Indonesian haute-couture designer Biyan Wanaatmadja opened his new pop-up store at Emquartier last week. While he’s in Bangkok for a limited time, we sat with him in the corner of his garden-like store and had a special chat about youth, Russian portraiture, and hot weather.
In poetry, the Romantics were those who held a love for the past and their childhoods spent in nature – think Wordsworth or Coleridge. Simply walking up to Biyan’s new pop-up space will tell you that this might be a Romantic poet turned fashion designer. The extravagant flowers along the front were only a prelude to the botanical paradise inside. Biyan’s SS19 collection is a classic tribute to spring and summer, with amazingly intricate florals in print, lace, and embellishments. When I sat down with the designer, the first topic of conversation was his childhood: “For some reason, when I was young I always found myself outside, surrounding myself with nature. I loved playing outdoors.” He’s always been sure of the beauty of nature; it was more a question of how nature could apply its beauty on to people.
He explains what he’s learnt over his 40 years of designing: “So, something I do a lot is go to museums and galleries”. Of course, the designer studied Fashion in the cultural-hub of London, a city filled with inspiring art. “Once as I walked around a gallery, I noticed this Russian painter who specialised in portraits. I was very drawn to his work and became infatuated with one particular painting. It was of a woman draped in layers and layers of fabric, and hanging from her ear was just a single, perfect flower. A rose. She looked so elegant. That was when everything connected for me. It showed me the relationship between the beauty of nature and the beauty of a person. The elegance of the rose became the elegance of the woman.”
Many might say all of Biyan’s pieces could make an elegant rose of a woman. But must the “Biyan Woman” always be elegant? How does Biyan imagine a woman who wears his pieces?
“Just as I enjoyed playing outdoors, I want women to also feel like they can play and move freely.” Sure enough, Biyan’s clothing is floaty and light, restriction is minimal.
“It’s partly to do with the trouble for South-East Asian designers: normally in fashion you have a Spring/Summer collection and an Autumn/Winter collection. For us, it’s always summer. The clothes would always be breezy. It’s so hot here.” Can’t argue with that.
“The Biyan woman loves to move and feel free. She likes to explore and keeps an open mind. She appreciates the finer things whilst also being daring. Yes, the Biyan woman is elegant, but she’s also a free spirit”.
At this point he gestures to my outfit – an embellished Biyan jacket paired with cropped jeans and heels – and, thankfully, he smiles. “Women should feel free to wear my designs in their own way. That’s what I love seeing. I intended for my pieces to be mixed and matched freely, and as the times move on I’m always happy to see my pieces worn in new ways.” This is where Biyan is different from the Romantic poets. Yes, he pays tribute to the past, to his childhood, his home country – but he’s also really excited about the future.
Biyan’s personal favourites from the new collection are his modern, never-before-seen casualwear. He dedicates these especially to Bangkok. “This city and its women are both blends of modernity and traditional locality. Bangkok and her ladies have inspired me to create clothes that are more modern yet still have an essential classic beauty”. This is the agelessness of Biyan. For a fashion designer who has been in the business for over three decades, he keeps an open mind about new things while sticking to his aesthetic values. It must be why his spirit is so youthful.
“At my age now I don’t take part in fashion in an active way”, explains the designer dressed in a simple all-black outfit. “I’m more of an observer now. I love just seeing where my designs go, how they transform with the times and still keep the essence of beauty they had from the beginning.”
And that’s what art is, isn’t it? Like a Wordsworth poem or an inspiring portrait: true art is timeless. This is something Biyan understands very well, and his attitude to designing results in fashion that is timeless – pieces that are true works of art.
Visit Biyan’s pop-up concept space in Club 21, M Floor of Emquartier, from now until April. Open daily 10am-10pm. The new collection of his eponymous brand is a celebration of nature, the free-spirit, and his long-standing career.