It’s difficult to conjure a specific image of what Filipino fashion looks like today, especially when Western fast fashion brands and Shopee discount sellers so ingrained in our routines remove the need to seek them out. As much as we’d want to love local, we don’t always know where to find our designers and they’re rarely ever accessible in one place. This is a need that the MaArte Fair sought to address through their collaboration with the PHx Fashion Group, the organizers of Art Fair Philippines and Art in the Park.
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For the fair, these visionaries took over 10 rooms of the Peninsula Manila’s fifth floor to showcase 23 of today’s representative local designers, all with talent that transcends conventional cuts and colorways. In addition to presenting their collections, some of which were made specifically for the event, designers were also given the liberty to redecorate their suites and reflect their own visual vocabulary.
CNN Philippines Life paid a visit to some of these installations and spoke to the designers about their pieces and the process of translating them into a physical space.
Café City Club
For Marvin Conanan of Café City Club, all communal spaces bear the likeness of the city they’re in — and the 298 sq. meter-room allotted for his brand was no exception. After an ocular inspection of the entire Peninsula Manila, his team realized that the hotel lacked a “low-stakes, high-reward” way to welcome outsiders to our culture.
“We wanted to examine how someone stuck in a hotel with little time to explore tourist spots around the city would still get to know the place they’re staying,” Conanan explained. And thus, the Mabuhay Gift Shop was born. This re-envisioned souvenir store examines our rich heritage through the lens of contemporary city culture.
At the core of the concept is the “Manila Peninsula” T-shirt, an item meant to connect people to the other products and the stories ingrained in them. Since Café City Club has yet to release a complete collection of their own, they decided to enlist the help of their favorite brands to assemble their line of merchandise. For instance, Saan Saan provided three candles all inspired by the essence of old Manila; Nooke offered their handcrafted homeware; and The Maverick took charge of “complimentary” sustainable grooming products.
Outside of MaArte Fair, Café City Club also plans on rethinking the friendly neighborhood sari-sari store and local carinderia, which he says are the closest equivalents Filipinos have to a cafe. “We are in need of more third spaces where different minds can gather for creative pursuits, where we can see how small communities and the people within them are integral to building culture,” Conanan shared. “That kind of energy is captivating for me and hopefully, that’s something we can continue to not only explore but build in the future.”
Stepping into Jude Macasinag’s room feels like entering the deepest recesses of your subconscious, where your happiest childhood memories now reside. There’s the distinct floral wallpaper reminiscent of “the plastic closet in everyone’s grandmother’s house,” the dining table filled with classic Filipino party confections (including the classic hotdog on stick), and the obnoxious, almost endearing budots blasting from the next door disco.
It’s a Filipino celebration through and through — a fitting homecoming for Macasinag, who has returned from a successful stint at the Institut Français de la Mode. The 22-year-old fashion design graduate drew critical acclaim for his first collection, “Manifesto,” a love letter to the Filipino upbringing that inspired his deeply imaginative visual identity.
Along with apparel from his initial exhibit, Macasinag also presented two more collections for MaArte Fair: a pre-order only line of body morph clothing that includes an ode to the ever-comfortable daster, and a collection of found and repurposed objects aptly displayed with neon green hangers on ukay-ukay racks. These distinctly Filipino elements might require a certain degree of lived experience to be fully enjoyed but thankfully, international response has been positive.
“I used to feel this burden of representation, putting my entire life out there for a wide audience to see,” Macasinag said. “But my mentor told me a quote originally by Martin Scorsese: ‘The most personal is the most creative.’ So now, when I release new collections, I no longer think about whether or not people will like it or if it will sell. I just think that it’s mine.”
Macasinag carries this philosophy with him as he goes back to Paris next month to continue his graduate studies. Regardless of when he comes home and what he’ll be able to show us by then, we all know he’ll have a party of grand proportions ready for his return.
Neil Felipp X Kelvin Morales
As long as we’re alive, none of us know for sure what the garden of Eden looks like. But if Neil Felipp San Pedro’s installation is anything to go by, we can assume it has lush greenery, overflowing flowers, and tables of intricately carved jewelry harnessed straight from the earth.
The world-famous jeweler and third-generation craftsman admitted that living in “the beautiful Cebu” made his love for nature inevitable. Thus, he takes any opportunity to pay homage to his primary source of inspiration. For instance, his perfume line has hints of his hometown’s signature scents of gardenias, coconuts, and mango; while the Siren Minaudière famously featured in “Crazy Rich Asians” was inspired by morning beach trips with his mother as a child.
The latest challenge San Pedro has given himself is to reimagine some of his classic creations and bring these pieces of his home into our own. “I’ve reworked my Minaudière collection into home accessories: dishes perfect for vanity and coffee tables, meant to hold some of our most intimate and personal paraphernalia,” he said. No two are exactly the same, thanks to the nuanced handiwork of his partner artisans, creating a more personal touch for the buyer’s space and increasing their global appeal.
Sharing the same space with San Pedro is an artist equally connected and indebted to flora and fauna: Kelvin Morales. When asked how both of them came up with the theme of their room, he said it was simply “second-nature” to both of them. (No pun intended.) Morales’ spring-summer 2022 collection plays around with the silk cocoon barong, each one decorated with a tribute to wildlife: from school of fish in their natural habitat, to the phalaenopsis orchid in full bloom.
Morales felt that the local menswear staple had potential for everyday wear but was restricted by traditional norms. “The barong, to me, is a symbol of the versatile Filipino,” he shared. “I see it as something comfortable, not particularly sexy but also not necessarily reserved: perfect for daily use but also adaptable for something more formal.” On his website, he encourages wearers to pair the shirt with jeans, trousers, and for the more daring: with nothing at all.
By taking advantage of the “matte, sheer, see-through” quality of the silk cocoon, Morales claimed he could easily transform the plain article of clothing into a blank canvas. Aside from experimenting with different shades of pink, beige, and black, Morales tinkered with various materials and techniques. In the past, he has explored embroidered vignettes that create a more surrealistic feel as well as overlapping textures through manually ripped and re-stitched squares of fabric.
Both San Pedro’s and Morales’ work are proof that one need not forget about the past in order to move forward. In fact, it’s an exercise in inventiveness to return our roots yet still find sophisticated ways to set ourselves apart.
nicolò X Randolf
After we emerge from the garden of the heavens, Nicolo Perez keeps us up in the air, his area awash with sunlight and his work as weightless as the clouds plastered on the walls. It’s spacious and simple, with a whole-body mirror front and center: a smart strategy “meant to keep the focus on the clothes” while affording visitors ample breathing room as they look around.
Since 2018, Perez and his team have strived to “recontextualize streetwear in their own unique perspective." For “daydreamer,” his eponymous brand’s latest collection, he depicts multiple ways of being and feeling at one’s most carefree. His pieces feature images of clouds, butterflies, and wisps of wind all stitched into breathable and light fabric, granting the wearer maximum comfort without sacrificing style.
It’s the antithesis of our collective notion of “tiis ganda,” one that Perez doesn’t agree with at all. “Though I could see why some people would think that, it’s impossible not to take into consideration our weather, the materials we commonly wear, and the kind of activities we do while designing,” Perez said. “We need to be able to feel comfortable to feel confident. It’s a good ripple effect.”
Taking up the other half of the room is RJ Santos of Randolf Clothing, whose reimaginings of the classic barong take the timeless piece to great heights. His outlandish and satirical depictions of modern pop culture have landed him a loyal clientele but since the pandemic, his team made the shift to more personalized, made-to-order wear.
For MaArte Fair, Santos chose to focus on embroidery in the spirit of the craftsmanship the event wanted to champion. Aside from his typical flamboyant designs, he also played around with a new technique that involved mixing barong fabric with other see-through textures to replicate a stained glass effect. “This really brings out the sheer and delicate quality of the piece and emphasizes even the simplest lines of thread,” Santos said.
After learning about dadaism as a fine arts student in the University of the Philippines Diliman, Santos grew intrigued by the subversive possibilities of our national costume. Purists may see this as a form of disrespect but Santos maintains that the barong shouldn’t be treated differently from any other silhouette. “Hindi naman porket nilagyan na siya ng design, hindi na siya barong. May respeto pa rin ako sa elements that make it a barong. Like I do with all my other pieces, I simply bring it to the world of Randolf.”
HA.MÜ X Tropik Beatnik
When Abraham Guardian, half of the tandem behind maximalist brand HA.MÜ and Carla Cruz-Bellare of Tropik Beatnik learned they would be sharing a room with each other, they both knew it was a match made in heaven. As two of the most eccentric and colorful brands on the market, their design philosophies align almost perfectly. But, how does one contain all this vibrance in a single space? Simple. Make the set-up larger than life.
Like a page straight out of “Alice in Wonderland,” the room is a chessboard littered with patches of discordant colors. But entering the bathroom teleports us immediately to the upside down, where creepy creatures lurk in the shadows… or in this case, the tub. “We wanted to incorporate childish and dystopian themes that mirror our fairytale aesthetic but with the hint of the bright and sunny tropics as a homage to Manila,” Guardian said.
It’s a tough act to pull but HA.MÜ is known for their ability to weave together seemingly disparate elements. This is best seen in their famous “Flowers of Youth” collection from their PHxTokyo run, which was finally made available to the Philippine public. Composed of deconstructed and upcycled materials, all with their signature touch of clashing patterns and irregular cuts, each garment works to juxtapose themes of self-discovery with necessary suffering.
Tropik Beatnik matched this energy with their Tropikalia Market Collection, laid out on a dining table reminiscent of a giant tea party. “Our latest items are straight out of a fairytale: chunky flower chokers in candy hues, biscuit-like necklaces, and freshwater pearl rings, our clay earrings, and our latest foray into knit bags and hats,” said Cruz-Bellare.
These all surprisingly draw inspiration from everyday objects but infuse tropical aesthetics to reflect the energy of the Philippines. Through this combination of thoughtful design and dazzling colors, Cruz-Bellare hopes to spark emotions of amazement, delight, and even childlike wonder in customers. “When you wear a Tropik Beatnik piece, they’re not just supposed to be accessories; they’re extensions of yourself. I want each customer to feel beautiful, confident in their own skin, and most like themselves.”
As faithful advocates of the big and bold, both HA.MÜ and Tropik Beatnik understand that they operate within a market that prioritizes practicality. But they continue to trudge on with an insistent refusal to be basic. Like Guardian himself said, “Current binaries in clothing are already restrictive enough, as is. At the end of the day, all we’re trying to do is come up with as many ways as possible to express ourselves.”