Muara Bagdja, Contributor, Jakarta
Five models clad in a variety of flight attendant uniforms strode onto the catwalk to signal the opening of Iwan Tirta's latest fashion show.
Their uniforms, all made of Iwan's trademark batik, were a combination of pants and a blouse, a knee-length skirt and a jacket, or a blouse and a long skirt in the style of a Singapore Airlines girl. Even the latter model walked agilely, and with a coquettish flair, as she pulled a trolley with bags on it.
""You can squat comfortably in that long skirt, you know,"" said Iwan after the show on April 18 at a Central Jakarta hotel as he stood surrounded by a number of female well-wishers, who congratulated him on the success of his show and also his birthday.
The master designer, who is credited with bringing batik into the mainstream in the 1970s and making it known to the world, had a new surprise for his faithful followers this time.
The entire collection was made of cotton and Lycra, rendering the clothes more comfortable and elastic in following the movement of the wearer.
He created the stretch batik in cooperation with Dupont Indonesia, which worked in the past with young designer Carmanita on a batik Lycra collection and the design team of Urban Crew for casual wear.
This time around with Iwan, however, in conjunction with the 200th anniversary of the founding of the company, it was a marriage of the tradition that Iwan is famous for with the thoroughly modern look of the artificial fabric.
""In our previous cooperation, the batik aspect was less prominent,"" said Djonny Suwanto, ATS marketing manager of Dupont Indonesia.
""At present, we are focusing on the batik, which the public knows as a cloth with large and eye-catching motifs. We are seeking a bigger market. Under the theme of 'traditional batik', we have now teamed up with Iwan Tirta.""
Dupont, which calls itself a ""science"" company, produces materials that are used in a diverse range of products, from the household (such as Teflon pans) to fashion, with the Lycra fibers. Invented half a century ago, Lycra fibers can be stretched seven times over their original size and return to their original form without any tear.
In Europe and the United States, noted designers and the textile industry have long made use of Lycra for stylish designs.
In Iwan's hands, stretch batik was used for casual wear for the beach or a vacation. There were casual skirts and blouses in geometric batik patterns, while tight batik T-shirts and faded jeans worked for men.
An air of comfort pervaded as models came onto the runway in batik sarongs and loose, sleeveless blouses. The motif of a huge flower, typically Iwan's, stood out on a sundress gown in a loose cut like a tent dress.
Then came sogan (red-dyed) handmade batik with large motifs, again Iwan's trademark, in a combination of a skirt and a slim and chic blouse, or a broad gown in the style of Audrey Hepburn.
The show closed with a batik shirt and leather jeans plus a prada (gold) batik gown in the cut of a wide Spanish style skirt, uniquely reflecting the design lines of Chossy Latu, who has joined Iwan's batik house.
This show was not one that featured a fashion statement, presenting only a few fresh trends or looks. But these dresses clearly evinced Iwan Tirta's unique style -- they all possessed high-quality and magnificent handmade batik motifs.
The message of the show was clear: the comfort that comes from using traditional batik with modern materials like Lycra.
And there was something novel in the show because the batik stood out in brighter colors than usual.
""If you make batik on Lycra cotton, the colors will gain prominence, perhaps because the fibers are covered with cotton. Clearly, the result is better,"" said Chossy.
Also encouraging to Iwan's batik house is that prada, a characteristic of Iwan's batik, can also be used on Lycra-fibered materials with good results.
Stretch batik offers other benefits for a designer interested in keeping up with the times.
""Even using ordinary batik, I find it difficult to follow today's fashion, which is body tight. With stretch batik, styling can be freer. Even without using the dart, for example, the fit will be fine,"" Chossy said.
In his press release for the show, Iwan said that a combination of synthetic and natural fibers in Lycra materials led to the development of new creations, such as a comfortable and beautiful stretch sarong.
However, the stretch sarong needs further processing to ensure a better shape and more comfort. During the show, model Ira Duati was often forced to smooth down the sarong and put it in place as it rode up on the body.
""A batik stretch sarong gives greater comfort and flexibility when you walk, but it fits so tightly with your body. As it is not smooth like an ordinary sarong, it won't be quite as neat,"" she said after the show.
Chossy also acknowledged that a novel way of using Lycra for the sarong needed to be found for a better fit. He added that the current problem could be due to using an inappropriate type of cotton.
""Indonesia should have more textile suppliers teaming up with designers so that the designs produced will be richer,"" said Iwan
He mentioned the success of Christian Dior, saying that the design house was supported by the various types of materials provided by Boussac, a famous textile mill.
For Iwan, stretch batik is his latest contribution to the fashion community here. Previously, he pioneered the making of batik on silk and organza, products later widely imitated.
Does he plan to use his opulent batik designs on stretch Lycra?
""Please don't judge only the batik aspect. Look also at the use of Lycra. Abroad, various dresses, even police uniforms, are made of Lycra. I want to open up the way in that direction, working on leisure wear and swimsuits,"" Iwan said.
The show was indeed his mission to introduce and inspire textile, garment and even airline companies to produce and use stretch for various kinds of clothing.
""We really want to see the image of batik not only as a glamorous product,"" Djonny said.
""We want it to be used for broader purposes, for example, for the tourism industry. We have a lot of tourist resorts or spas, and stretch batik can be used as dresses or uniforms owing to its comfort and dynamism. We also dream that, some day, Garuda uniforms will be made of Lycra batik.""
If their dreams come true, our flight attendants will find it easier to go about their routine, moving agilely in beautiful batik designs.