Fashion industry shows true colors
President Abdurrahman Wahid can turn to an unlikely ally to back up the contention that the country's economy is on the mend -- the fashion industry. The Jakarta Post's contributor Agni Amorita reports on how fashion designers have survived and prospered while others faded.
JAKARTA (JP): The capital's schedule of fashion shows, already tight, is getting busier.
During last month's whirl of fashion shows and gatherings, First Lady Sinta Nuriyah was one of the 1,500 guests on hand to view the annual collection of Sebastian Gunawan at a five-star hotel.
At least 25 percent of those in attendance at the evening gala were believed to be loyal customers of the designer, who is renowned for his elegant evening wear.
Also in the pipeline is a dazzling retrospective by Ghea S. Panggabean, one of the leading lights of the local fashion industry.
"I'm planning to have two decades of my fashion career in a very exotic event, but I haven't decided on what it will be yet, I'm still working on the idea," said Ghea, whose collections are also sold in international boutiques in Singapore and Malaysia.
Their stories are nothing unusual -- the country's fashion industry is prospering. Designers have displayed commendable opportunism in being able to fill the gap left by the departure of their international counterparts during the crisis.
With a national population of more than 200 million, the availability of locally produced fabrics, cheap labor and the enthusiasm of the younger generation in the reform era to become skilled professionals, the fashion industry has been able to show its true colors.
The dynamic energy in the industry was on show last week in the collections presented at the Indonesian Fashion Design Council's annual show. Youth had its day as young designers showed their creations. Next month, the Indonesian Fashion Designer Association will hold its Fashion Tendance.
Many four and five-star hotels have revived monthly fashion shows which were put on hold during the crisis, and designer label bazaars are now commonplace (modeling agencies are also having a field day in the round of fashion events).
Retail outlets are also reporting healthy sales.
Pasaraya department store, for example, has designated one floor, called "Cantique Skaly" (a play on the Indonesian words for very pretty), for top Indonesian labels. Store public relations manager Maya Rahmayanti said the floor was formerly for international brands. The store also opened its Kendedes space, especially for attire inspired by traditional Indonesian designs.
Other retailers are recording the same trend.
A marketing executive from Metro Department Store Jakarta, Ans Karina, said the increase in sales was rapid, "especially for local designers who are known as creative artists".
She said designers made a killing with the onset of the crisis.
"Local customers who formerly bought international branded boutique products changed their preference and started buying local fashion products."
Although she would not reveal the exact amount of the increase, Karina said it was "significant".
With the market increasing, the first Indonesian international fashion fair was held in Bali last July.
"It will be an annual international trade fair," promised designer Mardiana Ika, the chairwoman of the fair's committee. She is already preparing for next year's fair.
"The steep rise in the local fashion industry is very significant," said fashion critic Muara Bagdja.
"The best part must be for the leading Indonesian designers. Thanks to the monetary crisis that has created new local customers, these big names in the local fashion industry have a better chance to move on, expanding their creativity and innovation, as we can see in their newest collections."
Almost all the leading designers from the Indonesian Fashion Designers Council, such as Ghea and Didi Budiarjo, prefer to have their own exclusive shows, despite the considerable expense, instead of taking part in the council's annual trend events.
The mass media is also supporting the development of fashion, with almost all TV stations showing fashion programs.
Privately owned RCTI has Wanita Gaya (Women of Style) and SCTV its Gaya (Style), both in the same morning time slot on Saturday. It appears Saturday is the choice day for fashion programming; Look Model on ANteve, Jelita on Indosiar and Musik dan Mode on state-owned TVRI are all broadcast on the first day of the weekend.
There also has been a boom in fashion on the printed page.
Glossy lifestyle magazines with extensive coverage on fashion such as Prada, Perkawinan, Neo, a+ and Bridal 2000 have arrived on newsstands, competing with locally published versions of Harper's Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Female and Her World.
It would appear that Indonesian fashion has the sturdy foundation to go international, but obstacles remain.
"The worst part is the ASEAN competitors which invade the international fashion market with cheaper products that in the end are going to ruin our small garment industry," explained Muara.
"Worst of all, the attack is happening before our very eyes, here in Indonesia, because the products are also heading to Indonesia and are already being used by some big department stores here to replace their usual expensive branded products in displays."
While the battle rages on at the retail level, the customers enjoy the spoils. The dynamic local fashion industry is tapped into the international fashion beat; designs which made their debut on Milan and Paris catwalks only weeks before quickly make their way to Indonesian stores in copycat versions.
Along with the yearning for top brands, there is a resurgence in appreciation for Indonesian traditional clothes. Kebaya, the traditional long-sleeved women's blouse, and batik, always local mainstays, are now more popular than ever before.
Other traditional items, such as the selendang, a type of scarf from, and woven fabrics are also becoming part of the modern wardrobe. Experimentation has become the vogue; some women are wearing traditional scarves to accompany spaghetti-strapped long dresses for evenings out.
Fashion designers are enjoying a heyday, and the prospects look good for continued development of the industry. With more designers showing their collections and the emergence of new local labels, it is hoped Indonesian fashion, through the work of designers such as Ghea, the acclaimed Biyan and others, will make its mark internationally.