Rusly Tjohnardi launched his eponymous brand in 2002 and from the very beginning, his creations embodied a romance and elegance that set the standard for impeccable couture. His eye for detail and delicate beaded creations are ethereal, like pieces of art, and he captivates many with his personality. But there is more than meets the eye to this fashion designer with a conscience: his dresses are designed in layers and can transform to create multiple looks. Shifting towards sustainable fashion, one dress at a time.
Have you always dreamed of becoming a fashion designer?
I always wanted to be an illusionist for the longest time, all thanks to David Copperfield. I think in the end, it coincides with what I do now. It has everything to do with visuals. An illusionist would misdirect and make people believe in the impossible. More or less like a designer working to direct a spectator to see the best features and shapes that complement a person best. Both are masters of redirection.
Your parents were artistic, did they encourage you to pursue fashion?
My father paints well and my mother is artistic in her own way with sewing and craft. Being old-school, they never really pushed me to pursue arts as they did not see how it would sustain a good living. I have always had a strong personality, I believed in my passion and talent, so I pursued my dreams on my own accord since I was young. I started designing sweet 16 and 17 birthday party invitations and greeting cards in school. I would pick stationery, paper and draw calligraphy. I started designing clothes for parties and proms, way before I went to fashion school. Art has always been in my DNA.
What is the guiding-light in your design and your motivation?
I am inspired by everyday things, it could be a person, the flow of a fabric or music. I call it a dream. Not only can I visualise how the dress would look, but also the hairstyle, makeup and accessories. Almost like the minds of architects and interior designers, where they can visualise the concept or the ambience of a project, it’s the same for me. I can draw exactly what I visualise and am blessed with a talent to realise my vision all the way to execution. It’s a skill that I honed through many years in the business. In fashion you have to enjoy the process.
Walk us through your design process?
Prior to our meeting, I would ask my clients to do
a little homework, telling me their likes and dislikes, about themselves and the occasion we are creating for. We will discuss it upon meeting and I will advise them what works and what doesn’t. I will balance out the colours that suit them, the shape and the character of the dress. The design evolves as we go along.
I will guide my client to make a well-informed decision. From a design sense, comfort, wearability and versatility is most important . As a designer, we have to create designs that can be worn for more than one occasion. It is our duty to educate.
After the design process, I will brief my in-house artisans who have been with me for a long time, who know my brand DNA and standards by heart. We have many teams, each with their own expertise working on different elements of a dress. Directing my staff to execute what I visualise is an art in itself. I have to know all of their characters, their strong points, fragility and what motivates them in order to communicate better. It’s a life-long human study.
What is unique to Rusly Tjohnardi’s designs?
Finding the right dress for someone is very personal and the wearer needs to be comfortable in it. To achieve that, I listen and observe. I take note of the things that matter most to the client and what is often overlooked such as the symmetry of their body shape and character. Without my client asking, I enhance their best features. I usually educate my client to make a well informed decision when it comes to designs or colours they like versus what looks good on them. Of course I will give my client a touch of what they wanted, only refined and bespoke.
What is couture to you?
In essence couture is art, technique. Couture doesn’t have to be loud and only worn once. Couture can be understated, it should be timeless. It’s our choice of approach and expressing a piece of couture. A couture item should be able to transcend trends.
Who do you look to as a muse or fashion icon?
I love classics like Audrey Hepburn, she is timeless. Her style, makeup and look is so simple yet so chic.
The pandemic has shifted the way people shop, has it affected your business especially bridal wear?
The most noticeable is that brides now opt for one dress that can be added-on or accessorised for night and day. One piece that can be transformed, compared to two or three pieces in pre-pandemic days. Consumers are smarter, spending less and shopping better. It’s actually a good thing. It makes more sense to spend on one luxurious piece and complement it with a shawl, top or blazer. Consumers have to change their mindset to wear clothes multiple times – it’s really a matter of styling. I hope this trend will continue so we can reduce surplus and wastage.
What’s your vision for fashion in the future?
As a designer, I realised that hang, wear, throw fashion creates a lot of problems. Our convenience is not convenient for the earth and future. Design and couture has to be sustainable, wearable and comfortable. We should let go of our ego, stop following brands. Instead, look for something within our budget that is well-made and lasts.
The way a designer makes you feel is important. It’s not about the name, but the relationship. If I can educate one client and change one shopping behaviour at a time, it’s good enough for me. I don’t see fashion as just glitz and glam, it’s way beyond that. It’s the human connection. It’s the wellbeing of the people, those who are making a piece and the one wearing it.
What is the proudest moment in your career?
I have my proudest moment every weekend when I see my clients walking down the aisle or into the venue. When they look good, overjoyed, confident in what they are wearing, I’m proud.
It never gets old.