The Milestones of a Lawyer and a Designer

The word milestone is, by definition, a marker of distance—length of the road traveled. On literal roads milestones are measured the same way, yet on life journey the distances and how they are marked vary greatly.

Although, sometimes, a couple of people celebrate theirs on the same week.

Recently seasoned fashion designer Biyan threw his annual fashion show. A longstanding entry penciled in Jakarta’s society swans’ scheduler, which pre-invitation is distributed a couple of months ahead to ensure attendance of everyone who’s anyone. When the soiree finally unfurls, the traffic surrounding the chosen 5-star hotel will be almost chaotic, as perfectly-coiffed invitees bedecked in Biyan’s latest gowns trade air-kisses and pose for the mandatory backdrop picture before show and continue their merriment at the post-show delectable banquet.

Past his 30th career anniversary, Biyan’s gorgeous creations started winning many hearts in the 1990s, and for over a decade now have gained sizable devotees, ladies usually occupying the first a few rows during his annual show. I believe this is where Biyan’s direction now comfortably lies on—as illustrated in his latest show. The recognizable A-line silhouettes were ubiquitous, the renowned embroideries were prevalent, and the usual exquisite fabrics made up the entire collection. Aside from culottes and palazzos that are departure from Biyan’s signature pencil pants and a play with patchwork, the collection remained on the familiar ground.

For someone who still lovingly keeps my Biyan sheath dresses circa 1990s, I was actually looking forward for Biyan to journey into new terrains. I believe there is still a lot that Biyan Wanaatmadja as a designer not only could tap into, but also could afford to risk for, that wouldn’t necessarily cost him the current clientele yet very possibly welcoming a completely new demography, in a way that is perhaps best illustrated by Karl Lagerfeld’s bold move to issue Chanel Boy handbag a few years back. If Biyan were to do this, I can only imagine the genuine excitement and bated breath awaiting the collection when the label hits its 40th anniversary in the next few years. That’d be a serious milestone to celebrate.

A different kind of milestone was celebrated on the same week as Biyan’s aforementioned show, which was the 87th birthday of Kartini Muljadi, one of Indonesia’s first and most renowned female lawyers. Specializing in corporate law, her roster clients are so vast that almost every multinational company I’ve ever worked for during my corporate career retained her legal firm’s service.

Most octogenarians might prefer to lounge around at home with their grandkids, but the visibly healthy Kartini Muljadi instead published a book and threw an exhibition of her prized batik collection. So removed from the career she’s built and is popularly known for, I was quite surprised not only to learn how an avid batik collector she evidently has been, but also how well-rounded the collection is. Many people boast to possess a great batik collection, but Kartini’s is a league of its own.

Historically dating back to Dutch and Japanese colonial times, flowery buketan and Jawa Hokokai motifs are just small examples of the precious antique motifs in her collection. The fact that beyond foreign occupation forces there were also foreign merchants and migrants passing through or settling in this archipelago is shown by a number of antique batiks bearing motifs of Chinese dragons and Confucian altars.

The selected batiks displayed during the book launch were already enviable, yet the treasure trove could be discovered in the book. Written with the help of a couple heritage fabric experts from Museum Tekstil and University of Indonesia, it does a good job of explaining batik making and detailing meaning and importance of each of the batiks. For someone keen on learning history and culture, the 198-page coffee table book makes quite a rewarding read, as I discovered this past week. For someone wanting to appreciate batik, the pictures alone are true eye-candy.

As the nation has been consumed by escalating sectarian sentiments in recent years, books like this can serve as eye-opener for the young generation of how foreign elements have long and almost seamlessly been acculturated into the colorful fabrics, literal or metaphorical, that make up Indonesian heritage. I’ve met Betawi teenagers who didn’t know of the thick Chinese blood running through their veins, or Sumatran millennials who’ve forgotten about Indian cultures in the cuisine or henna manicure sported by traditional brides. Kartini Muljadi told audience that the book would be distributed to several universities, but these days, to the young generation, digital copy is the best bet. Having this book accessible to public would be a milestone that would keep on giving. Especially when, as she and her team hinted, more books might be coming as her heritage fabric collections aren’t limited to batiks, but also comprised of handwoven tenuns as well.

Two people. Two milestones feted. Depending on how they proceed next with it, it just might be a legacy to continue living in the next age and time. We shall see.

As published:

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