Fashion talk: Designer Zico Halim (left to right), fashion stylist Ajeng Svastiari, blogger Claradevi Handriatmadja and moderator Perkasa Putra talk about fashion at Goethe-Institut Jakarta. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)
In Indonesia’s fashion industry, social media is a doubleedged sword. Ajeng Svastiari has worked as a fashion stylist for nine years and faced career highs and lows styling singer Agnez Monica from 2011 to 2016.
On social media, netizens did not hold back in throwing barbs at Ajeng whenever they disagreed with her choice of dress or hairstyle for Agnez, who currently boasts 11.8 million and 16.3 million followers on Instagram and Twitter, respectively.
The superstar was accused in January last year of insulting the Quran by wearing a transparant black dress adorned with an Arabic character during a television show.
Netizens, who deemed the dress too sexy, instantly took to Twitter to attack Ajeng. Even the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) stepped in, summoning her to demand an explanation for the provocative costume, because as Agnez’s fashion stylist, she was responsible for choosing the costumes the singer wore on stage.
“[Their comments] were a kick in the guts,” she recently revealed during a discussion at the GoetheInstitut Jakarta, where she, along with designer Zico Halim and blogger Claradevi Handriatmadja, talked about the challenges and opportunities faced in Indonesia’s fashion industry in this era of social media.
Ajeng explained that Agnez had gotten the dress in London and she allowed the star to wear it despite bearing an Arabic char- acter because the word translated as “unity” — something protesters did not understand.
“Agnez has been an [entertainment] icon since she was young. Whatever she does will cause pros and cons among her die-hard fans,” Ajeng said.
Besides Agnez, other big names the stylist has worked with include singers Afgan, Andien and Sherina. The only celebrity she currently styles, however, is pop diva Titi DJ, because she wants to focus on serving as a lecturer at ESMOD fashion school in South Jakarta.
“Styling artists is something I try to avoid as much as possible; I want to take a break,” she said, conceding that it has not been easy dealing with abusive comments about her work on social media.
Despite these challenges, she added, fashion stylists should not be afraid of social media because they can utilize the digital platform to develop their career in the fashion industry.
Ajeng, who graduated from La Salle College in Jakarta in 2005, recalled that when she started her career nine years ago, she relied on word-of-mouth as a medium to promote her work. The first artist to hire her was Titi DJ and she remains grateful for the iconic singer for introducing her to other artists.
Nowadays, budding stylists and designers can simply upload photos of their creations onto social media platforms such as Instagram to gain public attention, she pointed out.
Designer Zico Halim agreed with Ajeng, saying that Instagram and Facebook helped him promote his ready-to-wear label Tangan (Hand), a Jakarta-based premium brand he and designer Margaretha Novianty founded in 2015.
“Because of social media, our products have become accessible,” said Zico, who entered Indonesia’s fashion industry in 2010 as an assistant to noted designer Sapto Djojokartiko.
Like Ajeng, Zico also experienced a period when his work was criticized by netizens who actually knew nothing about fashion.
According to fashion blogger Claradevi, today’s era of social media has emboldened novices to claim they play a crucial part in the fashion world and laud themselves as self-proclaimed fashion critics.
When she started blogging in 2007, people used social media to make and connect with friends. However, in 2009, she noticed that fashion blogging was beginning to take off in Indonesia, and the trend quickly gave rise to fashion bloggers who had no experience or knowledge about fashion.
“To be a fashion designer or fashion stylist is difficult [work] because it requires an academic background, experience and a network. But, to be fashion blogger, it is said that the most important thing you must have is a good camera,” Claradevi said.
“[High] fashion, which used to be worn by high-profile figures, became more accessible to the masses and people began to feel that they could talk about the subject.”
As the years progressed, fashion blogging transformed into a potentially lucrative business, she added.
Unlike fashion stylists who worked behind the scene, fashion bloggers placed themselves between labels and consumers.
“They become a bridge between brands and society. They know fashion, but historically, they do not understand what fashion means and what it does with clothing,” she explained.
Claradevi continued to describe her observation of a growing misunderstanding among young people about social media. Because they are so eager to step into the digital spotlight, they underestimate the importance of education by wanting to be a fashion blogger or a social media influencer, she explained.
She added that bloggers had to understand that everything they posted on social media could have an impact, especially when they boasted a large number of followers.
“Ideally, [bloggers] need to collaborate more with people who really understand fashion,” she said.