A Life Less Ordinary

Originally published in hellobali magazine, May 2011

For a word that translates into English as “ordinary”, BIASA is lost in translation; plainly speaking, in a world of ordinaries, BIASA is anything but.

The ever-evolving world of fashion is as difficult for me to keep up with as Apple’s gadget releases – as soon as you get your hands on the latest trendy item, it is suddenly replaced by a newer model, more innovative and avant-garde than the last. It needs to be said, on that note, that there are particular items out there – in fashion and technology alike – that just simply cannot be substituted because they remain ever so practical and, more importantly, they are timeless classics.

BIASA is one of the few fashion labels that reflect the philosophy of perpetual style: nothing too loud, nothing too plain, always comfortable, but – and here’s the paradoxical pièce de résistance – the clothing is never boring. An anomaly stitched up in soft, lightweight materials is BIASA, and also just as much an anomaly is its brand name, BIASA, which is Indonesian for “ordinary”. On the usage of this adjective to describe the fashion, I personally beg to differ, mainly because the more versatile bias-cuts of some of the clothing items sometimes call for a user’s manual just to put on, which, in the case of BIASA, is the polar opposite of a fashion faux pas.

“BIASA was named BIASA because it is exactly that; the clothes are just…biasa [ordinary],” explains Susanna Perini, the brains behind the brand, with a laugh. “No, actually, they aren’t. Although seemingly plain, they are all very unique in form, but the colour palette is very simple, you know, a lot of basics: white, black, beige – all constructed in ethereally light fabrics.”

BIASA started its (extra) ordinary journey in 1994. At the time, Susanna and her partner were exporting materials and clothes to international retail brands when she decided to start a fashion line of her own. “Back then, Paul [Ropp] and I were in India and Bali a lot, from where we exported materials and items to buyers: ZARA, Pier 1 Imports, [and] H&M, and I thought, ‘Why not start an independent brand instead?’ and that is how it first started. Paul helped me in setting up shop in Seminyak, and so the story goes…”

At the moment, BIASA has arguably become a household name in the local fashion scene, and although its reputation as a “tropical casual chic” fashion line can probably never be shrugged off, it has, through the years, branched out to become a creator of innovation in fashion and also as a home to the arts.

BIASA Artspace, a contemporary art gallery located near the flagship store on Seminyak, is home to thought-provoking, revolutionary artworks by breakthrough artists. To call the space a gallery, though, is quite inapt, as it is more of a personal project that is very close to Susanna’s heart, undoubtedly influenced by her background as an art history student and former art activist.

“BIASA Artspace is not a gallery, in the sense that it is not a business. Perhaps it’s better to call it a foundation. During my travels in Java, especially Yogyakarta and Bandung, I had dialogues with all these amazingly passionate artists that created layers of stories told through their visual artworks. Their dynamic energy and genuine enthusiasm in creating are so inspiring, they compelled me to provide a space for them to tell their stories,” Susanna muses. “I wanted to create a neutral outlet that can invoke a candid sense of true art appreciation, and I hope BIASA Artspace can grow into much more than just a physical space but also as an intangible bridge for creative minds to meet.”

At the moment, BIASA Artspace is showing the works of revered local artist Ugo Untoro, who is known for his surreal visuals that leave much to the imagination and personal interpretation of the audience, conveying messages that ruffle one’s feathers of opinion.

At the rate BIASA is at, it seems impossible to even imagine that at one time, the idea of BIASA itself was an outlandish one. “Fashion is in my blood. My mother was a boutique owner, and my grandmother as well, but I grew up in Rome, and in the ’40s and ’50s there [in Italy], it was degrading to even think of being in the fashion wholesale retail industry. The fashion scene was very strict, very elite. It was all very haute couture, and I grew up anti-fashion because I was surrounded by this dogma that I did not agree with. Opening a store like BIASA would have been impossible to do at that time. But when I came to Bali, and I fell in love with it, I discovered a new place where fashion became a form of artistic expression, devoid of all these preconceptions of what fashion is ‘supposed’ to be, and it gave me a whole new perspective,” Susanna explains. “Fashion – and art – is about personality, creativity, and inspiration, everyone is unique. Everyone has his or her own story to tell. It is a living thing, not an object.”

Susanna’s concept of the seamless dialogue between fashion and art can be seen through BIASA’s current campaign, in which various prominent Bali personalities are portrayed artistically, by photographer and artist Matteo Basilé, wearing the brand’s clothing items; the visual style of the print campaign tells a narrative and although they are two- dimensional in form, they are five-dimensional in character, telling a tale of a life less ordinary enveloped in “ethereally light fabrics”.