February, 20 2015
British Designer Makes Ikat a Fashion Statement

This London-born former advertising executive left home for the vibrant art scene of Jakarta to study fashion design, and now creates a line of modern, ready-to-wear collection made of ikat and songket.

by Hera Diani, Managing Editor
Culture
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It’s rare to find clothes made of traditional fabric that look modern, clean structured and neither too formal nor too ethnic. 
 
But British designer Martha Ellen manages to do just that with her line of beautiful Balinese hand-woven ikat design that is ready-to-wear and work-appropriate, yet fun enough to wear off duty.
 
“I want to make clothes for women with busy lives, be they bankers, actresses, diplomats or mothers, who are travellers, independent thinkers and have stories to tell, but, most of all, who appreciate quality and cherish something unique,” she said during the recent launch of her Spring/Summer 2015 collection in her cozy little store in Kemang, South Jakarta.
 
It is her first collection to be made solely from locally made, individually sourced and designed ikat and songket weaves. The pieces are handmade by Balinese artisans converted into modern styles in Martha’s own aesthetic.
 
Some of the garments are more formal, short jackets and dressy evening gowns, others are playful crop tops and asymmetrical flowy skirt – all on a rainbow of ikat weaves.
 


Another good thing about Martha Ellen’s designs is that it really caters women of all sizes and curves, not just those 0 to 2 sizes. The sizes are based on the UK standard sizing range of size 6-18 to cater to local and international market.
 
It is impressive that Ellen had just started designing only a few years back. The London-born designer decided to leave her well-paying advertising job and delved into fashion design, partly because she wanted to fulfill her dream of creating something of her own and partly because of England’s deteriorating finances.
 
Having studied at Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design in London, she decided in 2009 to embark on a big adventure and moved to Jakarta, the place she once visited and whose vibrant arts scene impressed her.
 
Here, she enrolled at ESMOD Jakarta to study fashion design and pattern drafting. After graduating a year later, she worked with Indonesian designers including Ali Charisma and Jeffry Tan. Shortly after, she launched her first collection in November 2011 at Brightspot market, and in 2012 the label was stocked at The Goods Dept retailer.
 
In 2013 she participated at the Indonesia Fashion Week before opening her first stand-alone boutique in South Jakarta. A year later she took time to develop the tailored fit and feel of her pieces, while establishing larger scale ikat production to be able to make a truly ready-to-wear tailored collection consisting of 100 percent locally handmade ikat and fabrics.
 
“One of the key objectives of the brand is to build something that has a positive effect on local communities by creating a vehicle to celebrate their culture, preserving the local craft and making it more accessible to the international market. I like to make a statement out of the Tenun Ikat to celebrate this great art and part of Indonesian culture by using it as the defining component of my design,” she said.
 
“My core philosophy is about making a beautifully made piece that has style and edge, whilst being wearable and classic.”




*All photos courtesy of Martha Ellen


**Read Hera's article on false lash industry in Central Java.
Hera Diani, like many Indonesians, has two names and she relishes the fact that Indonesian women do not have to take the surname of their fathers and husbands. Pop culture is her guru, but she is critical of the terrible aspects of it, such as the contents with messages of misoginy and rape culture, and The Kardashians.