IN THE NOW. Designer extraordinaire Tri Handoko chats with Joezer Mandagi about living in the moment and looking beyond trends while at the same time inspiring new ones
When we’re talking about fashion and style, the word “now” is most commonly used when describing what’s trending at the moment, which looks are currently in favor and what all the big fashion houses are working on presently. In the vocabulary of celebrated designer Tri Handoko, however, “now” seems to be detached from the rest of the world. His work is, thus, unique in the sense it is never an attempt to emulate past success, nor does it follow what’s selling or what will draw crowds in a few months’ time. Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find any piece of clothing by Tri Handoko that isn’t perpetually wearable.
Hailing from the East Java town of Blitar, Tri Handoko first stepped into the world of fashion in the late ’80s. Studies in design—including a stint abroad and internships at several leading designers such as Biyan—eventually led to the creation of his own label. Today he has three, each offering a distinct take on his vision of sartorial relevancy. By now, Tri Handoko is also known for his fashion shows, which can range from “merely” brilliant to brilliant and profoundly emotional. Therefore, it goes without saying that our conversation with the man himself was as thought-provoking as it was enlightening.
Joezer Mandagi: Can you give us a brief intro to your three fashion brands?
Tri Handoko: My first brand is the one bearing my own name, Tri Handoko, which is my first line. This one is mostly for custom-made clothing. Then, there’s Austere by Tri Handoko, which is for both men and women. This one is more deluxe—ready-to-wear deluxe, if you will. The other one, 3 by Tri Handoko, is for men—only for men—and has a younger target audience than Austere.
Joezer Mandagi: Of the last two you mentioned, which would be the “stronger” line for menswear?
Tri Handoko: Both, because each has a different character. The DNA is still the same, but the menswear pieces from Austere by Tri Handoko and 3 by Tri Handoko showcase different characteristics.
Joezer Mandagi: Speaking of the common DNA shared by your brands, what exactly is it?
Tri Handoko: For all my brands I always make something that is relevant. Always honest. I don’t like to make things that are senseless. This might be a bit hard to explain, but sometimes there are designers who force themselves to add things or create something that is actually unnecessary. That is what I call senseless. For myself, I know when to say “enough is enough.” I know when to say “stop.” Everything has to be relevant.
Joezer Mandagi: So, what are the relevant items for 2016?
Tri Handoko: If you’re asking me about trends, you’re making a mistake. [Laughs] This is an honest answer: I never study trends. Since the very beginning, I’ve never done so. I never try to follow trends. I’m just doing whatever comes to me. I’m just doing whatever my heart tells me to do. I never really care about other people—what other people say, I mean. “It’s not trendy,” “it’s whatever”—I don’t really care. So, maybe I’m not a trendy person. I’m not into trends.
Outfit by 3 by tri Handoko
Joezer Mandagi: It’s quite interesting hearing you say that because some people consider you a trendsetter.
Tri Handoko: What’s surprising is that, perhaps ever since I started working, it happens quite often—without me realizing it. And, actually, a lot of people would remind me: “Do you remember making this or that two or three years ago? And now it’s become a trend.” But I’ve never done so as a form of prediction. That’s what I said earlier, that I never try to predict what lies ahead. So, if it turns out that I have this gift granted by God as somebody that people see as a trendsetter, then I can only thank Him. Because it’s not me.
Joezer Mandagi: What does your creative process usually entail? Or let’s put it this way: How do you usually look for inspiration?
Tri Handoko: It could be anything: films, music, my own emotions, biographies. As for certain people who inspire me, I don’t have those. It keeps on changing and it can be anything. But, the thing is, I don’t like to daydream. So, like I said earlier, for all of my creations, I always make them relevant. Because I’m not the type to fantasize. I need to be sure that there will be people who want to wear what I make. Whatever it is that inspires me will be refined so that it can stay relevant.
Joezer Mandagi: Can you give us some examples of what has inspired you lately?
Tri Handoko: Throughout 2015 I had three major shows. And all of them were quite emotional. They were very intense, especially the last, “Mind Games.” That one was mostly about my story, my life. But, in general, it portrayed all human emotions, whatever it may be. So, it was very deep. Before that was “Be Here Now.” It’s about my belief that people need to live in the now. Because living in the past is not good, and worrying about the future is also wrong. So, for as long as you are here, now, that is a blessing. Everything is about “now.” There’s another one of my collections, “Ronin.” Ronin comes from Japan’s samurai culture—they’re exiled samurai who are masterless. But they are so adamant at upholding their honor that they are willing to die for it. That is what’s inspiring. So, every collection has a story.
Joezer Mandagi: What about 2016? Can you give us any hints about what, or maybe who, has inspired you for this year’s collections?
Tri Handoko: A human rights activist from Africa. He’s a big man. That’s my inspiration.
“For all my brands I always make something that is relevant. Always honest. I don’t like to make things that are senseless”
Joezer Mandagi: On to a more practical matter, as a designer, how do you get people to explore more diverse sartorial options?
Tri Handoko: I don’t think that I have the capacity to do that. In my opinion, my task is to provide them with options. To show them that even a classic shirt can have a twist to it—something to make it interesting. That’s all I can do: I only give them options.
Joezer Mandagi: How about if somebody’s already eager to explore but unsure how to do so. What do you recommend in a situation like this?
Tri Handoko: Actually, what’s most important is being comfortable. As long as you feel good about it, it doesn’t matter. Maybe there are people who go the opposite way and try to be very trendy. And then they try everything. But if they’re not comfortable, it’s not good. So, I think the key here is just being comfortable with whatever you’re wearing—and especially with yourself. Because if we’re already comfortable with ourselves, if we already know ourselves, if we already love ourselves … that’s already a plus point. So, it’s not about clothes; it’s not about being trendy. It’s not about, you know, stuff. It’s all from the inside, I think.
Joezer Mandagi: In that case, do you try to send a message through your designs?
Tri Handoko: No. I’m not the type of person who plans things. I’m very much an artist, even if I do say so myself. For example, I’m planning on making a collection so I think: “Okay, then; I want to make a statement to the masses. My message is this and this and this.” And then I make the collection. Never! So, everything I feel at the moment, everything I experience at the moment … that’s what comes out. I never really have any goals or plans. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that lately I’ve gotten in touch with my soul, probably, and then developed an interest for things that have never taken my attention before.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Style spring/summer 2016. Get your copy here.