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Gabrielle Tan-Helfman on Designing Dreams

Declaring 2017 as the year to get things done, Gabrielle Tan-Helfman injects her energy into a new venture designed to showcase creativity.

On the 1st of January this year, Gabrielle Tan-Helfman, or Gabby as she is known to friends and family declared that 2017 would be the year to get things done.

“I am the type that procrastinates but after meeting people who just go for it, I felt it was my turn to just go for it,” she says. “Not trying would be a failure in itself.”

Going for it meant bringing to fruition something that Gabby had been pondering over for a while. That is to set up a space that would be a, “culmination of creativity, ambition and admiration”. Capitalising on her Fashion Marketing degree from the American InterContinental University, the director of marketing embarked on establishing the newly launched The Studio, located on the rooftop of The Gardens Mall.

“I wanted to do something in fashion, whether in designing or just getting a place with designers,” Gabby explains. “I thought The Studio was just right and the opportunity came about.”
The Studio, home to a range of local designers and artisans, covers 4,300sqft. The space, designed to emulate a New York loft, complete with a full view of the KL skyline, is at present, home to designers Khoon Hooi and Cassey Gan, milliner Bremen Wong, streetwear brand Nerd Unit, bath and body products brand Asian Potions, Sanctuary candles and craft from Kechara Soup Kitchen.


“Khoon Hooi and Cassey Gan were the two I knew I wanted in The Studio,” explains Gabby. “Then I met Bremen and I thought you don’t meet milliners very often. It was a really good addition. We thought Nerd Unit was a cool streetwear brand and it complements The Studio because we didn’t really have menswear. Then the Artisan corner came about.”

The Studio also serves as part of a broader move aimed at transforming the rooftop into a floor on its own. Already, it is home to the restaurant Sage as well as Wei-Ling Gallery. The Gardens Theatre is also located on the same floor. To get things going, The Gardens Mall recently had its rooftop party celebrating the official opening of The Studio.

“It was the introduction of new spaces as well as the re-introduction of existing spaces,” she says.

Last year, The Gardens Mall opened Les Suites, featuring bridal designer Celest Thoi, photographer Munkeat Photography, and planner the Occasions Eventeur, which concentrates on bridal services. The move was aimed at creating a wedding hub, something that was not available at The Gardens Mall till then. With The Studio now, the rooftop is fast evolving to be as it was originally intended.

“The rooftop was supposed to like this,” Gabby says, pointing to the picturesque setting beyond the glass windows. “We were supposed have a garden and restaurants but it kind of morphed into clubs and that wasn’t suitable in a mall.”

Now that the space is up and running, patrons of The Gardens Mall can expect greater activity to take place at the rooftop.

“It is like a floor by itself. Intimate because it is not set up like a mall,” says Gabby. “We are marketing it in a more micro way with smaller curated and focused events to clients.”

Thus far, the response has been pretty encouraging. Already, there have been enquiries from other designers who hope to showcase their work there.

“But we are comfortable with this for now,” Gabby says, adding, “fashion is always changing and if some of the brands grow and want to leave, that’s fine too.”

The launch of The Studio also coincided with Gabby’s 10th anniversary working at The Gardens Mall.


The director of marketing admits that she initially wasn’t thrilled with the idea of working at the mall upon graduation. Having completed her first degree at the University of Exeter, graduating in Business Economics, Gabby went on to explore fashion with her second qualification. It only made sense that her intention at the time was to pursue a career in the fashion industry, possibly in creating her own label.

“That was what was in my mind at the time,” she says. But at the behest of her parents, IGB’s Dato’ Seri Robert Tan and Datin Seri Mei Tan, she returned to Malaysia.

“At the time, there was something similar to The Studio which opened in The Gardens Mall. My parents wanted me to come back and meet the designers. I thought it was a good idea and that it would help me. Then marketing came about. I thought it was interesting and 10 years on, here I am.”

Over the years, Gabby has seen the mall evolve to become the strong player it is today. She admits that during the first few years there was a bit of a learning curve but after the third year, the mall started gaining traction, growing to its current position.

As it turns out, it turned out to be a “calling,” Gabby says. She soon realised that marketing is a creative field that can be looked at from various perspectives, whether in terms of visual merchandising or the décor of the mall.

“I realise that this was something I was trained to do,” she says philosophically.

That Gabby has a strong creative side is evident from her sense of style. Quirky, some would say but perhaps, individualistic is a more apt term.

“Isn’t that what fashion is supposed to be?” she says. “I like to think it shows my personality a bit more. It is about first impressions. That is how you introduce yourself without introducing yourself.”

For more, please grab a copy of Prestige Malaysia May issue available at major bookstores and newsstands.

Photography by Aaron Lee @ Lenswork Studio; Styling by Ibnu Aswan; Styling assistance by Nigel Lee; Make-up by KF Bong; Hair by Bibian Leong