Toton Captures the Beauty of Nature in Fashion [Gallery]

By Thailan Pham

The designs of Jakarta-based Toton Januar eponymous Spring/Summer 2013 line might elicit roving elevator eyes for the detail-oriented. Artful, exquisite embroidery woven into modern, menswear-inspired silhouettes of Toton the label pays homage to the traditional artisanship of the designer’s Indonesian heritage. And the final product? Pieces decidedly worthy of a lustful gaze.

The wunderkind of this winter’s Jakarta Fashion Week (who confesses to a past life in a boy band!) opens up about the inspiration behind his line and his formative years studying at Parsons The New School for Design in New York City.

What was the inspiration behind your collection?
Toton Januar: I took inspiration from the natural beauty of Indonesia. I was fascinated by beautiful giant pitcher plants—“kantong semar” in the Indonesian language — indigenous to Borneo and Sumatra. I tried to translate it into the collection by reworking silhouettes, shapes, crafts and fabrics considered traditional or ethnic. So, besides taking a cue from the curvaceous silhouette of the plant, I also explored the dualism of its nature, beautiful yet predatory, and implemented a masculine touch in the form of menswear tailoring to contrast with the soft fabric and intricate embroidery.

What is the significance of Indonesian embroidery, and how is it incorporated into your design?
I try to take something very traditional like embroidery, which is usually associated with evening formal wear, and turn it into something which would fit into a modern woman’s everyday closet. Indonesia has so many regions with so many different techniques of embroidery. I wanted to use this collection as a way to explore that richness of artisanship, but I wanted it to be playful, artsy and not out of place. Something with a touch of elegance to fit modern needs.

I understand your mother was a seamstress. Do you recall early moments that inspired you to explore tailoring and design?
She was only a seamstress for a while but she has always had her passion for sewing. But after my dad passed away she needed to get a steadier job to support me, so she abandoned the sewing for a corporate job. But from that short period of time when she was a seamstress, I will never forget how fascinated I was to see her making patterns, cutting fabric, and trying to put a garment together. I think I was around five or six years old at that time, and I would be sitting on the floor by my mother’s sewing machine, accompanying her while she was working a cloth. I remember that I tried to make my own shorts when I was in elementary school!

What feedback have you received from your mother, or other family members, on your style?  
Unfortunately my mother is no longer with us, and she didn’t get the chance to see my work with my own label. But I remember she always reminded me to appreciate my heritage. My family and close friends respect my aesthetic although sometimes they think my design is quite ‘crazy’ at times. I think as a creative person you also always have an ear to others’ opinions.

Did you attempt any other jobs before committing to fashion full time?
When I finished high school I formed a music group — well, it was a boy band! I moved [from Makassar] to Jakarta. It was a huge step at that time, since it was uncommon for Indonesian youngsters to live away from their family. While I was enrolled at University of Indonesia, I was releasing albums with my band and modeling at the same time. Throughout everything there was one red line that connected every field I was involved in — fashion.

How did living in New York City influence your style and direction?
I took a certificate program in fashion studies at Parsons.  I lived in New York just a little over three years, but it changed my life completely. The first time I was there, I was kind of scared. The vibe is so vibrant and different compared to other cities I’ve been to. People were so straightforward, and they really want to define themselves. After I experienced New York, I realized that to be able to move forward, I had to be able to understand where I came from. I started to have a new appreciation for Indonesia, and had this idea to translate whatever inspiration my country gives me into contemporary garments for modern women.

What are your hopes for the future of Toton?
I hope Toton can offer a fresh point of view each season, while always drawing inspiration from the richness of nature and culture of Indonesia. The brand is an exploration of ideas; a little shift in perspective can uncover a new one.