7 August, 2017

The Rise of Asian Designers: 15 Questions with Sebastian Gunawan


Arguably Indonesia’s most prolific designer, Seba — as he known to his peers —is a man woven by plenty of successes, youthful adventures, and battle scars from his love for fashion.


#1 If I could describe myself in one word, it would be…“Easy-going. Maybe that comes from living in Jakarta — you can make lots of plans, but the moment there’s a macet (‘traffic jam’ in Bahasa Indonesia), all your plans are gone! (Laughs) I don’t like to make too many plans in life. I prefer to let it go and see how it goes so I won’t get too frustrated with the small things.”

#2 I like dressing women who…“Can accept their flaws. I’ve worked with some who walk in to my shop and tell me they want what their friends have. I can do that for you, but it wouldn’t look the same on you, especially if your friend is three sizes smaller! Just embrace your body, then you’ll look beautiful. Also, it makes my life simpler too. (Chuckles)”

#3 I love Jakarta because… “It’s my home. I’m lucky Jakarta is a big market. I’ve seen lots of my designer friends in Thailand and Singapore fail because the customers are going to department stores. They like to go to the international boutiques and get special treatments from the sales assistants. We’re lucky that Indonesians — even younger Indonesians — still like working with designers. They still respect the craft, which is a rarity in the world these days.”

#4 Young designers in Indonesia are… “All very good. But in the long-run, it’s survival of the fittest. Those who have the stamina to endure throughout the competition will be successful. Not all have the passion to be in fashion — I can tell. Some are in it for a quick buck, or just for the fun of it.”

#5 I started designing clothes… “Out of curiosity. I had a very fond memory of my mother with my sisters preparing to go to a party. They were coming out of the salon and trying clothes on — and the moment they were dressed, everything about them is different, as if they’re a different person. I was thrilled by it. I started sketching when I was barely a teenager!”

#6 I made my first pot of fortune… “When I was in high school! Not many people know this, but I started designing clothes for my friends while I was still schooling. I did it on the sly because my father wouldn’t approve of it. I would sketch something and after school, I would go to the fabric shop to select the cloth. I would then bring it to my friend’s mother, who is a seamstress, explaining to her the design. Then collect it from her the next day. Soon, more and more of my friends heard about it and wanted me to design for them. I didn’t charge much, but I made enough to pay for my annual disco membership! (Laughs)”

#7 The biggest obstacle I had to go through was… “Convincing my father that I could become a professional designer. My father started his own business empire from scratch, so he wanted all of us — three other brothers and two sisters — to be business people like him. All my brothers did, I was the only‘black sheep’ of the family. It was actually very stressful for me. He didn’t agree in the beginning but he relented when he saw that he couldn’t do anything about me. The condition was that if I didn’t succeed, I’d have to go back to my family business. I first went to Susan Budihardjo design school here, before going to Instituto Marangoni in Milan. I was lucky that he managed to attend my first fashion show, because shortly after that, he passed away from heart attack. He was only 63. We didn’t get along when he was alive, but now, I finally understand his love for me. He was a good father who only wanted the best for his son.”

#8 My guilty pleasure is… “Spicy food. I love Indonesian Nasi Padang, that’s my favourite food. It’s so tasty! It’s something that you cannot find in many places in the world except Indonesia. I’ve been trying to eat less of it because I can gastric problem and spicy food triggers it. It’s a tragedy!”

#9 My choice of poison is… “Green tea. (Laughs) Okay, I drink a bit of beer because wines make me sleepy and whiskies are just too heavy. I used to drink and party a lot when I was younger!”

#10 Success is… “What you make of yourself. If you’re able to stay true to yourself all these time, you would have succeeded.”

#11The worst decision I’ve made in business is… “Not really that bad. (Laughs) That’s because I’ve always learnt from my mistakes, so I don’t consider those decisions bad. If I’ve made a mistake, I’ve to pay the price for it — that’s the formula. Sometimes the consequences is painful. But once it’s over, you’ll level up. You’ve to be patient with yourself and the mistakes you’ve made. The important thing is to know that you have made a mistake, accept it and you’ll learn. You are a work in progress and you’ll always be!”

#12 My favourite moment of the day is… “The moment of reflection right before I sleep. I like to look back on my day and what I have or have not done for the day. Sometimes, it would get me quite paranoid, especially when I haven’t accomplished what I needed to. But most times, it’s a therapeutic process where I take stock of what I can do better for tomorrow.”

#13 I hope to see my country… “Focus on its education quality. Education has the power to change lives. While we’re a developing country, we need to think beyond the economics. The mentality of Indonesians needs to be built up too.”

#14 The proudest moment of my life is… “The birth of my daughter. She’s 20 this year. I didn’t know my life would change so much when I first saw her. I just thought she was so cute and tiny. She gives so much meaning to what I’m doing.”

#15 If I could dine with someone, dead or alive, it would be… “My father. I would tell him I love him.”