Diplomacy sashays down the catwalk
Yuku Moko comes across as an infectiously affable guy, a Falstaff of fashion.
The cut-and-sew industry the rotund Sulawesian inhabits tends to attract extremes – the reserved craftsperson that prefers to let her or his work speak for itself – and the flamboyant entrepreneur whose personality is marketed as part of the product.
Moko is in the latter class – but there’s one way to get him riled: Suggest he’s a designer.
“I’m an artist,” he emphasised. “I draw and paint. Others do the cutting and stitching and modelling. Listen to me, please: If you call me a designer I will get a red-colored face.”
Instead he got rounds of applause for his collection of mainly evening and casual wear “dedicated to peace and friendship between the people of New Zealand and Indonesia.”
The Indonesian Government’s NZ Embassy recently staged its Extravaganza fashion show in Wellington. It featured seven leading creators, who, with the one exception, were happy to call themselves designers,
The two-hour invitation-only occasion attracted more than 100 and included half the diplomatic corps stationed in the capital “This is the first event of its kind in NZ promoting the richness and diversity of Indonesian design,” said Ambassador Jose Tavares, who was born in East Timor famous for its unique woven arts.
“We are showcasing the versatility of Indonesians, modern fashion trends in the archipelago and our provincial textiles.
“These include songket (patterned hand woven materials with gold and silver threads), ikat (woven dyed yarns) and, of course, batik and introducing them to the NZ fashion scene.”
Added MC Joannes E Tandjung, who has been studying for a doctorate at the Sydney Law School on the legal protection of batik: “These are more than just clothes. They symbolise the beauty of our great nation. Fashion is an effective tool of diplomacy.”
Apart from Moko the designers were veteran Rudy Chandra who specialises in evening wear and Carla Setja Atmadja who started in the fashion business with silver jewellery made in Bali.
Nita Seno Adji trained as a lawyer but moved into developing hand embroidered dresses; his work featured wayang (shadow puppet) figures and butterflies.
Defrico Audy’s offering included designs inspired by the culture and fabrics of South Sulawesi which he described as “glamorous, edgy, eclectic and sometimes ethnic.”
Handy Hartono used batik to effect in cotton clothes for women and men: “The basic concept is comfort and simplicity.”
Sikie Purnomo studied fashion design in Melbourne, followed by courses in Hong Kong and Milan before starting his own labels in 2003. He’s now producing Muslim clothes and exporting to the Middle East.
Most of the designs were liberating. Absent were the cocoon styles which wrap Indonesian women into shapeless bundles like rolled carpets, crimping their movements.
Most mannequins in Extravaganza were willowy Caucasian Kiwis who towered over the designers. This created a curious effect. The sombre tones of many materials stood out against the women’s white skins. The contrast highlighted the clothes in a way seldom seen when worn by Southeast Asians.
The models also showed the outfits with flair and energy, particularly when parading the second half of Moko’s 20-piece assemblage. Bra-less they bounced around the room on the Wellington waterfront as though the extraordinary designs worn with élan were everyday wear, something tossed on because it was first in the wardrobe.
This suited Wellington, a multicultural city and film industry hub where dress freedom rules and street talk includes Maori, Hindi, South Pacific languages and more increasingly Chinese. The styles and colors also matched the season, as summer yields to fall, or what Kiwis call autumn.
“You don’t normally associate trench coats with Indonesia,” said Tandjung while introducing the show. “But this is the Southern Hemisphere and windy Wellington”.
Moko, 64, (right) originally known as Mohamed Yauri Yusuf Helmi Abdul Auf Mokodompis is from Makassar. The youngest of ten, his father was a musician and his mother made her own kebaya (tight Javanese blouses).
He didn’t start out in the rag trade where every colleague is a darling, but in the profession of dour suits and wary decisions hedged by caveats. For more than 20 years he was a banker, which is as distant from glamor as denim is from silk.
“I was naughty,” he said. “I probably worked only two days a week. It was so frustrating, because my heart was elsewhere, but I needed the security and money.
“After my parents died and my marriage collapsed I retired and went to Japan for six months. I’d always been an artist and got involved in advertising and interior design. I had a breakthrough when Ibu Tien (wife of the late President Soeharto) bought a cushion I’d made.
“Banking taught me to be careful with money. Despite this I’m probably not a good businessman because I sometimes tell buyers that the clothes they want are unsuitable.
“My market is the elite and each piece is individual. There’s no danger a woman will go to a function and find someone else wearing the same dress.”
He produces about 20 “art products” a month which sell for around Rp 10 – 12 million (US $770 – 915). He’s closed his shop and spends much time on promotions overseas and at events in shopping malls.
He refuses to be pinned down to any region: “My inspiration comes from Sabang to Merauke. There are so many clever artists, so much potential in Indonesia. But there’s still a way to go, a lack of confidence.
“The concept of malu (shame, and not being different) needs to be used in moderation. There’s too much materialism, a focus on quantity not quality.
“My philosophy is to stay humble, work hard and be kind. Train your mind to see good in everything.”
(First published in The Jakarta Post 11 May 2016)