Ovelia Transtoto, the practical philanthropist
As much as it sounds like another fashion cliché, for Ovelia Transtoto, her biggest source of inspiration is people.
“People fascinate me. I love observing the way that we live, how we create and define our own identity by interacting with everything around us and our relationship with clothes,” says the Indonesian London-based designer. Her work speaks to an audience that, far from being passive subjects, can enhance and mould their personality when wearing her clothes. The wearer is central in Ovelia’s equation, and that is why practicality is the second main ingredient of her creations.
Theatricality combines harmoniously with functionality and a sense of relaxation that Ovelia Transtoto pursues in her designs. She believes that clothes should be about giving the wearer confidence and personal comfort, which is why her pieces aren’t meant to be worn for a particular occasion. Any situation is the perfect event to wear a dress, a skirt or a shirt signed by the young designer because for her, the secret of a perfect look is the person wearing it.
Six years after she graduated from Central Saint Martins, Ovelia confesses that she is already living her dream. Although she misses her hometown, Jakarta, and family, she doesn’t ask for much; she just wants to be “real.”
How did your interest for fashion flourish?
When I was young, I thought that fashion was all about vanity, even though I was still fascinated by clothes. I guess fashion has always been a part of me but I never thought I wanted to be a designer. I really enjoy making things with my hands, I am really into tangible things. I was trained to be a potter after school and re-working garments was something I did a lot when I was younger. For me fashion is just another way to express my creativity.
When I was in Indonesia I didn’t really like what I was doing there, so I came to London and did my foundation at Chelsea College of Arts. After some time debating on what path to take for my BA, I figured that the Fashion program at Central Saint Martins would allow me to make and manipulate tangible things, which is what I am very passionate about.
What is the most important outcome that you got from CSM?
The people. I learned so much from my peers. Everyone was so nice, and we all helped each other. The atmosphere and the vibe were amazing. It showed me that teamwork is crucial to help materialise your ideas. Whatever you do, it’s better to do it together than do it on your own. Based on my experience, people at CSM were incredibly talented yet humble and kind. I found my peers were brilliant minds, everybody was super happy to be themselves, nobody tried to be someone else, and that is perfect when you are trying to explore your creativity.
What did you do right after graduation? Did you always have a plan for after school?
Since I was very young, I knew that I didn’t want to work for anyone. During my placement year after school, I did an internship at Hussein Chalayan. In the meantime, I was doing freelance work to figure out how I would want to do my own thing and soon after that I started my own label.
Before I got to that point, I have to admit that I went through an internal discussion with myself, of asking what was the benefit of spending my life making clothes. I thought it was too self-indulgent. I had this contradiction inside of me because I love clothes, but I needed to work out how to feel useful and meaningful.
And did you work that out? What do you think makes fashion relevant?
The creative industry, in general, is very egocentric, because it revolves around self-expression. So, in some way, I feel that it’s only about “me, me, and me.” But, on the other hand, if we don’t have creativity, we won’t have culture. Clothes help us express our identity and identity is a subject I’m really excited about. For me, to be able to assist in the actualisation of someone’s individuality would be such a great reward. And there is also the business side of fashion that is a massive industry. It creates job opportunities for people and it preserves craftsmanship. The relevance of that speaks for itself.
Do you think fashion should be considered as an art form?
I think that fashion has different clusters, so I guess fashion sometimes can be an art form. For example, Rei Kawakubo is a brilliant designer and definitely an artist at the same time. I sincerely think that a fashion designer is someone who creates something that is functional for people, something that people can actually wear. In my opinion, there is a way to be both at the same time. If you are an artist, your work is about expressing your creativity, but a designer implies the business side as well. It’s the dialogue of fashion as art, and fashion as a product.
When you present your work to an audience, do you feel intimidated by their potential opinions or judgments?
Of course! It’s like showing your vulnerability to people, but if we think of what other people are going to say about us, we won’t get anywhere. My philosophy is ‘I can only be me’ and I don’t expect everyone to like me because that is not realistic. The only thing that matters to me is to try and be as genuine as I can.
How does your creative process work?
I like to make things elegant and beautiful, but I also want them to be practical and useful, so whenever I have an idea I ask myself: ‘How do I make this relevant now?’ And then I look at art, history, images, etc. That is how I usually start, and then I think of the theme that comes out of it. It’s a very organic process because all the steps and elements grow up together, and the actual story grows together as it goes. My creative process is very fluid.
When you design a piece, do you have any purpose in mind?
I just want the people to feel good in my clothes. I want to be a part of their personality, and at the same time, I want them to be able to express themselves as individuals. I don’t want the clothes to wear them; I want them to wear the clothes.
How would you like to be perceived as a designer?
I think it’s hard to describe yourself, it’s more about how people see you. That being said, I would like to be undefinable because everyone is an individual. I guess I want to be a free agent, and I will let people decide for themselves how they perceive me as a designer.
What is the perfect piece of clothing?
Good quality and thoughtful design. Small details are important to me, because they show that the designer really cares about the piece and that they put a lot of thought into it. Moreover, we should always keep in mind of the practicality and of course the story behind them. If you design a piece of clothing with a real story, reason, and meaning behind it, that is a bonus.
What is the recipe to become a successful designer?
I am trying to figure that out myself. I feel that today you need to be very business savvy, because that is how you will survive. In art schools, it’s amazing that they encourage you to be as creative as possible, but you also need to learn about the business side. Students need to know about reality as well, and designing is a small part of the whole business. At the end of the day, being a designer means you’re a company that needs to survive, because you are not doing this as a hobby.