After dabbling in architecture, music television and fashion retail, Indonesian designer Didiet Maulana has found his true passion — transforming Indonesia’s traditional materials into modern looks.
The Jakarta-based designer, who has a chic boutique on Jalan Dempo, at South Jakarta’s Mayestik market, has been busy turning ikat, material that uses a textile dying technique and means “to bind” in Indonesian, into blazers and cocktail dresses for his label Ikat Indonesia.
Each region in Indonesia has its own way of creating textiles and patterns, and Didiet said he would like to explore them all. Didiet said his label was his contribution to the country.
Ikat is not always the easiest material to work with, Didiet admits. His love affair with the traditional treasure goes back to his childhood in Solo, Central Java, where his grandmother was a batik collector. Every month, she would perform a ritual to cleanse her collection.
“Come to think of it, the ritual actually works to preserve the material and gets rid of bugs,” Didiet said, speaking at his boutique on Monday.
As a designer, Didiet is outspoken in presenting his ideas. Didiet went down a long road before establishing Ikat Indonesia; he has been changing work fields since he graduated from Parahyangan Catholic University in Bandung in 2003 after studying architecture.
“Architecture is a balance between art and technique, both of which I love,” he said.
Didiet also likes to draw. In his school days, Didiet would do fashion sketches for his friends to bring to tailors. He occasionally painted as well, a hobby that he still maintains to this day, whenever he can spare a minute.
During his university days, distribution stores were very popular in Bandung, and parachute wear was the “it” thing. But Didiet always knew that he was more into a formal, evening look. Now that he designs clothes, his architectural background has come in handy to project geometrical shapes in the looks he creates.
Didiet spent three years at MTV Indonesia, where he worked to boost the music channel’s ratings. He then moved into the retail business, where he oversaw business and marketing plans for popular fashion brands such as Guess, Banana Republic, Gap, Celine, Raoul and Givenchy. After six years in retail, he established Ikat Indonesia in 2011.
Didiet, who says he makes up his own terms to replace the global standard “spring/summer” and “fall/winter” categories, is currently working on his summer collection, which will be presented at Jakarta Fashion Week in November.
“I like to call my collections ‘Mentari’ and ‘Purnama,’ ” he said, using the terms for the sun and full moon in Indonesian.
Mentari replaces spring/summer and purnama refers to fall/winter looks.
“We don’t have winter in Indonesia, and it would be strange for my designs to feature things such as fur, because they wouldn’t be wearable here,” he said.
Didiet works with his network of traditional textile makers to keep a close eye on the technique and to supervise the patterns they create. “I don’t want to just print them,” he said.
Didiet said he loves to rescale the patterns to give them a different look.
For the mentari collection last year, he used traditional textiles from Java and Bali. For the purnama collection coming up this year, Didiet looked to textiles from Makassar, South Sulawesi.
There are often concerns about traditional textiles in modern designs, as the material is not as soft because it is woven cloth. “Structurally, we can’t change the cloth but we can put cotton underneath for comfort,” Didiet said.
Every traditional textile has its own challenge, and for Didiet, once he understands the structure of how the cloth is made, it is easier for him to work with it. Every region has its own creations, Didiet said. Textiles from Sulawesi, for example, are generally glossy and fun to play with, because they are made from silk, which makes it a good material for evening dresses.
Javanese textiles, on the other hand, are generally similar to cotton, and Didiet usually uses them for casual wear. He insists that he has no favorites, and always involves just one type of ikat in each collection.
Didiet said he did not design for a specific age group, but noticed a growing awareness of ikat among younger buyers. His ikat blazers and cocktail dresses, previously endorsed by actor Nicolas Saputra and socialite Izabel Jahja, are best sellers.
There is a plan for Ikat Indonesia to go into retail, but Didiet is still working on the right strategy for it. He wants every customer to experience the real ikat and know what it looks and feels like, as has always been his mission for the label.
“It would eventually use prints [for mass production], but I want every piece to include a handmade element from real woven textiles,” he said.
Didiet has as a mentor designer Edo Hutabarat, who is also known for using traditional textiles in his work. One of things that Didiet learned from Edo was that a designer must know how a piece of ikat was made.
Didiet said he hoped his employees and customers could be the spokespeople for ikat textiles.
“I believe we can communicate our culture through lifestyle,” he said. “When people wear my designs, they will have their friends ask about the meaning of the ikat. I always tell them how each material is made so they can explain.”
In living his life, Didiet said he tried to embody the philosophy of creating traditional textiles.
“It is not instant, so nothing can be sought overnight,” he said. “If traditional textiles can teach us something, it is that success is a process.”