Obin: Handmade gems, but don’t use the ‘e’ word

Sunday, November 02, 2003
Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

There is always a treat in store at the fashion shows of noted cloth designer Obin. Aside from the expected array of beautiful traditional cloth and the tasty spread of local cuisine served before the show, there is quirkiness and theatricality in the presentation.
Last week’s show included child singer Tina Toon strutting down the 40-meter catwalk connecting two stages, doing her version of the “drilling” dance moves of popular singer Inul Daratista.
What distinguishes Obin’s show from other “look-at-me” local fashion presentations is that the combined effect of a plump 10-year-old girl performing a very adult dance, the stage props and the models’ theatrical moves never seemed forced or pretentious.
All of it came together to highlight the real star of the show — the stunning cloth, all of which is handmade.
Derived from traditional sources, the cloths are woven, embroidered, stitched-dyed, tie-dyed, smocked and ripped, before Obin’s BIN House turns them into excellent sets for women, men, bridal and kids.
The latter was the reason Tina was on stage in the first place.
“I want to reject the sense of wearing (traditional) cloth, that it’s not merely for occasions like a wedding party. It doesn’t mean that it’s a drawback for us (to wear it), it aims at going back to our habitat, our culture,” Obin, or Josephine Werratie Komara, told a media conference prior to the show.
In her own everyday wear of kebaya (traditional blouse) and kain (cloth wrap), the 48-year-old master of batik and other indigenous textiles said she felt offended when her compatriots called her style “ethnic”.
“Ball gowns or tuxedo are considered classic, but why is the kebaya called ethnic? If foreigners call it ethnic, fine. But it’s strange when Indonesians call it the same. Because this outfit is classical Indonesian,” said Obin, who has been working with traditional cloth since 1975 and whose boutiques are found in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Netherlands.
In a less colossal presentation than last year’s, the show called Matahati (conscience) brought to the stage some 200 sets of clothes, made up of around 600 pieces of 300 different types of cloth.
If last year’s collection consisted of stonewashed jeans, poncho blouses and bustiers aside from the mainstay kebaya, this year’s women collection weighed in with a more elegant assortment.
It consisted of old-school kebaya, cheongsam and their modification, as well as contemporary gowns.
There were blouses inspired by the Balinese classical kebaya, while another derived from Javanese or even European style, with ruffles on the wrist and along the collar and front.
Obin also took some inspiration from Muslim dress, as well as more contemporary fashion applied in long tube dress, or evening gowns.
Some outfits followed the curve of women’s bodies, but others were straight or even asymmetrical in cut. The motifs were stripes, geometrical, floral or plaid.
Obin and her main designer Cita never follow a particular fashion trend, as Obin said being fashionable was far more important than fashion.
“It will last longer,” she said, emphasizing that all of the handmade designs were “made with heart, by workers that are more deserving of being called artisans.”
All of the dresses were accompanied by shawls, which are modified from traditional batik to ikat weavings or jumputan dye. Some shawls were a combination of different techniques, looking like patchwork, drapery or even wool.
They all came rich in motifs, texture and colors, the latter earthy and natural — bottle green, purple, brown, red and all — and carefully and beautifully combined. A standout was a baby pink kebaya with aquamarine scarf, mixed with matching kain, for a very pretty effect.
As for the men’s collection, the main inspiration was baju koko Muslim dress, with the modification in the details, such as the side pocket or the collar — Chinese style or asymmetric.
“We also just come up with a new technique, making long trousers from handwoven cloth. After six years observation, only now have we succeeded in making creased and neat trousers,” Obin said.
Although she has been producing wedding dresses for years, the show last week was the first to include a bridal sequence.
The collection comprises an all-white wedding dress, made up of different styles: Kebaya, cheongsam and Western-style wedding dress. There was also one design that was accompanied by a burqa-inspired veil, very elegant and beautiful.
The show also marked the launching of a kids and teens collection, ranging from two years to 17.
The children looked very cute in fluffy dresses, tunics, spaghetti strap dresses or even the kebaya and kain.
The latter idea, according to Obin, came as she found quality ready-to-wear children’s collections expensive, although it is doubtful that her excellent designs will be cheaper.
The main purpose is to familiarize the younger generation with traditional cloth.
“Traditional cloth is very good in quality, very old and very rich. Parents will not have to worry that children will not be comfortable wearing it. All of my children have been wearing kain since an early age, it’s fine,” she said.
“Today’s children won’t be familiar with traditional cloth when they grow up. But it’s not too late to introduce them to it now.”

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