Photographs by Narya Abhimata
Words by Allysha Nila
Published on December 1, 2020
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Meet the man who has paved the way for young, unique beauty with just nine girls signed under his modelling agency. Haryo Balitar is a visionary; passionate in finding the right faces for the next generation in fashion. He shares with LINEAL his observations and hopes for the future.
Haryo Balitar has an eye for finding diamonds in the rough. He casted someone – based on a single Facebook photo – who looks like she has stepped out of a Balinese painting. He spotted a regal demeanour in a busgirl working at the local mall food court. “We love those faces that tell stories even in the natural state,” explains Haryo. “Whether it’s their gaze or an expressive mouth, there’s just something in their look that catches you.”
Balitar, the boutique modelling agency Haryo co-founded with his partner, designer Toton Januar, has become one of the most sought-after in the industry since its inception in 2015. All the girls it represents are equally recognized, and have become staple models of local publications and designers such as Sean Sheila, Peggy Hartanto, and, of course, Toton. Haryo describes what he does as an anthropological exploration of beauty. “I’m learning about the perception of beauty, the tastes of specific markets, and why history has shaped them as such.”
Indonesia, like its neighbouring countries, still possesses a colonialist mentality: whitening products dominate the drugstore shelves. There is the lack of shade range even from local brands. Foreign, mostly white, models are often preferred for ‘marketability’ reasons. Overcoming such rigidity is a shared issue across the local modelling industry. “In our own country, the perception of our girls is not suitable with what I think it should be. I want Balitar to be a celebration of home-grown beauty, which I think is so rich and so diverse in terms of culture and tradition,” declares Haryo.
What is now Balitar’s ethos began way before it was officially established. In 2013, Haryo and Toton intended to represent one of their first muses internationally. “[When we started] we’ve worked exclusively with Indonesian faces—not necessarily as a statement or how we want to communicate our brand—I just feel that we naturally gravitate towards them,” says Haryo. Toton took photos of the model and Haryo sent the digitals to top agencies abroad. He received replies within hours and a contract was offered the next day. Eventually, she was signed with Marilyn Paris in 2014. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out in the end. Although we were quite disappointed, I felt that there was validation: there were major opportunities for local faces overseas.”
Six years on, Haryo’s girls are a living testament to those opportunities. Laras, our cover face, has walked for Saint Laurent and Moschino, and starred in ad campaigns for KKW Beauty and Sephora. Clarita has done well in Hong Kong, where she is now, shooting for Vogue Hongkong five times to date and every major publication there. Devita has also earned success in Milan, walking for Dolce & Gabbana, fronting a Benetton ad campaign and a Bruno Cuccinelli lookbook.
Considering that models have to go through casting to get international jobs, as opposed to direct bookings here, add merit to these achievements. “At the very least, I hope the opportunities for models to be able to venture into the world helps in shifting the perceptions of beauty in Indonesia,” Haryo muses. “[People overseas] look at our models as exciting and exotic. The Southeast Asian markets still tend to look for what’s also ideal locally, but in Europe and the United States, the demand is more towards what we refer to here as a local face: darker skin, small nose, full lips, almond eyes.”
Haryo really champions the girls not only for their achievements, but for them coming into their own. His tailored, intensive approach to representing models is practically unheard of here. “Ultimately, we want those who join us to be their own stars. We want clients to request models by name, like Clarita or Maria—not for packages, like ‘oh, we’d like Chinese Indonesian faces, who do you have?’ We want them to look for Denia, Devita, Laras, Mireya, Lyra, Kiara, Yolanda,” he says. “When we take in a model, usually they start quite young so it’s important for us not only to educate them. It’s equally important for us that the family understands the job and can be part of the team as the support system of their kids.”
His models and collaborators can vouch for his level of support and care. “It’s been great working with Mas Haryo. I feel like [I am] surrounded by loved ones,” says Laras, who had most recently signed on. “He’s such a kind, caring, and incredibly nurturing person.” Photographer Hilarius Jason Pratana, Haryo’s frequent collaborator, mentions the amount of trust he gives. “He likes to positively challenge the team and gives us full freedom for every project, be it for Balitar or Toton,” he shares. “I worked with stylist Try Sutrisno on ‘Girls, Enlightened’, an online exhibition to launch the new Balitar website, and all the decisions on concept, design, mood, and overall images were given to us.”
There is a lot of optimism in Haryo. “I hope this agency – what we do, who we represent, and what we try to explore – can inspire and be part of the conversations to shift and challenge the existing standards to become more open, fluid, and inclusive,” he acknowledges. In the US and Europe, the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, Model Alliances, the Kering and LVMH modelling charters have changed the course in fashion—Indonesia has yet to gain a significant amount of momentum. “While certain things won’t change immediately, and it’ll take some time to (if it ever will), I think the issues can be more palatable if we go about it with kindness.”
Styled by Claresta Pitojo
Hair by Leonardus Y. & Yustina Rizky
Makeup by Talia Subandrio & Aditya Wardana
Models : Denia, Devita, Laras, Maria, and Mireya of Balitar
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