Felicia Budi: Beauty in Vulnerability

by Julius Kensan
27th October 2014
Over a sleepy late afternoon, we talk to fashion designer, Felicia Budi, of fbudi on her love for experimentation and what makes a fbudi woman.

Felicia Budi is not the type fashion designer that one would typically associate with. For example, she doesn’t romanticise fabric while swooping her hands up and down. She doesn’t excessively pepper her sentence with words like, ‘Honey’ or ‘Darling’. In addition, her idea of dressing up is really about dressing down.

We are in fbudi showroom – a modest size space converted from one of many rooms in her house. Her thin frame is dressed in a simple white crew neck top and A-line flared skirt, often with her hands tucked inside the hidden front pockets. Both pieces are from her latest Spring/Summer 2015 collection, which will debut in less than a week time in Jakarta Fashion Week.

After a brief discussion, we decided to sit by the large window in the showroom. She is not wearing any makeup, except for dark plum lipstick on her lips. She is also not wearing any accessories, safe for a thin red bracelet, which seems to be fashioned out from thread. She then proceeds to relax her hair from a simple household rubber band and let the hair brush her shoulders. Not that she needs any additional adornment or frills. Under the late afternoon sunlight, the crinkled texture of her top pops up right out.

“Lightweight, tear resistant and very durable.”

“Oh, it’s Tyvek. A synthetic material that is lightweight, tear resistant and very durable,” she explains. In Wikipedia, the flashspun high-density polyethylene fibers material is described as “strong and difficult to tear but can be easily cut with scissors or knife. Water vapor can pass through Tyvek but not liquid water”. I could have asked her for a short description of herself, but it seems that that is unnecessary too. For the description of Tyvek could have easily been about Felicia herself.

There is this duality to Felicia’s creation. From outside, they appear to be ethereal, light and even fragile. But the “toughness” of her creations reveals themselves the moment you touch them with your own hands. Case in point, a sheer black pleated crop jacket from her current fbudi Fall/Winter 2014 collection looks delicate and dainty. But they were not made to be broken. The pleats retain its shape no matter how you stretch or fold it. They are no doubt strong and tough but just underneath the surface, there is this sense of vulnerability that makes them so compelling. And the same could also be said about Felicia’s attributes.

“People treat you differently when you wear certain clothing.”

Born into a family of four, her father passed away in 1999 while she was still young. Felicia’s ambition to become a Fashion Designer didn’t surface until high school after watching a fashion show with her mum. However, there has always been an interest in the way women dress themselves. “I just find it amusing that people treat you differently when you wear certain clothing,” she smiles.

Without even completing high school, she was sure of her future path. So sure that she even made a bet with her mum. “I told her that I’ll take care of the enrollment process all by myself and if my application were to be approved, I would like to have her blessings. My mum said yes but that’s because she was sure that my application wouldn’t get through,” she recounts with a laugh.

Fast forward four years later, Felicia graduated with a bachelor degree in Fashion Pattern Cutting from London College of Fashion. After freelancing for a bit, she moved back to Jakarta and landed herself a job as a junior designer for BIN house, a well-known Indonesian label that roots itself firmly in the century-old traditions of handmade Indonesian fabrics.

She remembers trailing along to their workshops as well as learning a great deal about Indonesian textiles during her two-year stint in BIN house. “Honestly, I learnt a lot more there than when I was in college,” she says.

“I almost never sketch.”

What spurred her to start out on her own then, I ask.

“Back then, I was bored. Bored not because the job was boring,” she clarifies. “It just that it got to a point where I didn’t have the time to nurture my own creative thirst. In BIN house, I’d often be busy with designing for up to three or four clients a day. I’d look over at those designs and thought to myself, ‘They are starting to look similar’.”

“So I left BIN house hoping to explore things on my own and thought why not start my own label?” she pauses for a bit. “Well my initial plan was to quit, explore for a little bit then go back to full-time work again. But one thing leads to another and fbudi was born.”

If there is any thing takeaway from her experience in London and her stint in BIN house, it is her love for experimentation and her respect towards fabric. “Basically, I like to play with materials. I almost never sketch,” she explains. “I’d often find something I like halfway through and then develop them further. So most of the time, it has mostly been beautiful accidents.”

That may be true, but Felicia is definitely not relying on luck. Rather, she moves with her own gut feelings: the same instinct that landed her a spot in London College of Fashion. However, her designs are also buoyed by a clear vision of what makes the fbudi woman.

“When it comes to muse, it is woman like Tilda Swinton and Jo Elaine (ex Editor of Dewi magazine). They are strong with a clear understanding of who they really are and thus love to experiment with their looks. But not experimenting in the sense of a teenager,” she explains.

“It has to have the fbudi DNA. It has to be fresh and new.”

Now that Jakarta Fashion Week is drawing closer, does she feel any pressure?

“Definitely!” she blurts out. “Well, I guess you can say that this is the first time that fbudi is being put out there for all to see. I think the pressure lies in maintaining the spirit of fbudi. It is always in my thought in every collection. Not only it has to be able to sell well, it has to have the fbudi DNA. It has to be fresh and new.”

By now, the late afternoon sun begins to fade out gradually but on Felicia’s face, the ethereal glow still retains. Given her thin, fragile frame, I couldn’t resist myself but to go out on a limb and ask if she’s vegetarian before the end of the interview.

She stares at me for a second and blurts out with an easy laugh.

“No, I’m not. I love meat.”