Last Thursday evening, designer Harry Halim held his fall 2023 show at the cavernous hall of Bengkel Space, which was previously home to the popular Potato Head Garage. Celebrities and big personalities showed up in trove, some decked out in full looks, in support of the designer—Tara Basro, and her husband Daniel Adnan (who were unmissable in a long blue coat and brick red fur jacket respectively), Asmara Abigail, Ivan Gunawan and Lucinta Luna to name a few.
On the show note, Harry stated that the fall show, titled “Pagan Poetry” took inspiration from the witch coven, and an invitation to celebrate “love, occultism and freedom.” The designer set the stage at the left wing of the venue with its high ceiling dripping with chandeliers. The coven vibe was amped up by having three hooded figures lighting up candles at the start of the runway. A gesture that was a little too on the nose.
In its essence, the collection is divided through the use of different materials that the designer employed for flow. In particular, the slightly oversized, broad-shoulder faux fur coats in a variation of lush colours; there’s one in royal aubergine worn simply with leather shorts and the toned torso of the male model. And of course, another seemingly conservative coat in black—cinched with a belt which spelled the namesake label at the front—packed a surprise once the model turned around, baring his naked back, bums and legs in full display.
Throughout the rest of the runway, from the leather looks (it’s vegan) to a short interlude of denim before the finale in shiny silk, the ruffles—a recurring motif especially from the previous collection—made their appearance again in almost all the looks and came in different forms.
Some trailed down the floor like jellyfish tentacles and some lined the sleeves and pants. It does its job in softening the sharp tailored looks and actually brings to mind the “manggaran”, the twist of cloth that served as a keris vessel for knights in Gragak Surakartan shadow puppets. But after a couple of looks, it started to get repetitive, as if the designer was simply trying them out in different permutations.
Still, it was most effective when used to expand the silhouette as seen in the second last look. The evening look that featured a coat with an oversized collar and lapels was further amplified with ruffles jutting out the sleeves. Like a show of dominance, if you will, the way a frill-necked lizard would intimidate by expanding the flap on its neck. It was bewitching (pardon the pun). You wish the designer would have focused on expanding his design language instead of relying on the witch coven theme as a crutch. In fact, it felt more like an entourage of vampires with a penchant for kinky sex.
Interestingly, the most effective look is perhaps worn by the designer himself when he came out to take his bow. A navy blue ensemble of a jacket with sharp shoulders and roomy floor-length pants with a choker and winged eyeliner extending to his temples. It cuts to the point of who Harry Halim is as a designer and label, the sense of renegotiation as he carves out a space and identity for himself in a conservative country that is still ruled by the deeply ingrained culture of niceties and political correctness. Having been born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore before starting his business in Paris, Harry mentioned in an interview before on the feeling of being an outlier, never quite belonging in neither of the countries growing up.
In comparison to the collection that he put out, which overall was solid and will no doubt serve the purpose when worn by celebrities during performances and red carpets, it also felt impersonal and performative, rendering the wearer as a one-dimensional being. Harry Halim is much more than that.