If there is anything Richard Gutierrez’s barong from the last ABS-CBN ball can teach us, its that our old barongs can have a new lease on life. Chard’s barong, which won him the Best Dressed Male of the event, was a collaboration between his stylist David Milan and the designer Joey Samson. It was assembled by combining four of the actor’s used barongs, artfully put together to make one elegant old-but-new stunner.
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Upcyled barongs are also the theme of this year’s Slim’s Fashion and Art School exhibit at the SM Mega Fashion Hall in Megamall. Titled “Alchemy: The Best of Student Work 2019”, the new graduates of Slim’s Dressmaking and Patternmaking, and Tailoring were asked to take something of little value and transform it into something useable again, relevant, even desirable. “I’d like to say that this is the more polished version of upcycling. You are taking something of no value and turning it into something precious or more beautiful,” says Mark Higgins who currently runs Slim’s with his sister Sandy. “My brief to the students was to use unusual, discarded items but I don't want the end product to look trashy.”
With this direction, the students let their imaginations guide them, along with the techniques and various learnings from the clothes-making institution.
Student Godofredo took inspiration from Philippine indigenous textiles and interpreted it by carefully aligning straws in a colorful pattern on a half side of a black barong. Giving it an interesting symmetry is the uneven collar measurement.
Another student, Glynn Alley Magtibay, drew inspiration from the human anatomy and aptly upcycled old x-ray films, shaping them into appliques of human skulls, and vertebrae that were strategically placed at the back following the pattern of the human spine.
One student transformed soda pull tabs into fish scales that she placed on a Japanese tattoo design of two koi fish. “I love tattoos,” says Slims Tailoring graduate Pau Pascual. “Actually I thought of the pull tabs first before the design. I said, ‘wait lang, it looks like scales.’ I went for the Japanese Koi design using diluted textile paint. I chose blue for the koi instead of orange. Gusto ko kasi style ko. It took me 10 minutes per pull tab using nylon thread to attach it to the barong,” she shares.
Redge Tabaniag recycled PVC plastics used for car lights as well as faux leather to come up with a shimmering honeycomb-themed barong. To give it that extra quirk, he hand-painted the buttons with bee eyes.
Perhaps the most striking of the lot —which Higgins considered the exhibit’s showstopper — is the green barong with a clinging panda design at the back. Its designer, Irmalyn Raquedan, is quite the stunner herself with her green hair, navy-collared dress paired with a bag of the same panda design as her barong. “Sa bahay may poster ng panda kaya dun ko nakuha yung idea,” she says. But her first inspiration was the technique used in making fluffy rugs and wondered whether it was applicable for the straw. “Nag-try lang ako and nag-work,” she adds. First, she drew the panda and traced the fishnet on the drawing and used it as a base. She tied straws on each square of the net and shredded them using a needle, until it evoked the look of a panda’s fur. To complete the story of her design, she had the panda paws hug the front side of the green barong and, finally, made the panda chew on a bamboo leaf.
Slims, an institution in the fashion industry, is the school founded by Mark and Sandy’s mother, fashion designer Salvacion Lim Higgins, and their aunt Purificacion Lim in 1960. Many of the products of Slim’s have become some of the country’s notable designers. They include Michael Cinco, Joey Samson, Martin Bautista, Oliver Tolentino, and the late Cesar Gaupo, to name a few.
This is the 11th year of the yearly Slims exhibit which is always held in September, the founding month of the school. Out of a hundred students, there are 30 designs on display in the show, essentially the best in the crop, consisting of gowns, ternos, and barongs.
Higgins says the students approached the task in a way that reflects their technical skills. Upcycling just served as the starting point. “This is where a lot of fresh ideas are born,” says Mark of the yearly show. “They may still be students but you can see the level of skill that they have acquired — so imagine when they are out there, how much more polished and refined their work would be in a couple of years' time. This [exhibit] is sort of the incubator for these kinds of ideas and these talents. As a school, our job is to bring it out and inspire them to evolve.”
The Slim’s Fashion and Art School exhibit at the SM Mega Fashion Hall in Megamall is ongoing until Friday, 4 Oct.