Reshaping Culture, in Style with Pubumésu

Reshaping Culture, in Style with Pubumésu

By Aisha Hassan on March 13th, 2021


When worlds collide

Pubumésu’s wicked designs speak for themselves. With one look at the brand’s handmade leather fans, which boast striking motifs that unfurl as they open, it’s no wonder Pubumésu has partnered with powerhouse names like Net-A-Porter and Potatohead Bali. The brand’s designer, Putri Soediono, doesn’t shy away from fusing imagination, craft, and functionality into every piece, while also drawing from a mix of cultural influences. 

While Pubumésu began in 2011, Putri began exploring the confluence of East and West earlier when studying at Cordwainers, London College of Fashion. “I could see Ikat in Selfridges and Liberty but no one understood what it was or what the patterns meant, which made me look into what it means to be an Asian person and what it is about Asia that intrigues the West,” Putri says. Following research, it was clear at the time that Asian influences in mainstream luxury fashion were only embraced periodically. “Why does it have to be cyclical or on trend every five years...why can’t we have a middle ground?”

Putri, who is Indonesian but was raised in Singapore, grew up with traditional clothing like Saris and Kebayas as normal attire at formal events, so she began experimenting with aesthetics using heirlooms like her grandmother’s tailored batik suits. “That was the beginning of mixing and being confident with my Western cosmopolitan surroundings and Asian upbringing, and being proud of it as well.” Putri says.


Shadows of heritage

You can see the echo of Putri’s cultural roots in the pieces she creates. The Market Collection, for instance, originated during a regular (but this time hungover) trip to the traditional wet market with her grandmother. The Pisang/Banana and Semangka/Watermelon Fans were inspired by fruit vendors’ fresh wares, and the unusually exquisite Tongkol/Tuna Fish Fan was prompted by fishmongers’ daily catch. Notably, Pubumésu works with wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) artisans in Central Java to create each piece from locally sourced calf hide, meaning that every fan is an emblem of heritage craft too.

“They were always so open to the crazy ideas I had,” Putri says of the wayang kulit artisans, who usually make massive leather puppets — wayang — but were open to testing the limits of design. Putri works with an entire village of shadow puppet artisans who do everything, from cutting to stitching and punching holes and painting, by hand. The artisans’ work with Pubumésu means another form of livelihood and a different way to preserve their skills. “You can sustain your craft through something else but in its truest form they can still make wayang for use all over Java,” Putri says.


Beyond the hype

While Pubumésu pieces like the arresting Tiger Fan or Peakaboo Fan (think peacock feathers) are incredible to display as art pieces at home, Putri designs out of practicality and each piece is truly “wearable” art. “In fashion, if you overly conceptualize things, that's when it becomes really pedantic and contrived,” Putri says. “I just wanted to make a fan because it’s so hot in Singapore...and a lot of fans in the market weren’t fans I liked.”

With such standout designs, Putri knows that her customers are “those who want to have fun in fashion” and are “global consumers.” While Putri’s roots are in Southeast Asia, her pieces have gained quicker momentum overseas than in Singapore, for example. “Unfortunately, Asian people only take you seriously [as a designer] once you’ve reached Western acclaim or success...there’s more prejudice amongst Asian people with themselves,” Putri says. 

And so, Putri continues with her bold approach that lets her own imagination lead the way, rather than being constrained by borders or trends. With Pubumésu’s show-stopping designs and emphasis on craft, which have gained acclaim in the past and are sure to keep doing so, Putri’s intuition clearly resonates. “At the end of the day,” she says, “I’ll design for myself.”


Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.