Indonesian fashion goes ‘haute couture’
The United Kingdom was where Ghea Panggabean went to university, so she says that the country will always have a special place in her heart. The acclaimed local designer said that she was ecstatic when asked to join the recent UK Art and Cultural Trip to promote Indonesia’s rich history of cultural products. A graduate of Lucie Clayton College in London, Ghea has a style that fuses Eastern and Western influences, creating textiles that are inspired by Indonesian fabrics while evincing contemporary touches. A mainstay of the Indonesian fashion scene for more than three decades, Ghea, also a well-known ceramic designer, is most famous for her batik and woven fabrics, including her signature jumputan (tie dye) pieces. Having participated in shows in Milan and Cannes, Ghea has seen her collections regularly appear at Jakarta Fashion Week, Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week and at luxury department stores in Jakarta, including Galeries Lafayette at Pacific Place. During the trip, Ghea spoke at a seminar at Oxford University, describing how she translates Indonesian culture into fashion, while also reinventing heritage to make it suitable for contemporary life. Pieces from her “Wayang Beber” collection also graced the runway during a fashion show that took place during the trip. “I derived the inspiration for the line from Javanese wayang beber, an art show popular among the Javanese royal court, while substituting its [traditional woven] songket with a fabric featuring gold-and-black color combination,” Ghea told J+ in an interview. In order to sell items today, Ghea says that pieces must tell a story. The leather puppets used in wayang offered good inspiration for the collection, she adds, as the stories illustrated in wayang theater always tell of the unending struggle between good and evil. To adjust her fashion line for British audiences, Ghea said she toned down the colors of the dresses to simplify them without losing their chic and elegant feel. “If you look at British fashion enthusiasts, the adults tend to be more conservative in terms of color,” Ghea said. “Just take a look at the collections by Burberry, for example. They are not like Italian fashionistas, who are more adventurous in their color choices.” Ghea said that it would take more than style to make Indonesian couture globally famous. “We have to be truly ready to meet international product quality standards, which are quite rigorous.” Production capacity also has to be increased to cater to the demands of a wider market, she adds. Capacity has always been a challenge for Indonesia’s fashion lines due to a paucity of skilled workers. “If you are not ready to produce the amount of pieces ordered by your [international customers], then forget it,” she says.