Sunday, August 19, 2001

Sebastian Gunawan Presents Grand Designs

By Muara Bagdja

JAKARTA (JP): Sebastian Gunawan's fashion shows are always big events. His most recent, held at Hotel Mulia in Central Jakarta last week, went one step further in cementing his image as one of the country's finest designers.

It was a grand presentation of 100 supremely beautiful gowns and precious jewelry on a spectacular stage before a huge audience. It seemed to make a statement: The era of Sebastian Gunawan is here and now!

He chose ""opulence"" as his theme and the entire collection was fittingly grand, extravagant and sparkling.

His collection was a stunning visual performance for the 1,500 guests -- the largest number for any fashion show in Jakarta -- including his regular customers, fans of his creations, fashion lovers and the media, who were honored on this occasion to have the front seats normally reserved for VIPs.

Some of the gowns were inspired by the Victorian era, with their long trains sweeping the floor. Using luxurious materials, and inlaid with Swarovski crystals, there were beautiful blouses and skirts. Colorful jewelry of semiprecious stones were exotic adornments on the necks, wrists and slippers of the models. It was a perfect, brilliantly organized scene on the Plexiglass catwalk with a giant screen on each side of the expansive stage.

The show started off with dresses in the New Look style of the 1940 and 1950s. This style, originally created by Christian Dior, is renowned for its elegant cut, with an accent on a slender waist. In Sebastian's hands, it comes in a soft, slender gown flowing under the knees, or a feminine blouse with billowing sleeves paired with a tight skirt.

For him, it is also a lace blouse in ivory, combined with a tight skirt and embroidered belt adorned with a gem brooch. The addition of a hat and a bag makes the style so chic, beautiful and elegant. It immediately reminded the audience of the legendary Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco.

It was clear that Sebastian was not about to stick to the conventional evening gown -- long and defined by large patterns. He showed that two-piece evening wear can be a fashionable and stunning alternative, and his modernized retro take on the style was a unique component of the special show.

Then Sebastian took his collection into a palace for the occasion of an inaugural dinner during the Victorian era. Here he presents his speciality: a long gown with flamboyant patterns, complimenting his new touch of asymmetric patterns.

A black gown, for example, with a partly open shoulder. Interesting to see was the bias cut at the hip as a new variation.

Expensive materials enriched with decorative accessories remain Sebastian's mainstay. While in his previous work he used a lot of beads, now it is crystals creating their more sparkling effects.

The show concluded with the presentation of three gorgeous wedding dresses.

European style

Sebastian, 34, has been known from the outset of his career for decorative long gowns, his signature mark as a designer. He made his debut show in the country in 1995, and has continued to hold to his trademark design in producing gowns for the label Votum and his own collection, Sebastian Red Label, created for his boutique.

His designs are distinctly western, with a pronounced European touch. His years of study at Instituto Artistico Dell Abbigliamento Marangoni in Milan, and the presence of his Italian wife, Cristina Panarese, as his faithful partner in creation, have greatly contributed to his taste and style.

His consistency to the design has stamped his specific European style as a genre of its own in the country's fashion world over the past decade, particularly for evening gowns, and earned him the title of the supreme ""ballgown designer"" among many. Although grand dances are a rarity in the capital, his creations have won a place in the heart of many women, evident by the variety of Sebastian designs worn by those in the audience at the show.

Today, fashion is a universal thing, and there are no partitions separating east and west. Any woman, be she from the United States or Britain or Indonesia, can wear a gown without relinquishing her own culture or contravening what is acceptable in her culture.

The desire to be beautiful, grand and elegant -- every woman's dream -- are the sure fire reasons why Sebastian's latest collection will again be loved by his fans. Another factor is his loyal reference to the style of aristocratic dresses, making his creations suitable for the loftiest of occasions.

Although beautiful, flowing ball gowns have become commonplace on local catwalks, Sebastian always brings something new to his collection. His take on the New Look brought something new and much needed to the often jaded fashion world.

Muara Bagdja is a fashion writer based in Jakarta. Questions? 
Contact him at

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