met a French woman named Julie Das, a co-ordinator for a charity organisation in Kolkata called Balo, which works to create a better future for children living in the slums.
Virginie decided to sponsor a child through Balo, continuing the philanthropy she has always been partial to. “I’ve been sponsoring kids since I was 17. Back in France, I used to donate to an organisation that supports children in Thailand. When I lived in Shanghai, for 10 years, I sponsored a girl from the Miao minority group who lives in the mountains, through a French association called Couleur de Chine.”
Julie invited Virginie to visit the Balo children in Kolkata. “I love what they’re doing. It’s run by a Christian Italian lady, co-ordinated by a French Jew, with teachers who are Indian Muslim. There is such diversity among them, it’s beautiful.”
Julie then suggested that Virginie put her creative skills into a project that could help the children. “I’ve always loved working with my hands. In Shanghai, I used to make beaded napkin rings with tassels and export them back to France to sell. So home furnishings was what came to mind.”
Virginie also drew on her experience working for Chanel for 10 years, which she says taught her about exclusivity, uniqueness and how small details make all the difference.
The name Matchali was adapted from the Indian word for fish, which came to her during a market visit. The day before, she had purchased a fish hanger, her first link to Kolkata.
Fish is also a significant symbol in Christianity, in Asian culture, and for the city. She decided to name her label as such, and chose blue and purple (inspired by the peacock, another icon of India) as her brand colours.
While there, she met artisans making organic cotton patterned using hand print blocks and contacted the supplier to place an order. Virginie’s initial plan was to make table cloths but later realised that the fabrics were more suitable as pareos, which she jazzed up with pompoms and sequins.
She shot her first collection while on an island holiday and sold them to friends. From that point on, Matchali just kept expanding its range.
Virginie donates part of her profits to Balo but points out that she is not using the organisation to sell her products. Matchali is not a social enterprise, it’s a business.
It enables her to support more kids through Balo. “What I’ve learned from Asia, I want to give back. I never thought about doing this… Julie and Balo gave me the energy. Everything begins from relationships, it’s about stories that come from the heart.”
Besides her own designs, Virginie enjoys collaborating with other brands, especially those founded by women. A recent partnership with Kuala Lumpur-based Duedinoi resulted in a range of glass bead necklaces with tassels made from her fabrics and adorned with fish charms, that she named Matchali Candy.
You can be certain of more exciting creations in time to come, as Virginie is brimming with ideas. A recent buying trip to India gave her fresh inspirations that have already or will be translated into unique designs.
There are certainly many fish in the ocean for Matchali but Virginie is not rushing to scale up. “People always tell me I need to go bigger. For me, it’s about doing what I love, not doing something bigger.”