Indonesia fashion week just crossed the finish line of its inaugural event. But with Jakarta Fashion Week already well established, a question on the lips of the collective international press was, why create another separate fashion week?

IFW has largely been the result of a government push. In the next 20 years, the Indonesian government wants to have the country on the map as a “fashion capital” of Asia. For that, they decided, something different was required; something more.

Creating Indonesia Fashion Week

A fashion week distinct from many others, IFW is a combination of runway shows and a trade show exhibiting hundreds of designers, all held side by side on the one site. For the participating designers, it transpires, the cost of involvement is subsidized by the government. This not only means great news for upcoming designers who would otherwise find participation unaffordable, it also means that the labels shown are in a sense hand picked; no-one is there simply because they can afford to be.

The government may have been the driving force of the event, but the understanding of what’s required to make it a success came largely from the APPMI (Indonesian Fashion Designers Association) who were appointed to organise it. And for both the official forces and the Association, the key concern was finding a point of equilibrium between the traditional and the modern. Indonesia wants to show the world that it, too, can produce cutting edge, modern designs fit for the international stage. But at no point does it wish to neglect its heritage, it’s unique traditional handcrafts. Young designer Auguste Soesastro broke this down to the simplest of terms during an interview with us: he called it “design versus craft”.

A model poses at Lennor by Lenny Agustin, IFW

Both ends of the scale were well represented at the first IFW. Craftsman specializing purely in traditional textile methods could be found mostly in the exhibition booths, but also on the runway. Many of Indonesia’s young design talents, those most suited to export, rebelled against the use of too much embellishment, instead presenting a flair for clean, modern, ready-to-wear design. Of the latter Auguste Soesastro, Ardistia, and Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan were leading the way, parading the runway under the more modern ‘design’ banner.

Designers mixing the traditional with the modern

In between the two extremes was a captivating space filled by designers who very deliberately mashed Indonesia’s traditions with other inspirations – a sort of playground for experimental East meets West relationships. On many a runway traditional garment cuts, embellishment techniques and textile techniques like Batik, could be seen reinterpreted. At times the results fell short of what you’d call on trend in the wider fashion world; at others the balance was struck with laser precision. Lenny Agustin for her younger second line Lennor used traditional textiles in a number of ways, none more spot-on than reinterpreting the trend of removable collars with Batik as the fabric of choice. I asked Lenny if she consciously played to Western fashion trends, and the answer was a definitive yes. While it’s her trademark style to take from traditional Indonesian culture, she does so with a keen eye and a sense of how she can make it appealing to a young audience.

lenny agustin at indonesia fashion week
Lenny Augustin at Indonesia fashion week

For her main line, Lenny Agustin, she based designs on the baju bodo, a short-sleeved, rectangular garment from Makassar traditionally used in religious and wedding ceremonies, borrowing from the garment’s colour and volume but in a more streamlined, modern shape. The Kebaya and sarong also got the Lenny Agustin treatment. On the runway these outfits were styled in an explosion of colour and texture, but imagine them apart and it’s quite clear that Agustin’s union of tradition and trend is one that can easily succeed.

Deden Siswanto’s collection also played to tradition but through Javanese history, referencing the Dutch Colonial era and Javanese monarchial times by it’s mandarin-style collars, opulent details and structured shapes. The beauty of Siswanto’s collection, though, was in it’s appealing modern details: sheer fabrics, cuts that revealed bare backs, and sarongs for men that had a masculine, warrior-like feel were all surprisingly wearable.

deden siswanto at indonesia fashion week
On the runway at Deden Siswanto

The problem of traditional textiles

But while the melding of Indonesian textile traditions with mainstream trends is certainly one way to not only keep those traditions alive, but to bring them to view internationally, there are hurdles. Such textiles aren’t necessarily the kind that are produced roll after roll on a factory floor; they’re painstakingly hand-crafted. Batik traditionally involves application of wax to fabric by hand, and while modern techniques have industrialised the process, some designers have found the sourcing of such materials in bulk – that is, with enough identical fabric to create a collection for export – to be difficult. To move away from the hand-crafted would also be to compromise on quality – and hand-created materials vary from batch to batch.

For other designers the avoidance of traditional textiles comes down to another matter entirely. Yosafat Dwi Kurniawan explains that Indonesia’s traditional garments are often free-flowing, while modern design and tailoring is all about cutting. To Dwi Kurniawan marriage of the two would inevitably end in heartbreak. “My designs are all about cutting,” he explains. “To me it would be a contradiction to cut Batik… There’s just so much work involved to create it!”

While we have to wait another year to see how Indonesia Fashion Week evolves to tackle the “design versus craft” question further, Indonesia’s designers will also be developing their personal crafts. And those, in the meantime, we will watch with interest.

For all our coverage of Indonesia Fashion Week‘s inaugural event, follow that link.

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