Fa’ Empel On Finding Home

Fahrani (Fa’) Empel is difficult to define. Heavily tattooed, head partially shaved and hair flecked with grey — her loud aesthetic seems to bely her level-headedness and the calm of her personality. Born in Jakarta, the Indonesian model and designer has lived across the globe, but of all the places the itinerant creative has been, there are only two she calls home: the jungles of Bali and the calm backstreets of Berlin.

Fa’ has lived in Kreuzberg for the past four years, her flat is tucked away in a quiet residential area opposite a large park — in collaboration with Samsung The Frame TV, we visited her here. Fa’ greets us barefoot in wide-leg leather pants and a tee-shirt that reads ‘climate change’, she stands watering her tulip bulbs by the sink, soundtracked by Dev Hynes and the whistle of a kettle beginning to boil. Fa’ shares the bright, high ceilinged apartment with her partner, Danish photographer and director Viktor Sloth. Between making coffee, sending emails and stroking her black rescue cat Cleo (“She’s a witch!” Fa’ exclaims), we take a moment in the green jungle of her lounge to discuss her eyewear label Pawaka, treehouses and the tropics, and why home can be found in the most unlikely of places.

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Fa’ left Jakarta at 16, moving to pursue her burgeoning modeling career in Hong Kong. After five years there, and two more in Tokyo, she traveled home to visit her parents — stopping in Bali on her way. This stop-over lasted almost ten years: “That transition between Tokyo and Bali was really when things shifted,” she explains. “A lot of things changed, I grew from a young adult to an adult — at least internally — and a lot of my values were shaped by that.” The culture, spirituality and people of Bali changed Fa’’s conception of home — it was nothing like her experiences from the seven years prior. “In Bali, I was living 20 minutes inland from the central west coast of the island,” Fa’ tells us. “I built a treehouse in the jungle by the river and lived in that for four years, and for two of those I didn’t have electricity, it was magical.” It’s easy to wonder how someone with such a taste for warmth and nature ends up in Berlin, a concrete jungle too often described as grey and cold. Six months before making the move to Berlin, the eternally peripatetic Fa’ had been dividing her time between Bali and New York: “I thought New York was where I was supposed to be.” But with an Indonesian passport, the fees for finalizing a visa in the States were quoted at around $7000. “That was just his [the Immigration Lawyer’s] fee, it wasn’t a guarantee. So I thought, fuck that, I’m not doing that!” she laughingly explains, “So I came to Berlin to visit some friends. Fast forward four years, and here I am!”

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It’s a story you hear often in this city, people come for a weekend and then, somehow, never leave. With a creative climate often likened to that of 1920s Paris, Berlin’s liberal arts scene is home to an intoxicating mix of creatives from around the globe. Consequently, it’s also a city littered with drifters and dreamers. “I knew a place like this could just swallow me up, especially if I don’t have a focus,” Fa’ explains. “You know, I need a goal to feel grounded. So I made that conscious decision; I knew that if I wanted to live here for this long, I had to have something to do.” This something was Pawaka, the designer eyewear label you’ve probably seen splashed across the pages of high-end fashion editorials, or in pap-snaps of Rihanna. Pawaka grew from Fa’’s background in fashion: first as a model, and then as a footwear and ready-to-wear designer. When an investor offered the opportunity to start afresh in Europe, she saw it as a sign. “I set up my company here,” Fa’ explains, “and in order for me to get the visa, I kind of hired myself under the company. It was all in the timing, I feel like moving here was meant to be.”

Much like Fa’ herself, the Pawaka collections are bold. Handcrafted in Italy, the label’s attention-grabbing designs bring sacred geometry and symbolism into a wearable realm. Fa’ talks us through her design process — from sketching to 3D rendering and finally to various prototypes — while showing us the two pairs of glasses she is delivering to Denmark the following day, gifts for Viktor’s parents. In many ways, Pawaka seems to have been the catalyst for Fa’ shaking off the restlessness of her twenties, something she ruminates on throughout our conversation: “If I didn’t have this, I would probably have stayed for a few months, or a year…I would have continued to live the way that I used to, always moving to different places. But it’s been good, it was life-changing in a way, but I was ready for it. I was getting into my thirties, it was time to start settling.” Fortunately, Fa’ likes the cold, and as she sits smiling on her brightly covered couch surrounded by plants — or as she refers to it, her forest of manifestation — she shows no sign of wanting to be anywhere else. “I really feel at home here. I’m happy,” she says, “I actually sleep beneath an olive and a palm tree, waking up to that is so nice.”

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To Fa’ home seems to be more than a tangible space, it’s also the energy that she gets from the people that she surrounds herself with. Fa’ acknowledges the partial truth of the Berliner stereotype; “Yes, the people here are a bit colder in the beginning, but when you talk to them, you have coffee with them, you meet them a few times, and they become your real friends. They’re there when you need them, and you know that they would move mountains for you. Sure it takes a little longer to get to know them, but I found those — my diamond relations — within those first few months, so that’s why I really felt at home straight away.” When Fa’ speaks of her relationships with people and the city, it really does seem that after years of traveling, she has finally found home: “I was struggling with myself since I was 16, I moved to different places every few months, and I didn’t have real friends because of that. You know, I knew a lot of people, but I didn’t have real friends. Bali gave me that slowly, and then I moved here — and I found these people. It was these friendships and that learning that made me love this place despite all of the imperfections. I mean, I loved them from the beginning — but now it feels like I’m home. I still don’t speak German, but I’m home.”

“Now it feels like I'm home. I still don't speak German, but I'm home.”
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This feature, is part of the collaboration between Samsung The Frame TV and iGNANT.
The Samsung The Frame TV is indistinguishable from a modern picture frame, designed to blend seamlessly with the contemporary home. In TV Mode, The Frame is a 4K UHD Television, but when you turn it off, it enters Art Mode — where it will elegantly present art or your own photos.

All images © Franz Grünewald, created exclusively for iGNANT Production

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