Thursday, December 24, 2009

Long before Pacquiao, there was this global Filipina

2009 would be remembered as the year the Philippines honored a woman who was way ahead of her time
IF YOU WANT TO FEEL GOOD AS A Filipino—and who doesn’t?—even in a year of floods and massacres, see the Slim Retrospective at National Museum. You have until March to see this exhibit, truly world-class both as curatorial work and as a production.

While 2009 is known as another Pacquaio year, it should also be remembered as the year Philippine fashion paid tribute to Salvacion Lim Higgins (Slim), the designer who won global acclaim as early as the ’60s.

Her coffee-table book, “Salvacion Lim Higgins, Slim, Philippine Haute Couture 1947-1990)” was launched last November at National Museum, with the opening of retrospective exhibit of her clothes on 48 mannequins.

In 1964, at the New York World’s Fair where the Bayanihan was performing, the famous photographer Cecil Beaton went backstage after the performance because he wanted to see up close the Bayanihan’s Maria Clara-inspired costumes that were done in black and white. Beaton’s admiration was reported in media.

Lladro, the world-renowned Spanish porcelain brand, later issued a limited edition of the “Singkil” showing the Muslim princess in a costume designed by Slim.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, has in its collection a Slim jusi gown that belonged to former US First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. In 2004 Smithsonian included it in a rare traveling exhibit called “First Ladies: Political Role and Public Image,” alongside the works of fashion greats like Charles Worth. The jusi gown was presented to Mrs. Eisenhower by then Philippine First Lady Leonila Garcia on a state visit in 1958.

I met Salvacion Lim Higgins only once—the woman future generations would know popularly as “Slim” (or Slim’s, to refer to her school)—when I interviewed her about her fashion show. This must have been in the late ’70s—a very brief face time with her that hardly allowed me to know the woman.

But then, always having been lucky in career (provided it didn’t involve corporate political reptilians, that is), I had my second chance to really know this woman, the likes of whom could come only once in Philippine fashion.

It happened two years ago, when her children Sandy and Mark invited me to help document and review the career and contribution of their mother in Philippine fashion—indeed, the creative evolution that was her life—for a coffee-table book the two would produce this year

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