It’s hard to imagine it’s been about 30 years since Salvacion Lim Higgins’ passing. Known as Slim to fashion and society circles, the designer’s presence continues to be felt in the institution she established, Slim’s Fashion and Art School. There are still events that perpetuate her legacy, and raise her profile in present times, such as the Terno Con exhibit at the CCP last January, which showcased a collection of Higgins’ ternos.
Her talent is voluptuously depicted in an eponymously-titled book that chronicles her remarkable body of work. Institutional recognition both here and abroad — such as London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. where two of the designer’s most iconic creations are archived — attest to Higgins’ extraordinary gift and burnish her image even more.
Less known, though equally remarkable, is Higgins’ accomplishment as a mother to Sandra and Mark, now co-directors of the family-owned school. Despite growing up in the shadow of Slim’s success, Sandra and Mark experienced a pretty normal childhood, shielded from the glitz of their mother’s fashion orbit.
Sandra, who is two years older than Mark, earned her Film Production degree from York University in Toronto. She would live in Hong Kong for over twenty-five years, working in advertising before heading home to help run Slim’s Fashion and Arts School with her brother. Mark, on the other hand, initially set out to be an artist before shifting to fashion. Later on, Mark continued to pursue art while serving as co-director of the family business.
In his mother’s centennial birth anniversary, Mark sheds light on Mrs. Higgins’ lesser known side — the renegade who allowed her children the freedom to find their own path.
MARK HIGGINS ON HIS MOTHER
From as far back as I can remember, my mother instinctively recognized that I was an artistic child, so she treated me in a very understanding way. It was clear she never expected me to be conventional or to think and behave in any normal sort of way, and I think she was actually pleased about this. She was very encouraging from the beginning, and all her life she treated me this way.
To my sister and I, she was just our mom. My father, unlike our mom, was a very low-key type of person. And we were raised in that manner, away from the public and out of the fashion world spotlight. We had a pretty normal family life.
I remember once during fifth grade, our teacher was doing a roll-call at the beginning of the school year. When it came to my name, she exclaimed out loud to the class that my mother was the ‘famous’ Salvacion Lim Higgins. I distinctly remember cringing from embarrassment because at the time, being a fashion designer meant absolutely nothing impressive to me.
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We were like the best of friends
Despite her fame, she always treated my sister and I, and our friends too, like proper people. She never talked down to us or acted in any sort of superior way, even during our adolescent years. Of course, as I grew up I became far more aware of who she was and what she did. Fashion became an interest starting when I was about fourteen.
I remember so fondly that by the time I was in my early twenties, we were like the best of friends who would hang out, travel together, and have a lot of common interests. This is the period where I enjoyed her the most – two adults with two creative minds sharing thoughts and ideas.
My mother herself was the rebel in her family. She had an artistic streak, along with a fiery temper. So my very gentle Chinese grandfather was never really able to ‘control’ her. She pretty much got away with calling the shots and being herself. So growing up, for me, there was never really any reason to rebel – there was nothing to rebel against.
And it’s no surprise that she never imposed her will on either me or Sandra, because she very much believed that we each had our own unique destiny to fulfill. She never expected me to take over her business, and never once did she mention anything to my sister and I about taking over and running Slim’s Fashion & Arts School.
She was amused I showed an interest in fashion at a young age, but I first studied Fine Art in college. I moved into fashion only in the later part thinking it would be a more sensible career. Surprisingly, she always told me to pursue my painting and not end up in the fashion business. She always said, “You should stick to your painting, you have such a rare gift. You will have a far more interesting life and meet far more interesting people than if you continue in the fashion business.” But she never pressured my sister and I into anything except to do what we truly believed in.
She never stopped being a mother.
It’s admirable that no matter what age we were, she never stopped being our mom. In grade school, no matter how busy she was, she would always call the house when we came home to ask us what we ate for lunch. Even when she was older, it would make me laugh how she worried about be being on my own in New York in my early twenties.
I inherited her creative energy, and an obsession for beautiful textiles. In terms of character, I learned from her a real sense of ‘self’ – an awareness of who I am, and more importantly, who I am not. She was also an original thinker, who always thought outside the box – I like to think I inherited that from her as well.
There was never a time in my life that we were not close. In her ‘twilight years,’ she was battling an illness and I was taking care of her. So she became more physically frail and vulnerable as time passed. But she remained very much herself, even designing a small collection for a fashion show a week before she passed away. She was one of those fortunate people who get to do the thing they love the most as a career, all of their lives.
I said this once, in an interview a long time ago – I would thank her for the privilege of growing up with her, and I was grateful that I had her DNA. She was the perfect role model of a self-possessed, creative spirit.
Mark Higgins' mom is a hero as our own moms are heroes to us. She deserves to be honored and treated on Sunday. If you’re looking for gift ideas for Mother’s Day, click here