Novel: Three women model some of the fashion of Sulistiarum Septi on display at the Raden Saleh-inspired fashion show at the National Gallery on Saturday. JP/Jerry AdigunaHomecomings are often bittersweet. They are about how you cannot really go “home” again and what happens when you try.
After having lived in Europe for over two decades, Raden Saleh returned to his native Indonesia in 1851. There, the Maestro, as many today refer to him, found himself caught between two identities: He was not European, nor was he an ordinary Javanese.
“Raden Saleh was always eyed with suspicion, by both the Dutch and native Indonesians,” said Raden Saleh biographer Werner Kraus. “For long, he was not accepted [among] the Indonesian nationalists.”
Saleh was indeed different. Spending more than a quarter of his life in a foreign country made him an outsider among his Indonesian peers. He had different ideas about many things; such as, for example, dressing.
Then, male and female colonial residents had to obey a semi-official but socially sanctioned dress code that revolved around Javanese tradition, complete with surjan (traditional top), blangkon (Javanese headdress) and kris (asymmetrical sword). In that restrictive era, Saleh created his own garments that reflected a mélange of Eastern and Western fashion. Indeed, the man was more than just a painter. He was also a fashion designer — perhaps the nation’s very first.
To commemorate Saleh’s 200th anniversary, 11 young Indonesian fashion designers presented their Raden Saleh-inspired designs for guests at a fashion show at the National Gallery (GNI) on Saturday.
The show took place inside a grand all-white tent, meticulously set up next to the gallery’s main exhibition building where Raden Saleh’s paintings and drawings are on display as part of the “Raden Saleh and the Beginning of Modern Indonesian Painting” exhibition.
The eleven designers were chosen from a pool of over 70, and were each judged and selected by a distinguished panel of experts among whom were Femina editor-in-chief Petty S. Fatimah, designer
Auguste Susatro and GNI director Tubagus Andre.
Quilted floor-length trench coats, kebaya-inspired dresses, batik body-fitting pantsuits and elegant silk Muslim eveningwear for women and men rocked the stage with fields of colors, prints and cuts.
Although there seemed to be a lack of a common theme among the designers’ collections — apart from the fact that they were all inspired by Saleh’s life — audience members could breathe a sigh of relief as the plethora of design collections implied that at least some of the designs would certainly satiate one’s taste in one way or another.
Cynthia Kurniawan’s collection, for example, would most likely attract more androgynous audience members as she chose to use dark red in her designs, with each model wearing either batik or body-fitting pants, even underneath their knee-length shorts. She offered a minimum of feminine touches by incorporating flower patchwork on the models’ tops and pants, and added large rose-like headpieces à la Kate Middleton. As a final touch, each model carried her own batik-embroidered tongkat kayu (wooden stick) that Saleh supposedly carried himself in his final days.
As for eveningwear, ultra-feminine long and wide skirts coupled with silk, gold-lined tops were the highlight. Topped off with high shoulder-padded vests or blazers, a certain one-of-a-kind ensemble stood out.
Rini K. Konitatin, who was chosen as the night’s winner, designed the described collection. As a prize, she will get the opportunity to attend Berlin Fashion Week in July.
Perhaps the talented designer will be as inspired by European fashion as Saleh was.