How Balenciaga helped save the artist in Juvenal Sansó 2
Artist Juvenal Sansó and one of his textile designs "The Blessedness of Love"

How Balenciaga helped save the artist in Sansó

While in Europe to study, the Spain-born artist started designing textiles that eventually ended up in one of the world’s most esteemed fashion houses
Ricky Francisco | Dec 08 2021

(The author is the Director of Fundacion Sansó.)

The story is equal parts romantic and inspiring: A young artist from Manila goes to Europe to study; he does well for years, and then finds out that due to currency issues, his stipend has been cut. To augment his income, the artist—armed with a portfolio of abstract art—connects with friends and begins to design textile patterns. There is a happy ending: the artist sells his designs to the house of Balenciaga, and then goes on to establish a long and fruitful artistic career.

This is a true story, and it happened to artist Juvenal Sansó in the 1950s to the 1960s. His prodigious textile designs show his painterly prowess: the florals, geometrics, pop-art, and even ethnic-style patterns explode in vibrant exuberance. One can only imagine how these translated into actual dresses in the European fashion world.

Juvenal Sansó
The artist in his younger years. 

To help Filipinos appreciate the master’s textile art in real-life fashion, a show called “Sansó Textile Designs X Septième Rebelle: A Fashion and Art Exhibit”, recently opened at the new Galerie Joaquin in One Bonifacio High Street Mall in BGC (the show runs until December 20, 2021). A collaboration with local couture house Septième Rebelle under the artistic guidance of its designer Robbie Santos, the translations of Sansó’s textile patterns into statement pieces are quite a sight to behold. 

From Afar The Populous Constellations Call it Light by Juvenal Sansó
"From Afar The Populous Constellations Call It Light" by Juvenal Sansó

A focus on applied arts 

Many of us know Sansó through his floral paintings and Brittany series. But this exhibit explores the lesser-known, yet infinitely fascinating side of the artist’s works in the applied arts.

Let’s say Sansó was somewhat a victim of his own success. Let me confide why I have chosen to be involved with Fundacion Sansó back in 2014 and why I have continued to stay since. People often say that Sansó is ‘Flowers’ and ‘Brittany’, and that he ‘hijacked the moon’ in his paintings; but I wanted to show how he is so much more than that. That was why I borrowed some of his Black Series from Mr. Jack Teotico for an exhibition at the Lopez Museum I was co-curating back then.

Juvenal Sansó
Sanso JSTP 102220-28, 10.25 x 8.25, Tempera on Paper

Apparently, Mr. Teotico and the friends of Mr. Sansó were building a museum at that time. I didn’t know it yet, but they were happy with my reason and that was enough for them to ask me to be part of the museum. I jumped on board as consulting curator to help more people understand how deep and how wide Mr. Sanso’s artistic practice is. And that goal has been one of the guiding principles of what we choose to exhibit at Fundacion Sansó and what programs we choose to engage in.

Here Be Earth's  Consolation by Juvenal Sansó
"Here Be Earth's Consolation" 

Minor works, major impact 

And so, this year, we are focusing on the lesser-known works of Mr. Sansó, the prints and his textile designs, as well as sketches, and other applied designs. And when I say ‘minor,’ it is really just relative to his better-known paintings; they are no lesser compared to the paintings. Because actually, Mr. Sansó is a major printmaker and his prints are even in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York among other important museums in the US and Europe. 

Copy of Sanso JSTP
Copy of Sanso JSTP 062921-07, 5 x 8.5, Tempera on Paper

Moreover, his textile designs have actually been purchased by fashion powerhouses Balenciaga, Synergie, and Bianchini Ferrier. All those purchases allowed Mr. Sansó to support himself as a student at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and focus on painting after. Without textile design, Mr. Sanso would probably not have been able to succeed as a painter in Paris at that time.  

The Blessedness of Love by Juvenal Sansó
"The Blessedness of Love"

Paris was, as it still is, a nexus for fashion, as it is for art. And Mr. Sansó, being the pragmatic person that he is, decided to focus on textile design rather than compete with the hundreds of talented European painters of that time, as there was a far steadier income stream in textile design than there was for a young artist. Luckily, he stuck with textile design for over a decade, for it was there that he forged relationships with people in the fashion scene who would later on connect him with important people in the art scene, as well as theater.   

Juvenal Sansó
Septième Rebelle featuring a Sansó textile design.

In fact, it was apparently through the famous fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli that Sansó got introduced to Galerie Lucie Weill in Paris, which would host his first solo exhibition in France. It was also this tryst with fashion that led him to Gian Carlo Menotti, the composer, librettist, playwright, who would commission him his first opera set design project that would debut in no less than the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy.

Juvenal Sansó
Septième Rebelle featuring a Sansó textile design.

Behind the show 

Robbie was top of mind when we thought of reintroducing Mr. Sansó’s textile design to contemporary Filipino collectors. He has his feet in both the fashion and art world, and he deeply appreciates both; and he is young, and we need all those factors to introduce Mr. Sanso to younger audiences, as well as to the range of discerning clients of Septième Rebelle.

Robbie Santos with Supermodel Marina Benipayo
Robbie Santos with supermodel Marina Benipayo wearing a look using Sansó's textile design

Santos, aside from being the brains behind the couture label, is also a well-known art collector and the founder of the Fatima University Gallery, the in-campus art museum of the Santos-family-owned Our Lady of Fatima University. Trained at Istituto Marangoni-Paris, London College of Fashion, and Central Saint Martins, Santos created Septième Rebelle to showcase exquisite Filipino skills in meticulous finishing like beadwork and embroidery, which he accomplishes with the finest materials sourced from Italy and France. He also uses exquisite products of artisans from India and Turkey to create luxurious traditional clothes with rebellious contemporary flair.

#SansoXSeptiemeRebelle Greys
Septième Rebelle featuring Sansó textile designs.

When Robbie said yes, we were thrilled! We knew how busy he was, and how exacting his standards are. When we approached him after the lockdowns relaxed a little in July 2020 and he said yes in the initial meeting with our board, we were ecstatic. We were shocked when he said he would accommodate us for his holiday season, with a timetable of less than four months to prepare.

Juvenal Sansó
Septième Rebelle featuring a Sansó textile design.

Despite the pandemic, and the complications of the lockdown, Robbie threw himself into the designs, and had his first fitting by the end of the third quarter of last year, in the hopes of having the event by November 2020. Unfortunately, another lockdown happened, and by that time it was hard to pin a location for a fashion show and decide what form the event would finally take—whether purely digital, a press event, or something in between. It took time to unanimously decide to launch the line at Galerie Joaquin in BGC, which has just been opened this November 2021–but a capsule collection of the textiles designed by Mr. Sansó is finally ready to be experienced by a new audience. 

“Sansó Textile Designs X Septième Rebelle: A Fashion and Art Exhibit” was out together by event manager Tedrick Yau, fashion creative director Vince Uy, and set designer Gideon Hermoso. The show will be on view until December 20, 2021 at Galerie Joaquin, One Bonifacio High Street Mall in BGC. Follow @fundacion_sanso and @septiemerebelle on Instagram.