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Jakarta Fashion Week 2013: Batik & Beyond

Given that I spent the better part of eight months slaving away on my book Culture to Catwalk investigating the nuance of how various ethnic traditions of dress translate onto the runways of fashion, you could say that where, er, culture and the catwalk tend to collide is always a place of piqued interest for me. That being said, while those of us in the West may not exactly be stabbing each other in the jugular by the stiletto for the latest batik designs straight off the runways of Jakarta, for me, the translation of this traditional textile into contemporary garments was certainly one of the big treats of the week.

Too often, non-beaten path fashion weeks in nascent industries skirt the issue of their heritage (my half native Japan could have been called guilty of this at one point) and look towards emulating the couturiers of Europe, thinking that West is best. That is only true insofar as London real estate is concerned. It is my opinion that the key to developing a lasting fashion industry of one's own lies in the ability to toe a gentle line between one's own heritage and the whims of the global (Western) dominated/dictated market. Just look at the Scandis.

Anyway. Back to Indonesia. At no fashion week that I have ever attended have I ever witnessed such an outpouring of pride and passion for national identity where the catwalk was concerned. Of course, being the home of textiles such as batik and ikat, without which there would probably be no such thing as resortwear or Dries Van Noten, in the case of Indonesian designers, the best starting point really is to be found at home. Some designers, for instance, Obin and Lulu Lutfi Labibi rendered the batik (considered formal attire in Indonesia) to more conventional tastes in the form of sarongs, wrapped dresses and kebaya tops, sometimes in the mode of “Peranakan” (Chinese and Indonesian fusion culture). Though tradition is usually somehow subverted through styling. Obin, for instance, paired her sarongs with utilitarian boots and sent her bridal white on white batik range down the runway toting toy guns to the tune of “shotgun wedding.”

Others strove to modernise and urbanise the vibrant textile altogether. Commercial label Cotton Ink reworked ikat into covetable tailored short suits, crop tops teamed with black and white striped jersey while minimalist designer Vinora Ng showed clean cut pencil skirts and Bermuda shorts teamed with crisp white shirts. I also had the pleasure to meet a young British designer by the name of Martha Ellen, who has spent the last several years living and working in Indonesia on her eponymous line that looks to revamp the ikat for the folk back home.

Where the men were concerned, sarongs abounded in various incarnations. A sheer variety offset with raw cut crocodile jackets manifested in the form of an island warrior king at Deden Siswanto while Musa Widyatmodjo cut the traditionally draped batik into elegantly tailored shirts and blazers. Adn on the the accessories front, jewellery-maker Windy Dana of Antyk Butyk utilised ethnic fabrics and antique motifs executed in metallic plastic for her quirky necklaces, bracelets and earrings that can easily be worn in cities with jeans and t-shirts as they can lounging surfside in Bali.

There is also the Muslimwear to consider. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world (202.9 million people), accordingly, Muslimwear accounts for a huge business for Indonesia's designers. Though they are the world's largest in terms of numbers, they are also the least conservative, which makes for dynamism and impressive innovation despite the dress restrictions. Liberal with colors and styling, Indonesia is really seen as a trend-setter for the industry, innovating with flowing printed trousers and tunics, towering head scarves, intricate beading, rich prints and play of volume and proportion. 

Just goes to show, when it comes to fashion inspiration, Dorothy, as usual, was right all along. There really is no place like home.  

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