A STRONG PRES­ENCE

Se­bas­tian Gunawan

Prestige Indonesia - - Contents -

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS af­ter he started out, Se­bas­tian Gunawan is a cou­turier and ready-to-wear de­signer who has kept up with the times and is adored by his many loyal cus­tomers. He con­sis­tently presents com­pelling new col­lec­tions in his big an­nual solo shows.

“To sur­vive this long in the busi­ness is not an easy task,” he says. “We have to be sen­si­tive to what the mar­ket wants. That’s the most im­por­tant thing. If you don’t keep up with what the mar­ket wants, you will be gone. Now, we’re liv­ing in the age of tech­nol­ogy. To stay rel­e­vant in this dig­i­tal era, we must have a pres­ence in so­cial me­dia. Our cou­ture la­bel’s In­sta­gram ac­count has amassed more than 120,000 fol­low­ers dur­ing the last five years or so. It at­tracts cus­tomers from mar­kets that I had never ex­pected to reach, like Panama and Kuwait. I have been pleas­antly sur­prised by the broader net­work so­cial me­dia of­fers en­trepreneurs, and how in par­tic­u­lar it’s been ben­e­fi­cial to our brand. One of our more re­cent new cus­tomers is a for­mer Miss Sin­ga­pore. Our cus­tomer in Panama is quite well-known in high so­ci­ety there. What­ever the back­grounds of our cus­tomers, we build re­la­tion­ships with them. They be­come friends as well as clients.”

How did Gunawan gain so many In­sta­gram fol­low­ers? “To be hon­est, I am al­ways learn­ing a lot from mil­len­ni­als,” he says. “I wasn’t born with the tech­nol­ogy that we have nowa­days, of course. So when it comes to gad­gets and the dig­i­tal work, my teach­ers are my daugh­ter Alessia and also from my team, be­cause they’re much younger than me. (Alessia is 22, has just grad­u­ated from her stud­ies in Lon­don and is a pho­tog­ra­pher.) They’re al­ways giv­ing me a lot of in­for­ma­tion about how it all works. Thanks to them, I un­der­stand there are rules on how to post on In­sta­gram, that there are strate­gies to make your posts more tar­geted and in­ter­est­ing, and that there are ways to an­a­lyse the re­sponses you re­ceive and your im­pact on­line. It’s so im­por­tant to me that I have cre­ated a so­cial me­dia team for each of our la­bels for cou­ture, ready-to-wear and bridal.

“I see In­sta­gram as a sort of in-house on­line mag­a­zine or cat­a­logue for our de­sign work. The pho­tos and the cap­tions we post have to cap­ture clients’ imag­i­na­tions, and be glam­orous and ex­cit­ing. We of­ten post im­ages of the peo­ple who are wear­ing our de­signs and of our fash­ion shows. Our be­hind-the-scenes posts are very pop­u­lar. Peo­ple love that stuff. Some­times we post im­ages of my own ac­tiv­i­ties, but the em­pha­sis is al­ways re­ally on the work we do. Be­cause I want peo­ple to ap­pre­ci­ate my work. My In­sta­gram page is not about me, but my de­signs and the peo­ple who en­joy them.

“I strongly be­lieve that my ap­proach to glam­our has al­ways been the key to my longevity in the busi­ness. Of course, my clients ap­pre­ci­ate in­ter­na­tional de­sign­ers, but they also stay loyal to me. This is maybe be­cause they value my glam­orous cre­ations, the high level of de­tail and work­man­ship in each dress. On top of that, we take pride in the high level of per­son­alised ser­vice we give to our clients.”

The Se­bas­tian Gunawan la­bel is ac­tu­ally about two peo­ple. Work­ing closely with Gunawan is his wife and cre­ative part­ner Cristina Panarese. They each have dis­tinct roles in the de­sign process. “I’m more imag­i­na­tive by na­ture and Cristina is more prac­ti­cal,” says Gunawan. “I’m more into cre­at­ing sil­hou­ettes, while Cristina is good at the de­tails. Through the years, ev­ery­thing has blended well. Be­cause it’s the work of two peo­ple, it’s more in­ter­est­ing.

“Af­ter all these years of work­ing to­gether, we un­der­stand each other very well. When she tries to ad­just some­thing or give me some in­put, she knows how to come into the process. Some­times we dis­agree, of course, but I think this keeps the work fresh. For me, fash­ion is a dream. If I’m try­ing to ful­fill my dream, it means I try to ful­fill my ego. And ego some­times makes peo­ple do stupid things. So that’s why we re­mind each other of what’s re­ally im­por­tant, which is team­work.”

What ad­vice does Gunawan have for young de­sign­ers? “You have to be able to sense what’s re­ally go­ing on around you. That’s the most im­por­tant thing. When you’re go­ing to go to war

you have to un­der­stand your en­emy. When it comes to buy­ers, you have to un­der­stand what they are look­ing for. If you can give them what they need to please their cus­tomers, you’ll sur­vive. En­dur­ing for decades in this in­dus­try is about show­ing peo­ple how pro­fes­sional you are and how strong you are in the mar­ket. Be­cause a lot of de­sign­ers, they’re so tal­ented but they some­how get stuck in one place. They want so­ci­ety to un­der­stand them, not the other way around. But if you try to un­der­stand your sur­round­ings, you’ll go with the flow and you’ll suc­ceed.

“I think that be­ing open-minded is the key to suc­cess to­day. You have to con­tin­u­ously see what is hap­pen­ing, what is sur­round­ing you, and try to adapt to any changes that are go­ing on in the in­dus­try. You must look to­wards the fu­ture. Es­sen­tially, that’s the only way to sur­vive and keep grow­ing in this dy­namic in­dus­try.”

Still on the sub­ject of longevity in the fash­ion busi­ness, Gunawan ex­presses his ad­mi­ra­tion for houses like Chanel and Chris­tian Dior, which have gone on to even greater heights since the pass­ing of their founders. “There’s a rea­son why I love the work of Coco Chanel and Dior,” he says. “It’s not only be­cause of the dis­tinc­tive looks they cre­ated, but also be­cause of their in­spir­ing philoso­phies. Coco lib­er­ated women, giv­ing them a loose and com­fort­able cut. Af­ter the end of the Sec­ond World War, Dior was un­able to source high-qual­ity fab­rics. But he man­aged to make stan­dard fab­rics look lux­u­ri­ous and glam­orous thanks to his in­cred­i­ble sil­hou­ettes.”

“You must look to­wards the fu­ture. Es­sen­tially, that’s the only way to sur­vive and keep grow­ing in this dy­namic in­dus­try”

Where does Gunawan plan to take his busi­ness from here? “For readyto-wear, we will def­i­nitely do more mar­ket­ing and sell­ing on­line,” he says. “We ob­tain good feed­back from over­seas buy­ers about colour and fab­ric pref­er­ences, and which pieces sell bet­ter in their mar­kets. These in­sights are ex­tremely help­ful to us.

“Right now, I’m plan­ning my next an­nual cou­ture show, and I’m also think­ing about writ­ing a book. It won’t be an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, more a his­tory of the brand and how we built it. Longer term, I hope my la­bel will out­live me. I hope that, in the fu­ture, some tal­ented young de­signer will be­come Cre­ative Di­rec­tor of the Se­bas­tian Gunawan fash­ion house. That’s my dream. That’s my phi­los­o­phy.”

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