Paris Fashion Week is no stranger to tactless and tasteless designs, and this year was no different as Indonesia’s most controversial influencer-cum-designer was spotted wearing a genocide-inspired ‘fit while hanging out with the likes of Kanye West, designer Rick Owen and his wife and muse Michèle Lamy.
Arnold Putra, a man who once fashioned a handbag made of human bones, was pictured last weekend dressed in a black-and-orange camouflage jacket with matching hat and pants—the colours of Indonesia’s Pancasila Youth paramilitary organisation. The clothes also bore the far-right group’s emblem, and at one point, Arnold donned black leather gloves and a Balenciaga vest featuring more emblems.
The group once ran death squads for the Indonesian army during anti-communist purges overseen by far-right nationalist military leader Suharto, which saw between 500,000 and 1.2 million people killed between 1965 and 1966. Chinese-Indonesians were a particular target. Taking place at the height of the Cold War, the massacres were tacitly backed by the U.S., keen to stem the spread of communism in Southeast Asia.
“They were terrible, horrible and brutal,” said London-based Indonesian author and academic Soe Tjen Marching, noting that the era is a “very painful and unresolved” chapter in the country’s history.
“These [were people who] took part in the massacres and were responsible for atrocities like murder, rape and mutilation and were still allowed to get away freely,” she told VICE World News. “Their impacts can still be seen and felt even today in the stigmatising of survivors and victims, as well as harmful racism and discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Members of the far-right Pancasila Youth group at a 2013 protest against the Australian government. Photo: ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images
Arnold regularly courts controversy for his antics, which have seen him mocking indigenous tribes in some of the world’s most remote villages. His stunts include disrespecting burial rituals and offering villagers fake designer goods in exchange for human remains.
But it was his most infamous act—designing a handbag reportedly made of alligator tongues and a “human spine”, one he claimed was “ethically sourced”—that propelled Arnold to infamy in 2020. He has since claimed to use “albino skin” and “plastinated human remains” in his fashion line.
Through a series of Instagram Stories posted on his account on Saturday, Arnold shared photos of his latest provocative outfit and celebrity encounters, many of whom seemed oblivious to the uniform’s troubling roots. In one photo, he was seen sitting on a couch with Kanye West and his new girlfriend, actress Julia Fox, alongside rapper Pusha T and Michèle Lamy. He even enjoyed personal time with Lamy and her beau Owens, famed for his gothic aesthetic.
But the biggest endorsement of the outfit came from the far-right group, which remains active today and, in the critically-acclaimed 2012 documentary The Act of Killing, was said to have had three million members.
“With him wearing our uniform, Arnold Putra has brought the Pancasila ideology to the world.”
Pancasila Youth leader Aulia Arief thanked Arnold Putra and praised his outfit, expressing the group’s joy at being showcased at a global event like Paris Fashion Week.
“With him wearing our uniform, Arnold Putra has brought the Pancasila ideology to the world,” Aulia wrote in a statement on Monday on behalf of the group. He even extended an invitation to Arnold to visit their party headquarters in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
“Once again, our members of Pancasila Youth [extend] our appreciation to Arnold Putra. Our uniform is now a [trendy] street style.”
Arnold posts eccentric designs and scenes from bizarre photo shoots on his Instagram, but not much else is known about him apart from his rumoured wealthy family background. Indonesian fashion designers told VICE World News that while “enviable,” Arnold’s rise to the top was built on privilege and controversy.
“It isn’t every day that an Indonesian designer gets [time] with fashion heavyweights like Rick Owens and Michèle Lamy, but when they do, they wear an outfit like Arnold Putra’s that celebrates the very worst of our country,” said one bag designer from Bali, who declined to be named in this story because she didn’t want her brand associated with “anything Arnold Putra.”
It’s unclear if Arnold designed and created the controversial Pancasila Youth outfit, or was wearing another fashion house’s creation. VICE World News asked him about his choice of clothes at Paris Fashion Week—he responded to messages but did not address questions relating to his outfit.
Lamy also shared photos of Arnold on her Instagram account, prompting criticism from many Indonesians. On Twitter, Indonesian users lamented the lack of international awareness about the atrocities and called for Arnold to be held accountable.
“Why haven’t people who were at Paris Fashion Week said anything? It’s shocking.”
Soe Tjen also highlighted international ignorance of Indonesia’s genocide when explaining the lack of outrage. “The world reacted [condemningly] when Prince Harry wore that Nazi soldier costume. Why haven’t people who were at Paris Fashion Week said anything? It’s shocking,” she said.
But she pointed to Arnold’s “ignorance” as a product of Indonesia’s wider cultural context, where the atrocities of the 1960s remain a highly taboo and undiscussed topic.
“His ignorance is reflective of politicians in our country anyway, many of whom have yet to condemn the events of 1965,” she said.
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