Saturday, October 29, 2016

Pavi Rafaela, National Gallery, Singapore Fashion Week

Singapore is one of the world centers of trade and commerce. Situated just below Malaysia and north of the Riau Islands of Indonesia, it is in a strategic position to serve as a kind of middleman for transactions between neighboring states, which is, in essence, what Singapore has been since Sir Stamford Raffles founded it as a hub of the East India Company in 1819. "Hub" feels like the right term for Singapore. It is a small city state, housed on a single island, with a diverse population. It is not rich in resources, doesn't have the land to grow its own food. It is not a manufacturing base, nor does it exploit its subterranean depths for minerals and metals. No, it is a hub. Stuff moves through here. Money circulates and congeals here. And skyscrapers rise from the red earth here.

Walking through the shopping Mecca of Singapore's Orchard Road — where multi-storied malls house international brands from H&M to Off White — you see all sorts of white backpackers in sweat-stained shirts and loose-fitting cotton pants, seeking out air-conditioned sanctuaries for their weary feet. They arrive in Singapore like refugees, having braved the more hectic, and far less affluent countries of Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia. And they head straight to the very temples of commerce they used to shun in their home countries. It is a moment of weakness for them. They know it, and they feel bad about it. They came to SE Asia on some sort of vague spiritual quest, hoping to experience ways of life that had long since passed out of existence in their respective countries. But they do it anyway, and I don't blame them. I do it too. In Singapore, you can eat western food that actually tastes like western food (if that's your thing). You can walk for hours indoors. You can pretend your not in a tropical country just above the Equator. Or, you can do meander through dense, outdoor arcades, where open-walled stores sell every variety of goods and foods you can imagine, the scent of durian and stir-fry permeating the air.  

So with all this said, I was fascinated to find out what Singapore Fashion Week would be like. In the days before coming, the picture possibilities at Jakarta Fashion Week were beginning to dry up. Many of the biggest fashion bloggers had already come to Singapore. Some, like Anastasia Siantar and Olivia Lazuardy had come as brand ambassadors for Swarovski. Others had just come for the spectacle. And it was a spectacle, though you'd have to be inside the venue to know it. As in Jakarta, there was no sidewalk circus at SFW, no street style photographers to speak of. There weren't even any billboards or signs announcing the event, just a couple of window displays outside the entrance to the shows. The venue itself, the National Gallery of Singapore, was stunning, with stone columns and a backdrop of the Singapore skyline. But to get shots there, you'd have to convince the dressed-to-the-nines guests to walk over there with you. Most were just dropped off by their cars or taxis right by the entrance. They went straight inside. Their eyes were focused on the door. The only people I could manage to stop for photos were those who meandered over to the more picturesque locations at the National Gallery to do photo shoots for their own blogs and Instagram galleries. Such was the case with Pavi Rafaela. She was the only person I even asked for a photo.     
As for the shows, well, I went to two of them, one for the homegrown fashion hero Ong Shunmugam, and another for the Singaporean heiress/socialite Arissa Cheo. They cost $92 each. Some of the shows are open to the paying public. Some are invite only. And as you can imagine, the paid shows are more opportunities for dressing up for a night on the town than they are serious business events for the local fashion industry. Sponsors Stella Artois and Absolute Elyx provided "free" drinks, and we sipped them on the balcony while waiting for the shows to start. I liked Ong Shunmugam's collection well-enough. It plays with the tropes of Asian femininity while instilling them with a modern silhouette. Arissa Cheo's, however, seemed like a vanity project to me, higher-end Forever 21 crop tops and cut-offs, pink starter jackets with cutesy slogans like "Hold my Heart" etched across them. In truth, Singapore has nothing on Jakarta, fashion-wise. Jakarta has way more designers, even some, like Peggy Hartanto, with international name recognition, while Singapore imports their biggest names for the events. This year it partnered with the CFDA to bring over Naeem Khan and Self-Portrait. Plus, Indonesia has a long artisan and craft tradition that reveals itself in the intricate batik, ikat, and lace that find their way into local collections. Singapore less so. This isn't, as I said before, a place that emphasizes making stuff. 

The whole experience wasn't fun exactly, but it was interesting, and I'm glad I did it. It provided a sort of a peak into the lives of Singapore's aristocracy. And it gave me a sense of what it means at the ground-level for a place like Singapore to try to shoulder its way into the global fashion market. I will go out again this afternoon to attempt more street style photos (don't hold your breath in anticipation for them, though! I might not get any). But I am done, thankfully, with shows for this season. After seeing eight in Jakarta and two here, I've done all the pre-show waiting room, iPhone-checking I care to do this year. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Shella Alaztha, Jakarta Fashion Week

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Valerie Samantha, Jakarta Fashion Week

Whenever I start to think that Jakarta Fashion Week is one thing, I see something — or someone — that shows me it's quite another. There is no doubt that Islamic fashion is a major part of JFW. Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, the government's efforts to suppress hardline Islam have subsided. A variety of Islamic organizations have risen to prominence, and public expressions of Islamic faith have become much more common, particularly in politics and clothing. When I first came to Indonesia in 1996, about 1 in 10 women in urban Java would wear hijab (jilbab in local parlance). Now it seems closer to 1 in 2, perhaps even 2 out of 3. This is equally true at JFW, where the majority of attendees are bedecked in long, flowing dresses, multiple layers, and some variety of headscarf. But not everyone. Valerie Samantha's look illustrates a very different trend. Streetwear is on the rise here, with brands like Vaya Con Dios, Monstore, Anye by Angez Mo, and Apparel After Dark attempting to redefine what it means to be young and urbane. The Goods Dept, a Jakarta-based youth clothing store at several prominent malls in Jakarta, has played an important role in promoting these brands. So has Brightspot Market, a multi-brand pop up shop that happens at least twice a year. Ok, so some of what they produce is derivative. The bomber jackets, bucket hats, and board shorts I saw at the Hype Street Fashion show at JFW the other day were a bit too aligned with what's going on in streetwear internationally. And the hip hop dancers bedecked in "Caution: Do Not Enter" tape didn't do much to elevate local street cred. But still, there's cool stuff happening — both in Islamic fashion and in more secular streetwear. Frankly, what I would like to see more of in Indonesia is Islamic streetwear. That's a niche market that Indonesia — the most populous majority Muslim nation on earth — is uniquely positioned to fill!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mayang Adista Putri, Jakarta Fashion Week

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lenny Augustin, Jakarta Fashion Week

Jakarta Fashion Week, Day Three. JFW has been perhaps my trickiest gig to shoot so far. The weather is not cooperating. The scenery yields stubbornly few backdrops. And the opportunities to stop people for pictures are limited. Many people, especially local celebrities, head straight to their cars after the shows. Their drivers are signaled while they're still inside. Jakarta is just not a walkers' city. The most walking anyone in the middle-class or above ever does is in the mall. So I've found myself hanging out in front of the mall with a couple of other street style photographers. We wait, talk, watch people coming by. Mostly wait. I have taken only a small fraction of the number of pictures I take at New York Fashion Week. This gig, by comparison, is super chill. No jumping from venue to venue. No rush from front stage to back. No competing with hordes of other photographers with better cameras and cooler kicks. But there are interesting people here, like the designer Lenny Augustin shown above. I saw her from a hundred yards away and waited patiently, while she posed for innumerable selfies, for her to finally come my way.

Since shooting street style hasn't been entirely productive at JFW, I've been going to shows, press conferences, and talks instead, taking rigorous field notes, chatting with photographers, bloggers, and other people in the local industry. Many of the events at JFW are organized by foreign embassies (India, Thailand, South Korea) and non-profits in efforts to foster creative collaboration between countries. One of my favorite shows so far was put on by the British Council, who pairs British designers with Indonesian designers to produce fashion lines together. Lekat X Billie Jacobina was the one I liked best. The British Council also provides internships and other opportunities with local designers, as they do in various other countries throughout the world. JFW, thus, becomes a proxy stage for projects of national development. There's an academic article to be written about all this, and believe me, I'm on it. But I've got four more days of JFW to get through first.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dwi Handayani Syah Putri, Jakarta Fashion Week

Day Two of Jakarta Fashion Week. Today, the street style photographers finally came out. All three of them. One, Bode, was a photographer shooting for fun. He developed his street style chops at Sydney Fashion Week, when he was doing he was degree there. Another, Erick, shoots street style pics for, the outfit of the day website he launched a few years back. And the other, Kaymori, used to shoot street style for Indonesia, when it was still a thing. Now he mostly does make up styling and wedding shoots, but he is still fanning a flame for street style. The four of us hung out at the crosswalk connecting the fashion tent to the mall, Senayan City, trying to get candid shots of Indonesian style icons getting out of their cars or crossing the street. It didn't work out too well. For one thing, there were way too many people and cars, and the crosswalk was narrow. It was close to impossible to get a clean shot. For another, it was cloudy and dark. It rains everyday in Jakarta, often for hours at a time, and there is a gloomy haze that hangs over the city from palm plantation fires that burn incessantly on the neighboring island of Sumatra (Don't buy palm oil!). I had to shoot at ISO1000 to get usable pics. But I am unlikely to post many of them, since they're so terrible. Finally, people just aren't used to having cameras snapped at them as they enter fashion events. Even the local celebrities seem unsure of what to do when it happens. They look down, or smile awkwardly, or hide their faces. Posing while walking is a tricky thing to master. It takes practice, a certain kind of bodily discipline. The attendees at New York Fashion Week have so mastered it, it hadn't occurred to me that people here wouldn't have.

The only good pics I got yesterday were those I got when I stopped people and asked for their photographs. That's what I'm going to have to do today too. Indonesia has a big blogger community. And some of their top names, like Dwi Handayani Syah Putri, have hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of followers. In particular, it's got an awesome hijaber blogger scene. Those girls are fierce! And seriously stylish.

Jakarta Fashion Week has yet to become the circus of New York, London, Milan, and Paris. But it's working on it. It's got the spectacle. It's got the talent. But it has yet to generate the same social media hype machine as the big four. Yet. Post show, the bloggers search the premises for good spots to do their outfit posts. Mid-show, they pull out their iPhones and SnapChat the thing like any good blogger anywhere. And in line for the shows (I've been to just two so far, but am going to a couple more today) they take an insane number of selfies. It is an exercise in futility to avoid ending up in the background of other peoples' shots. I tried anyway. Unlike the people I photograph, self-promotion does not come naturally to me.    

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Diana Rikasari and Acha Sinaga, Jakarta Fashion Week

Today was day one at Jakarta Fashion Week, Southeast Asia's largest annual fashion event. This is my first time shooting it. Although I've been to Jakarta a number of times for previous projects and have something of a working knowledge of Indonesian fashion celebrities (I once reached out to Diana Rikasari for an interview on a project I did on Indonesian fashion bloggers), I had no idea what to expect. The event takes place in a tent outside Senayan City, one of Jakarta's most upscale malls. Press conferences happen on the first floor of the mall, and photographers, models, editors, and buyers seem to move continuously between the venue and the mall. It was a hazy day, beset with the occasional tropical rain storm. Cars streamed through the parking lot, and the spaces to shoot were few and far between: a narrow pathway from the front entrance to the backstage, walkways in front of the mall itself, a crosswalk or two between the mall and the venue. It was hot (around 90 degrees), muggy and sticky. Perhaps, then, it shouldn't have been a surprise that I was the only street style photographer out there. Sure, I saw a few dudes lingering near crosswalks with DSLRs, but they didn't seem to be shooting anyone. In the absence of the fashion paparazzi, local fashion influencers like these two brought their own photographers. Or at least their iPhones. 

I will be reporting from Jakarta Fashion Week throughout the week. Next week I will be reporting on Singapore Fashion Week. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sarah Ellen, outside Dion Lee, Pier 59, New York

Sunday, October 16, 2016

White Jumpsuit, outside Jeremy Scott

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Outside Jeremy Scott, 33rd St, New York

Monday, October 10, 2016

Outside Lacoste, Varick St, New York

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Outside Pyer Moss, 15th St, New York

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Samantha Angelo, outside Jeremy Scott, 33rd St, New York

Monday, October 3, 2016

Outside Pyer Moss, 15th St, New York