Whenever the word ‘Spain’ pops out, things that typically come to the Indonesian people’s minds are football, bullfight, and flamenco. Some devout Muslims may say something about the 700-year reign of Arabic rulers over Andalusia. The foodies might mention paella and sangria.
What would the fashionistas say? Curiously, while many would dutifully flock to Zara’s sale or save up for Balenciaga’s legendary biker’s bag, few would instantly associate those labels with Spain. And of course, only a handful of committed fashion devotees could even speak about the quiet luxury of Loewe and Goyard.
I suppose the Embassy of Spain understood this, too, and hence the unfurling of photography exhibition of Spain’s 67 most influential fashion designers at Galeri Nasional in Jakarta recently. Capturing the past several decades, the exhibition featured works ranging from world-renowned names like Cristóbal Balenciaga (a Spring-Summer 1961 ballgown), unique artists with cult following like Custo Barcelona (a 2011 flouncy confection) and José Miró, to perhaps unknown to Indonesian audience yet fabulous designers like María Barros (that cape!), Maya Hansen (those corsets!) and Pertegaz (designed the wedding dress of the former anchorwoman, now Queen, Letizia when she wedded Crown Prince Felipe in 2004).
Some photographs were also a highlight of when fashion shows and photography weren’t yet as standardized, a more innocent time as the curator eloquently put it. The exhibition is a snapshot of a 2012 book written by fashion historian and writer, the ebullient Pedro Mansilla Viedma, who didn’t only curate the exhibition but also passionately shared his vast knowledge at the Opening party.
To photographers, the exhibition is quite a feast to the eye. To many Indonesian fashion fans, it could be an eye opener. To potential business between the two countries, it’s a nice showcase.
Why the business potentials? It’s beyond the biker bags which, by the way, is a new creation designed long after the House of Balenciaga was closed by Cristóbal in 1968, prior to his death in 1972. The fashion house got resuscitated in 1986 and is now owned by French luxury conglomerate Kering (formerly known as PPR) that also owns Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen.
I want to talk where the bulk is; ready-to-wear. The world’s largest clothing retailer currently is none other than Inditex S.A.; based at northern Spain, founded in 1975 by garment businessman Amancio Ortega Gaona who’s reportedly now the world’s 4th richest man, went public in 2011 with current market capitalization of around €87 billion. Indonesia’s growing middle class with larger disposable income and an unapologetic penchant for readily-recognizable brands explains why international labels including half of Inditex’s own—Massimo Dutti, Zara, Pull & Bear, Bershka—have made sizable presence in our major cities. A couple of other Spanish labels, Mango and Desigual, have also made headway.
I have reservations against the fast fashion concept that has notably been practiced by the likes of Zara, but the business potential in Indonesian retail market for Spanish labels is undeniable. And if the Government manages to reverse this year’s economic downturn, consumption will bounce back and be bountiful for foreign labels looking to expand. As a whole, Spanish labels still have a big room here to grow.
Now, now, before you go lynching me for promoting foreign interests in the wake of our 70th Independence Day, let me present the other side of the aforementioned business potentials. Much lower than Spanish fashion’s recognition in Indonesia is the representation of Indonesian fashion in Spain, which means there is a much bigger room for Indonesian labels to explore there.
Where would be the angle? Let me ask in return– what is fashion, but a slice of culture? I see a common window on both Indonesian and Spanish cultures—a passion for colors, and a respect for crafts. Spaniards love rich textiles, bold patterns, sassy colors and meticulous details. Indonesian heritage and craftsmanship have a lot to offer to Spanish lifestyle markets—from fashion to home décor, hugely untapped markets for our growing creative economy sector. It won’t be without competition—vibrant Mediterranean designs and delicate Eastern European craftsmanship are obviously much more accessible to the Iberian Peninsula, but doesn’t mean it’s not worth a serious try.
Now, how to go about it? Though still on their early years, both Jakarta Fashion Week (JFW) and Indonesia Fashion Week (IFW) have attempted to engage international markets through shows and discussions, aided by various foreign cultural missions. JFW has had collaborations with designers from Japan, German and Mexico over the years, while IFW opened a dialogue with African market earlier this year. With relatively untapped potentials on both ways, sassy Spain should strut into the game soon.
Now while you ponder about it, I earnestly suggest swinging by Galeri Nasional to take a sneak peek of the uncharted sass, which will run until the end of the month. Don’t be shy to borrow my flamenco shoes or Custo’s summer top if you feel you should dress accordingly. Olé!