Fashion has always been a platform for political expression, and in today’s tense social climate, it is more important than ever for fashion designers to promote multiculturalism by elevating the voices of marginalized designers and bringing diversity to the table.
The five up-and-coming Indonesian designers who came together to present their runway collections at the Indonesian Diversity Spring/Summer 2018 showcase brought diversity not only to New York Fashion Week but also to the showcase itself. Each designer sent a distinctive collection down the runway, demonstrating the rich diversity within Indonesian culture that makes it special.
Dian Pelangi and Vivi Zubedi, who opened and closed the showcase, presented “modest fashion” collections, featuring hijabs and abayas for the modern, trendy, religiously observant Muslim woman. This comes only a year after Anniesa Hasibuan made headlines as the first Indonesian designer to show at New York Fashion Week and as the first designer to include a hijab in every look. All designers styled their looks with handbags by Doris Dorothea, a renowned Indonesian designer known for her use of exotic and luxurious materials in vibrant and structured mini bags. The collections are also styled with makeup by Wardah, an Indonesian beauty brand that seeks to inspire Muslim women to express themselves.
Dian Pelangi’s collection may have been modest in category, but that certainly did not take away from its boldness. The 26 year old designer wanted to show that Muslim women can be creative and beautiful while dressing with respect to their religion. In each look, Pelangi mixes a variety of textures and prints in vivid colors and presents a balance of softness and structure, pairing flowing floor-length skirts and pants with structured jackets and stiff medieval Europe-inspired headpieces wrapped in scarves. Pelangi states that her collection is inspired by the book Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton, which highlights the stories of all different kinds of people in New York City. The explosion of native Indonesian batik prints, tie dye, beaded brocade, and brightly colored mosaic-like embellishments conveys the busy, dynamic, and audacious character of New York, and the harmonious nature of these diverse patterns serves as a metaphor for a multicultural society. In an Instagram post, Pelangi explains the symbolism in the color choices for the collection: “We use mostly neutral colors such as white, black, gray and cream that we combine with some identical colors of New York like yellow from the taxi, a little bit green from the Central Park, and also red from the traffic light.” The looks are also divided to represent the four temperaments—melancholic, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic—in order to recreate the “different moods of the big city’s hustle and bustle.”
The lights dimmed and brightened again to welcome Barli Asmara’s collection, whose all white compositions provided a stunning contrast to Pelangi’s vibrant numbers. Inspired by purity and Middle Eastern architecture, Asmara aimed to showcase the skilled craftsmanship of Indonesia. Although each look was constructed almost entirely in white lace, paired with large, chandelier-like earrings, and treated with a cold-shoulder silhouette, the collection was not monotonous; in fact, these shared motifs emphasized the variety of innovative ways Pelangi used intricate details, like ruffles, beading, and lace-up elements, to decorate each dress.
Next to grace the runway was Melia Wijaya’s collection, which revolved around the theme of the traditional Indonesian folklore “Sawunggaling.” The story celebrates the creative and lively natures of the rooster and peacock and it can be read very literally in Wijaya’s collection, which features bird-inspired headpieces and dresses adorned with feathers, talons, and even whole rooster appliqués. The folklore theme is complemented by the collection’s warm, earthy tones as wells the soundtrack, full of tribal sounding percussion and bird calls. Wijaya’s sheer, caged, and densely embellished pieces are not designed for practicality but rather push towards the realms of sculpture and abstraction necessary to create the fantasy world of “Sawunggaling.”
The transition from Wijaya’s show to Catherine Njoo’s is by far the smoothest, as Njoo’s collection also featured rich embellishment, symbolic, nature-inspired motifs, and elaborate headpieces, which in this case were by couture headpiece designer G.Liem. Njoo’s specializes in batik, and her collection is based in black and decorated with luxurious embroidery and batik fabrics in gold and jewel tones. It is a goal for Njoo to make batik more globally recognized, and in her New York Fashion Week collection, she shows that batik can be used for elegant, modern looks by incorporating it tastefully in sophisticated yet offbeat silhouettes, including gowns with bubble skirts, long trains, capes, cut-outs, and most featuring a collared element, which is currently very trendy. Like Wijaya’s, Njoo’s collection also has a definite element of fantasy, most exquisitely embodied by the finale look, which featured a gold, egg-shaped headpiece that opened and closed to reveal a mini illuminated pagoda. Njoo’s attention to detail and the expressionist quality of her looks reflects her inspiration for this collection, which is Legong, a type of Balinese dance defined by complex finger movements and footwork as well as expressive gestures and facial expressions.
Closing out the showcase was Vivi Zubedi, whose presentation conveyed the most direct message calling for the acceptance of diversity. Part of the reason Zubedi felt compelled to make her New York Fashion Week debut was that despite Trump’s Islamophobia and aim to restrict immigration from Muslim majority countries, she loves the United States, where many of her clients are from, and wants to show that Muslim people are not a threat and are, in fact, just like the rest of humanity. Zubedi’s collection is more conservative than Pelangi’s and features her signature abaya, which is modern, elegant, and versatile. Abayas are worn by women in Saudi Arabia as a requirement of the law as well as strictly observant Muslim women in other regions. If not in black, Zubedi’s garments are made in rich colors accented with bold prints from various regions throughout Indonesia, symbolizing the unity of Indonesia despite its diversity. But Zubedi goes beyond advocating for cultural diversity in her runway show; she also uses models of all different size, including plus sized models, to show that women of all races, faiths, and shapes are beautiful.
The Jakarta-based designer calls this collection the “Makkah Madinah Jannah” runway collection, which alludes to two sites of Muslim pilgrimage and the Arabic word for paradise. This phrase as well as the phrase “All Colors Matter” appear on fabric medallions that embellish many of Zubedi’s loose dresses, robes, and abayas. She explains on Instagram that the collection is embodied by a woman “who has balanced thinking about the journey of life now and later” and “believes that being someone who realizes her nature as human, who has no power of life without the help of the ‘owner of the world’ keeps her humble in facing ups and downs in life.”
Photos by Reyna Wang