For the longest time, especially in the Western hemisphere, corsets are seen as a symbol of female restrictions. The tight, often whalebone-constructed, laced-up bodily contraptions do make it difficult for women to be physically active.
Corset is not a Western exclusive. Many traditional Indonesian costumes featured similar torso contraptions which main function is to clearly define the wearer’s waist plus accentuate the hips and bosoms. Sundanese, Javanese, Balinese have stagen, the 2-meter wrapped-around sash that holds up the traditional cloth and contours the torso. The Sumatran costumes all feature golden, metal waistband; baju kurung (long tunic) even follows the wearer’s body lines and has side slits, that makes it easy to walk while showing an illusion of wearer’s legs.
To me, Indonesian women have never really wrestled with feminine garbs; choosing instead to embrace them and master the art to move gracefully in them. True, we don’t don the corsets on a daily basis anymore because, frankly, we need to run errands, chase kids, and pursue career, and often already have to do it in 5-cm heels. But, just as we strap on the 9-cm Manolos or Louboutins for evenings or special occasions, the Indonesian women proudly tap into the cultural heritage, squeeze into a torso-defining outfit, and step out looking their most feminine.
The designers at Jakarta Fashion Week 2012 have clearly taken notes. Kebaya, native of Java and Bali islands, though now have been embraced by many Indonesian women across the archipelago, is featured resourcefully and enchantingly throughout. Yasra, a renowned name in kebaya designing, showed fine techniques in a series of new creations, such as under-bust cut, loose-fitting blouson, flirty coattail, and sexy, heart-shaped, open back. Obin dig deeper into the older, now-rarely-worn kutu baru style and played it up with flyaway sleeves.
Modern takes on baju kurung was also shown by Yasra, who paired it with tenun pants and wrapped cloth, as well as an interesting twist I caught during Biyan show.
Kudos to Ferry Soenarto, who, as promised during the press-conference, really showed how kebaya could catch global interests. His designs used classic kebaya structures to whip up glamorous, tier-collared, evening ensembles, pairing them with floor-length skirts or palazzo pants, so smooth that unless you’re very familiar with kebaya you wouldn’t notice it. Yasra also tried to transform her creations into universal evening wear, showed by the peplum or full skirt, yet retained the kebaya cut quite visibly.
So, here you go, modern, ass-kicking Indonesian women embracing the heritage silhouette and making it current. Personally, I’m proud. And I will be more proud if next year’s JFW designers can show fresh takes on other traditional tops. Remember Makassar’s see-through baju bodo, or the all-white, fitted blouse from Manado? Aha.