Sun, 28 Dec 2003

Fashion 2003: An elegant show of force from local designers

Muara Bagdja, Contributor, Jakarta

The past year gave reason for optimism in the fashion community. No fewer than 10 designers showed annual collections, a remarkable development since the monetary crisis hit the country in mid-1997.

Each of the designers had their own particular market, and they put together innovative, quality shows, more evidence that the Indonesian fashion world has its dedicated followers.

Creativity-wise, there has been an increase in quality with the emergence of collections that are beautiful in terms of ideas and execution. The designers have improved in terms of technical exploration, designs of the dresses and rich details. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that many of this year's collections conform to global standards.

Members of the Indonesian Fashion Designers Association (APPMI) also displayed works that demonstrate greater maturity and neatness in terms of concept, design variation and technique than previous years.

Their collections may have been a show of force of sorts, a reaction to the preference for local consumers to buy foreign brands, prodded by the media's espousal of a global community and that the way we dress is all part of belonging.

Garments produced by Indonesian designers get little attention from middle-class consumers, the real target market for ready-to- wear. This group instead shows an increasing penchant for low- priced, fashionable garments from China, Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Designers have raised the stakes, looking now to upper-income consumers who can afford to pay at least Rp 1.5 million for an outfit.

Understandably, fashion trends cannot reach all sections of the community. But the hands-down winner in popularity is the evening gown, with many designers now focusing on this as their money-spinner. Want a stylish suit? A fashionable but casual dress? You will find yourself empty-handed if you search the racks of Indonesian designers.

Fashion is a reflection of an era. In the last decade, when the economic conditions were good and the middle class had much disposable income, demand for the garment products of Indonesian designers flourished and became the backbone of the country's fashion world.

Today, as with the lackluster fortunes of garment producers, our designers generally cannot compete with similar mainstream fashion products from abroad, and exclusive evening gowns have become their forte.

Luckily, this has been coupled with greater creativity and better quality. Upper-income consumers now have an attractive range of choices other than the branded collections from internationally renowned designers.

Women are proud to say that they have Sebastian's evening gown, Eddy Betty's bustier or Edward "Edo" Hutabarat's kebaya (traditional blouse) in their closet.

This reality may encourage many consumers to say: Forget Paris, Milan, London and New York, Jakarta is where it's at for me.

Those showing their collections this year ranged in age from young designers at the peak of their creativity to elder ones yet to make a name for themselves.

The beginning of this year saw the debut of the luxurious Bohemian-style collection of Didi Budiardjo. The young design duo of Urban Crew drew from the 1980s' "shabby chic" phenomenon with faded batik products for the young.

A new name was Rika Sulaiman, showing her richly embroidered gowns in her debut fashion show. After an absence of six years in which he did not show a new collection, Edo returned to promote the beauty of the kebaya, taking his show on tour to cities around the country.

In the second half of the year, Sebastian presented a magical show, titled Glitz & Glam, while Eddy came out with a Moulin Rouge-inspired collection of luxurious kebaya and Latin-style corset gowns. Sally Kuswanto also made a splash with her daring designs.

Adjie Notonegoro displayed his collection of kebaya designs and hedonistic '80s inspired fashion styles. Then there was designer Aranxta Adi with his collection of chiffon gowns in rich macrame string interplay. Local fabrics were given new exploration in the hands of fabric designer Obin, who continues on her quest for Indonesians to take pride in their homespun riches.

At its annual show, APPMI looked to the East for oriental influences while rival organization IPMI, in celebrating its 18th anniversary, invited almost all its members to show about two or three dresses, a move that could be construed as more of a show of numbers -- "take notice, we're here, too" -- than a fashion statement.

There were also comebacks. Unexpectedly, in the first week of December, Robby Tumewu showed a collection in his home. Famous in the 1980s, Robby then moved into acting, particularly with the Lenong Rumpi comedy show, and had not shown his designs for about six years. Chossy Latu, of the same generation as Robby, also held a show featuring a small collection.

Although women remain the main market for designers, the staging of Male Fashion Trends 2004 showed that sartorial style for the other half is also starting to get some attention.

From Didi's opulent designs opening the year to Robby's red- carpet style at the close, elegance and femininity reigned. Rigid, dramatic effects were abandoned; there was a lighter touch with the introduction of thin, flowing chiffon, the fabric of choice for gowns, blouses and pants.

Embroidered and beaded ornaments are still popular. However, the use of rich details has now become a new attraction: creases, dangling strings, macrame string twists and even the cutting of the train of a gown into a jagged handkerchief style.

A fashion show is no longer a venue where designers merely convey their fashion statements. It is not a place for promotion, either -- for some designers, the catwalk has become an arena for performances, replete with captivating stage, lights, music, choreography and visual effects.

To support his theme of Glitz & Glam, Sebastian presented his models on an imposing stage with acrylic floor. The rear wall opened to display two sets of windows. When the models appeared in the windows in their luxurious gowns, bathed in light, the spellbound audience was presented with a festive and artistic spectacle,

Meanwhile, Arantxa Adi has become the talk of the town among fashion enthusiasts for an innovative fashion show. The stage was designed in an X-shape, all black, with a huge screen on the rear wall. The screen showed a video clip of actress Sophia Latjuba's curvaceous body, in a gown of Adi's design and shot by video clip director, Taba Sancabahtiar.

Amid blaring DJ-guided live house music, the show, the artistic decoration of which was entrusted to noted artistic director Jay Subiyakto, was an enchanting and highly modern display of dresses.

The above shows will go down in the history of the country's fashion world as the most spectacular of 2003.

Eddy Betty called his collection "In the Name of Love." In his show, he presented gowns in a dynamic, sexy and glamorous Latin spirit in colors ranging from black to glittering gold.

Best known as a specialist in designing bustiers, this time he introduced a transparent corset with a mixed variety of skirts in sophisticated patterns and rich details, ranging from the combination of ruffles, frills and pleats to a display of handicrafts.

One standout was a skirt with an unusual fringe.

"The skirt is made of satin ribbons that I cut and put together piece by piece. For this skirt, I needed 2,500 meters of ribbon," he said.

It was a stunning collection, with prominence given to the sophistication of the handiwork. Many Jakarta fashion editors heaped praise on him and buyers admired his designs.

"He designed the gowns with all his heart, with no care as to whether there would be a buyer or not. He is really after great beauty in his designs," said former model Okky Asokawati.

For his singular, unforgettable collection, Eddy deserves the title of the fashion star of 2003.