At the age of 30, Indonesian-born, Sydney-based clothing designer Haryono Setiadi is one of the youngest creatives in Australia to make it to the lofty heights of the national fashion scene. Notable fashion magazines and blogs gawk admirably at his modern and minimalist garments, and he counts fashion doyennes Sofia Coppola, Kimbra and Jennifer Hawkins among his customers. Trained for five years under Akira Isogawa and Nicola Finetti, Haryono stepped out on his own in 2011 with his namesake high-end womenswear label (originally named An Ode to No One) and in 2012 launched his ready-to-wear diffusion line, A.D. His dream now is to take his label global.
In Australia’s fiercely competitive fashion industry, Haryono Setiadi has quickly made a name for himself as one to watch. His sleek label is praised for its precise tailoring, innovative fabric treatments and daring inventiveness. His approach is described as ‘meditative’, as he crafts his garments with meticulous and thoughtful attention to detail.
Far from a wallflower brand, his 2011 autumn/winter collection featured Australia’s first 3D printed garments. His high-tech prints were not only beautiful to the naked eye but also morphed into an altogether different ethereal image once viewed through 3D glasses. Haryono painstakingly created the abstract prints himself, using photo software and plenty of trial and error. The collection made him the winner at the 2011 Chambord Shine Awards, which celebrate emerging design talent in Australia.
His past two collections – which also sported intriguing digital prints – featured at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, with his 2013 autumn/winter garments catching the eye of Vogue Australia editor Edwina McCann, who named him a ‘discovery’ when highlighting her top ten moments of fashion week.
Haryono says the design process comes naturally to him. “Designing is always about looking around. I have my pad and a pen with me at all times so whenever an idea comes to mind – which could happen at any time, even in the middle of the night – I write it down. When it comes to designing a collection, I go back through the archives and consider my ideas. So I feel like I’m designing 24/7. There’s no stopping. It’s better that way because I find it’s more enjoyable rather than it feeling like a job.”
With such innate design talent, it’s surprising that Haryono didn’t set out to work in fashion. He was born in Jakarta, where he lived until moving to Sydney to study at the age of 20. He grew up playing piano with his three sisters who are all in creative industries (his youngest sister is a professional pianist) and after school Haryono began pursuing a career as a contemporary pop musician and songwriter. To satisfy his father, he moved to Sydney at age 20 and graduated from university in Sydney with a Bachelor of Commerce, majoring in statistics.
“The mathematical side of my brain definitely came from my parents,” Haryono reflects. “My father is a strict businessman and my mother, aside from being a great mother, is also a devout Catholic so I guess it’s a different background to where I am right now. I’m not sure how I ended up in the creative field, really. Coming from a business and conservative background I think I just wanted to do something different.”
After graduating from university, Haryono worked as a finance analyst for one year, but knew he was on the wrong path. Instead, he felt drawn to try either graphic design or fashion. “I realised I was interested in working with images, colours and fabrics. I wasn’t sure whether fashion was the right avenue to express myself in that way, so I applied for a few jobs in graphics as well, but I ended up landing an internship with Akira Isogawa.”
After three months working for free alongside Akira – one of Australia’s most respected and adventurous designers –Haryono was employed as his assistant for the next 15 months. Haryono then scored a position designing and expanding Nicola Finetti’s diffusion line, Nylon Frocks, for three-and-a-half years. He shelved his music dreams to focus on fashion, but believes music will always be a part of him. He still plays and writes songs at home in Sydney for cathartic joy.
Haryono credits his time with Akira Isogawa for teaching him to explore new fabric treatments and strive for precise garment construction. His time with Nicola Finetti, he says, gave him business nous as he grew Nylon Frocks’ stockist portfolio nationally and abroad. While working in the industry, Haryono slowly developed his own aesthetic and signature style, something he says is vital for any designer to discover before they kickstart their label.
“It’s most important for new designers to find out who they are and in which direction they’re heading, which can take a very long time for a lot of people,” he says. “It’s one of the toughest challenges.”
Haryono admits he felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety upon launching his label. “Going into a completely different business on your own is very nerve-racking. There were
a lot of risks I had to take. At the same time I also knew it was the right step to take for me to be able to move on.”
Despite designing for the high end of fashion, Haryono launched his label without fanfare and bravado. “When I started my business it was a very small and humble kind of system. I started from my studio apartment, which I turned into an office and showroom. That’s where I did all of my designs, sales, sampling, pattern making, cutting, sewing and PR until it grew enough for me to hire a studio.”
Haryono’s dream is to grow his brand internationally, which is a particularly ambitious goal in such a shaky global economic climate. Testament to his determination, this goal is fast becoming a reality. In 2012 he won mentoring and financial support through the DHL Fashion Export Scholarship – judges described his label as ‘oozing elegance, meticulous detail and unrivalled creativity’. And this year his 2013 autumn/winter collection was snapped up by international luxury e-tailer Moda Operandi, which curates the world’s top global runway collections – such as Karla Spetic and Josh Goot – and makes them available for pre-order online.
He was also selected as one of nine Australian contenders for the International Woolmark Prize’s 2013–2014 campaign, which challenges designers to sketch a collection that celebrates the unique natural properties and beauty of Merino wool. For Haryono, the most exciting part of the project is the textile development, something he says he will always passionately explore through his label.
Asked if he considers himself a success, Haryono shares, “When I see one collection is better creatively and business-wise than the last, that’s when I feel I’ve achieved a level of success. For me it’s about keeping a great balance between maintaining my creativity at the same time as maintaining the business and surviving and growing as a brand. That’s how I measure my success.”
No matter what challenges the industry or economy throws his way, Haryono says he never considers giving up. “It has been quite challenging,” he admits of his first years as a designer. “I am surviving and I’m pushing through but I think it’s because I am happy with what I do.”