|5 Oktober 2003|
Sebastian Gunawan: Glitz and glamor for everyday divas
Sebastian Gunawan is no pretender to the title "king of style". It's an honor he has earned during a decade in fashion, defined by the sumptuous glamor of his creations which have won many followers and created a new genre of Indonesian fashion.
It was thus wholly appropriate that his latest collection, marking the 10-year milestone in his career, was called "glitz and glam".
"The elements of glitter and glamor, when blended with elegant and feminine designs, will eventually produce inexhaustible beauty," said Sebastian, 36.
At the end of September, some 1,600 guests flocked to the Hotel Mulia Senayan in Central Jakarta, with design legend Iwan Tirta and celebrities such as singer Titi DJ among those taking the coveted front-row seats. His loyal clients, fashion journalists and other assorted members of the local fashionista had queued up to enter the ballroom and receive a souvenir -- a glossy, beautifully presented appointment book with pictures of his creations.
From the A-list guests to that attractive book and, of course, the designs, the event was what the French would praise as a spectacle.
It opened with models in blouses and skirts, dominated by black and white embroidery, coming down an orange acrylic catwalk set against a black background.
That wall was pulled back to reveal a two-story set of windows, with the models bathed in light and standing in each window wearing elegant long-sleeved dresses. In its creativity and ingenuity, Jakarta had seen nothing like it before.
The ending was no less spectacular: five models, in all-white wedding gowns, stood in the windows as the lights dimmed, creating a purplish haze. White confetti showered down on them from the ceiling, the merging of the festive and esthetic.
Stunning openings and finales are all well and good, but it is what comes in between -- the substance of the show -- that really matters.
Sebastian did not disappoint with his 98 designs, which were a fond look back to the styles of the dynamic 1960s.
"My mood is dominated by the 1960s era. In the 1950s, everything was regular. You wore gloves and a hat. But then, there was a revolt and a newfound freedom. The glamor was also different," he said.
For him, this freedom was reflected in simpler designs, with less decorative elements, including his famous use of beads. He focused instead on the cut and pattern, dominated by a prominent flower motif on soft chiffon.
Many of his designs were cut below the breast and fanned out, not in the childlike Mary Quant baby-doll style, but in long gowns with a tail detail or flowing shawl.
A long dress with a budding green flower motif, for example, was cut under the bust, with the shoulder strap combined with a long shawl trailing the steps of the wearer.
Broad sleeves seamed to the back part of the dress formed something like "wings", or what the designer termed his "Batman" look. An outsize ribbon was added to the back part of another dress, creating an impression of elegance and coquettishness.
Freedom was also reflected in his bold design lines, such as in a long dress in the style of the Javanese traditional breastcloth, with slits on the right and left hips.
"I would like to combine elegance and playfulness. The result will be something with difference and character," he said.
Unlike the rigid features of his usual bustier and ballgown designs, Sebastian's new collection, while keeping to the glamor quotient, accommodated a more relaxed design element resembling flapping wings.
"I like dressing up a woman whose appearance will reflect glamor and beauty. She dreams of being a diva but does not indulge herself in fantasizing herself to be a film star on the silver screen. She makes this dream come true in real life, on the red carpet," he said.
For many of his guests, the most enticing items were the "ring gown" and the "painting dress".
The former is made of a series of rings of beads about the size of the circle formed by our thumb and index finger; Sebastian called it his "Oreo" gown.
The rings are arranged in such a way they make up a geometrically cut miniskirt that fits closely to the body. Matched with a bangs hair-do and knee-high boots, it could have been a vintage piece once worn by '60s supermodel Twiggy.
It was at once cute and fun but with the necessary glamor provided by all those glittering beads.
Another dress to impress was the painting gown. He did not create it with paint and brush but by using different kinds of lace that formed a rustic panorama of a mountain, grass, trees, clouds, even a house and a flock of sheep.
He used a patchwork technique similar to the naive painting style of folk artists, the irony of this fresh departure from his usual gowns embellished with embroidery, beads and sequins no doubt not lost on him.
For it is those gorgeous gowns that have been his trademark since he opened his studio in Harmoni, Central Jakarta, in 1992 with his Italian-born wife Cristina Panarese, also a graduate of Milan's Instituto Artistico Dell' Abbigliamento Marangoni.
He launched his debut collection in 1995, bringing the ballgown to the Indonesian public and then gaining a new legion of clients when the economic crisis that struck two years later led to well-heeled women turning their attention to quality clothes made here.
Another factor in his remarkable success is his hospitable, kind and easy-going personality -- a PR dream -- and his ability to get along well with almost everybody.
He has proven beyond a doubt his expertise at making gowns, but some fashion observers are looking for him to move on and show his skills in other design areas.
"We hope to see him design something other than his specialty of the long dress," said one fashion designer. "We also would like to see how Sebastian makes, for example, an attractive suit. This will show him as an all-rounder."
It is a point well taken in Sebastian Gunawan's development as a designer. Yet we must also acknowledge and be proud of one of our compatriots who has made his mark in fashion -- and done so with grace and respect for others. (MB)