Muhamad Rizqi’s fashion show was a zebra crossing, with traffic lights instead of spotlights.
As he strode to the camera in stilettos, a tight polka-dot jumpsuit and a trench coat, the applause of Jakarta’s upper class crowded on the sidewalk mixed with the honk of passing cars.
Mohammad is the star of Citayam Fashion Week, an organic fashion phenomenon on the crosswalks near the Indonesian capital’s Dukuh Atas station and park area, a hot new thing in the Indonesian capital.
“When I first looked on social media, I thought, what is this place? Why are these people going there?” the 21-year-old told the ABC.
“But after I went there, it turned out that people, even if they just met, were friendly and fun, and the interactions went beyond what was seen on social media.”
However, many of Indonesia’s conservatives – including some government officials – did not like Muhammad’s style.
From youth hangout to viral fashion trend
Dukuh Atas is a transportation hub in Jakarta’s central business district, where trains from suburbs such as Citayam, Bogor and Bekasi meet the city’s bus lines and other routes.
The provincial government redeveloped the area in 2019, creating a park, a pedestrian street and a skate park.
It is one of the few places in Greater Jakarta with a public open space. About 9% of central Jakarta is public open green space, while peripheral areas such as Citayam and Bekasi account for about 6% to 7%.
By comparison, Sydney has 46 per cent of green open space.
The name Citayam Fashion Week – not a “week” per se – started out as a witty label for less well-off young people from outlying Jakarta like Citayam to dress up to hang out in Dukuh Atas .
Sometimes they pretend the crosswalk is a catwalk and post interviews with each other on TikTok.
It’s not just young fashionistas making their homes there.
Citayam teenager Muhammad Naifin Ilham (nicknamed Alpin) posted a Citayam Fashion Week video on social media.
Alpin said he didn’t have any friends before he started going there, but now has more than 18,000 followers on TikTok.
“I’ve managed to make a lot of new friends,” he said.
According to Oki Rahadianto Sutopo, director of the Youth Studies Centre at Gadjah Mada University, Citayam Fashion Week is an avenue for self-expression.
“These young people are trying to be their own surrogates,” he said.
“Especially those from relatively suburban areas that may not look as good as the city centre.”
Dr. Sutopo said that Citayam Fashion Week gave young people from impoverished areas a more cosmopolitan way of life.
“They can buy cheap stuff, find their own style, and produce content on TikTok as if they were part of the ‘cool’ urban culture,” he said.
He said Citayam Fashion Week could have some positive side effects.
Its virality and popularity may “highlight more important values such as lack of public space, social disparities, environmental concerns, diversity, multiculturalism”.
“But it becomes a challenge in Indonesia, where things that go viral are often monetized or used for political gain,” he said.
‘Hara-dukuh’ new place worth seeing
After TikTok videos of teenagers went viral, people from almost all walks of life — from ordinary citizens to state officials and politicians — wanted to get on the bandwagon.
Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno started referring to Dukuh Atas as “Hara-dukuh,” a reference to Harajuku, Tokyo’s iconic street fashion hub.
Last month, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan invited visiting EU Ambassador Vincent Piket and EIB Deputy President Kris Peeters to cross the zebra crossing.
“I had the opportunity to try out the SCBD-inspired catwalk at Dukuh Atas. Conclusion: none of us are as cool as they are, we don’t deserve the catwalk,” Mr Baswerdan wrote in an Instagram post.
“Next time, we’ll just be bystanders and admirers.”
Some Citayam teens have won product endorsement deals and collaborations with local fashion brands.
Siti Kurma, one of Citayam’s fashion street icons, said she now earns between $200 and $1,000 a day.
“I didn’t expect my kids to go viral like this. Thank God, hope it elevates our dignity, we can buy a motorcycle, we can buy a car,” her mother Dina said in an interview with local television.
“I was so touched to get so much money from my daughter…I bought gold rings and bracelets.”
Copycats are even starting to pop up outside Jakarta.
Conservatives oppose the ‘LGBT movement’
Participating in impromptu fashion parades and the communities that form around them is not just fun, says Muhamad Rizqi.
He says it helped him discover a passion for modeling, which he hopes will lead to a career.
“I feel like this is my place and my chance to succeed,” he said.
However, Citayam Fashion Week had some powerful critics criticizing it for “promoting LGBT”.
“We have an obligation to protect children from the LGBT movement, including at Citayam Fashion Week,” said Jakarta Deputy Governor Ahmad Riza Patria.
Abdul Salam, head of Central Jakarta Social Services, told the media that he would “take action against men who dress like women at Citayam Fashion Week” because they are classified as having “social welfare issues”.
Photos of Mohammed, often used as a reference for the allegations, said he was not campaigning for anything.
“Honestly, I’m really sad … and I don’t want to promote any groups at all,” he said.
“I do realise that Indonesia may not be ready for the fashion I wear, but I try to be honest with myself and try to love myself… Although I already know the consequences, I still want to give it a shot,” he said.