I am back in Jakarta after two and a half years. I will not stay as long as last time, I have altogether four weeks in Indonesia, most of which I shall be spending in the capital, at the very least until Indonesia Fashion Week is over. I arrived on Thursday afternoon and am slowly getting used once again to the heat (it's very humid as it's the rainy season, so it is easy to get dehydrated) and the traffic, which I hoped had improved but no, the construction of the subway has not been completed yet. So it's back to calculating not just distances but also how long it might take to drive through traffic and the best time to go. I am also reconnecting with people I met and worked with last time. Some have moved away, some are still here but working on entirely new projects. I am thinking of going to Bali again to the nature reserve I so enjoyed last time and which will probably look completely different as it must be lusciously green, whereas in November it was completely dry.
I am here to finalise the research I have been doing for my book on contemporary Indonesian fashion - I am using Indonesian fashion as a case study of Asian fashion and a mirror through which I can examine fashion as a global phenomenon. The book will be published by Bloomsbury in 2020 as part of the series 'Dress and Fashion Research' edited by Joanne Eicher. It's very much a labour of love. I was funded with a generous fellowship for the initial research which I did while hosted by the Jakarta branch of École française d' Extrême Orient. But on this occasion I am back as a visitor.
I will be participating in Indonesia Fashion Week (IFW) and will give a talk on March 31st, on the penultimate day of the festival which begins on 28th. My talk is about fashion and concepts of beauty and I will be discussing the forthcoming documentary film Timeless Beauty (2018) for which I was interviewed together with Stefanie Lange, another Grey model, and Rebecca Valentine, founder and MD of Grey Model Agency. For once my academic and modelling persona can come together, I often feel very split but not on this occasion.
Timeless Beauty is a co-production between China and France, a fact that is in itself very significant, as it points to the attention that China is paying to newer concepts of beauty, defined as non-stereotypical, and also to age and ageing issues. China is in fact taking the lead which might come as a surprise to those that are convinced that innovation begins in the West and then spreads to other corners of the planet. I believe that the notion that fashion is European and white is crumbling and every time I am in Asia I am aware of how deeply ethnocentric fashion has been and still is. Even when progressive, the subject of fashion discourse is a white woman (or a white man). The endless articles written about 'style for the older woman' might be entitled 'style for the older, middle class white woman' (some might even be intended, quite narrowly, for the older, middle class British woman alone). And talking of ageing and agelessness I saw this article in Marie-Claire which made me cringe. It says (roughly translated from the French) 'Forever 20 years old'. Oh dear, here we go again.
Anyway, the discussion at IFW will no doubt be interesting and engaging, I hope to learn much from it. This year IFW has launched two competitions, one for young designers, the other a competition that is in fact a model search. I asked Musa Widyatmojo -senior fashion designer active since the early1990s, my discussant for the seminar as well as an active member of one of the two Indonesian Fashion Designers Associations - how different this model competition was from, say, the 'Miss Indonesia' pageant. "Totally different" he answered. The model search, in conjunction with some of the top model agencies, is to source new talent, new fashion models that better represent on the runway and in fashion editorials the diversity of Indonesian women and men. There are still some criteria that are being followed about height, size and age (I am not sure what they are , will definitely find out) but in an industry that has been so far been dominated by imported Eastern European girls, finding Indonesian models is an important step forward - of course there have always been Indonesian models but they have tended to conform to specific beauty standards. I am looking forward to this, it is an exciting development.
Musa also told me that many Indonesian designers are now relying on older models. They tend to be 'returning' models but they are very active. One of them is Wiwied, represented as a special bookings by Grey Model Agency, one of the Indonesian 'supers' of the 1980s.
It's just stopped raining so I think I shall go for a walk. I will pick up the thread of this conversation in the next few days.
**I wrote a series of posts numbered #1 to #12 and entitled 'From Jakarta' back in 2015. I am therefore prefixing this newer series with 'Again' to avoid confusion.