Oscar Lawalata shares the story behind his love toward Indonesian traditional textiles and the next big project that expresses his pride of Indonesian culture
The slim, statuesque man was chatting with his friends and his mother when Tatler Indonesia walked into the designer’s boutique in Kebayoran Baru. It is a very posh boutique decorated with Indonesian paraphernalias that beautifully sets off his collections based on the archipelago’s traditional textiles. Afterall, Oscar Lawalata is famous for his creative works as an expression of love for the craftsmanship and details that go into each of these cultural gems. “At the very beginning of my career in this country’s fashion world, I wanted to look for the root of Indonesian fashion, and found that in its traditional textile arts,” Oscar said.
He continued to explain the story behind his affection toward these fabrics and the age-old wisdom contained within, how each region in Indonesia has its own creations with their distinctive manufacturing techniques. “I started to learn more about these treasures from how they are made, their patterns, the challenges faced by the crafters, and so on. The more I learned, I fell in love even deeper with the realisation that Indonesia is a very rich country,” Oscar said.
To him, these fabrics have deeply-embedded values and history based on the cultures from where the textiles come. “A textile is not just a form of fashion because there’s a story behind every pattern about the life of the people’s cultures. It also tells a story about cultural assimilation, and many Indonesian textiles were influenced by Chinese, Indian, and Arabic textiles,” he told us.
Oscar then added, “Fashion is not just something glamorous, and you can give your contribution through fashion to your own culture and also to your own people.” To him, fashion is his way to carry forward the culture of traditional textiles to which Oscar gives a contemporary fashion twist. “In general, there are two kinds of fashion: mass-produced and couture fashions. Some types of textiles, like batik tulis, take months or even a year to create. In that sense, I think Indonesian traditional textiles are the original couture fashion of Indonesia,” he said. Moreover, Oscar wants people to be proud of Indonesian culture when they wear his designs. “I want people to see traditional textiles as something prestigious and have a sense of pride when wearing them,” he added.
This deep love he has toward Indonesian culture moved Oscar to initiate the “I Am Indonesian” yearly campaign five years ago. Previously, as part of the campaign, he brought batik to Unesco’s headquarter in Paris, and at another time He paid tribute to the National Museum through a fashion showcase. “This year, I want to release a book entitled Melatih Bangsa: Kain dan Kebaya Tak Lekang Oleh Waktu. In this book, there will be 100 selected Indonesian women who have their own concerns for our country,” he explained his plan.
The women featured in the book will be carefully curated by Oscar and his team, the process starting from Kartini’s Day in April, and will be published on Independence Day on August 17. He chose Kartini’s Day because Kartini has a special influence on him and his work. “Kartini was an Indonesian emancipation hero. As a Javanese woman, she was able to think ahead of her time while also staying true to her own cultural root. She was a perfect representation of what the role of Indonesian women should be,” he said. As such, the 100 women in this book will be featured as modern-day Kartinis.
Having been a renowned fashion designer for more than twenty years, Oscar admitted that he is happy with where he is now. “It’s more than I ever expected when I found out that people really appreciate what I do,” he said with a big smile. He continued to explain that, with what he does, business is not the starting point. “I do what I do because of my love toward my own culture and I created the business to sustain it. But it’s not only about the money, it’s also about inspiring people to know more about Indonesian culture and be proud about it,” Oscar said in closing.