A classy new coffee table book gives fashion lovers an inside look into the works and private life of prolific designer Biyan, at center above.  (JG Photos/Sylviana Hamdani)

Designer Biyan’s Life an Open Book

JANUARY 26, 2015

A classy new coffee table book gives fashion lovers an inside look into the works and private life of prolific designer Biyan, at center above.  (JG Photos/Sylviana Hamdani)

Books, for prolific Indonesian designer Biyan Wanaatmadja, are great companions.

“I love books,” the designer said. “For me, books are good friends that give me new insights and understanding.”

As a book lover, the Surabaya-born designer has also wanted to share his own life and experience in his own book.

“But I don’t want to do it just for the sake of making a book,” he said. “It has to give the right meaning. And to make something that’s meaningful, you have to have a great team. You have to have the right chemistry. The writer, the publisher, it should all be the best.”

As with his fashion collections and shows, Biyan’s pursuit of perfection is relentless. The designer would rather wait than making haste and resulting in a less satisfactory product.

That’s why, Biyan says, his book art project was so long in the making.

In mid-2011, Biyan was having a dinner with his good friend and business consultant, Yasuo Umetada, in Paris, when suddenly the conversation turned to good books. And then, the designer expressed his longing to create his own book.

Umetada was then reminded of his good friend, Marc Ascoli.

Ascoli, a former art director for top international brands such as Calvin Klein, Emanuel Ungaro, Jil Sander and Yohji Yamamoto, has recently turned his creative talents to making books.

At that time, Ascoli was in the process of making the coffee table books, “Chloe Attitudes” and “Marianne Faithfull: A Life on Record,” all published by Rizzoli Press in New York. 

The creative director agreed to meet with Biyan in Paris.

“Biyan has a very generous and warm personality,” Ascoli said. “I was really happy to take on [Biyan’s book] project.”

Ascoli then phoned his good friend, British fashion writer, also based in Paris, Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni.

“Marc called me on Sunday, which is unusual for someone in Paris, and insisted I meet this guy [Biyan],” Fraser-Cavassoni said with a laugh. “He’s great, he said.”

There was a strong chemistry between Biyan and the British writer when they finally met.

“I describe it [as] love at the first sight,” Biyan said with a blushing smile. “[Fraser-Cavassoni] is simply great — a wonderful person.”

“As soon as I met Biyan, I was very touched by him,” the writer said. “He seemed so shy. And yet, he’s such a great talent in fashion.”

Biyan then invited both Fraser-Cavassoni and Ascoli to Indonesia to start the project.

“[The project] opened my eyes to a new world, this new world of Southeast Asia,” Ascoli said. “For me, it’s simply another world.”

Ascoli worked together with Singaporean photographer, Stefan Khoo, and Indonesian photographer, Davy Linggar, for the book.

The pictures were taken in various exotic locations in Jakarta, which Biyan calls home, and Bali, a place where the fashion designer usually goes to relax.

“I think it’s unique, this country,” Ascoli said. “[There are] a lot of cultures and traditions in it.”

In the meanwhile, Biyan showed Fraser-Cavassoni his atelier, boutiques and house in Jakarta. But he didn’t talk much.

“I was like pulling the information out,” said the British writer, with a laugh. “It was a process. But it was fun. In a way, we had a journey together.”

According to the writer, the more she knows Biyan, the more she admires him.

“What’s fantastic about Biyan is that he was schooled in Europe, but he loves his country so much that he’s made the best of that,” Fraser-Cavassoni said.

The entire process of making the book took about two and a half years.

The end result was a classy coffee table book that offers the readers with an insight into Biyan’s works and private life.

The fashion designer’s story is structured in a Q&A interview-style between Fraser-Cavassoni and Biyan, lending a straightforward and accessible impression of the designer’s interaction of an elite art world few have access to.

“[The book] should feel more like a conversation,” Biyan said.

The 238-page book is rich with both black-and-white and full-color fashion photos.

These ethereal images successfully capture both the emotions of the models and the intricate details of Biyan’s fashion creations.

“The book is a journey into his world,” said the British writer. “And [it’s] also about his love for his country, and you can feel that with his clothes.”

“His clothes are very modern, with a foot in the past and a foot in the future,” Fraser-Cavassoni said.

In addition to fashion photos, the book also showcases collages of aged and yellowing pictures of Biyan’s parents and siblings in the 1960s, which offer insights into his family.

In the final pages of the book, Biyan takes the reader to his leafy private residence in Jakarta and shows his collection of traditional Indonesian necklaces, as well as his pet French bulldog and peacocks.

The fashion designer sees the book as a compilation of his life journey.

“It’s a journey, you know, life is,” said Biyan. “There’s good and there’s bad. There’s sadness and there’s happiness. They all come together as a composition.”

The coffee table book launched last week with a party at the Dharmawangsa Hotel in South Jakarta, sponsored by Bank Negara Indonesia. 

“This extraordinary book encapsulates Biyan’s dedication, commitment and consistency in fashion designing,” said Grace Pong Sama, vice president of BNI’s credit card division. 

“And the publication of the book positions Biyan as a well-established Indonesian fashion maestro who is deeply rooted in local and international fashion industry.”

Biyan’s first book is published by venerable international publisher Rizzoli New York.

“He’s shy, and yet very strong with his work,” said Catherine Bonifassi, publisher of Rizzoli New York. 

“And for me, it’s a guarantee of a great story to tell. And with these two talents [Ascoli and Fraser-Cavassoni] here, I’m sure the book will be a success.”

The book’s first edition will be printed in a limited run of 5,000 copies, which are now available at Rizzoli’s bookstores around the world, as well as Biyan’s boutiques in Jakarta.