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‘Kisah Kebaya’: Labor of love on Indonesia’s sartorial icon

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Sat, January 23, 2021  /  12:27 pm
 ‘Kisah Kebaya’: Labor of love on Indonesia’s sartorial icon

Timeless elegance: The newly launched 'Kisah Kebaya' (The Story of Kebaya) by IKAT Indonesia founder and creative director Didiet Maulana is a veritable chronicle of the evolution of the uniquely Indonesian garment, from its origins to its wide-ranging societal impacts. (Courtesy Kisah Kebaya/Didiet Maulana)

Kebaya is a fashion icon of Southeast Asia that has its roots in the Indonesian island of Java. The earliest form of kebaya is believed to have its origins in the 15th century royal courts of the Majapahit Kingdom, although it also appears in the bas-reliefs of the Borobudur Temple. It has various names in local tongues, but the word “kebaya” is believed to derive from the Portuguese loanword “cabaya” around the time European traders arrived in the archipelago. Some argue that the word could originate from the Arabic “qaba” meaning clothing or even “abaya” for loose outer garment, citing the emerging influence of Islam around the late 13th century. Others fixate on the Chinese influence in the recognizable features of kebaya: a fitted tailored blouse that opens at the front with a lapelled, collarless neckline. Regardless, th...