THE ROOT TO SYMMETRY
EDWARD HUTABARAT CHATS WITH RICKY RONALDO ABOUT HIS PASSION FOR LURIK, HIS DESIGN PHILOSOPHY AND MORE
Last August, renowned Indonesian designer Edward Hutabarat held an exhibition titled “Tangan-Tangan Renta” (which literally means “old hands”) centered on the striped woven fabric known as lurik. The exhibition went on for a week featuring several installations, photographs and videos about the textile—the result of seven years of research.
The exhibition was opened by a fashion show featuring the traditional textile. None of the pieces on show, however, were sold to the general public. As a matter of fact, Hutabarat no longer runs any boutiques and offers his works in a more personalized, way. If you want to buy one of his pieces, you will need to come face-to-face with the spirited designer. And a short while ago, I had the opportunity to do just that.
Ricky Ronaldo: Can you give us a brief intro to the “Tangan-Tangan Renta” show you did?
Edward Hutabarat: What I need people to understand is that the fashion show was not to sell my products. There is only one piece each and the reason why I made them was to get people inspired. That is the point of the show: You come, you see, you touch, you take photos and you copy my design. I tell them: “Here is a list of addresses of all the people who make
lurik; don’t disturb me anymore about it because I’m working busy working on another project.” Like that.
RR: What makes lurik so special to you?
EH: Lurik is part of the Indonesia’s culture and people wear it for ceremonial duties. For example, during the birthday of a palace—say, the keraton in Yogyakarta or Solo— everybody from the queen to the courtiers wear lurik. Such is the case with batik as well. It is not merely a traditional fabric—which is something many Indonesians don’t realize. They also have to be very careful in making it, meaning with a lot of research. They can’t simply go to several exhibitions and buy 100 to 500 pieces of fabric, bring it to the factory, and then make it. It has to be more than that.
RR: So was the show some sort of statement about how we are losing touch with our heritage?
EH: Not only the show the other day but my entire 37-year career. I never make a statement. I make facts. Facts based on research at its roots. It’s not based on a book, television or the Internet because I am a person who doesn’t like reading books. I also don’t like watching movies, except documentaries, because when I see how magnificent a film is, in my head it’s always engineered. I’m not saying that every people should be like me, but that’s just the way I am.
The way I always see things and learn is always through its roots. I know batik because I see how people make batik, from the beginning till the end; how batik is used in events from weddings to death and birth. I am also very lucky in terms of batik because I was trusted to dress Princess Mangkubumi, daughter of Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Yogyakarta, back in 2002. I had the chance to see the “breath” of kebaya, how they are worn within an environment where it was of the utmost importance. This is why I am now a little bit unmotivated to make
kebaya, because I see how it has become almost circus-like.
RR: Not in touch with its roots anymore, you mean?
EH: Not in touch with the philosophy anymore. The number one philosophy of kebaya is symmetry, like a kimono. To know whether a kimono is classy or not
“EVERY PIECE I SELL, WHETHER IT’S CLOTHES OR A BARREL, HAS A STORY. NOTHING MERELY HAPPENS”
is not through the design, but by the textile. If you go to Japan or China, you won’t see a costume that’s asymmetrical. This is what I maintain when I am making kebaya. It’s not the decorations I put in the clothes but the quality of the batik, the quality of the hand bindings and the thread that all needs to be made by hand to achieve the perfect symmetry.
I don’t want to sell my clothes with a price tag, that’s why four years ago I closed all my shops. Because for me, I want to sell my clothes like I’m selling my paintings.
RR: So how long does it take for you to make a complete attire?
EH: I never keep count. [ Laughs] Just until I say it’s nice. So, what it means for me to be modern is, first, simplicity. Number two is quality. And number three is covering it by identity. I play with these three angles.
RR: Where do you usually look for inspiration?
EH: From Sabang until Merauke. Basically anytime and anyplace. Many journalists ask me where my inspiration come from but I cannot answer this question. Just go to the depths of Wakatobi, go with a plane from Bali to Kupang then to the Bima islands, then drive until you reach Sumbawa, all of it are beaches, then you can make a statement that Indonesia is a masterpiece of God. You need any proof? From my 20 years of travel across Indonesia I have 200,000 photos and 10,000 mementos, one of them being lurik. But I play with it by modernizing it.
RR: Do you release your clothes by season?
EH: Nothing. I do what I want. I don’t care. I’m not Dior or Issey Miyake who are chased every year to launch a collection. I do what I like now.
RR: What advice could you give to people who want to follow in your footsteps?
EH: Love your work. Your work has to make you happy. That is what living is all about. So, the exhibition yesterday was to convey that inspiration. That’s why my target was young adults, to show them how can they be creative but modern. That is the point of lurik the other day. This is why I spread the addresses of lurik manufacturers to all the visitors of the exhibition.
RR: It seems that the exhibition was less about fashion and more about art...
EH: Yes. Art, fashion and humans. It’s about time that I talk about humans because for me to be human is to be able to give and forgive. This is my good karma. That is the universal religion for me: The wonder of giving and the beauty of forgiveness, unity of the world. This life is a journey not a battle. So, that’s why I did the exhibition and why my Instagram name is “Edo – The Journey.” From the clothes to anything I make, that’s my journey.
RR: Are you currently working on a collection?
EH: If I feel like it. When you love something, you’ll never let it go. Just don’t be surprised if suddenly next month I make an exhibition about gethuk [a Javanese snack made from cassava] or coffee, oranges or orchids. Millennials now need information and inspiration that is alive. This is what I want to showcase. It’s not fun if we don’t get to touch or see.
RR: How do you see Edward Hutabarat, as in the brand, in the future?
EH: I don’t know. Just wait. I never make plans but I’m always there. For me, now, every day is a holiday. You want to buy my stuff, that’s okay. But you’re not buying just merely an object, you are buying a story. Every piece I sell, whether it’s clothes or a barrel, has a story. It does not merely happen.
Like the stripes on the edge of my batiks which is the signature of Edward Hutabarat. That is my identity. There’s no need to make a belt, or put this, that and everything else. It’s all too complicated. Because I know those who do that didn’t do their research. It’s just like a crazy person for me, because there is no story behind it or a philosophy. You know Viviene Westwood? Look how she dresses the same way as her runway shows. Look at Ghea Panggabean: Her clothes are the same as what you seen on the runway. That’s a real designer. If the designer’s clothes are not the same as the clothes in their collection, then they’re fake.
RR: Does that mean that you don’t follow contemporary trends? EH: I’m someone who makes trends. We have to be the trendsetter and not follow it.
“IF THE DESIGNER’S CLOTHES ARE NOT THE SAME AS THE CLOTHES IN THEIR COLLECTION, THEN THEY’RE FAKE”