“I have always been crazy and over-creative," says Jovian Mandagie candidly.
"My fashion shows have to be dramatic, it has to be different, it has to ‘wow’. If it is not jaw-dropping, I won’t get up on stage," he adds with a smile.
In his early years, the Malaysian-Indonesian designer has made some ‘over-the-top’ designs, and among the unforgettable ones would be a 150 kilogram dress he made out of 120 rolls of fabrics for actress Umie Aida.
In fashion, I believe you need to breakthrough with crazy ideas and crazy presentations.
He has made models walk on runways in a cage, and dresses them in steel.
To add drama on stage, Jovian even brought opera singers to perform alongside models.
At 33-year-old, the couturier attributes the eccentricity in his designs after his icon, the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
“In fashion, I believe you need to always come up with crazy ideas and presentations. This is how you gain popularity,” says Jovian.
As a young boy, Jovian admits he was not into fashion, enjoying technology and architecture instead. But growing up, he found an appreciation to all things 'beauty and couture' from his mother - a cosmetician, where attending red carpet and glamorous events were a common function in the household.
“I was actually amazed to see the amount of effort put in by women to look beautiful, and when I went college, I did part-time modelling. That sparked my interest in fashion designing.”
“But when I told my mother I wanted to be a fashion designer, she actually said ‘No!'," says Jovian with a hearty chuckle.
“It was a common misconception that people who pursued a career in fashion are people who, cross-dressed, for example. So, she didn’t think it was a ‘healthy’ career choice for me. But eventually, she understood that fashion was what I really wanted to do and gave her blessings."
Jovian considers himself to be lucky throughout his career. As a young intern working for an Indonesian designer Ivan Gunawan, Jovian had the opportunity to design dresses for big stars like Kris Dayanti, Rossa and popular musical duo, Ratu.
Even before graduating from college, he set up his business in a small 200-square feet room in Setiawangsa, Kuala Lumpur - hiring two staff, one seamstress and one beader.
“I went from house to house with my briefcase full with fabrics. That’s how I operated in the beginning. I worked by appointment,” says Jovian.
In a short span of time, Jovian opened his first boutique in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Kuala Lumpur, and joined big fashion shows such as KL Fashion Week and Islamic Fashion Festival. Soon after, he started getting invites to showcase his designs in Dubai, London and Prague.
Famous for his work among royalties and the Kuala Lumpur elite circle, the brand Jovian Mandagie made a breakthrough in 2008 when he dressed Tuanku Nur Zahirah, the Queen of Malaysia at that time.
In 2016, Jovian collaborated with the Johor royal family, Tunku Tun Aminah Sultan Ibrahim, the daughter of Sultan Johor Sultan Iskandar, for an exclusive collection called ‘Tunku Tun Aminah x Jovian’.
Jovian today runs two labels; Jovian Mandagie Couture and Jovian Ready-To-Wear (RTW).
Some people say I might lose the exclusivity but I don’t care because I want to stay long in this business.
“I have made it big, especially in the first five years of my career. But I started to realise that all this crazy - ‘chasing popularity’ business is not going to bring me anywhere. I needed something that is real.”
“So, what’s real? Catering to the mass market.”
He admits that it wasn’t an easy, even popular decision, having built an avant-garde brand over so many years, but Jovian felt that it was the right step forward.
“Some people say I might lose the exclusivity but I don’t care because I want to stay long in this business. If I’m stuck at only doing couture and made-to-measure, I’d probably be gone,” says Jovian.
Having achieved success and fame at a young age, at the same time being a husband and father, Jovian feels he is more mature and practical in his lifestyle - even in how he dresses too.
“I know I’ve designed some crazy dresses. But I realised, people are not really buying them because it’s so difficult to wear. I myself, am dressing more simply, these days. So, I want to create a collection that is more practical."
“Of course, there will be variety in my collection. Fashion is very subjective - some like it simple, some like it heavy, some go for vibrancy and some like pastel. Some like it lose cut, some like it body-hugging. So, in every collection, I want to cater for different segments of customers,” says Jovian.
Going mass market with his ready-to-wear collection seem to have paid off. Demand for his clothes has increased tremendously, says Jovian.
“When I was doing made-to-measure, I could only produce 150 pieces of clothes, every month. But when my first ready-to-wear collection was launched, we produced 10,000 pieces, a month. Isn’t that a drastic change?”
I no longer am in charge of the designing department.
Jovian’s evolution is also translated into how he manages the company. After spending 13 years honing his creativity, the couturier has taken a step back in designing to allow him take on a larger role in steering the business and his brand.
“I no longer am in charge of the designing department. We appointed two senior designers, Juliani Jamal and Arene Khairuddin to lead that department.”
He is, however, still the brand’s Creative Director. “I will ensure the essence of Jovian Mandagie and the direction of every collection.”
“Right now, I want to give my full attention and guidance to each department so that they can excel. I gave the designing responsibilities to the new people who understands the market and trends better,” says Jovian says with a laugh.
His decision to focus on business, is also largely due to the fact that the business is growing – his staff now consists up to 250 people. The ready-to-wear department produces over 120,000 pieces of clothes every year.
“We managed everything in the company; we don’t outsource. I think that’s what makes us unique because we have our own in-house photographers, studio and production team, including our e-commerce and warehouse teams.”
“I’ve never wanted to settle for a small-scale business,” he says.
Jovian’s customers are worldwide; his designs particularly enjoy a strong following in Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia. His mission? To break into China and the Europe and Middle East markets within five years.
“We are targeting big for China because it’s an interesting market. I can speak their language now because I am always there sourcing for fabrics,” says Jovian with a smile.
I’ve never wanted to settle for a small-scale business.
Speaking at length about his work and business, he says, despite a busy schedule, he prioritises family time with his wife Nina Ismail Sabri and daughter Jeanelle Nika Mandagie.
“I am strict in making sure Sunday is family time. No phone, no work, no interruption. Just quality time. This way, it also allows my team to rest, too!
“It’s funny that - I used to be quite selfish and everything I did was for me. But now with Nina and Jeanelle, things are very different. I do this for us. I am also glad that Nina has her own business and both of us are just great support for each other.
“I am blessed and grateful. I have great support at home, and I have an incredible team at the office, which I can rely on at all times,” says Jovian.