Edward Hutabarat: A passion for batik

JP/Adi Wahono
JP/Adi Wahono

Designer Edward Hutabarat’s favorite way to spend the weekend is to go to the airport, buy a ticket to any domestic destination and go wherever the plane takes him.

The 52-year-old designer simply loves to travel. Although he owns a mansion in South Jakarta and his store PartOne is located in Pacific Place Mall, he’s never felt at home in the city. “Jakarta is not for me. It’s where my business is,” he said in Pekalongan.

The designer added that he knew of 200 places in Indonesia where he could visit friends. which include local batik and ikat producers, rattan basket weavers, silver jewelry producers and even cake producers.

His love of Indonesia has taken him to all corners of the archipelago, from  Kalimantan, where he witnessed Dayak women weave rattan into a basket, to Pekalongan where he watched batik artists paint with their canting, and Madura where he saw cows being dressed up for the Sapi Sonok festival.

His design studio in Pekalongan overlooks a beautiful rice paddy near the workshop of Nur Cahyo, a local batik producer he collaborates with. He invited The Jakarta Post to explore the world behind the batik he uses in his pieces.

Cahyo’s workshop is located in a lush green area. “The view is amazing! Where can you see something like this? The green grass, the bamboo fence, the angsana trees…” his voice trailed off.

“Jakarta is ugly,” he added.

The designer who revived Indonesia’s interest in its kebaya and batik and who has clocked 30 years in the fashion designing industry plans on making masterpieces using hand-painted batik.

Passionate about batik, he spares no niceties when it comes to fashion shows that have made batik look like a item for a costume party. “Big curly hair, heavy make up, appliqués, boots,” he said. “It’s just too much.”

“Batik should be modern and simple. The process behind the making of batik is extravagant enough.”

His love of Indonesia and its diverse ethnic cultures fuels his work in fashion design. “God has a masterpiece. It’s Indonesia,” he said.

“New York can have the tall buildings. But they don’t have the sky I have in Indonesia.”

His travels are his field research to find inspiration and explore Indonesia’s culture.

Having brought his SLR camera to Pekalongan, he was quick to take beautiful pictures of batik. He arranged dye on the grass and climbed a tree to take pictures of the batik hung to dry.

Edo started his career in fashion designing in the 1980s. He turned his attention to traditional dresses and textile in 1991 after the then-governor of Jambi asked him to develop Jambi’s batik and sarong songket. In 1996, he tweaked the kebaya, the national dress, modernizing it and turning it into a fashionable clothing item. After writing a book about kebaya in 1999, he experimented with batik in 2000, and in 2006 opened his PartOne label, bringing batik back into fashion.

Many people were sceptical at first, when he started developing the kebaya and batik. But, the results of his designs invariably ended up becoming a trend.

Edo has always been proud of traditional Indonesian textile. His aim at first was to design clothes made of batik that were on par with international brands. This had nothing to do with high fashion elitism, he said. He simply felt compelled to give Indonesia’s batik the attention it deserved.

For him, Hermes’ silk is nothing compared to Indonesian’s hand-painted batik.

He couldn’t help but lament the young people’s lack of interest in their national culture. Indonesians should know about batik and ikat, because it is our heritage. They should know about the roots of batik to appreciate it more beyond a fashion trend, he went on.

“Batik will never develop if we don’t understand its roots. Therefore I’m showing you how to appreciate the origins of batik …, how batik is made and how a batik artist can sit for eight hours without leaning to paint batik. And there are people who have been doing this for 50 years!” he exclaimed.

“In short there is a long story behind the making of batik.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Pekalongang, Central Java | People | Fri, January 07 2011

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