Old batik prints are back – Robb Report
For centuries, artisans from Southeast Asia to West Africa have used wax dyeing to create textile patterns of amazing complexity and rich, lasting color. To this day, traditional batik artists use hand-applied prints and freehand drawing techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation and yet allow for pictorial flair and creativity, making each piece unique.
In the spiritual homeland of batik in Indonesia, many designs have royal and aristocratic origins, and fabrics continue to play a special role in formal and national attire. But renewed interest in vintage and modern batik extends far beyond, from collectors and aesthetes to a new generation of designers bringing craftsmanship to a wider audience.
A collector, Shelly Nugroho, came to interior design batik. “I was always looking for paints to add a touch of color to a room,” he says. Robb Report. “At one point, I was experimenting with hanging batik as an alternative. It not only brought interest in a room, it brought soul and life. Since then, I have been in love with this art form, especially vintage batiks. Styles vary from understated Central Java designs to colorful North Coast shapes, but Nugroho’s greatest interest lies in the understated Sogan style, developed in the Royal Palace in Surakarta.
For Lorenz Saputra, batik should be appreciated beyond formal occasions. He founded the Pasais menswear brand last year to create stylish yet easy-going clothing. The brand’s trademark is the Aleph Shirt, a camp collar shirt with a square hem. Such resort shirts may be ubiquitous in many men’s clothing collections, but Pasais’s fabrics are entirely new: hand-made prints in dark olive, intricate freehand floral designs in indigo or shimmering pastels, complemented by a range of richly textured hand-woven cottons.
“We prefer natural colored batik with modest patterns,” Saputra tells us. “One of our current favorites is the hand print designs made from everyday materials like chopsticks, leaves, burlap and ropes.” Unlike traditional copper blocks, these natural prints create organic, imperfect shapes. “We also love vintage batiks made from the 1930s to the 1980s which have historical values in terms of technique and color preservation.”
It’s not easy to work with traditional batik fabrics, both in terms of sourcing and manufacturing (they come in narrower bolts than conventional sewing fabrics). But it’s worth giving Indonesia’s wealth of crafts its due, says Saputra. Creating casual wear with the same exquisite workmanship and premium fabrics as formal wear makes batik wearable far beyond its original context. This philosophy of casual craftsmanship goes beyond the shirt; right now the brand offers minimalist leisure pants in delicate hand-woven cotton, perfectly suited for downtime in hot climates, and there are plans to experiment with summer suits.
Another brand that is bringing back batik is Lagos-based knitwear specialist Bloke, an brainchild of designer and creative director Faith Oluwajimi. Founded in 2016, Bloke has found an international following for its hand-dyed cardigans, tunics and shirts. The designs are playful, the colors striking, but the production processes are quite traditional. “Batik is one of the few ancient fabric-making techniques that has a rich history and African origin,” says Oluwajimi. Robb Report. “We practice this technique as an intentional way to maintain and also explore ways to keep the technique an interesting craft form while it is shared with the world at large.”
Meanwhile, in New York City, Muur launched an indigo batik capsule collection. The brand was founded in 2018 by Muriel Salimin, a fashion industry insider with Surinamese and Indonesian family roots. In addition to leather goods and travel accessories made in Indonesia, the brand’s batik offering includes cotton and silk scarves, bandanas and pocket squares. Thanks to the deep indigo dye, these pieces effortlessly adapt to workwear basics, from t-shirts to denim. The patterns are both dense and delicate, from block print stripes to hand drawn designs. Best of all could be the swirl scarf, meticulously hand painted with thousands of dots, like the clearest night sky.
“Our pieces have stories, they are connected to both people and places. We work in direct partnership with artisans, family businesses who put all their heart and soul into their profession. In return, we offer fair compensation and an exceptional product, ”says Salimin. “Working with artisans in Indonesia is like coming home. “