Fashion pieces honor 'deserving' National Artists

by Kristine Servando,

Posted at Aug 20 2009 09:46 PM | Updated as of Aug 25 2009 02:57 AM


MANILA - What would National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin think if he saw his works interpreted in colorful clothes sold in high-end fashion stores for women?

Fortunately for Freeway, a women's clothing retailer, Joaquin would be tickled pink.

As literary critic Lito Zulueta said in a statement: "[He would find it] quite groovy and hip. As he would often say when he was still alive, 'Sikat ano?'"

Freeway recently launched its "Freeway Art: National Artist Collectors' Series" with a 7-piece collection inspired by Joaquin's works. Each piece, designed by in-house graphic artists, is splashed with funky artwork and printed with excerpts of Joaquin's writings.

Sheree Roxas-Chua Gotuaco, owner of Elite Garments International said the fashion line is meant to raise awareness among the youth about past National Artists and their contributions to Filipino culture.

"We're making it really young and hip so that a lot of the young people would find it cool and would like to wear it. My sister Katty and I thought of this interesting project to bring the Filipino culture to the young. To let them know more about [National Artists] and to have more pride with our Filipino heritage," she said.

The Nick Joaquin collection includes black-hemmed "May Day Eve" hooded jackets, white "Summer Solstice" collared blouses, yellow "Six P.M." sleeveless blouses, and "sublimation t-shirts" (printed by heat-transfer technology) interpreting "Landscape Without Figures", "The Years", and "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino."

They also offer limited edition Nick Joaquin canvas clutch bags and gray "Song Between Wars" t-shirts for men. The apparel, exclusively distributed by Freeway, are priced from P395 to P1,395. Each clothing comes with a special Nick Joaquin National artist seal and its own Collectors' series packaging.

Getting to know Nick

Photo from

In late Spanish-colonial fashion, the pieces were unveiled at a "tertulia" (or a gathering of literary figures and artists) hosted by Freeway last August 18. Tertulias are part of the romantic and genteel aspects of Manila's postwar period that Joaquin ("Quijano de Manila") celebrated as an integral part of national identity.

Hosted by Mo Twister, the event featured a documentary on Joaquin, followed by excerpt readings of Joaquin's works by former Freeway model Giselle Tongi-Walters, Jocas de Leon, and Joaquin's nephew-in-law Bing Villegas. The readings were accompanied by background music courtesy of harpist and singer Noelle Cassandra.

Known as the foremost Filipino writer in English, Joaquin was a versatile writer and historian who produced plays, prose, poems, novels, and short stories throughout his life. Gotuaco said it was this versatility that made Joaquin a prime choice for their fashion series.

Zulueta said Joaquin has often been accused of romanticizing the past and, by implication, justifying Spanish colonization in the Philippines. However, he was without question a great writer.

Villegas described his uncle as an avid beer-drinker and a very generous man who would give tips en masse at restaurants.

He said Joaquin initially distanced himself from the National Artist Award because he did not want to be associated with the Marcos regime. "When he realized he could use the influence to free his friends, he accepted it," Villegas said.

The National Artist Collectors' Series are in tribute to "past, deserving" National Artists, according to a statement by representatives of Freeway. The fashion series was launched amidst controversy over the appointments of several 2009 National Artists who were inserted in the awards shortlist by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo at the last minute.

Literature mixes with fashion

The Joaquin family was initially skeptical about Freeway's idea to interpret his works in fashion pieces. They were later impressed by the company's designs.

Zulueta, a noted expert on Joaquin's life and works, said Joaquin would probably find the "reinvention of his writings and philosophy into fashionable merchandise as pregnant with irony and full of meaning."

"Nick Joaquin embraced the cobwebs of the past. Now, he is having a fashion makeover. He is no longer clueless, or as Alicia Silverstone's character would say, 'As if!" he said in a statement.

Gotuaco said the collection symbolizes the synergy between various art forms. "Hopefully with this endeavor, we can show that arts of different form can come together and merge, and create something beautiful...So that people can be reminded of it and appreciate [the artists' works] more," she said.

She said the collection has drawn a lot of interest since the company released teasers and pre-release advertisements.

In time for holiday season, Freeway will also release in October a 14 to 15-piece clothing collection printed with Ang Kiukok's colorful paintings and pen and ink drawings. Kiukok, a figurative expressionist painter, was named a National Artist for Visual Arts in 2001.

Gotuaco said they are also in touch with the family of another unspecified National Artist, whose works will be turned into funky fashion pieces next year. Report by Kristine Servando, Some photos courtesy of Elite Garments International.