Helen’s designs have a strong and growing fan base amongst women since she first established the label in 1989. (Photos courtesy of NES)
For New Label NES, Timeless Fabrics Always Fashionable
JANUARY 07, 2015
A selendang, also known as a stola, has been an integral part of the Indonesian traditional attire for ages. In the old days, women would usually throw a long selendang over one shoulder while they were wearing the kebaya — a traditional Indonesian women’s blouse — to attend weddings and other formal events.
These days, stolas remain an integral part of our clothing. But the colors, patterns and ways of wearing have varied a lot with the times.
Indonesian fashion designer Helen Dewi Kirana recently launched her stola label, NES, in Balai Resital Kertanegara, Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.
“Nes means miracles [in Hebrew],” Helen said. “The journey of NES for me is one that is full of miracles.”
According to the fashion and textile designer, she got the idea to create NES at the peak of her ennui. Last year, Helen was working on a difficult project in Bali, in which she kept meeting dead-ends.
“I wanted then to create something different [and] simpler, yet all handmade and very aesthetic,” she said.
That afternoon, on the flight back to Jakarta, she was inspired to design her own stolas.
“The idea came just like that,” said the vivacious designer, snapping her fingers. “So, I took my laptop and designed my first stola right there on that plane.”
Her first design, which was named “NES Original,” combined small polka-dots, floral and intertwining branches designs.
“I was inspired by the Almighty,” said Helen. “For me, He’s the greatest artist of all.”
All NES stolas are made by Helen herself, with the help of two assistants. The designer combines batik and shibori (Japanese tie-dye) techniques in making her stolas.
“I wanted to contribute something new to Indonesia’s fashion, like marrying batik and shibori,” the 47-year-old designer said.
Helen Dewi Kirana
Helen is a fashion autodidact. “Fashion has always been in my blood,” said the mother of two. “It might sound cheesy, but it’s really true.”
Since she was a kid, Helen has always loved drawing and coloring.
“I think it was those two [drawing and coloring] that led me to fashion designing,” she said.
Helen started designing her own clothes in junior high school. Seeing the beauty of her dresses, her friends then asked her to design theirs too.
Realizing her passion and talents in fashion, Helen wanted to study fashion designing in London.
“But sadly, my parents didn’t have the money to send me to London,” she said.
Feeling dejected, Helen followed her friend’s decision to study law at the University of Indonesia (UI).
“All I did in class was drawing and design clothes,” she said, with a chuckle.
After graduating from UI, Helen worked for a law firm, while still designing clothes for her clients.
“I resigned in one month,” she said. “I was too busy designing clothes.”
Helen’s first label — “Fashion House” — was established in 1989. Under the label, Helen produces made-to-order dresses and uniforms. Among her clients are high-profile banks, schools and private companies in Jakarta.
A few years later, Helen and her niece, Tasha, joined hands to create a fashion label for young people, “CrazyMe.” One of her good friends and clients, Gita Ratna Gilangkencana, introduced Helen to batiks and she fell in love with the traditional Indonesian textile.
“She used to bring her mom’s vintage batik pieces to me to make dresses,” said Helen. “They’re so beautiful and precious. And I made them into evening gowns and formal wear.”
In 2006, Helen, Gita and three of their good friends set up their own batik label, “B(i) Batik.” “[Through the label] we’ve popularized batiks long before the acknowledgement from the Unesco [in 2009],” Helen said.
Although all of Helen’s labels are still in production, she focuses most of her time and energy into her new brainchild, NES stolas.
According to Helen, one stola takes about three days to create using both batik and shibori techniques.
“It’s a very complicated process, but I enjoy it so much,” said the designer. “Sometimes, the colors don’t come out as I’ve expected. So, [the creating process] becomes a series of pleasant surprises for me.”
NES stolas are made of silk, raw silk and cotton imported from Japan, Korea and Italy.
All NES stolas consist of two sheer pieces of fabric, with two different patterns and colors, neatly hand-stitched back-to-back.
“So, all NES clients would feel like having two stolas, even though they only have one,” Helen said.
NES stolas are generally two meters long. The width varies between 50 centimeters to 1.15 meters.
“You can wear the large ones as pareos, tied around your waist,” said Helen, referring to the Tahitian word for a wraparound skirt. “And they’re also chic to wrap around your shoulders when it’s cold.”
Among NES’s current collection is a black-and-white dartboard design, in half-circles, on a vibrant background. The half-circles meet perfectly at the center of the wearer’s torso, when the stola is wrapped around the shoulders.
NES stolas are priced between Rp 500,000 and Rp 1,450,000 ($40 and $115). The target market is mainly women between 35 and 45 years of age.
One of NES clients, who attended the launch of the label, was human resources consultant Maike Malaon.
“I’ve always adored Helen’s stolas,” Maike said.
“They have unusual colors and designs. And these double-sided stolas are also very useful and practical when travelling. You can just bring one and get two different looks.”
Next year, Helen plans to develop special weaving techniques at her workshop to create various textures on her stolas.
She invited any of her clients and fans, who would like to learn about batik and shibori techniques, to her workshop.
“I’m not close-fisted,” she said. “Anyone, who would come to my workshop to learn, may do so [with appointments], because NES is all about sharing happiness.”