Urban Chat: Fashion And Art, Here Dancing At Last

A while back an esteemed London-based fashion and art writer expressed his shock upon learning from a small group of Indonesian journalists that fashion major wasn’t de rigueur in our art schools. 

How you could separate the two when fashion was derived from art, he exclaimed. Some of the art schools have a textile major, I offered a consolation. Nice but not quite fashion now is it, he huffed.

The man had a point. Fashion and art worlds in Indonesia are often worlds apart. I’ve met too many artists who’d turn their nose down at fashion for being hedonistic, or a snooty art curator who’d look down upon fashion weeks for that matter. On the other side, the fashion community often found artists generally to be too brooding and uncooperative.

Quite a shame, as elsewhere bridges between the two worlds had long been built and maintained. If you were to revisit 18th century French aristocrats, it was clear that the dynamics of art not only inspired, but influenced high fashion a great deal. Conversely, artists were known to have been one of the first adopters, if not initiators, of the latest wardrobe style, in the age when laymen were still sewing their own clothes. 

In modern times the alliances have continued. One of the most critically and commercially acclaimed collaborations was between Louis Vuitton and Takashi Murakami in Spring-Summer 2003. American designer Marc Jacobs, then Vuitton’s newly-appointed creative head, decided to inject excitement into the brand’s signature monogram that was going rather staid, and Murakami’s pop visuals and pastel colors enlivened Vuitton leather goods so fabulously that the Multicolore collection was continued for 12 years until Nicolas Ghesquiere, the new creative head, decided to phase it out in July.

Vuitton also collaborated with Stephen Sprouse (2001), Richard Prince (2008), Yayoi Kusama (whose polka dot pumpkin is installed in Jakarta’s Gandaria City), and, lo and behold, Indonesia’s own Eko Nugroho (2013). While the other artists worked with leather goods, Eko Nugroho’s commissioned work Republik Tropis (Tropical Republic) was turned in its entirety into a silk scarf — a limited edition item that was fought tooth and nail for by Indonesian socialites.

Currently Eko is teaming up again with fashion, this time with Indonesia’s own promising ready-to-wear label, Major Minor. And to me it does feel more of an equal collaboration, for Eko’s signature gill-like visuals is adopted, instead of merely being copied, in different manners to suit various pieces of clothing. I’ve been fortunate to closely view the collections twice, and traces of Eko’s wild drawings are immediately recognizable throughout the collection that, somehow, remains within Major Minor’s urban style and sensibility. Kudos to both parties.

For a capsule collection it encompasses quite a range of clothing including, aha, silk scarves. Judging from the throng of art aficionados and fashion enthusiasts at both shows during Jakarta Fashion Week and later, to open Eko’s solo art exhibition, in Salihara Theater, the collection was received with due praises and much excitement. 

Beyond straightforward commercial deals, art and fashion overseas also enjoy steady engagements. There are bona fide fashion museums and regular fashion exhibitions in prominent art museums, such as The Costume Institute’s annual exhibit at New York City’s iconic Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opening party itself is a star-studded fundraising known as the Met Gala, in addition to standalone fashion and textile museums. Giorgio Armani even built his own museum, the Armani/Silos in Milan.

Opened earlier this year, the four-storey museum archived a four-decade journey of Giorgio Armani in well-curated classy displays, equipped with multimedia presentation and databank. Being a diligent museum-goer I rented the audio-guide, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Indonesia mentioned as one of the inspirations for Armani’s so-called Oriental collections on the 2nd floor.

The Prada family went straight to art in the newly-opened Fondazione Prada, where impressive private art collections of Miuccia Prada and husband Patrizio Bertelli made up quite a bulk. Their ease with art is apparent not just through world-class installations by Louise Bourgeois, Tom Friedman, Damien Hirsch or Jeff Koons, but also by the sizable space dedicated to John Baldessari’s work that specifically mocked hedonism and unhealthy body image purported by fashion business. The devil may have worn Prada, but Prada definitely wears art in her sleeve. 

At the beginning of 2015 I wrote about how seasoned designer Didi Budiardjo held our first ever fashion exhibition in a proper museum, albeit not having managed to find any fashion curator to assist in the process. It’s heartening to see that young label Major Minor is now closing the year through their art collaboration. I have hopes that this all is just the opening number of a lasting and empowering dance between the two worlds — where intimate talks will burst between steps, handholding in trust will form between moves, and everyone goes home with more comprehension and less apprehension.

For that, darlings, I promise I’ll dance along. (Lynda Ibrahim)




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