Close encounters of the KL kind


Publicists would disagree, but any journalist worth their salt will tell you the best stories never come straight off a press release. Occasionally that’s where they start, however. And so it was at 2.44pm on January 16th, when I received an email from Sydney-based fashion PR firm Little Hero headed “Malaysia’s First Lady covets Carl Kapp”, alerting me to what they were claiming would in anybody’s terms constitute an unusually large single, personal order of a designer brand – 61 items. Many designers wouldn’t have 61 pieces in a single collection. The alleged client was Rosmah Mansor, the wife of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

I called Little Hero back within minutes. The story had been passed over by the fashion editors of two Australian newspapers, said Little Hero staffer Holly Beer, who immediately followed up with a second email, with yet more tantalising details. The second of two appointments had taken place in the PM’s hotel on New Year’s Eve – as it emerged, The Star Sydney Casino’s new venue The Darling, the penthouse no less – with the PM himself present. After taking Rosmah’s measurements and order, Kapp was due to be flown by the client to KL for a second round of fittings, said Beer. “It was unbelievably surreal” Kapp told me later that day. Indeed. No mention was made of Kapp being dispatched to KL in a Learjet but by this stage nothing would have surprised me. 

najib razak and rosmah mansor meet QEII, london, july 2011/getty via daylife

This wasn’t the wife of a Russian oil tycoon, but a politician, in fact Malaysia’s most high profile politician. The very same politician who had spent the better part of 2011 embroiled in controversy with his Australian counterpart over ‘The Malaysian Solution’, a controversial plan to swap asylum seekers. The Australian High Court declared it illegal in August, due to the fact that Malaysia is not a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The safety of the asylum seekers could not be guaranteed in Malaysia it was argued. 

Of course, the fashion business is prone to hubris. But I had no reason to doubt Beer and Kapp. I have dealt with Little Hero for at least five years and have always found its director, Rae Begley, to be a straight-shooter. Nevertheless, I checked with the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra. I spoke to an “Ayshah” – that was the only name given – who confirmed Najib was in the country at the time, on holiday. I explained that I was calling to check the bona fides of some information about Rosmah Mansor buying some designer clothing in Sydney and Ayshah said she would look into it and get back to me. She never called back.

Although there were two eyewitnesses to the second appointment at the hotel (Kapp and his brand manager Yoko Sugiura), I checked that The Darling penthouse was open for business on New Year’s Eve, in case of any confusion. Also, its price list. The penthouse was not officially open, as it turned out, but it was definitely operational on New Year’s Eve the hotel reported. And I calculated a potential estimate of the dollar size of the Carl Kapp order, based on Kapp’s price list. According to retail sources, it was realistic.

Having never previously heard of Rosmah Mansor and her gravity-defying bouffant do, moreover, I did a little research. With a laundry list of previous stories in Malaysia dedicated to her alleged extravagant spending, it took a nanosecond to realise what a can of worms – or rather, V05 – this was.

With limos, penthouses, more cash being splashed around than The Bellagio’s high rollers room and – incredulously – no non disclosure agreement, I couldn’t believe my luck. As I pushed the publish button on frockwriter’s January 17 post “Carl Kapp’s couture capers in KL”, I noted on Twitter, ‘You couldn’t make this s*** up’. By the end of last week that’s exactly what I was accused of doing.

Here is a statement released to the Malaysian media on Wednesday 25th January from Kapp via Little Hero, on the latter’s letterheard. In it, Kapp recants all of the information that was previously released to me by Little Hero in a bid to drum up publicity for its client and his own statements made in two separate interviews with both myself and The Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew Hornery, who picked the story up for his ‘Private Sydney’ column on Saturday 21st January