Standing before a full-length mirror in her studio in West Jakarta, 23-year-old Stella Rissa holds a bright orange top and high-waisted khaki trousers up against her body. “This will do,” she says, proceeding to put them on.
Stella then unearths a couple of sketches — monochrome renderings of sharply tailored skirts and voluminous tops — from the swathes of fabrics on her worktable, and scrutinizes them.
“It is a bitchy world,” she says of fashion. “You have to know how to play.”
From her pretty pout to her glossy locks, Stella presents a picture of cool.
Yet once she starts talking about fashion, Stella’s exuberance reveals her bubbly personality.
In a world of ice-queen models and eccentric designers, Stella comes rushing at you like a breath of fresh air.
“In the beginning, everyone asked, who are you? Fashion is not like other businesses. You need to be extremely social. You have to be brave, greeting people you have never met,” she says.
After graduating with top honors from LaSalle design college in South Jakarta, Stella steeled herself for climbing up the fashion industry ladder.
“I am actually a tough person, perhaps because I have been there from zero. You have to know the hardships first. Since high school, I have been calling designers’ assistants to get tickets to their fashion shows, and I would go by myself, without knowing a soul,” she says.
Stella is the first to acknowledge she is in the early days of her career.
“I think I am too much of a junior designer to be competing with anyone,” she says.
“I am still looking for my own style. What is Stella Rissa really about? I am still experimenting with techniques, styles, colors and moods.”
In her first solo fashion show, in July 2008, titled “I Feel Like Dancing in the Rainbow,” Stella’s fascination with cut and bold color earned her much praise.
Today she is one of the country’s most talked-about designers.
“I design for the woman who knows her character. An individual who has her own style, dares to be different, modern, mobile,” Stella says.
“Designers are starting to be aware of their own styles. In Indonesia we tend to feel scared, constantly asking ourselves if we will be accepted because, if there is a trend, everyone goes toward it. You cannot come up with a new design and be accepted straightaway. I think a lot of Indonesian designers share that fear. Even I am still a bit scared,” she says.
Stella has no reason, however, to doubt her talent. In August of last year, she was named best new designer at the CLEO Awards at Jakarta Fashion Week.
In 2008, her designs also mingled in fashion shows with the designs of big names such as Ghea, Prajudi and Biyan, and she was invited to show her pieces at high-end boutique Populo in Senayan City, South Jakarta.
Even when she was in junior high, Stella dreamed of being a fashion designer.
“My body had not developed and I could not find clothes that represented me. So I started cutting and sewing, and made my own clothes.”
An eager learner, Stella not only uses fashion magazines but culture as points of reference, frequenting museums whenever she is overseas.
“In the old days people had no reference points or benchmarks. They created something, and it became history. I want to know how they came up with those designs,” she says.
Stella has maintained full creative and business control by keeping her label in the family. Her production team is small, consisting of two seamstresses, an assistant, her aunt and her mother.
“I have to be confident I can pull this off because if not me, who will do it? From the beginning I always knew what I wanted to be in the future. So what I am doing now, in my mind, I am doing this for myself,” she said.
All pieces are handmade under Stella’s supervision.
Though she would like to have her own boutique, Stella will likely continue to focus on custom-made clothing.
It is the exclusivity factor that has made the label popular with celebrities like Melissa Karim of TV show “Republik Mimpi,” (Republic of Dreams) fame.
Stella also plans to export her designs.
“I want to take my brand outside so that it can be appreciated here,” she says.
“Indonesians will buy Indonesian products if they are already established outside. Here we are ashamed to wear something without a label.
“My hope is that customers do not look at the brand but at the actual product, at the quality of the design. Come on, let’s appreciate designers who actually design.”
Web site: www.stellarissa.com