Friday, 20 November 2015

From Jakarta #10

At the Menjangan 

 I am in Jakarta again after visiting Yogya and Bali. And though I was away from Jakarta for less than two weeks it was quite intense. In Yogya I met artistic people and local designers, stayed at a wonderful guest house, and enjoyed being in one of the most beautiful cities in Java. In Bali, I had a great weekend at The Menjangan, a resort right in the middle of the national park in the western part of the island. There, I did everything on the menu that appealed to me, namely trekking and horse riding and, of course, swimming. Sadly, snorkelling was not for me, I have an ear problem.
Then in Ubud, in central Bali, though I stayed at the historic hotel Tjampuhan, a charming place,  once the home of Walter Spies, I had mobile phone problems and spent much time trying to locate a Nokia Care Centre in Denpasar,  only to be disappointed (I own a Nokia Lumia 530). Being phone-less freaked me out, so I bought a Samsung.
Then in Seminyak I met Susanna Perrini,  owner of the fashion house Biasa. Seminyak is extremely busy, not my ideal holiday resort, in fact I don't honestly know why people go there, it is all shops,  cars, and motorbikes.
But Susanna was a gracious hostess for the afternoon  and I learnt much from her about fashion in Bali and, more generally, Indonesia. Now an Indonesian by choice, Susanna hails from Rome and has  fashion and design in her blood, so to speak, as her mother had a fashion house in Rome in the 1960s and she grew up in that environment. She ended up in Bali twenty years ago and then began doing what she knew best ie designing. Her clothing line, Biasa, is sold in major resorts worldwide and she has now started an urban line, to complement her resort fashion. It's all beautiful linnen and cottons, very flattering to the figure, cool and elegant.

Biasa's collection 2015
Susanna is into the arts and has arranged several collaborations with artists and exhibitions at her gallery in Seminyak (north of Kuta). She travels a lot, to source materials, but the clothes are made at the factory in Denpasar, Bali, so hers is an Indonesian label, designed in Indonesia and made in in Indonesia. Fashion is a very complex business. Next time you shop look at the labels stuck on your clothes selection . Take Karen Millen, for example - I love Karen Millen's clothes and own a few . It is a British fashion house but the clothes are currently made in Rumania.
I went to Galeries Lafayette the other day, there is one branch in Jakarta - I often wonder who buys there, the prices are very high, but obviously there are several people who do shop at Galeries Lafayette or they would have closed down. I looked at the clothes by major international brands. They are designed by those brands but made in Morocco, Rumania, India, you name it. That's the garment manufacturing industry, international fashion labels could not survive without outsourcing.
It is a legal requirement that clothes labels should say where the clothes have been made. Today, for example, I had the weird experience of shopping at an Indonesian mall in southern Jakarta, buying a leather belt made in China for a Spanish brand, Stradivarius. Fashion is definitely global.
 I was quite intrigued by the fact Nokia had closed down most of its after sales care centres in various parts of Indonesia, following the handover to Windows in April 2014. Only one was still active, at the famous Roxy Mall, in West Jakarta, otherwise known as the mobile phone mall. I had to visit, I just had to,  and it was quite bewildering, shop after shop selling phones, some new, some used, and some shops just repair phones. Eventually I found what I was looking for, a new LCD for my Lumia phone. It was expensive but not as expensive as in the UK, so I bought it. Now I have three mobile phones! and no, I am not a drug dealer :)

Roxy Mas
Oh, I am walking for designer Tri Handoko's show on 1st December, very much looking forward to it.

Friday, 6 November 2015

From Jakarta #9

Auguste Soesastro's atelier in Jakarta

My ninth post from Jakarta, I am fast approaching my two months milestone. In no time I shall be ready to go back to London, but first I will be spending some time in Bali and then there is going to be a reunion in Bangkok with an old friend, if it all works out.
JFW is over and am trying to process the experience -  I saw a lot, learnt a lot. There were things I liked and things I did not like.  JFW was a window on the world of fashion in Indonesia, and by extension, Asia, the problems and challenges it faces, and it was also a showcase of the tremendous talent of the designers involved, as selected by the organisers, ranging from the more to the less established. I saw young fashion college graduates' work and that of very senior designers.
I spent the whole of last weekend reflecting on what I saw. Not in a conscious way,  I was digesting it.  To take my mind off things I watched some now old movies, Grace of Monaco with Nichole Kidman, whom I adore, and the 2008 screen version of Sex and the City. When the latter film  came out no one liked it much and people kept on comparing it to the TV series. Time improves one's perspective, and I can truthfully say the movie had its funny moments.
Then  I chanced upon the article written by Victoria Moss for InStyle UK, October issue, which I found in my suitcase, I bought it as inflight reading on my way to Jakarta and then forgot all about it  (there is also an Indonesian version of InStyle, by the way). The article was entitled 'What size is fashion? ' and it really made a lot of sense to me.
Moss talks about sizes, the reason why they tend to be small and thus thin models are required in order to wear sample sizes, as clothes are no longer fitted on a person. It's the case that the wearer's body has to fit the size, rather than the clothes fitting the body of their wearer.
Moss makes the very important point - here I quote her in full - that fashion "is a social mirror. What we see in fashion is a response to what happens in our culture. If there's a problem with the perception of body shapes, that's everyone's issue to solve, not just the fashion industry's. The sooner we accept and embrace all shapes and sizes and are more supportive of women who are proud of their shape and less 'OMG did you SEE her arse' then the fashion industry - which is a business after all - will sell us what we need".

Grey Model  Nicola Griffin in Anna Scholz, Anna Scholz' lookbook 2016

It follows that the 'standards' often invoked can be challenged and changed, as Anna Scholz has done with her plus-size range, recently modelled by Nicola Griffin.
Thus, to give another example, who says that the best way to present new collections is through catwalk after catwalk, with models looking vacantly ahead of them briefly posing for a pack of photographers in the photographers' pit, often looking  extremely tired and bored after going through countless shows? JFW is smaller than, say, LFW or NFW but even then it made me wonder whether these packed week-long shows are really the best possible way to showcase fashion and get the buyers' attention.
Talking  with committed designers such as Auguste Soesastro made me realise how desperately the industry needs changing and how difficult it can be for someone intent on making a change to bring it about.  With Auguste we talked about his beginnings, his training at the École de la chambre syndicale de la couture parisienne, his studies in architecture, his desire to create a  sustainable fashion and  his vision of clothes for women of today. Are his clothes for all women? Yes they are, they are for thinking women, his ideal wearers are  powerful, independent women. The clothes are made for real bodies and have movement and fluidity. They are not meant for any particular age group, but the classic structuring seems to appeal to stylish women over the age of thirty.

From Indonesia Fashion Week 2013

Who is your muse, I asked, who would you like to have your clothes worn by? Someone like Madame Lagarde, even though he has not yet had the pleasure of dressing her. Are his clothes specifically Indonesian? No, they can be worn by anyone, but yes, there is an Indonesian touch discernible in the fabric patterns, although it is not boldly stated.

Madame Lagarde, Photo:  Olivier Hoslet/EPA reblogged from The Guardian 

Later, in the showroom of another, very different designer, Ghea Panggabean, the queen of boho, who has been making  'clothes that tell a story' for the past 35 years and who has now diversified into designing for the home, I had to restrain myself from buying everything in sight (I so loved the cushion covers and the bags) by reminding myself of my 21 Kg luggage allowance.

Ghea Panggabean's bags

Many foreign brands are represented here in Jakarta but the same cannot be said of Indonesian brands abroad. Galeries Lafayette have an Indonesian branch, where some high fashion Indonesian designers are also represented, but the mother store in Paris has none of them, only the Antik Batik of Italian, naturalised French,  Gabriella Cortese, who has been inspired by her travels to Bali and elsewhere to create bohemian- chic. The 'made in Indonesia' label applies to Zara type of clothes and by most people outside Indonesia, Indonesian fashion is perceived as being of Zara quality (or any such high street brand). It could not be further from the truth. Auguste Soesastro's clothes, for example, are partly hand sewn, with stitching so perfect and so even, it is a feast for the eyes to see it.  Definitely not Zara quality  (FYI,  Zara is now making clothes in Morocco, not in Indonesia, but it sells here in Indonesia, in several malls).
The 'made in Indonesia' label has been problematic, as explained by Dian Kuswandini in his article for the JakartaGlobe.
But one has to be optimistic. Things can change, will change, are about to change.

(When not specified photos are my own)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

From Jakarta #8

Collage of images from JFW2016

Jakarta Fashion Week is not over yet, two more days to go, including the grand finale tomorrow but I have been thinking a lot about everything I saw and heard over the past few days and can't help writing about a few things that really struck me and which I have been mulling over.
First, there is the sheer diversity of approaches and philosophies of fashion on display. Whoever thinks that Indonesian fashion is all about 'modest fashion' is very wrong. Indonesia has the largest Muslim  population in the world, accounting for nearly 80% of the overall population of the country - figures vary depending on sources - but it is not an Islamic country. Muslim fashion from Indonesia may be well known in the Euro-American world thanks to  designers like the Sumatran Dian Pelangi, fresh from a residence at London College of Fashion, and with a recent show in New York under her belt.  But there is plenty of other fashion which does definitely not make use of hijabs. Nor does this mean that its creators, who may well be themselves Muslim (as I said Islam is the dominant religion in this country) are bad Muslims for not designing clothes that include a hijab!
A footnote here will not go amiss: I know that in the UK and elsewhere Muslim fashion  is known as 'modest fashion', a term that is very  loaded,  under its political correctness, but I am translating directly from the Indonesian term which is busana Muslim, that is, Muslim fashion.
I do not think the Indonesian busana Muslim is necessarily a strong religious identity marker as such: the more I see it, the more I perceive it as just a fashion, and only one of many trends. Thus I am wary of the way it is being construed outside Indonesia and it troubles me that it colours the perception of lifestyle in this country with just one hue. Indonesia is not Saudi Arabia. It has a richness of cultures (note the plural) and this is not only acknowledged and more or less respected by the Indonesians themselves, it is also important that people outside Indonesia should be aware of this diversity.
There is nothing like fashion to allow for  an expression of diverse creativity, as fashion is, as I noted elsewhere, underpinned by culture.

Busana Muslim, JFW

The other important issue that was raised in the context of this fashion week is that of sustainability. The film produced by Livia Firth and Lucy Siegle, The True Cost, was screened. Siegle was here, courtesy of the British Council, to lead discussions and for a press conference. Sustainability is very much on the British Council's agenda here in Indonesia,  the UK seems to have taken the lead in questioning current models of fast fashion production and the impact they are having on the environment and the life of individual consumers.  An impressive undertaking to be genuinely applauded.

JFW: it's not all about busana Muslim
I went to the events and really wanted to hear the views of the people attending them. There was a huge elephant in the room and everyone was careful not to acknowledge its presence, not even Lucy Siegle ventured into that area, even though in her day job, as she put it, she is an environmentalist. I guess being an official guest can sometimes put one in a very difficult position, unsure of what can and should be said.  Indonesia at the moment is going through one of the worst possible ecological disasters, the haze from its burning forests, in Sumatra and Borneo, with  millions of people affected  with respiratory disease. It is connected with palm oil and the slash and burn policy.  It is not  only about peatland, that would be taking an extremely narrow view. Is fashion  implicated in this chain and at what point? Well, what do you think? What are the many uses of  palm oil?

Lucy Siegle at the Press Conference on sustainability, with LCF students and Adam Pushkin, British Council
Yes, fashion could certainly begin to mark a change, were it to embrace sustainability, making those all important decisions concerning the environment - the current ecological disaster  is not just an Indonesian matter, we live on the same planet. But how can sustainability be implemented? This is the question some people have asked.  Education and training are paramount. It is not just a matter of going back to using natural dyes, as Jakarta Post journalist Lynda Ibrahim points out in her blog. A  lot more dots need to be joined.
I have a great deal more to say on sustainability and diversity,  how the two are and can be connected, and the issue that is dear to my heart, that of representation. But all this will have to wait for now, as I have to get ready to attend Day #6 of JFW.

(All photos of varying quality, including iOS uploads taken  by me unless otherwise specified)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

From Jakarta #7

Svida Alisjabhana
With  Jakarta Fashion week kicking off on Saturday, I felt I needed some preparation. Thus yesterday I secured an appointment for an interview with Svida Alisjahbana, Chief Executive of the Femina Group, who publish several magazines including Dewi, the powerhouse behind Jakarta Fashion Week, in order to understand better the significance of this event.
With a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Michigan and an MBA from Columbia, Svida is a super competent business woman with vision. JFW is now in its eighth year, still growing. Its aim is to situate Indonesian fashion on the international scene and nurture Indonesian designers' talent, through a series of initiatives and sustained training.
Thus the Femina Group, through JFW, has been involved in a programme called Indonesian Fashion Forward, with the participation of the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy, the British Council and the Centre for Fashion Enterprise,  London College of Fashion, University of the Arts. IFF aims to nurture a group of upcoming designers, selected through stringent criteria,  to become world class players, through business teaching and branding strategy.
Indonesia's fashion industry is one of the fastest growing industries, with exports totalling 65% of Indonesian exports, as per figures released by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism and Creative Enterprise. Thus it is important for local fashion to have the competence and means to compete internationally.

One of the images on CFE websites, featuring British designer Vivenne Westwood.

The British Council has facilitated the partnership with the CFE and has been involved in a number of projects, featuring collaborations between UK and Indonesian fashion designers. Fashion is underpinned by culture,  so this collaborative work inevitably explores issues of culture and cultural adaptation, with interesting outcomes (you can read about these projects here).
This year the British Council will contribute to JFW a talk and a discussion focused on sustainable fashion, screening  Livia Firth's documentary The true cost.  I am looking forward to it, as indeed it will be food for thought. Some of the issues explored in the documentary might seem very close to home, in this setting.

I have also had the opportunity to talk with an upcoming designer, who will be included in a group show at JFW, only twenty-four, but already well set up with her own website for online sales, with a degree in fashion marketing, trained internationally - she was in Milan and Paris. Yet she seemed to be fairly non-committal re the sustainability trend. The same designer also told me that her preferred look is 'skinny', she likes her models to be skinny, and her ideal wearer is 'skinny' even though her clientele is of different sizes. Bless her, she was honest in stating her preferences!
 Body image is beginning to be regarded as an issue, because of the ubiquity of photoshopping, which can be done quite crudely, so a fashion magazine editor tells me. He also told me that in Indonesia the people who have a real impact on women and men are TV celebrities and pop stars, fashion magazines have a very select readership. For one thing the fashion magazines are expensive, so not affordable by everyone! Products other than fashion are also often advertised by celebrities rather than models.
His observations gave me a real insight. "We are not a very visually oriented country" he maintained. "Apart from a few centres like Yogya and Bali, already with a rich and sophisticated tradition of art making, which have taken on and developed the visuality of digital media to a very high standard, the visual sensibilities of the rest of the country are often shaped by the images conveyed through cheap, Chinese imported colour TV sets that can only highlight very strong colours". Thus  if the TV sets in  remote areas show strong colours dominating the clothes worn by the TV stars, everyone will think  the fashion in Jakarta is that garish and will adopt the garishness. Interesting point, it would have never occurred to me.
Indonesian designers deliberately choose models for their shows that conform to so-called 'international standards' of height and dress size, with a look that is actually fairly close to a European look - fair skin, high cheek bones, straight noses. Or should I say that the organisers of major fashion events choose such models? It is not too clear. What is clear though is that even more than in other parts of the world, models here are very far removed from average looks. Sometimes it is hard to tell  if the models are Indonesian, Korean or Russian. In their ethereal beauty, they can be indistinguishable, their bodies merging with the clothes. Like I said, there is a real push to implement international standards in all areas.

A model at designer Biyan's recent trunk show. Photo by me

Given such a context,  the September issue of Dewi magazine, with Sarita Thaib on its cover, was indeed a very brave initiative and one which demonstrates an awareness of the conversations taking place in London, New York etc about fashion images. There was no photoshopping involved and it was a way to say that it's all right to be mature, one can be beautiful even at fifty, there is no need for cosmetic surgery, which is doing rather well here among the members of the upper classes, the readership of Dewi.
What about disability and its perception? Oh, that is a minefield...

Friday, 16 October 2015

From Jakarta #6

At Tri Handoko's  catwalk show, with models.

Indonesia is full of creative people in the field of performance, music, film, visual arts and design, including, of course, fashion design. There is a variety of approaches,  from  traditional craftsmanship  to modernist minimalism and the picture that emerges is much more complex than whatever is thought of as Indonesian art in the Euro-American world. Ask anyone in the West about Indonesian art. People will scratch their head and then mention in one breath batik, wayang  and gamelan. Contemporary art? No, somehow people find it almost incongruous that there should be anything here apart from time honoured village traditions.
It is a misconception I have encountered quite often - as I mentioned in other posts I  have been coming here fairly frequently for different purposes since 1989. So whenever I told people back in England or Italy about the vibrant contemporary art scene of Indonesia I was met with some disbelief. For many years I  taught university level courses which always touched on Indonesian contemporary performance and choreography, the 'kontemporer' style. During that time I met artists of great calibre and international standing such as Sardono ('Mas' Don) and also discovered the work of the Sumatran Minang choreographer Gusmiati Suid - I tried to share such experiences and knowledge with my students.

 On arriving here last month I was quite aware of the intricacies of Indonesian contemporary performance and expected that a similar diverse landscape would be found in the field of the visual, and of fashion design. My current research, preliminary though it is,  confirms this prior assumption.
I have met a few designers already, including the amazing Tri Handoko, whose work seems to be just right for me, I love the zen quality of his clothes. They are the kind of thing I want to wear and it frustrates me that I cannot find them back home, when I go clothes shopping.
 As we met over morning coffee the day before yesterday, on an unusually quiet day (it was a public holiday, marking the Islamic new year) 'Mas' Tri discussed his philosophy and his inspiration and how he likes minimalistic lines, no patterns, and a mix of black and white.  He then invited me to visit his atelier, so we left the coffee shop immediately and headed for his studio. Once there I just had to try a couple of things on, I could not help it. He told me he was always on the lookout for models with personality and character to match the quality of his designs and  then quite out of the blue, he asked me to walk for him at a fashion event in early December.  Of course I will, I regard it as an honour. Life can be quite unpredictable, I had no plans to model for anyone while here - apart from those photoshoots I mentioned earlier, more for fun and keep my portfolio up to date than anything else.
I will continue my discussion of designers once I have met a few more, this will allow me to compare and contrast, just to highlight the diversity and richness of talent one encounters here, which sadly is not seen at all in Europe and, generally, outside Asia. I know, I keep on saying this, but it really needs reiterating.
With JFW looming ahead this is the right moment to talk a bit about models, as they too have a role to play in  my current research, as the 'ideal' wearers of the designers' creations - we can unpack this definition of 'ideal wearer' a little later.
There are several foreign models in Jakarta and some agencies specialise in bringing them over. There are of course local Indonesian models, some of whom have the status of supermodels, but for the past ten years, model agencies have been working following the business model known as  'mother agency, local agency'. It means that agencies from Russia, Brazil, Germany, Australia, USA  etc send their young models in need of 'development' over here to work for a three month period and the models are then represented by a local agency who looks after them, puts them up in rented  accommodation and gets them work assignments.  The models then go back home. It's a recognisable pattern, models as migrant workers. There are some sleazy developments too but I will not discuss them here.

 Modelling in Indonesia is not regarded as a 'real' profession, so I am told. According to what some agents tell me, many local models are not willing to invest their energy into modelling - this is not confirmed by all my informants however -   but ultimately the reason why foreign models might be preferred  over local ones (the local 'super' are not included here, we are talking about average models) is that foreign clients operating in Indonesia (or local clients aiming at attracting foreign money eg the tourist industry) want foreign models.There is also a difference in the fees commanded by foreign models who are paid considerably more than local ones. Modelling is after all a business, you cannot blame agents for wanting bigger profits!
But even when models are discussed, there is some complexity. Indonesia is truly a land of contrasts. You have the very tall Indonesian models, over 5'11 - in a country of nearly 250 million  there are some people who are extremely tall, both men and women, even though the average height of Indonesian women is below that of their Euro-American counterparts. There are those of mixed parentage, with a European parent and an Indonesian one, highly praised for their fair complexion (I shall talk about the obsession with fair skin in a different post, but let me say that it is not a case of aping Caucasians, it is a traditional beauty standard) and the foreign models that have been here for several years, often with an Eastern European background,  fully integrated in Indonesian society, sometimes holding down other jobs too and perfectly fluent in Bahasa - unlike the foreign models on a short term  contract who come here quite unaware of the local culture.
Surprisingly, the age barrier which models encounter in other countries,  does not seem to exist at all. Many models continue to work in fashion well into their thirties and forties, unlike  Euro-American and Australian models, who by and large by twenty five need to look for something else to do or if determined to succeed, become 'models with a personality' and diversify.
At the fashion event I attended yesterday I met the models walking for 'Mas' Tri.  They were all beautiful, in my view, but not a single one of them was pretty in a conventional way. Their ages varied. Two of them were non-Indonesian, both stunning and already over the age of thirty. One, Natalia Gumilevskaya, came over from Russia following her partner  and was a trained MD, only she could not practise in Indonesia for a host of reasons, involving Indonesia's sycophantic beaurocracy and ended up modelling to earn a living, because of her looks - tall, slim, high cheekbones.

Five of the six models at Tri Handoko's catwalk show

The other one, mother of two, getting close to the big four, is also very beautiful, in an edgy sort of way. Her name is Selma Abidin, with a Croatian mother and an Indonesian father.
These are  interesting women, cultured, cosmopolitan, fluent in several languages, with plenty of experience and great taste.
All the models wore  'Mas' Tri's creations to perfection. I loved the choreography of the show too.
Natalia told me that over here models sometimes need to be able to move in a dance like manner, which brings modelling close to performance.
I will continue my observations in the next post. I will take a short break from blogging during JFW, then back with a vengeance, as they say.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

From Jakarta #5

Ria Juwita

Nearly a month here and things are slowly beginning to fall into place.  I have even done a little modelling:  though my look is not right for Indonesia  - that grey hair (sigh!) -  some young photographers I have met are interested in photographing me and some upcoming young designers are happy for me to wear their clothes for these shoots. So I have done a shoot with Irene Barlian, wearing Maria Ruth Fernanda's designs - she will be having a show at JFW - and have another shoot  planned with another photographer, also wearing an upcoming designer's creations. This is good for my portfolio, it makes me feel I am not cutting off ties with modelling and gives me a further insight into the world of fashion in this part of the world.
I have been active meeting designers and various creatives, including models. I am ever so lucky that my flatmate is into advertising - this morning a commercial was being shot at my place, it was very interesting indeed and truly weird to get downstairs carrying my laundry and finding a whole crew in the living room and kitchen. It was one of those moments!
But let's talk about models. I met Ria Juwita, a well known model who walked for Chanel and various other fashion houses when she lived in Paris, a couple of decades ago. Now she is head of the marketing division at Plaza Indonesia, one of the premier malls in Jakarta, where many well known European and American designers have a presence. The designers themselves do visit from time to time - Ria told me that even Victoria Beckham, designer, model and UN ambassador, has been to Plaza Indonesia and her clothes can be bought there. Ria is truly admirable: beautiful, very competent and able to speak several languages.
The silver hair look does not exist here, Indonesian glamorous women would not be seen dead sporting grey hair, it really spells decrepitude to them, so my look is definitely weird (or very caucasian perhaps? I have noticed that even men dye their hair over here). However, the good news is that senior models are very active here and they can be seen in roles that are normally taken by much younger models in Europe and America. Somehow this resonates with what Grey Models is attempting to do.
Ria Juwita
Take Ria for example. She has a most demanding job at Plaza Indonesia yet she continues to model . In her modelling work she is not stereotyped as a granny or an older model, she is just a model and can be seen in shoots portraying an elegant and glamorous woman, as she indeed is.
To me this is a novelty, I am so used to the typecasting that occurs in the UK and the rest of Europe/America.
I have a few exciting meetings planned, including an interview with Sarita Thaib. I can't wait.
Meanwhile I am exploring this city and learning to appreciate its hidden treasures. If only it were a little less chaotic, traffic wise, I could really enjoy being here!

Monday, 5 October 2015

From Jakarta #4

Jakarta Old City, Fatahillah Square, photo by me

I have finally acclimatised and am learning to negotiate Jakarta, a sprawling mega city. I am meeting designers,  fashion commentators, photographers and models too, it is all quite exciting.
One of the most interesting things for me was to find out that the September issue of Dewi magazine had on its cover 50 plus  year old Sarita Thaib, who came back to modelling specially for this issue on 'timeless style' and fashion for all ages (cantik & gaya di usia 20, 30, 40),  -  I am reminded here of The Guardian All Ages .

Sarita Thaib on the cover of Dewi 
Dewi magazine is one of the most important glossies in Indonesia, now part of the Femina Group and as such involved in the organisational side of  Jakarta Fashion Week . It is a veritable fashion bible, with a median readership of women over the age of 30, thus comparable to Elle (the latter is originally French but now sold worldwide, including China).
So being on the cover of Dewi is a major recognition for any model of any age.
As elsewhere, women in Indonesia over the age of forty are extremely active and visible, and pay attention to style and a fashion that suits them.  Indonesia is very diverse and has a growing middle class; several Indonesian fashion designers are aware of this diversity and design for women of all ages.  A good example is a designer such as Carmanita, who told me over lunch that when she makes clothes, she thinks of what she would like to wear herself and designs accordingly.  Her clients tend to be middle class women over the age of thirty but her creations are for all ages, including children,  and can be adapted to suit all ages. She does not design for mass consumption, her creations are all in limited editions.
Handpainted designs at Carmanita's atelier, Jakarta

It was indeed very forward of Dewi to have a mature model on its cover, the only other recent cover with a senior model I can think of was Iman for  Vanity Fair, Italian edition, August issue.

Imam on the cover of Vanity Fair Italy
There is a short 'behind the scenes' film on Youtube,  with an interview with Sarita. It is in Indonesian, naturally, but even without knowing the language the images convey the message of an elegant, glamorous woman with great personal style and commitment.
In the UK the September issue of Hunger magazine carried a spread with 'golden age models' wearing Prada, - so honoured to have been included - thus  there is a sort of synchronicity here.
I came to Indonesia believing that here fashion only addressed  the very young. I was very wrong.
It is so refreshing to find that 'agelessness' in the sense of ageless elegance,  and mature beauty are also celebrated.
The Jakarta Post, an English language newspaper with a Sunday supplement, carried an article by Willy Wilson a couple of weeks ago in which Iris Apfel, Madonna and Sarita Thaib are discussed in connection with the idea of an age appropriate fashion. Wilson thinks that 'age appropriate'  is not quite the way to describe the personal style of these older women who make a statement through what they wear.
They are all very different, of course. Sarita Thaib, for example, would not choose to wear what Madonna -  the face of Versace, at age 56 - does. But then Madonna is in showbiz and has always been known for being irreverent.
Sarita Thaib has started her own line of pret à porter clothing, very elegant, somewhat 'androgynous'  - her words - and not aimed at any particular age group.
With the recent inclusion at LFW of older models on the catwalk - both of them from Grey, we can thus see that fashion is finally acknowledging its older consumers.

Friday, 2 October 2015

From Jakarta #3

Photographer: Irene Barlian
Meet Irene Barlian, a young female photographer based in Jakarta. Her passion is documentary and travel photography and she has already won serious competitions.  Her work is being exhibited internationally. She is also a fashion photographer and takes on commercial work, especially food photography.
She was born in the same year I first came to Indonesia, 1989, and I really like this coincidence.
Irene and I will be working together on a shoot, and I cannot wait for it to happen and for the images.
Meanwhile please see her photography on her websites, she really does have very interesting and somewhat unusual images.
Talking with Irene over lunch  I got to know about a number of issues concerning photographers and also the fashion world here in Indonesia. Young artists like Irene have to struggle for sponsorship - as indeed is the case elsewhere. Apart from photographing, Irene does her own PR and management, hunting for commissions, which is time consuming.

Photographer: Irene Barlian
We talked about fashion and the insecurities engendered by having designers preferring non-Indonesian models to showcase their work in order to be  of international standard. 'Indonesian women' says Irene 'have different bodies, so to see ourselves represented by women built differently from us can make us feel somewhat uneasy about our looks'. It is also the case that diversity of age and ethnicity - Indonesia is made up of different ethnicities - is not truly represented. 'But we know it is a fiction [meaning fashion]' she says, 'and we can take it in our stride'  even though the clothes are ultimately for Indonesian consumers.
Irene also mentioned how so much travel photography about Indonesia is by European and American male photographers. It does reflect a different viewpoint, and  she is trying to redress the balance through her own work.
From Irene I learnt to look at shopping malls as places to socialise and walk around. In a city like Jakarta where walking  is not really possible, malls are a place to go to, just as in London, Paris or New York one would go for a walk in a fashionable district, window shopping. 'Malls are places where you can meet friends, window shop, use wifi and recharge your phone, if necessary' says Irene. 'I photograph people in malls, it's a version of street photography'. Indeed.
I will be meeting designers next week. We are approaching Jakarta Fashion Week, which will take place from 24th to 30th October. I look forward to  more encounters in my effort to gain an understanding of fashion in Asia.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

From Jakarta #2

Photo: Model: me

Now that I have been here in Jakarta for over a week the word expat  has been used quite a few times  with reference to me. Sure,  I am not a tourist  here  - Jakarta would be a strange tourist destination anyway, people pass through it but are usually keen to get out of here as quickly as possible. However, the area where I now live, Kemang, is full of expats, with shops that reflect this demographic, fancy supermarkets that sell pricey goods, including pork meat and Australian wine.
'Expatriate' denotes someone who does not live in his native country.  I have been an expatriate for decades, ever since I moved to London from my native Italy. But somehow the 'expat' label has never been used with reference to me in England. I guess in England expat is more generally understood  to mean someone not from the EU. People from  the latter are  known as  migrants if moving from one EU country to another, though in more recent times many people have begun to confuse migrants with refugees and refugees with migrants. But that's another story.
I am not new to Indonesia, this is the sixth or seventh time I have come here. Let me immediately clarify, in case you believe that my remarks about Jakarta apply to the country as a whole,  that Indonesia  is an incredibly beautiful country, with a rich and diverse culture and I have fond memories of Sumatra, Bali, Lombok and West and East Java, not to mention the beautiful Yogyakarta in Central Java. It is only Jakarta that is definitely not beautiful largely because  of the traffic and pollution and the incredible rate at which it grows.  I will say it upfront that have never liked Jakarta, always avoided it if I could help it, so coming back to Indonesia to stay here, of all places,  requires a lot of grinning and bearing. But Jakarta is the major fashion centre of the country, it is the capital of Indonesia and I had to be based here if I wanted to work on my project.

Jakarta traffic
People are very polite over here, but during rush hours tempers can be somewhat frayed. It can get tricky. I have experienced a surprising outburst from a taxi driver because I did not warn him in time that he had to take a particular turn and we went past the street I wanted and then we got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam that just did not move.  He could not turn back and eventually had to get into a maze of backstreets to take me to my destination.  He did not like it a bit and I know enough Indonesian to catch his swearing and his abruptness did not go amiss. Sure, it was my mistake, but when you think about it, it 's not that he was giving me a ride in his car out of the goodness of his heart, I was  paying for it, including waiting time. But as I said, things can get tricky during rush hours. I also tipped him enough to bring a smile on his face.
A good friend who now lives in Thailand and knows Jakarta rather well suggested  I should go and visit the old Jakarta port of Sunda Kelapa. For the record there are interesting things to see in this city, it's not just malls and busy roads. But the heat is quite overwhelming at the moment, for me anyway,  and the thought of braving the endless traffic jams does not appeal  at all.  I will, however, make an effort. I have been already here for several days  and have not even once used my  camera, only my iPhone camera, and that is so very unlike me.
 Yesterday I resolved to walk around my area, learning how to cross the main road when hundreds of motorbikes and cars seem to be coming at you  non-stop and  no traffic lights or zebra crossings can be spotted anywhere - it requires some confidence, basically you just start crossing very boldly signalling to everyone to let you go. It works, people do stop.
 I discovered two dance studios within walking distance from my new home, one of which teaches RAD ballet, so with some trepidation, fearing I would be the only adult surrounded by many cute little girls in pink tutus, I walked in and asked whether I could take a trial class.  The man at reception said  'bisa' meaning it was OK for me to join. So I did. I found myself in an intermediate ballet class with young women  preparing for some  Grade exam. They were learning steps from Raymonda - after the barre and stretches (splits etc). I nearly fainted, I am just an amateur and am still struggling with basic technique. Oh it was extremely tough to be among them, but it was truly, truly enjoyable. Afterwards I negotiated some private lessons with the teacher, to catch up on technique (my pirouettes are wobbly and pas de chats are, ahem, not light enough).
I am mentioning my ballet experience because, unbeknownst to most people, who only seem to be aware of ballet in China, Japan and Korea,  Jakarta has a very strong tradition of ballet learning  that goes back to the time of the Dutch. Standards are very, very high. I was later told that the Kemang Dance Center where I have enrolled is one of the very best in town. And it is so nice to be in a ballet class where regardless of the language, the steps are known by their French name, so a plié is a plié everywhere in the world.

Kemang Dance Center

Ok enough personal stuff. Let me tell you a little about what I am actually doing here, as it is clear by now I am not holidaying.
I am working, as mentioned, on a project about fashion. I have begun to contact all the people I need to interview. I plan to attend Jakarta Fashion Week which will take place next month and aim to interview a wide range of people involved in the fashion industry, before and after JFW, including bloggers.
Why so? For quite some time, ever since I began my involvement in fashion as a model but also as a writer and commentator,  I have been intrigued by how fashion impacts women of all ages globally and how, through media and advertising,  it is linked with issues of body image and issues of  representation. This impact  has been debated and contested widely, but  the discussion is only ever about the more affluent countries of the western world.
 Fashion in Asia is a major industry whose  influence is growing so perhaps it's time to discuss fashion and its related issues in relation to Asian women too, what it means to them and to note what they bring to the table.  I am also very interested in the challenges of ageing in Indonesia. It will help me to put in perspective the 'going gray' movement as we know it from affluent first world countries.
I decided to begin my research in Indonesia only because I know this country slightly  better than other Asian countries and this prior knowledge of the context is helpful, when  beginning  a project which I suspect will keep me busy for quite a time.
I guess I could have stayed home and feel comforted by the seeming openness of the fashion and beauty industry to older women, which I view with some scepticism, as to me it remains hugely tokenistic, despite everything,  as I discussed in my Guardian article about being a mature model. But I could not help myself wondering whether this is a fundamentally euro-centric discourse. So here I am.  I know I am going to be challenged over the next  three months but this is why I came. I like being challenged (and who knows, I might pick up a few steps from Raymonda in the process, since the teacher said I was most welcome to be in the Saturday morning class!)
Look out for my next post where I will begin to talk more in depth about the project.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

From Jakarta #1

First of all, congratulations to my fellow models at Grey Model Agency, Annabel  and  Frances who have walked for London based Chinese designer Youija Jin at LWF 2015. This is a great achievement for mature models and a real change in the representation and perception of older women. I applaud Youija for her foresight.
I am also absolutely delighted to share with Frances the honour of being in Hunger issue 9, in a Prada spread, 'with a host of golden age models'. The magazine was out on 17th September.

Behind the scenes @ Hunger. Model: me
I am in Jakarta now working on a fashion project as a fashion commentator, leaving to one side, for the time being, my model persona (I do mind this a lot, I doubt it I will have any opportunity to model here) and am really keen to meet people and discuss issues related to fashion design and body image.
I have only been here four days and the first two were taken up with tedious luggage searches and a long wait for my suitcase. I have got my luggage all right, sorted out various practicalities, got myself a smartphone and SIM card for my local calls, so now I can focus on the purpose of my visit.
On Friday evening I went to the annual party of for whom I had previously written. It was great to meet these very interesting women who are trying to challenge preconceived notions of femininity and are doing an amazing job on a shoestring budget.
I am still acclimatising. Not only is it hot - it has not rained for five months - but Jakarta is quite polluted and the traffic is unbelievable. It takes forever to get anywhere. I use taxis (like everyone else) and even Uber.  A simple trip to the nearest shopping centre can turn into a long wait in a traffic jam. This is not a city where you can walk, in many areas pavements are almost non existent and public transport not too good. I would find it hard to get into one of the very crowded busses.
The shopping malls are pretty incredible, there's so many of them, it seems that the best way to pass the time for people in Jakarta is to go shopping, window shopping or actual shopping. The malls are filled with the usual western brands, some of them are high end labels but also high street names like New Look, Top Shop and Debenhams, with prices that are pretty much the same as in the UK (and goods that are probably made in Indonesia, where labour is cheaper, but labelled New Look etc. etc.). I don't normally shop at New Look but one of my problems is that my feet are size 7. I saw some lovely shoes in a few shops stocking  local brands but Indonesian women tend to be petite, with feet to match. Only New Look seems to have shoes size 7 so I had to get a pair from there - I did not bring enough shoes from London and I needed some heels.
I went to the well known annual pop up market Brightspot market in the  Senayan City complex and  the work of a couple of designers caught my eye. Brightspot market is where emerging independent labels can be found, selling directly to the public.
As I walked around (when I could walk) I seemed to be the only woman with grey hair.  I went to a party at the Dutch Embassy and all the European ladies had coloured hair. Indonesian women of about my age who do not cover their head with a hijab, definitely colour their hair, which I believe tends to be less prone to greying than the hair of Caucasian women but it is so difficult to tell the age of the women I meet. I often look at men to compare because by and large they do not colour their hair (well I believe they do not) and I see that many middle aged men do not have grey hair at all, not noticeably so, thus it must be a genetic thing.
As a result I really do look very weird, sticking out like a sore thumb. I often get stared at especially since I have the habit of leaving my hair fully down - I like drying it naturally and I wash it everyday. Some people think it is a kind of white/blonde colour, a dye in other words. How bizarre!

Textile Museum , Jakarta
Yesterday I was at the textile museum with a former student of mine who told me that they recently had a fashion show in connection with the exhibition - a show  I missed, bad timing indeed. The textiles were magnificent, the display not so good - very few labels and at times I really did not know what I was looking at.
I will keep on updating this blog with news from my Indonesian 'adventure'. As soon as I get my passport back - now with the Immigration office for stamping - I will try to travel to Thailand and Vietnam. Might as well.  Jakarta is not so far from mainland Southeast Asia, I have visited Indonesia before but not the Southeast Asian mainland and am very curious to see it, especially Vietnam which I do not know at all.