Sun, 07 Sep 2003

Menswear: Let's hear it for the boys

Muara Bagja, Contributor, Jakarta

It is a woman's world when it comes to Indonesian fashion. They can take their pick from a rich assortment of apparel available, and in particular the market for luxurious evening gowns from the many designers catering to their needs.

But the other half has been left empty-handed in the fashion stakes. Even when a piece of menswear bears the "Made in Indonesia" label, it's usually a casual or office shirt churned out by the millions from a garment factory assembly line.

Made-to-order clothes are limited to batik shirts or suits for formal wear, and there is really nothing made locally that is stylish enough for a man to don for hanging out in a cafe or clubbing.

The lack of attention to menswear cannot be explained away by saying the local design scene is still finding its way. In the 20-odd years since Indonesian fashion began its development to reach a wider market, the few designers who have put out a men's line have done it as an accompaniment -- an after thought in some cases -- to their main women's collections.

That may be changing as designers wake up to the potential in the market, including the much-trumpeted international rise of the "metrosexual" -- straight men who care about their appearance and are willing to shell out cash for clothes and skin-care products.

Ten designers, along with two garment producers and a boutique, showed what they have in store for men at the Male Fashion Trend 2004, held at Alila Hotel in Jakarta over two days at the end of August.

The opening day saw designs presented by Samuel Wattimena, Jazz Passay, SOE by Ratih Soe, Susie Hedijanto, Vincent Fak, Yivu Boutique by Julie and Dhedy Rizaldy. On the second day, Taruna K. Kusmayadi, Malik Moestaram, Ian Suhadi, Levi's, Nautica and Vick Van Monsieur showed off their collections.

"I invited several designers to join this show," said Samuel, one of the country's most prominent designers who took the initiative for the event.

"Some of them have produced men's apparel for quite some time, while some have just started this side of their business. In my opinion, there is actually a good market for clothing for men."

He noted the growing interest in style among men in urban centers, and that for most, looking good is a requirement.

"More and more men are making TV appearances on various occasions, ranging from talk shows to TV films," he said at the news conference held prior to the show.

"We organized this fashion show to inform the public that there are now a number of designers that specially design menswear."

Although the designs blended inspirations from different cultural elements, two definitive fashion styles emerged.

Some designers looked firmly to the East, coming up with kimono-style shirts, shirts with batik motifs, sarongs and black velvet rimless caps, similar to traditional Indonesian peci.

Others took the advice "go West" to heart, with designs taken from the fashion lore of cowboys, rock culture and hippies.

Yet even the latter designs were truly "local" at heart, selecting elements from international male fashion trends and adapting them to the tastes of local consumers on the designers' own terms.

"To enjoy these collections, set yourself free from any references," Samuel said. "These designers are presenting their own collection that meets their own needs."

Or, as designer Taruna put it, it is a breath of fresh air for the heretofore staid menswear scene.

"Usually, we see men come to a party donning a batik shirt or wearing a suit. It's sooo boring."

Now there are choices galore for the boys.

For ethnic elements, look to Samuel's designs, such as the kimono-style loose shirts on Tuban woven textiles, Makassar silk and woven fabric from East Nusa Tenggara.

Jazz Passay borrowed from the Ujung Pandang style: a suit, a shirt and silk sarong with a rattan rimless cap, while Ratih Soe, taking historical inspiration from King Mulawarman from the kingdom of Kutai in Kalimantan, used a sequined Lycra T-shirt paired with a sarong.

Susie Hedijanto presented shirts with motifs representing the reliefs of temples, shadow puppets and ancient maps. Ian Suhadi tapped the beauty of woven fabric from Garut, West Java, with collarless casual shirts and loose trousers.

For men whose tastes run to the more modern, Dhedy Rizaldy's collection, including shirts with details on the seams in the cowboy style, would suit them just fine.

Vincent Fak was inspired by the dark and beguiling fashions of rock stars, with all-black clothes made up of a combination of leatherwear and embroidered items.

In the hands of Malik Moestaram, hippie chic came alive in hemmed shirts with embroidered flowers. As for Vicky Sutono and Arifan Mas, the design team of Vick n Van Monsieur, kites were the inspiration for white shirts and white trousers, featuring many attractive seams and pleats.

Yifu Boutique by Julie showed youth-oriented streetwear, sending models down the catwalk in T-shirts and ripped jeans, as well as the softer look of a cream shirt and pants for a low-key night out on the town.

It's inevitable that the collections are exclusive because they remain limited in quantity, but Samuel hopes such events will bring more prominence for Indonesian-designed menswear.

"Today we have the lifestyle, the need and the garment products. We only need suitable sales outlets," he said.

It was a pity that while showcasing menswear is a great idea, choosing the venue of a club with poor lighting and an ill- designed catwalk failed to do justice to the fashions.

"We aren't confident enough to hold this show in a star-rated hotel," Samuel said, noting that this is planned as an annual event.

"We were afraid that the audience would be very small and we also wondered whether this show deserved an upmarket setting."

Valid concerns, perhaps, but it will take some more bold steps before menswear gets the respect and the place it deserves on the local fashion scene.