Sunday, 29 November 2015

From Jakarta #11

Fitting going on at designer Tri Handoko's 

Only fifteen more days and I will be back home. The next couple of weeks are going to be quite full, with more fashion shows to attend and participate in, a short visit to Vietnam, getting my EPO to be able to leave the country, two photoshoots and of course the obligatory souvenir shopping.
I am going back just as everyone will be in a frenzy over Christmas and Christmas shopping. It will be cold too! But there is always pleasure in going home, even though Jakarta has been very interesting to explore and were it not for the traffic, a pleasant place to be. Being here has given me lots of insights and helped me to question things I took for granted.
Plans and projects are coming to maturation, ideas that are outdated are being discarded.
For example, an issue I have been thinking about is what we REALLY mean by sustainability and a sustainable fashion. Obviously sustainability concerns first and foremost ways of production, countering a model of fast fashion that is immensely destructive and in the long run, as far as fashion is concerned, self-destructive.
But implementing a sustainable fashion also means presenting a fashion that adopts a different image, that embraces real bodies, with clothes for real women and real men, rather than mannikins.
I think it is part of an overall vision.  Fashion truly needs an overhaul, of its economics but also its ideology.

Batik display at APA
In the last few days I have had the opportunity to meet more fashion designers whose work really struck me as being an alternative to the current model. One of them is Chitra Subyakto, owner of the label Sejauh Mata Memandang whose very poetic name translates 'as far as the eye can see'), whose mission is to give new life to batik making using old techniques for production of cloth which is not cut but draped most imaginatively in order to create each time a garment that is unique to the individual wearer. I loved the motif of the 'noodle bowl', the collection I saw at the exhibition on the top floor gallery at the APA space, Plaza Indonesia, a new pop up space for art, music and film. Chitra's collection is art. Beautifully captured in images by Davy Linggar, possibly the best among Indonesian photographers of the moment, the very presentation was very far removed from the usual catwalk show with blank faced girls marching down the runway on high platform shoes.
I was introduced to Chitra's work by Auguste Soesastro whom I visited again together with photographer Nita Strudwick, this time to source clothes for a forthcoming shoot -I did a very successful one with Nita already, at 2Madison, an interior design gallery in Kemang, south Jakarta. Auguste's great grandmother was a famous batik maker, in Pekalongan - read about the renowned batik of this city in this article that appeared in the Jakarta Post.  
One of the main problems about cutting a batik piece, especially a vintage piece, is that a whole batik cloth tells a story and each detail is finely hand painted. It may take from one to two years to make a fine batik tulis.
Batik can of course be finely hand stitched, with stitching that can be removed - thus the integrity of the batik cloth can be preserved.  Could a silhouette be achieved through draping and stitching, without cutting? It is an interesting question, one which can give rise to a range of creative responses.

At 2Madison with Dikdik

Non-Indonesian designers that work with Indonesian textiles may not have the same scruples when it comes to cutting for a more fitted look, yet the cutting has to have a logic and an aesthetic.
English designer Martha-Ellen currently works in Jakarta and her ready to wear label uses tenun ikat handwoven in Southern Bali to make pieces for 'real' women.  I visited her boutique whose board features London-born Indonesian/French actress Hanna Al Rashid wearing one of Martha-Ellen's designs. Why work with Indonesian textiles?
As she also explained in a published interview, her design philosophy is three fold: 1) to make the most of the motif or colour of the ikat; 2)  a different, or a creative way, of using the fabric; 3) silhouettes that would be most flattering to a range of body types and occasions.
She chose to work in Indonesia and with Indonesian textiles because Indonesia is an emerging market, it has a richness of textiles and craft traditions to be used for a different way of creating fashion and she is also interested in 'giving back' to local communities.
But Martha-Ellen would regard her aesthetics as being fundamentally English, even though she works with Indonesian textiles.

At 2Madison

As a non-English,  I am quite puzzled by this idea of English fashion aesthetics, and a little confused by it - Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood have all been said to possess an English aesthetics or may have themselves applied that descriptor when talking about their own designs.
Perhaps the concept needs further scrutiny?

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 Perini,  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 Ă‰cole 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)