Monday 2 July 2012

Q&A with Toton, Indonesia's hottest new label

I have a confession to make. I’ve got a new love in my life.

This new obsession occupies my every waking thought, I surf the internet just to gaze lovingly. I still remember the first time our lives came into contact.

It was love at first sight. As I browsed the stalls at Blueprint I couldn't help myself, we made eye contact across a crowded floor, I was instantly drawn in by the elegance and beauty he displayed.

That beauty was called Toton and I’m already turning into an addict!

The designer Toton Januar: Can't wait to see what this man will do next,
after his fresh and exquisite debut collection this year!

Classic with a (considerable) twist is what you can call Toton's
collection like this gorgeous jacket with a zip detail

No matter how hard I tried, I’m struggling to find anything, old or new, which remotely resembles this new Indonesian label. Everything - from the unusual cuts, material and embroidery patterns - is unique.

Toton brings something new to the overly-recycled fashion world whether regional or even international. The beauty of this label is that it also draws on tradition, especially that of Javanese embroidery.

Instead of just paying lip service to his heritage, he drags it kicking and screaming into the 21st Century - reinterpreting everything about it but maintaining the elegance and pure craftsmanship.

Love this look from head to toe...

Perfection! fit, colour and style... this outfit says it all

I was thrilled to meet the Jakarta-based Toton Januar himself last week while on a short visit to Singapore. What’s best is I got to act like a fangirl, be first to interview him and managed to pre-order the pieces I’ve been dreaming about.

Now while you read this Q&A and discover the equally amazing story behind Toton’s exquisite designs, I will be counting the days and weeks until I receive my pieces (note the plural…yay!)  and can’t wait to be the first to parade Toton’s designs around Singapore – that is until they’re stocked in MYthology on Club street - one of the hottest new boutiques in town that is opening late September (watch this space for updates!)

I'm over the moon having had the chance to pre-order this amazing neck piece... can't wait 
to receive it and parade it around town :-)

Q: Tell us more about Toton the designer and what made you start Toton the label?
A: I was born in Makassar (which is 2 hrs flight from Jakarta) in Indonesia and raised mainly by my mother. She was a seamstress so I was introduced to fashion at a young age but my mom didn’t approve me doing anything to do with arts and fashion to start with. I went to an engineering school for a year then switched to Media Broadcasting which felt closer to what I wanted to do.

It was only in 2005 when I decided to go to New York and enroll in Parsons New School of Design to study fashion. I was always interested in fashion and the arts and wanted to do something which eventually translates beautiful ideas into something tangible, which people can relate to.

Starting Toton the label was as a result of that and with great help of a few close friends who believed in me (namely Haryo, Melissa and Ririe).

Not many designers have managed to take something as traditional as 
embroidery and create extremely modern silhouettes like this beautiful dress 

Q: Has living in NY influenced your design approach? If so then how?
A: Moving to NY to study was like an eye opener to me and it is amazing how much exposure to some amazing fashion you get from living there. I have learned how to see, appreciate and absorb things then feel and process them and eventually make them your own.

However if anything, it also made me appreciate what great traditions and techniques we have back home like embroidery for example which have potential in exploring further in  a more modern way.

Q: Who or what inspired your first collection?
A: My mother. She was a traditional Javanese woman who wore elegant Kebayas for weddings and wore batik and all sorts of traditional dresses. As a seamstress she always looked impeccable and even read fashion magazines. To me, she combined both tradition and modernity in her character. So this collection is like an ode to her and her style.

Q: How do you describe this collection?
A: This collection is an attempt 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. I wanted it to be playful, artsy but not out of place. Something with a touch of elegance to fit modern needs.
I would just love to see traditional crafts from Indonesia translated to become a daily part of our modern life. Hopefully, it will also be good for the craftsmen – who inherited the skill for generations, not only to be able to keep on working but also evolving the craft into more complex form.

Toton's collection starts with a moodboard...

The designer then draws the embroidery pattern

And executes it my small machine... very meticulous process

The finished embroidery on chiffon...

Q: Your designs are very distinctive and original. How do you manage to make something so unique?
A: I always start with an idea and try to challenge myself as I go through a lot of sketching before I decide on the final looks. This means scratching so many ideas on the way but what’s important to me is the fact it stays authentic and original. It is very easy to get inspired an carried away even without being totally aware of it so I always pause, look back at the sketches and ask whether this looks familiar or if I’ve seen it anywhere before…

And voila! the skirt is ready!!

Q: You are not selling in Jakarta at the moment and instead, focusing on the regional and international market first. Why is that?
A: We are a very young company with limited resources, and it takes huge amount of work to be able to cater Indonesian market, especially if we want to work with big Indonesian department store which requires a restock of new items/design every two months or so. We just want to keep the business simple and grow slowly but steadily. We are grateful that our participation at Blueprint Singapore facilitated our business to meet buyers that are suitable with our condition, and we hope eventually will help us grow.

Q: Do you think establishing the brand abroad (like you’re doing now) will help it being more recognized locally?
A: Well this is one of the factors on why we want to do that in the first place. Maybe when we establish a name for ourselves, and people from the outside get to know what we have to offer in terms of craftsmanship and quality, the word will spread back home.

Some pieces of Toton's first collection are a play on the classical
men's shirt, of course he turned it into something very original
using embroidery and clever cuts.

Apart from these extremely wearable pieces, Toton also designed shoes 
to go with the collection - Love these edgy knee-high gladiators!

Q: Is there any specific designer you admire or look up to?
A: Like so many people, I did admire a younger Alexander McQueen. I love how his mind works, his aesthetics for I myself appreciate the darkness in his designs. In fact, my earlier designs were much darker and it was only when my mother passed away that I changed and wanted to bring some light instead.

Q: Where do you see Toton the label in 5 years?
A: In 5 years, I hope to see the label having some stockists – enough but not too much to make it lose the exclusivity it offers. I would love to see us move forward and develop a good name and be known for being successful in what we do. We’d also like to explore some more Indonesian craftsmanship and incorporate it into our designs.

You can keep up to date with news from Toton on their Facebook page or by following them on Twitter.