When it comes to styling, she’s a wall that people desperately try to climb over. A quick look at her and you immediately know she’s a league of her own. All black and white, no colors, with a little dash of punk; “that is so Ajeng”. It’s not easy to catch up with this stylist as she rushes through numerous meetings and events with her A-list clientele. But despite her hectic schedule, she remains calm and levelheaded as she sits down and takes us on a journey through her world.
“NO LONGER HEAR THE MUSIC” – Ms. Swastiari’s wrist tattoo
Our journey with the stylist starts at a bustling coffee joint tucked away in the center of Plaza Senayan. Amongst the crowded shop, all eyes immediately dart to Ajeng Swastiari as she steps inside. She’s dressed in a simple black and white outfit, with lace accents and dark purple lipstick. “Coffee, just coffee”, she tells the waiter.
Ms. Swastiari starts her story with her first mentor, veteran singer Titi DJ. At that time, Titi DJ already had a long established career behind her. She knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t need help with styling, but rather needed some enlightenment. Her stage accessories were custom made and Ajeng remembers fondly of the time the songstress guided her in gluing Swarovski crystals to her performance shoes. “You’re a stylist; it’s important how people see you”, these words of advice from Titi DJ echoed and modeled a younger Ajeng to become the stylist she is today. With a fashion style that is very distinct, it’s bound to get a lot of attention and fans; her A-list clientele proves just that.
Through the years, she’s worked with the likes of Rossa, Marcell, Afgan, and Agnez Monica. Adaptability, she stresses. The most important trait as a stylist is the ability to adapt to different trends and characters. When styling her clients, she channels their personality and sees what they would wear themselves. The key is to not make them look like her from head to toe, but to give a sense of, “there’s Ajeng in those clothes”. However, this is no easy feat as it drains a lot physically and mentally.
This highly demanded stylist gets help from her assistants to stay original and to also lighten the load. It’s a risky move; in a cutthroat industry like fashion, it’s not uncommon or youngsters to work for seniors then eventually quit and steal their clients. “I’m competitive but there’s a time and place for everything. I believe in regeneration and I want them to see me as a mentor”, she explains. “I really adore new stylists
but when I see them making light of fashion, I get really upset”, she adds. Rather than considering aesthetics, these junior stylists see what’s easy for them to use, in terms of vendor accessibility, convenience, and the likes. They don’t curate clothes, and what irritates Ajeng most is they don’t appreciate designers anymore.
As with emerging stylists, there are many local designers going international lately. It’s very business oriented because they have to trade and export, but Ajeng advices these ambitious designers to focus on their goals. For her, Indonesia is enough. She simply hopes that the people wearing these clothes will be happy.
” A hero
who makes me
Looking back, Ms. Swastiari feels that humans go through more difficult affairs than good ones. She remembers one of the most difficult times of her life when she failed a styling job and became traumatized to the point of wanting to leave the industry. Albeit, it was a strange period as she boomed right around the same time.
There was a lot of partying and meeting other people who helped her get back on her feet. “What really changed me was that I gathered all my confidence, and from there, I started over”. It’s been a long time coming with boulders after boulders thrown at her. She draws support from her broken family, who gave her an identity and made her stronger. “My dad was harsh on us when we were younger, but I believe a hero is like that; a hero is someone who makes me stronger”. This is a sensitive issue for many, but when we asked her if it was okay to share this, Ajeng immediately said, “of course”. She embraces her past and firmly believes that one should never be ashamed of their less-than-perfect background, but rather to see the positive side and draw strength from it.
These days, you can find Ajeng working for her mentor, Tri Handoko. Having been hurdled with idealism all these while; it’s a euphoric time for her now as a fashion director. Before pursuing fashion, she majored in literature so a lot of her inspiration came from books and stories, and that translates into her work and makes it really poetic. Her most recent line featured the story of Ronin, a Japanese hero who lost his master. In 5 years, Ms. Swastiari wants to settle down, but most definitely not in Indonesia. She’s gone through cycles where she worked like a horse to feed her ambition. But she’s tired now, and she wants to rest. “I want to be anywhere but here”.