Nicks in a Twist, or Why Jakarta Just Doesn’t Cut It

By Novar Caine

The air was stagnant and clumped in sticky clusters like lumpy gruel that had been forgotten about and left unstirred. In this sizable store in the nation’s capital, imported frocks and shoes and handbags that looked more like flappy suitcases on straps, all costing hundreds of millions of rupiah (thousands of US dollars) apiece, hung and lay as limp as the glum-faced young women waiting for buyers as rare as the Bali tiger.

That’s because they, like the once magnificent beast, are extinct. Was there ever such a well-heeled Jakarta breed?

This correspondent, who abhors procurement for anything other than exotic creatures, had not willingly entered the grand and lifeless emporium. Not even on a whim. It was an accompaniment diversion excursion, an accessory to gaze at top foreign designers’ pricey creations. Perhaps one might pique my companion’s attention. Sigh, she exhales, “Have that.” And on we glide to the next display of mildew-attracting couture.

The bright and showy mall shop was turning truly tenebrific.

The fetid air: It was thus because the air conditioning was off. It may never have been on, despite the promise of banks of overhead vents that threatened to give you the chills, the way many a Jakarta office block delivers. Such an icy blast would have been welcome. But a lack of patrons was not paying even the bills, so it was binned; and this in Jakarta, where the tropical-city centre temperature is 32 degrees.

A hunt did not upturn any additional Manolos to add to the urbane lady’s collection. Such reportedly dazzling clogs are never worn while driving one’s latest Beemer, your correspondent has observed; they’re replaced for the journey with flat-wear, unless it’s not the driver’s day off, when you’re free to a well-shod cavort in the back, arriving for the next night-time knees-up just in the Blahnik of time.

Which brings us to the news that Harvey Nicks of Jakarta has slammed its designer doors shut, incensed that after a mere two years the elite of the capital have shunned its barely there wears.

The fashion seller, which has six shops around Britain and competes in London’s Knightsbridge with Harrods, has sizeable overseas operations, including in Dublin, Ireland; Istanbul, Turkey; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, UAE (where it may be experiencing Jakarta-like pain pangs); and Hong Kong. Jakarta has failed.

Is that, really, any surprise? It was an ambitious undertaking, that’s for sure. Can Indonesia possibly be an affluent marketplace for such a glitzy concern? Even the Indonesian upper class, living in a country of tens of millions who go hungry as they try to live on US$2 a day, have to zip their purses. Foreign investors are deluding themselves when they calculate they can make a killing in a land of 230 million where a great number cannot afford to educate their children let alone buy a car.

Visiting executives might be lured by the sight of Jags and Mercs populating the streets, and the shiny new buildings in the business district. The emergence of contemporary-Western restaurants such as Social House (a Nicks neighbour) and the nearby New York-style Immigrant club prop up this stylish view. All those people with BlackBerrys dangling. Those expansive malls packed with tenants like Prada, Mont Blanc, Bvlgari.

But it’s all a mirage. Yes, there is a rising middle class in Indonesia; it’s not one that shops for Isaac Mizrahi, however.

It is not an underestimation to assert that a great amount of the wealth in Jakarta was ill-gotten, stolen from the state by the army of corruptors running the city, and the nation. Foreign aid? Straight into personal bank accounts. The government of Norway may be ruing its decision to give Indonesia US$1 billion to save its forests after it emerged recently that there will hardly be any accountability – as demanded by the Norwegians – and that millions of dollars in existing forestry money has vanished.

Until Indonesia manages to clean out the corruptors – and so entrenched is that problem that it will take decades, if ever – foreign investors should be wary. And high-end clothes stores looking at the country should outfit themselves with a strong dose of reality.

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One Response to “Nicks in a Twist, or Why Jakarta Just Doesn’t Cut It”

  1. Chris Says:

    …and what about the “exclusive” outlets in Ubud for the likes of Dolce e Gabbana and Polo Ralph Lauren…