AU­GUSTE SOESASTRO

Au­guste Soesastro, founder of the Kra­ton la­bel, has adopted a new, bald look. Asked why he shaved his head, he an­swers: “To get rid of the bad luck.” AJENG G. ANINDITA re­ports

Prestige Indonesia - - Contents -

AU­GUSTE SOESASTRO HAS quite a back­ground: art and ar­chi­tec­ture. The cool, com­posed and soft­spo­ken fash­ion de­signer stud­ied Ar­chi­tec­ture at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney. He also at­tended Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity, where he gained a de­gree in Film and Dig­i­tal Arts.

“I wanted to be a fash­ion de­signer when I was 8 years old,” he tells us. “I think it’s some­thing that has al­ways been with me, around me and also my fam­ily. It seems like some­thing that’s nat­u­ral to me.”

Nev­er­the­less, Soesastro worked at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia as a ju­nior curator of In­done­sian art, spe­cial­is­ing in South­east­ern Asian tex­tiles and ethno­graphic arts, be­fore, at the age of 24, go­ing to Paris to study Fash­ion De­sign at the École de la Cham­bre Syn­di­cale de la Cou­ture Parisi­enne. He then re­lo­cated to New York to work as an as­sis­tant pat­tern maker for Ralph Rucci.

“I moved here at the be­gin­ning of 2011. I don’t re­ally want to say I moved back, be­cause I’d never re­ally lived in Jakarta prop­erly,” Soesastro says af­ter a photo shoot in­volv­ing his muse, the singer and ac­tress Paquita Wi­jaya.

What does Soesastro love most about the fash­ion busi­ness? “I like prob­lem solv­ing and I like work­ing in the ate­lier,” he replies. “I’m not so much into the par­ties and the fash­ion shows, the glam­orous side of fash­ion. I think I’m more like a tech­ni­cian. I like work­ing with cloth. I think that was what at­tracted me to fash­ion.”

So how does he de­fine his de­sign phi­los­o­phy and aes­thetic? “I have a phi­los­o­phy, but I don’t think it be­comes my de­sign aes­thetic. I’ve al­ways ap­proached every­thing from a func­tional point of view, that’s num­ber one. And then, the fab­ric it­self, it’s im­per­a­tive in de­ter­min­ing what it wants to do, be­cause the fab­ric is a lan­guage it­self and you have to re­spect the raw ma­te­ri­als and work with it.”

Hav­ing said that, he ad­mits that he’s still work­ing on his in­di­vid­ual vi­sion while also be­ing an­swer­able to com­mer­cial aims, “I think it’s still the cur­rent dis­cus­sion I have with my staff and my­self. What do I want to con­cen­trate on? It’s go­ing to take time to fig­ure it out what it is. The com­pany is 10 years now and I need to think of where I’m go­ing to go.”

He con­tin­ues, “I started Kra­ton in 2009 at New York Fash­ion Week, then I have another la­bel, Kromo, which is sort of a slip. It’s a dif­fer­ent ball game to cre­ate a ready-to-wear line as an ex­ten­sion of a high-end and in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tion. I don’t have the ba­sics to do the ready-to-wear and I need a part­ner as well to do that, so Kromo is still on pause. Kra­ton is still go­ing, it’s my cou­ture line with a small se­lec­tion of ready-to-wear. Then there’s the most re­cent, Wastu.”

Es­tab­lished in late 2017, Wastu serves ready-towear, neu­tral-coloured at­tires that are af­ford­able, sim­ple and chic. And this la­bel marks his first time en­ter­ing into the re­tail mar­ket, “It’s a com­pletely new ball game for me. Get­ting into the re­tail mar­ket is some­thing I’ve never thought I would do, but here we are.”

But the line is fi­nally here. It has its own web­site and it can be found on on­line mar­ket­places like Bobobobo. Soesastro says that all of it is not with­out a chal­lenge, “I have no ex­pe­ri­ence in re­tail. Every­thing in Wastu is un­der a mil­lion, so it’s very af­ford­able. You have to un­der­stand the dis­tri­bu­tion, pro­duc­tion chain, fab­ric sup­plier, pro­duc­tion man­ag­ing has to have a mer­chan­diser, it’s a huge team to run, but we need all that.”

Wastu means ar­chi­tec­ture in San­skrit Ja­vanese. All of his la­bels are in Ja­vanese. He said it’s be­cause his fam­ily very Ja­vanese. “That’s sort of our liv­ing phi­los­o­phy and I think it’s sort of im­por­tant to take an as­pect of your own life. So one can have mean­ing.”

What about tra­di­tional fab­ric? “We try to. The first two col­lec­tions that I did in New York, we tried to use a lot of tra­di­tional fab­ric, but I re­alise that’s not the essence any­more. Now we are in In­done­sia

“Every­thing seems in­stan­ta­neous to­day, but I think peo­ple should not fol­low sen­sa­tional sto­ries be­cause things might not be sus­tain­able in the long run”

and we have an In­done­sian ate­lier, so that’s In­done­sian enough for us. And there are sort of vo­cab­u­lar­ies of tra­di­tional wear that we can adapt to mod­ern fash­ion, but that doesn’t have to be tra­di­tional or eth­nic.”

Soesastro had his first col­lec­tion in 2009, de­buted at New York Fash­ion Week, look­ing back at his first col­lec­tion, what does he think of it now? “My first col­lec­tion? I think I was very as­sum­ing. We used a lot of very ex­pen­sive fab­rics that I wouldn’t use now, be­cause they’re too costly. Well, it did ok, we have clients, but this was in New York, in 2009 and the econ­omy was still OK.”

“I think I’ve changed from that time. I’m a bit more re­al­is­tic now. Be­cause now we have to deal with the busi­ness side of fash­ion. Af­ter 10 years, the busi­ness need to be sus­tain­able, we need to think of the turnovers, that’s some­thing I’ve never trained for. The fash­ion busi­ness is com­pletely alien to me, I was al­ways in the creative side of things.”

“Also for as­pir­ing de­sign­ers, I think you need to learn a lot. Every­thing seems in­stan­ta­neous to­day, but I think peo­ple should not fol­low sen­sa­tional sto­ries be­cause things might not be sus­tain­able in the long run. You need to see how peo­ple have main­tained their busi­ness for decades, how the older gen­er­a­tion have stayed on. And tech­nique is num­ber one.”

Talking about the busi­ness of fash­ion, the trend right now is do­ing mar­ket­ing with in­flu­encers, but Soesastro has a lot of opinion about it, “I think it is ab­so­lute BS. Why would you fol­low any­one’s style? I think it’s a sign of weak­ness, of not know­ing who you are. They have pic­tures and pic­tures do very lit­tle for me, I need to read some­thing. If some­body has an opinion about some­thing I’d like to know. And if it’s not placed cor­rectly, then I don’t re­ally have much re­spect for their opinion.”

So does that mean he won’t be us­ing in­flu­encer as a part of his mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tion? “I don’t want to say no. When it comes to the busi­ness side, it might be a com­pletely dif­fer­ent is­sue. For some mar­ket, it might work.” He as­serts, “Busi­ness and cre­ativ­ity are two things that don’t re­ally match some­times.”

Soesastro is known as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and this does trans­late to his la­bel as well, “We try to elim­i­nate as much waste as pos­si­ble, as we can. Even then we try to adapt our pat­terns so we use it to the max­i­mum ca­pac­ity. With the fab­rics, we ad­just things, we cal­cu­late each pat­tern adapted to dif­fer­ent fab­rics so that you don’t waste. I think it’s also very im­por­tant to do it from start to end.”

He con­tin­ues, “It is a mind­set that I try to in­still within my staff and to my work also. I mean, busi­ness is such an en­vi­ron­men­tally dam­ag­ing in­dus­try, so we have to be very con­scious about that. And even with Wastu, 60 to 70 per­cent of the fab­rics we use are from fac­tory left­overs. They have a lot, I must say, so I try to take ad­van­tage of that and that’s not easy as the fab­rics are in­con­sis­tent. With Kra­ton we work with fab­ric mills that are cer­ti­fied, like Loro Piana. They’re very clear about where they come from and what it’s made. There’s no mys­tery. At the end of the day, how long we’ve lived in? I think it’s very im­por­tant to make be very con­scious of what we do to mother earth.”

When asked about his fash­ion he­roes, he said his changes from time to time, “When you read a lot you started to get a lot of ref­er­ences. When it comes to con­struc­tion, there’s this master, or the other one who’s a master of ma­nip­u­lat­ing cer­tain type fab­rics and so on. You study what they’ve done, so I like to be spe­cific.”

But then one name comes to mind. “Like Cris­to­bal Ba­len­ci­aga, which has noth­ing to do with the Ba­len­ci­aga la­bel to­day. He used to be the one that all the de­sign­ers looked up to, be­cause of his ef­fort­less way of us­ing fab­rics with a very com­plex con­struc­tion,” says the 37-year-old, who en­joys paint­ing and gar­den­ing in his free time.

Soesastro sur­prises us by say­ing that he weren’t do­ing fash­ion, he might be an opera singer. “I had se­ri­ous train­ing for 10 years. But opera is not some­thing that you can just do on the side. It has to be full­time. As with fash­ion, you have to live it. You need to be in it 36 hours a day. You’re read­ing notes, play­ing the piano, study the verses and mu­si­cal­ity. And I ab­so­lutely have no time for that.”

At the end of the in­ter­view, Soesastro looks to the fu­ture. “I shall still be work­ing on the same thing. Kra­ton is tak­ing up most of my time. For menswear, we’ve been try­ing to work on that for years. It’s not some­thing that you can do with the same team. The de­sign team can be the same, but the peo­ple ex­e­cut­ing it will be dif­fer­ent be­cause even though it’s uni­sex, the fun­da­men­tals of menswear are com­pletely dif­fer­ent from womenswear. And of course a sep­a­rate ate­lier needs to work on it. You can’t mix them, re­ally. Or maybe we can in the fu­ture - but then we’ll be redefin­ing menswear.”

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