In Indonesia, batik is known for the artisans who make it and the traditional meaningful patterns that adorn it. At its core, batik is also a way to create textiles where wax stops dyes from colouring specific areas. The technique inspired a young Venezuelan fashion designer in Jakarta to create garments that featured dazzling Latin patterns that were lovingly rendered in batik, in a remarkable blend of the couture of several cultures.
Photo by Christian Razukas, Mexican Embassy Doc., Jesus Cedeño Doc.
“You have to believe in the magic of fashion,” says Jesus Cedeño. The 26-year-old Venezuelan recently staged an unusual trunk show for his “Mextik” collection at the Jakarta residence of Federico Salas, Mexico’s ambassador to Indonesia. His models did not strut down a runway, and instead sauntered–slowly–to a sultry rendition of the classic song “Peligrosa” (Danger) by Mexican-American singer Lila Downs. What the models wore was striking and equally unusual, for example, a crop-top kebaya daringly matched with flared pants—and a sombrero—or an electrifying mini-dressin Mexican Pink, delicately emblazoned with animal patterns, applied using Indonesian batik techniques.
Batik attracted Cedeño for practical reasons when he studied fashion design at the Brivil Institute of Design in Caracas. “I was always looking for a way to paint on fabric, but traditional paint always changes the weight,” he says. “Batik was a new, fascinating universe. I found a technique I could use to paint—to make things contemporary. I found a huge tradition.” While there’s no technique of wax dyeing in Venezuela, there is an indigenous tradition of working with indigo dyes, as well as an Indonesian tenun-like style of weaving from the Andes, Cedeño says. Although some designers such as Liliana Avila in Caracas have used batik, Cedeño said his intro to the textile came from Indonesia’s then-ambassador to Venezuela, who he met at a fashion show for the Venezuelan designer Angel Sanchez. Inspired by the ambassador, Cedeño lobbied to make batik the theme for his class’ runway project, where upwards of 50 students experimented with the technique. He later became secretary of the embassy’s batik club and won a Dharmasiswa scholarship from the Indonesian government to study batik at PPPPTK Seni dan Budaya, school in Yogyakarta.
Cedeño said he quickly learned that batik required patience—and a complete shift in mind—set. Eager to get started after arriving, the designer said that he had to learn to relax. Visions of crafting six, eight or even ten batik were quickly revised downwards after venturing to workshops in small villages, where he watched artisans painstakingly paint dots on batik for days on end. “Batik is a way of life,” he says of the experience. “We were all anxious and waiting to start making batik, but batik is about patience.” For Mextik, Cedeño drew on Tenango, a traditionally dynamic and flamboyant form of embroidery crafted by artisans in the Otomi-Tepehua of Mexico’s Hidalgo state. Tenango, famed for its vibrant depictions of flora and fauna, was rendered onto cotton and silk by Cedeño using a canting wax pen. The designer also reconceptualized traditional attire from Oaxaca, Queretaro and Vera Cruz, fusing the pieces with kebaya and other traditional Javanese touches. The Tenango-inspired mini-dress was one of the hardest pieces to craft, Cedeño says, describing the difficulties he faced in blending dyes to achieve its Mexican Pink colour.
Mextik can introduce young people to batik in a way that they are not used to, offering sexy, colourful looks that can easily be dressed up for the office. “’How hot!’” he says of some of the reactions to his work. “’How elegant!’” For now, the line is available by commission only: Cedeño wants to keep the creative freedom that designing made-to-order pieces for women offers. He also has plans to launch a line of batik men’s shirts later this year. “Batik is a lifestyle,” he says. “Batik is a technique that I will always use.”