One newcomer who made a big splash at this year’s Jakarta Fashion Week was young designer Dian Pelangi. At age 18, her cutting-edge Muslim fashions for young women are beginning to attract local and international attention.
On Monday, the third day of Fashion Week, she presented her new collection in a show by the Association of Indonesian Fashion Designers and Entrepreneurs (Appmi), which showcased designs by nine of its newest members.
When Dian was introduced, the audience, consisting mostly of women in their late teens and early 20s, broke into raucous applause.
Six olive-skinned models hit the runway, sashaying in vibrantly colored tunics and long overcoats over loose-fitting harem pants. Their shiny gold platform shoes and sandals clicked confidently on the catwalk. They appeared both strong and feminine, a far cry from the traditional soft, gentle look that Muslim fashion has favored in the past. Their stylish, yet modest, silhouettes were a clear hit with the cheering audience.
“Muslim clothes for women usually consist of long tunics, abayas [loose-fitting, floor-length robes] and long skirts,” the 18-year-old fashion designer said. “I feel challenged to make Muslim fashions for women that turn heads. I want something different.”
The eldest daughter of a devout Muslim family in Palembang, South Sumatra, Dian began wearing a hijab at the age of 10. “My mother had been asking me to wear a hijab for a couple of years,” Dian said. “At that time, I refused because I was too young. Then, in the fifth grade, I came to realize that a hijab actually makes a woman look more beautiful. So I started wearing it from then on.”
Her father, Djamaludin, and mother, Hernani, started a garment business from their home in 1991. “We received several orders from our friends in Java for Palembang’s traditional jumputan [tie-dye]. Alas, after several days, they complained that the colors ran off,” Hernani said.
Fortunately, Djamaludin, who comes from a batik-making family in Java, understood coloring techniques and he revolutionized the traditional jumputan techniques so the colors would hold. They named their business Dian Pelangi, after their new daughter. “It was almost like fate,” Hernani said. “It turns out that Dian now cultivates a passion for fashion.”
With her parents working hard for the family business, Dian grew up surrounded by fabric and creativity. “My parents used to make their own batik and Palembang jumputan collections,” Dian said. “At home, I used to see textiles in various colors and cuttings every day.”
After finishing junior high school at an Islamic school in Bogor, West Java, Dian studied at SMK Negeri I, a vocational high school in Pekalongan, Central Java, majoring in fashion design.
“All my friends ridiculed me. They said, ‘Come on. Get real!’ ” Dian said with a smile. But she persevered and for three consecutive years she was top of her class.
“She is so resilient,” Hernani said. “She often had to sew until 3 a.m. to finish her school assignments, yet she never complained.”
While at school, Dian also started working for her parents’ business, which had by then evolved to focus on Muslim fashion, and had moved its base to Pekalongan.
Dian showed a keen eye for fashion from an early age. Hernani said, “She asked me one day, ‘Mom, why is songket [a traditional handwoven fabric from Palembang] only used for sarongs?’ ”
Her observations led her father to substitute the coarse threads that are commonly used to weave songket with softer ones to make it more pliable and comfortable for use in everyday clothes. Today, Dian uses this gold- and silver-threaded fabric for her designs.
After finishing high school, Dian moved to Jakarta to study at ESMOD fashion school, majoring in pattern making and fashion design.
However, Dian’s heart still lay with her parents’ business in Pekalongan, and she continued to design Muslim fashion under the Dian Pelangi label. She also began to find ways to promote the label. Dian contacted TV presenters to encourage them to wear her designs on TV, as well as approaching editors from magazines such as Wanita Indonesia and Nova to feature her clothes in fashion spreads. She joined Appmi in April.
Her approach proved successful. “ Alhamdullilah [God be thanked], several Indonesian actresses and models, such as Saskia Mecca and Ratih Sang, are among my loyal customers now,” Dian said.
Dian Pelangi, the business, which is still owned by Dian’s parents, now has five stores in Pekalongan, Jakarta, Palembang and Medan and employs more than 500 people.
In May, Dian was invited by Indonesia’s consulate general to present her collections at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne, Australia, together with senior Muslim fashion designer Iva Lativah. The show was a success and received favorable reviews in Australian newspaper The Age.
“After the show, people came up to me and said that they were surprised that fashion and faith blend so well,” Dian said. “They all said they had never seen anything like it before. Perhaps it’s only in Islam that you can throw these two elements together.”
One of her customers, Rian Miranda, 24, an office worker, said, “Dian creates a different look. Her designs are simple and youthful, which really suits my character.”
For Dian, the ideal Muslim attire should cover all aurat — the body parts that Islam dictates should be covered in public — which includes the hair. “It should never be too tight or revealing. It’s actually more challenging for us to design Muslim clothes because we have to abide by certain stipulations. No off-the-shoulder, no plunging necklines, non-transparent materials, no belts and no three-quarter sleeves,” Dian said.
Despite the confining religious stipulations, Dian’s creations turned heads at her Jakarta Fashion Week show. Themed “Turkish Delight,” her collection combined traditional Moroccan styles with the intricate hand-woven patterns of Palembang textiles.
Aside from her traditional influences, Dian’s collection also featured skinny blue jeans with the lower leg section dipped in brightly colored dye.
“The jeans are so cool,” said one audience member, Cinta Rahmani.
“I want to show people that we can actually recycle our old clothes in order to fight global warming,” Dian said. “There is no need to throw your old clothes away, just dip-dye your old jeans or T-shirt and get a brand new look. It’s so simple and easy.”
Dian said she was very excited about participating in Fashion Week for the first time. “Some of the details of my clothes were just finished [the night before the show] at around 11 p.m.,” she said, smiling.
Hernani said she hoped that Dian’s approach would inspire the country’s next generation.
“[Young people in Indonesia] should learn to explore our own cultural heritage, instead of always looking up to international fashion styles,” she said. “[That way] they can help to create job opportunities for people in Indonesia.”
Hernani said Dian has employed more than 40 of her former classmates from Pekalongan in the business.
Although still relatively young, Dian said she was full of energy and had big dreams for the future.
“The international fashion hub is in Paris. I’m really hoping that Indonesia can become the world’s Muslim fashion hub, especially as Indonesia is the country with the largest Muslim population in the world. I’m sure that if all Indonesian [Muslim] designers work together toward that goal, we can achieve it.”