Indonesian designer Toton Januar’s career has involved jobs as varied as civil engineering and modelling, but he eventually settled on his true calling of fashion design. In 2012 he founded his label, Toton, with his business partner, Haryo Balitar, after cutting his teeth at The New School in New York City. The designer went on to win the 2016 International Woolmark Prize, the first year an Indonesian talent was selected, and most recently presented his spring-summer 2020 collection at a showroom in Paris.
During our exclusive interview, the talented designer discuss about journey of rediscovering a love of Indonesia and his passion for fashion.
How did you first realise you wanted to work in fashion?
I think ever since I was a little boy, I’ve always had this fascination with fashion, although maybe I didn’t understand it at that time. My mum was a seamstress for some time and a fashion enthusiast. I got most of my early knowledge of fashion through her, but it was only after she passed away in 2008 that I decided to pursue fashion as a career.
What was the first roadblock you had to overcome?
My mother didn’t approve of me choosing fashion as a career. I was born in Makassar and raised by a seamstress mother but my father was in the army and so were my grandfathers from both sides. Growing up as an only child and a son, I was expected to follow the path of a traditional man, so I had different ideas of what I was going to be when I grew up. I even enlisted—but never went—to a military high school, and also took a couple of semesters of engineering in university, before eventually dropping out. But one constant thing since I was a kid has always been my interest in arts and crafts. Watching my mother work instilled in me a sense of beauty. I think subconsciously I always knew where I wanted to be, but it took a lot of effort to convince my mother that this is actually what makes me happy.
What was your first job and what did you learn there?
My first job in fashion was not as a designer but as a model. I started working part-time for a fashion brand in 1999, and that was really when I got the chance to see fashion from the inside.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Indonesian fashion?
As an Indonesian I feel we need to be more confident and embrace our heritage. I think most Indonesian designs have existed as a novelty in the contemporary context; only recently have Indonesians come to appreciate our heritage as part of modern design. This includes using traditional techniques such as batiks, weaving and embroidery as part of contemporary fashion collections that now have global appeal. We have an abundance of creativity, from cultures passed on through generations, and to deny that would be such a shame.
When did you first realise your brand was getting a lot of buzz?
After our first collection presentation at Blueprint Singapore in 2012, a couple of journalists followed me backstage. I didn’t think we got a lot of buzz at that time, but I realised that what we did didn’t go unnoticed.
Who’s the first celebrity you dressed?
Asmara Abigail was the first actress that we developed a relationship with. I fell in love with her performance in the film Setan Jawa.
What is the first thing you do when you need to recharge and reset?
Sleep. I need a really good sleep.