ad info

 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


Once neglected, ikat is now having a ball

By Alexandra A. Seno

FOR YEARS, IKAT FABRIC languished in the fashion category of "What could I have been thinking of?" Holidaymakers from everywhere from Singapore to Stockholm would return home from destinations such as Bali with their bags stuffed with the cloth - in the form of shirts, shorts, skirts, wraps and just about anything guaranteed to later look completely inappropriate. Into a drawer they would go, to be dumped a couple of years later, unworn, unheeded and unlamented.

Now, though, the traditional Indonesian fabric is moving upmarket and broadening its appeal. The Ralph Lauren Home Collection - that purveyor of English country-snob appeal and State-side cowboy chic - has taken to it. And so have some of the leading fashion houses. Ikat is at the center of an unexpected change of emphasis at Hervé Leger for its spring-summer collection. The French designer - whose signature has long been close-to-the-body dresses in stretchy fabric - has given the elastic stuff a rest this year and gone instead for a less clingy silhouette inspired by cottony ikat.

Luxury lingerie-maker Josie Cruz Natori admits something of a fetish for the fabric: "It feels very exotic. It has a wonderful texture," she says. Manila-born Natori has prototypes of ikat robes and nightgowns in her New York studio that she shows to store buyers. "She likes the cloth and it's something she's trying to introduce in the market," says an assistant.

"Fashion's hippest designers are falling in love with these exuberant Indonesian fabrics," the editors of the influential American magazine Elle Decor declared in their May "Trend Alert" column. "Designers love the ethnic appeal," adds Lane Crawford's Peter Harris in Hong Kong. Last year, the Italian fashion god Giorgio Armani experimented with material in the distinctive ikat design. Having used it for a 1996 collection, John Galliano revisited his fascination with the ethnic textile in 1998. He called his use of ikat an "ode to haute Bohemia."

The word ikat means to "bind" in Bahasa Indonesia. It refers to the intricate process of tie-dying thread with the desired pattern before it is hand-loomed. What emerges is a design of shapes with uneven boundaries that seem to flow into surrounding colors. Pieces can take years to finish. A new, table-runner-size ikat done the old-fashioned way can cost hundreds of dollars; well-preserved antiques have sold for tens of thousands. The cloth's reputation for being cheap and tacky comes from the mass-produced (and machine-made) versions found in almost all Indonesia's tourist markets.

Popular appreciation of the quality version - its nuances of pattern and the subtlety of the material - is only just beginning. True, the love affair could cool as quickly as it began, but that is unlikely as long as connoisseurs of antique textiles remain fascinated.

Already more contemporary interpretations are being made available. At the New York printed-fabric trade shows last month, a number of suppliers offered garment-makers a millennium spin on the Indonesian cloth. The story of the international affair with ikat remains an enthralling yarn.

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel ě at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.