The Sunday Profile: Auguste Soesastro, Fashion Designer
Auguste Soesastro always knew he would end up in fashion. Exactly how, he wasn’t sure, but he’d get there. His life can be considered a bit of a hodgepodge.
He lived on four different continents before the age of 20, navigating various school systems while studying architecture, taking some film and sewing classes and eventually answering his calling in the fashion world.
On a sunny afternoon in his Jakarta apartment, Soesastro, 30, crosses his right leg over his left and takes a sip of water as the air conditioner slowly starts to cool the room. The petit man is wearing black Calvin Klein pants that once belonged to his mother. It’s a pair of wool pants he’s altered to fit his slim physique, coupled with a black viscose rayon top. His footwear is by Repetto, a French company that makes ballet shoes.
Quality Over Quantity
“I believe that good clothes should be kept,” he says. “It makes sense to buy [good] things and to make up for the quality, you should wear them as much as possible,” says Soesastro, who admits that he doesn’t indulge in over-shopping, something that seems to surprise quite a few who expect his closets to be overflowing.
But his motto, much like his designs, is simple: quality over quantity. And in most cases, less is more for the Indonesian designer. His Kraton line, which launched in 2008, is clean and structured. But more importantly, it is environmentally friendly, something Soesastro is very conscious about. The non-synthetic women’s line attracts many Japanese clients and specializes in jackets and evening wear.
“I have a different eye when it comes to fashion,” he says. “The moment I look at something, I analyze the pieces. A dress, a jacket and a pair of trousers, I can immediately say, ‘that is great’.”
But his wandering eye can also detect the not-so-good. “You can put all types of crap together to make it look Lady Gaga-ish, but I see past that, always.”
The keen observer prefers the more subtle pieces, drawing inspiration from Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto and Belgian designer Martin Margiela.
“It’s amazing how their pieces are very poetic, I’ve always been drawn to that kind of aesthetic,” he says.
And that might be the very reason Soesastro’s own designs are not what one would call flamboyant.
Instead, he prefers the more earthy tones of beige, white, olive green and black. Take for example the double-faced black and cream cashmere coat from his first collection. The inspiration came from a Javanese man’s jacket, Soesastro says.
He adds that he is always making sure his brand promotes Indonesian culture, but in an abstract way, something he says Indonesians struggle to identify with.
“Some Indonesians will come to me and say, ‘Where is the Indonesian-ness in this? ’ and I say, ‘Well, this is based on ideas that I translated into something else.’ ”
He also believes that successful designs evolve over time.
“I think fashion needs to have context. You can’t copy something that is 17th century Javanese and expect somebody to wear it today with the same kind of embellishments and materials, I think that is ridiculous,” he says.
His own artistic journey began at an early age. Drawing became an outlet for the young Soesastro who had attention deficit disorder as a child.
“I couldn’t stay still, I always had to be doing something, and drawing was the thing I did,” he says, while moving his hands in a circular motion.
Born in Jakarta, Soesastro lived in the capital with his family sporadically and went back and forth to the Netherlands, where his grandparents had emigrated to in the 1960s. His grandmother took care of him while he was there. He went to elementary school in the United States and then came back to Jakarta to continue his education.
But not for long, because right after it was off to Canberra, Australia, where he went to high school. His father, the respected economist Hadi Soesastro, took a job as an adjunct professor at the Australian National University. Soesastro himself continued his studies at the University of Sydney, where he majored in architecture. He also completed another bachelor’s degree in digital arts and film animation.
But by 24, Soesastro knew architecture just wasn’t cutting it anymore, and moved to Paris to attend L’ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. Besides the fashion, it was France that he fell in love with too.
“Somehow I became very attached to the French culture and the way of life there,” he says. “I like the fact that their lifestyle is very balanced, unlike here in Asia where everything is excessive.”
It’s the price tags and labels that matter all too often in Asian societies, he noted.
“People don’t really think about taste here, there’s no discussion, especially in my profession. And I think it’s really important.”
While in Paris, he was offered an internship with American designer, Ralph Rucci, in New York. It was an offer too good to turn down.
“He is the most underappreciated designer in the world in my opinion. He is very niche in that sense. I don’t think there are many people left in the world who are like him and really understand clothing.”
After working with the designer for three months, Soesastro thought it was about time he tried to launch his own collection, and with the help of his aunt and dad, he hosted his first fashion show of 22 looks in Jakarta in February 2009.
From there he went back to New York, where he started his company right from his Upper East Side apartment on 78th Street. Although the business no longer exists in New York, he still has many clients who put in orders through word of mouth.
Today, his line is in its eighth collection and Soesastro has no plans of stopping. He hopes he can launch his designs in Europe soon and plans on dividing his time between Jakarta and New York.
As for free time, he says he rarely has any.
“My time is not my own,” says Soesastro, who has his widowed mom to think about. His father passed away from prostate cancer two years ago.
Besides, managing the label is a challenge for the young perfectionist who finds it hard to delegate tasks.
“I do think perfection is attainable,” he says. “I strive for it and right now in this stage of my life, I am nowhere near it.”