Indonesian Designer Introduces Traditional Textiles to New York Fashion Week

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by Karin Silitonga
Vivi Zubedi brings her designs to Jakarta Fashion Week 2017. (Image: jakartafashionweek.co.id)

Indonesian traditional fabrics made it onto the New York Fashion Week (NYFW) runway on February 11, as Indonesian fashion designer Vivi Zubedi unveiled her most recent collection in a show titled “Urang Banua”. Using textiles from South Kalimantan such as the sasirangan, Zubedi focused on creating modest, wearable pieces for women of all cultures. Her designs also brought attention to the abaya, a loose, head-to-toe garment typically worn by Muslim women, as Indonesia is home to the largest Islamic population of any country. In the show, models don the traditional garments while wearing baseball caps, bringing Indonesian and American styles together.

This is not the first time Zubedi participated in NYFW, as the entrepreneur first displayed her designs at the US fashion capital in 2017. Along with Zubedi, five other Indonesian designers also made their US debuts through NYFW’s First Stage — a platform that gives the opportunity for global designers to show at NYFW. Other Indonesian fashion designers have made a presence in the US fashion world in recent years, with five Indonesian designers participating in Los Angeles Fashion Week in October 2017, and designer Anna Mariana bringing unique pieces to the US capital during DC Fashion Week in February 2018. Many of these designers feature batik garments in their collections, exhibiting one of Indonesia’s national heritages.

Batik was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009. The historic technique of creating hand-dyed and patterned garments has garnered worldwide popularity, notably with the Embassy of Indonesia and the US-Indonesia Society hosting a batik designing competition in 2011, catering to American interest in the art.

Fashion is not the only avenue through which Indonesian culture is penetrating the United States. The Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler art galleries have brought various Indonesian cultural performances through their annual “Performing Indonesia” festival. In 2017, Indonesian performers playing the angklung, a traditional bamboo instrument, appeared at the Kennedy Center. Furthermore, a grocery-store-turned-restaurant recently gained attention for bringing Indonesian cuisine to New York, demonstrating Indonesia’s growing cultural presence in the United States on multiple fronts.

Karunia "Karin" Silitonga is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of Baylor University.