Fa' Empel on the Beauty of Bali
The multihyphenate superstar welcomes you to Bali, Indonesia, the place she found a home, hope, and happiness at the start of her burgeoning career.
"I didn’t even realize,” squeals Fahrani “Fa’" Empel almost apologetically. “Of course it’s Easter!” It’s early Sunday morning and I join the many women across the country in floral dresses and pastel-colored heels. Though most are preparing for church services and Easter egg hunts, I’m dressed for a Skype date with our cover star—I, just beginning my day in Chicago, she, speaking low as to not wake her family in her childhood home in Jakarta, where it’s after 10 PM. The Indonesian icon who has gained international acclaim for roles as a model, designer, and actress, has temporarily retreated from her Berlin home to shoot Happy Birthday Everyday, an indie film being produced in Jakarta.
Dressed in a casual tee with a half-shaved emerald bob and tribal tattoos that nearly graze her ears, Fa’ is no far cry from the edgy, often eerie enigma from the New York Times street style roundups and covers of Harper’s Bazaar and L’Officiel Indonesia—although the tips of her bob were mustard-colored last I checked. Fa’s ever-changing aesthetic is part of her being. Instagram throwbacks reveal a grinning child model with feathered bangs. A woman with a toothy smile and waist-length strands is plastered on her Wikipedia page. And if you fall into the rabbit hole of trying to keep up with every new tattoo that begins to spread like ivy, eventually reaching the top of her forehead, you’re guaranteed to lose track—she herself can’t keep up. “I’ve lost count of my tattoos. I got my first when I was 15 and my second the next day. I was hooked straight away.”
But beyond an inked exterior is a shining example of impeccable balance. Fa’s got the hustle of a city girl (she fled Jakarta at just 16 to pursue a modeling career in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and NYC) yet the zen energy of a yogi, a trait that can likely be attributed in part to her 10-year stay in Bali. “Bali offers so many courses that you can take [to learn how to stay grounded],” she says in a warm voice that softens her. “I meditate, I do yoga—anything to make myself a better person.” Fa’, who launched Pawaka, the trendy eyewear line worn by A-list celebs like Rihanna, also credits the island for igniting her entrepreneurial spirit. “My first love affair with design happened in Bali. I always used to sketch things, but it wasn’t until I met the creatives on the island that I was inspired to turn my drawings from dreams to reality.”
From its residents to its scenery to its overall energy, Fa’ decodes why “there will never be another place like Bali.”
BEAUTY ATLAS: What is your earliest memory of Bali?
FAHRANI EMPEL: My family and I would go to Bali about twice a year to do the outdoorsy activities that we didn’t do in Jakarta. I remember going to the monkey forest for the first time when I was about six. That was fun.
BA: Why did you decide to settle in Bali early in your career?
FE: While I was modeling in Tokyo, I decided to go to Bali for the weekend—which turned into a month! All those years that we visited Bali as a family, we went where the locals go. This time, I discovered the island in my own way and met amazing expats who became like family. So, I went to Tokyo, packed my things, and within two weeks, I moved to Bali to start a fresh journey.
BA: You’ve lived in Hong Kong, Tokyo, NYC, and now Berlin. How does island life compare?
FE: Because it’s predominantly Hindu, Bali has an indescribable karmic energy. Hindu people believe that if you’re nice, you will get it back. And if you steal you’ll totally get it back. That’s why the Balinese are so kind. The island is charged with prayer and positive energy. That’s beautiful to me. There's never going to be another place like Bali.
BA: What inspired you to start designing?
FE: In Bali, you make almost everything you wear. I started with a shoe label, then a ready-to-wear line, launched Cast Eyewear with a friend from Australia, and about five years later, met my current business partner and created Pawaka. Our first official collection is in stores now.
BA: Congrats! Tell us more about Pawaka.
FE: Thank you! Pawaka is an eyewear label inspired by my grandfather, whose name is Pawaka, which means “fire” in Sanskrit. Each shape is named after a number in Bahasa Indonesia [the official language of Indonesia], and has five lines etched into the frames to represent the five elements of nature.
BA: It’s cool to see that Pawaka is dotted with nods to Indonesia. Why is it so important to shout out your culture?
FE: I do it for the people of my country. Seeing things from Indonesia on an international platform gives them a sense of pride. Little things like teaching our consumers Indonesian numbers with the Pawaka style names make a difference.
BA: The Pawaka designs are alot like your personal style: unorthodox, yet, wildly cool. What made the straitlaced model with long hair morph into this tatted badass with a buzz cut?
FE: If I had long hair, I would get booked for hair commercials, which always paid a lot of money. The tattoos were my way out of modeling. It wasn’t satisfying anymore and I knew that if I had a lot of tattoos, I wouldn’t get booked for those commercial jobs. Once I stopped modeling, I dyed my hair orange and platinum, and eventually cut it all off. It changed my whole aesthetic; how I dress, and how I feel inside. This tomboy has always been in me. Now, I just feel free.
Head to page 23 in our summer issue for seven things to see, do, and purchase in Bali, according to our cover star.