Published: Verve Magazine, Life & Travel, April 2009
Photographs provided by the designers and artists themselves. All photographs are individual copyrights. This blog post does not assume any credit for the photographs.
While others sun, tan and shade themselves, Sitanshi Talati-Parikh gets up close and personal with some chic entrepreneurs and designers in Bali who are creating a global brand for themselves.These expatriates come together to create a fabulous confluence of talent and tradition, where international eyes meet local hands
A hop, skip and splash away in a tropical microcosm of creativity, one can discover a haven for those searching for a different and better life. “A mysterious and magic place charged with tremendous powers of creation and destruction, growth and decay, harmony and struggle,” says expat Susi Johnston. It was as far back as 1920s when artists and photographers moved to Bali inspired by the unselfconscious Balinese women working the fields, and the spectacular tropical environment. It wasn’t long before Bali became the centre for creative ambition. Now, with over 15,000 expats, the island is exploding with a fountain of talent that is simply waiting to be discovered.
While international brands lie low, it is the local labels that take centre stage, run by enterprising young people who are clever enough to spot the advantages of using the unentrepreneurial local talents in a more marketable and international manner. As I speak to many of the people who have moved there, I find that they have discovered a style niche – inspired by the lush tropical environment, amiable people, easy-going life and lower standard of living, they have found opportunities on this island, or more correctly, created opportunities on this island that they may not possibly have had in their home town. The “powerful” and “energetic” island is more than home for most of these “accidental entrepreneurs”. It is also a livelihood and a lifestyle.
And the locals play an important part – every expat I met unreservedly states that the Balinese people are superlatively talented. Excellent at working with their hands, quick at moving forward with traditional techniques and themes that have been handed down through the ages, they however, lack the ability to create an international-style brand and the vision and entrepreneurial ability to take it forward. Is it a happy marriage then? Possibly, though the challenges are many. Work stops unaccountably and a sense of professionalism is lacking. Language is another huge barrier. But these are small bumps on the style highway, as many of these expats are finding fruition by getting noticed by top design houses, designing for billionaires’ homes across the world, and finding a space in a global arena. While some bring global experience to the table, all have a keen sense of creativity and style.
Through many days of exploration, in between afternoons on the beach and motorbike rides through Jalan Oberoi, Seminyak’s shopping area filled with chic boutiques; tête-à-têtes over ‘Bali coffee’ at the boutique Elysian Hotel, wanderings through Bali’s art town, Ubud, cocktails at Amandari, watching ceramic production in action and bargaining with the jewellery vendors, I came across a phenomenon of style, determination and hard work.
Janet De Neefe
Writer, entrepreneur and restaurateur
Restaurants: Casa Luna and Indus, Ubud
It is not difficult to imagine Janet De Neefe as the face behind the annual international Ubud Writers & Readers Festival that is now in its sixth year, and has been instrumental in putting Ubud, Bali and Indonesia back on the travel map after the Bali bombings of 2002. “The aim of the festival is to give a voice to the many talented Indonesian writers by placing them on a world stage, alongside the likes of Vikram Seth and Michael Ondaatje.” Vikram Seth proclaims that his presence at the festival was merely because of Janet’s untiring persistence. Janet’s love affair with Bali began on her first holiday with her family, and on her second visit she met her husband Ketut. She hasn’t looked back since, having spent 20 years in Bali.
Roots Melbourne, Australia
Bali Years 20 years in Ubud
Creative Space Running two restaurants and authoring a book of her personal journey in Bali, partially inspired by the local cuisine and traditions called Fragrant Rice (2003)
Personal Style An eclectic take on the local designs: “Exotic Asian and Paris chic, with a bit of Spanish thrown in. I adore Indian textiles but also love Baroque style and Chinese and Moroccan embroidery.”
Challenges “Amidst all the challenges or misunderstandings, Bali has provided me with an exceptional life that most others would only dream of. I live in a generous, supportive community who value the importance of family, neighbours and community. So many places in the West have lost this. I never feel lonely or isolated and my children are treated with respect.”
“My love affair with Bali began in 1974, with my first visit on a family holiday when I was 15. I remember landing on the shores of a garden paradise, surrounded by waves and nodding palm trees and when the plane doors were flung open, the warm heavy air, mingled with fragrant frangipani and the sweet smell of clove cigarettes, embraced me like a long lost friend.”
– Janet De Neefe, Fragrant Rice
Made de Coney
Designer and boutique owner
Label: Lily Jean, Seminyak, Kerobokan (Kuta), Nusa Dua
Made de Coney received an inheritance of US$ 5000 from her father (who lived in Bali) at the age of 23, and without thinking twice, used it to rent a shop and create the Lily Jean label. Influenced by international fashion and inspired by the local Bali artisans, Made uses imported materials and local hand work, especially in embroidery and batik. “The same artistry they use for their religious ceremonies are applied in every artistic endeavour.”
Roots Born in Bali, she spent a decade of her childhood in Brazil and studied fashion in America.
Milestones The label is available in 12 countries, and with five shops in Indonesia, Made can look back and say, “Now I realise it is quite an achievement!”
Customers “They are women in their teens who love the playfulness of the designs; they are women in their 20s who are seeking personal statements to make with their style; women in their 30s who embrace the need for changing expressions of self; and women of every age who appreciate the delight of dressing for their own pleasure in beautiful garments that enhance their sense of self.”
Challenges “I’ve learnt to be very tolerant of religious holidays (Christian, Muslim and Hindu) and to cultivate my patience.”
The Lily Jean Label has soft, stylish street wear and highly glamorous cocktail dresses with important materials and local handwork.
Artist and designer
Kirsty Ludbrook moved to Bali to set up a home for her three boys – so that they could experience a world beyond the suburbs of Sydney. “The idea was thrilling and liberating. Especially our boys living this crazy exotic life in their early years, one that is so different to that which they would have had in Australia!” While she discovered that her flair for sketches and painting could be translated into sophisticated murals using local batik techniques on cloth, her husband Richard, a fashion photographer, is building a studio in Bali to accompany the very large one he already has in Sydney. “When I first arrived here I immediately started experimenting in my art with the new materials and techniques available – particularly with the rich, lustrous colours that could be achieved in silk batik work. As a result, my art evolved, and I have been working on portraits which are created by appliquing and embroidering together individual pieces of silks.”?Her paintings get an audience at her solo show in the Biasa Artspace this year.
Roots Sydney, Australia.
Milestones Kirsty has successfully sold a design agency in Australia,?and has been named by The Bulletin Magazine as one of Australia’s top 10 creative talents in their annual Smart 100 listing.
Challenges “The hardest thing is the fact that the Balinese are such nice people. They don’t want to disappoint you or say no. More often than not, being told ‘not possible’ at the beginning would have proven a little more practical.”
Kirsty Ludbrook’s silk ‘Art Kimonos’ are inspired from costtume design in Japanese Manga and action films, while the hooded kimonos are from Ninja characters – which sounds deceptive, as the finished product is feminine, soft and very sensual.
Michela and Marcello Massoni
Creative head and business manager
Space and Brand: Gaya Fusion, Ubud
The first private contemporary art space in Bali was started by Stefano Grandi, an Italian entrepreneur, in collaboration with an Indonesian, Nyoman Birit. A young Italian couple, Marcello and Michela and their friend Giorgia Oronte were brought into the picture in 2003 with their background in sculpture and ceramics “to start a dream:? be able to be creative without limits and competitive and productive in an amazing environment.” With over hundred employees, Marcello manages Gaya Fusion, while Michela plays the creative head of the ceramics and sculpting division. Nostalgic about home at a time when Michela’s parents are visiting to meet the babies, they say that they “decided to move for the high quality of life, to give to our kids a natural living environment, to be creative without limits, to be inspired by the tropics and to be productive with capacities difficult to create in Italy.”
Roots Piacenza, a small town 50 km south of Milan, Italy.
Creative Space Gaya Fusion includes an art space showcasing local and international artists, a ceramic studio that exports and supplies to the top brands, including Bvlgari, Aman Resorts and Giorgio Armani Casa; private villas and spas with Italian-Balinese fusion architecture, and a restaurant offering Italian and Indonesian cuisine.
Challenges Dealing with Hindu culture, lot of ceremonies, beliefs, difficulty in finding a high level of professionalism.
Using local products, Gaya Ceramics is always looking for new inspirations, as different clients mean different moods and designs. They make sculptures and unique pieces, while also producing nearly 5000 ceramic pieces a month.
Boutique owner and designer
Label: sKs or SimpleKonsepStore, Seminyak
Paola Zancanaro hails from a long experiential fashion lineage. She studied fashion at the London College of Fashion, and began her career at Vivienne Westwood, in marketing, sales and events, then as celebrities’ dresser at Giorgio Armani, and finally at events at Prada, Milan. Ready for a change of culture, Paola considered Tokyo, but didn’t want a repeat of break-neck city life and chose Bali as her destination of choice. “I have been living on this amazing island for almost a year and half, its culture and nature are the reasons why I moved here.” She continued to work as a consultant for Prada events in Asia, while also becoming a part of a trendy boutique, sKs.
Creative Space sKs – SimpleKonsepStore is the result of three Italian partners. All the sKs clothes are produced using antique Balinese techniques such as batik and silk screens. Paolo looks after the women’s clothes, while Mario Gierotto designs the menswear. Other accessories are from local designers and they also have exclusivity on Vivienne Westwood Jewellery.
Roots Born in Genoa and brought up in Alassio, Italy.
Challenges “Every day is a big challenge! You think you can do everything but when you get down to it, you realise is not that easy. Things do not get done quickly and as expected, but you can achieve amazing results by working with people who never stop smiling.”
sKs is a concept store where you can not just buy fashion but also find the latest gadget from Japan and real Italian design furniture such as the most iconic pieces from Kartell, Artemide, Flos and Alessi (brands that made history in the design furniture world).
Simonetta Quarti and Marco Lastrucci
Designers and boutique owners
Label: Quarzia, Seminyak
Marco Lastrucci and Simonetta Quarti started Quarzia, a chic boutique on Jalan Oberoi, (the main shopping district in Seminyak) in 2005, when nothing besides rice fields existed in the area. Hailing from a fashion background – Simonetta was a textile designer and Marco a financial manager, they were looking for a change, and Bali seemed like the perfect option. “The freedom to express ourselves and the skill of the Balinese people” were great motivators to the couple who have spent eight years on the island. Inspired by the old traditional design, they give the fabrics an European sense of colour and design. They are not driven by “creative stress” – having to come out with new collections frequently. Instead, they believe in “eternal” clothes that are one-of-a-kind with great designs, cuts and style.
Roots Florence and Venice, Italy.
Challenges It is difficult for the local artists to be precise and manage to get the exact shade of colour required in creating clothes of international standards. “We are completely different from the local people, but we respect each other and we can learn from each other.”
Quarzia makes one-of-a-kind clothes, where design, cut and style are very important, and where a pair of pants can be eternal.
Designer, painter and entrepreneur
Maisonbulle Ltd. (www.mbulle.com)
Stephanie has shifted through various creative interests and has entertained a relationship with the island since the early 90s when she came on holiday. “I loved the atmosphere and the endless possibility of creation and realisation the worker and their skills offered to one’s imaginative mind.” She returned to Indonesia to design, produce and buy a business she became a part of, for which she developed an interiors department, with the creation of a home textile and accessories line produced partially in Bali and India. Furniture took over textiles, and a sampling factory in Bali found Stephanie “enjoying experimenting, sharing knowledge and skill with a team of woodworkers, crafting beautiful pieces for single exclusive clients, architects, commercial decorators as well as large retail businesses.”
Design Style “Though my style would certainly reflect a great liking an admiration for the Scandinavian purist simplicity, mixed with an absolute love and fascination for the rough beauty of Asian road and country side furnishing and its practical laid-back attitude.”
Creative Space She is spearheading an online business, Maisonbulle Ltd. (www.mbulle.com) which an online catalogue of beautiful private holiday homes in Bali (and in the future globally), for which the main selective criteria is character. Specifically she recommends homes of designers, collectors, artists, philanthropists and travellers, whose homes reflect a unique character, to a similarly discerning set of travellers looking for a getaway. An editorial edition, Pulse, is soon to be launched. She also designs furniture and is a reclusive painter.
Stephanie puts her 15 years of experience travelling the world, particularly in Asia, into being a reference for “what is hot, stylish and worthy of attention”, with her online business Maisonbulle Ltd.
Art historian, designer, specialist sourcer
Store: Mican Tidur, Ubud
Determined to move to New Zealand, art historian Susi Johnston took a 14-year detour via Bali. She chose to ‘retire’ after a decade in marketing and public relations, “burnt out on fast-paced urban life,” and decided to spend six months in Bali doing “absolutely nothing”. She rented a little bamboo bungalow in the middle of the rice fields, near Ubud, and hasn’t looked back since. Susi speaks fluent Indonesian (actually stood in as a translator for an Indian yogi speaking to the local audience) and still hasn’t made that original relocation trip to New Zealand. “I ended up doing what I am currently doing in much the same way as so many other ‘accidental entrepreneurs’ who have found themselves in Bali,” says the ‘sleeping tiger of Bali’, who is a goldmine of information on the area and a regular blogger. She lives and works in collaboration with Bruno Piazza, her life partner, an Italian tribal art dealer and designer. They travel around Indonesia and mainland Southeast Asia together, “treasure hunting, feeding each other energy, inspiration, ideas and tastes”.
Roots Grew up in Seattle, lived in Scotland, London, New York and Hanoi.
Creative Space Running multiple galleries with her business partners, Susi Johnston is in a space she terms “specialist sourcing”, selling genuine antiques and ancient artefacts, while also creating furniture, accessories, textiles and architectural elements in a collaborative effort.
Challenges “The education and training in Indonesia is far short of what it should be. It can be extremely difficult to put together skilled staff to fulfil the many roles that make up a modern business team.”
Susi Johnston’s companies make unique basketry objects that are more sculpture than mere baskets; work with local carvers and furniture makers who create works in stone, wood and mixed materials with traditional tools and methods. They are a part of the synergy between local and world culture.