Wanted: Next National Fashion Design Artist

Could this be the year that the field of fashion design will receive its second national artist?

Several organizations have confirmed that they are submitting names of fashion designers, living and deceased, for consideration in “the highest national recognition given to Filipino people who have made significant contributions to the development of Filipino arts.”

Fashion designer Jojie Lloren, through his Fashion + Arts + Business (FAB) creative school, appoints Inno Sotto, while the Philippine Fashion Coalition (PFC), a national organization of over 500 industry insiders led by fashion show director Jackie Aquino, endorses five names to consider: Salvacion Lim Higgins (aka Slim), Ben Farrales, Pitoy Moreno, Joe Salazar and Sotto.

The names of Christian Espiritu and Patis Tesoro would also be announced.

“This is our way of pushing for fashion design to be recognized as a legitimate art form,” Aquino told Lifestyle in a telephone interview.

He clarified that PFC is only “approving” the five names of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the government bodies in charge of the Order of the National Artist, to get around the intricacies of the nomination, which would require them to collect and present supporting documents and evidence of the important work of each candidate.

Aquino added that they also wanted to avoid duplication, as some of the names PFC endorses would already be officially named by other organizations, like Slim, by his namesake school.

Slim’s son and school administrator Mark Lewis Higgins confirmed this to Lifestyle. Higgins said it was the first time Slim’s fashion and art school has named his mother, who died in 1990, although she was previously named by Helena Benitez.

Lloren told Lifestyle he regrets that there hasn’t been a National Artist for Fashion Design since Ramon Valera was awarded posthumously in 2006, the first and only fashion designer to be added to the prestigious list since the award was created in 1972. (Valera died in 1972.)

Mandy de la Rama in Inno Sotto —IG: @fashionable_philipinas

The Order of the National Artist is awarded to seven categories. Fashion design falls under architecture, design and allied arts. The award is presented every three years and is presented by the president on June 11, according to the NCCA website.

Fashion legitimation

“Who’s to blame if there wasn’t another fashion designer to consider? Lloren said rhetorically. “It’s because people like me didn’t do anything. . . I chatted with (fellow fashion designer) Lesley (Mobo), and we agreed that we should really come together to better legitimize our work. We should not wait for a deserving person to die before being recognized.

Salvacion Lim Higgins in 1982 – Photo courtesy of Mark Higgins

In Lloren’s letter of appointment shared with Lifestyle, he cited Sotto’s “dedication and mastery of his craft” during his “decades-long career, not only as a designer but as a staunch supporter of l ‘local fashion industry‘ that has influenced generations of designers, including Lloren himself.

“Monsieur. Sotto made his mark by introducing a Filipino aesthetic quite distinct from his predecessors – a minimalist modernity that shattered the dominant look at the time, and which would evolve into a singular classicism still studied and revered by his peers. to date, ”Lloren wrote.

Chona Kasten wearing Salvacion Lim Higgins, 1960 – Photo courtesy of Mark Higgins

“More than a designer, Mr. Sotto is a true artist who embodies the Filipino soul, gifted, original and innovative.

When asked why Sotto, not, say, his contemporaries and perceived rivals Auggie Cordero and the late Salazar, or even Espiritu, who was both Lloren and Sotto’s mentor, Lloren replied: “Simply because I know Inno’s work better. I was Christian’s assistant on RTW, so I’m not aware of his work in sewing; it was in Inno’s time as an assistant. The rest are equally great designers, but as a (nominator) I’m pushing for Inno because I’m more aware of his work, and I think he deserves the award.

Lloren said that when Sotto rose to fame in the 1980s, he introduced a minimalist aesthetic that was markedly different from the elaborate works of his direct predecessors, like Farrales and Moreno. “It was a great turning point for Filipino fashion and it influenced a lot of us,” said Lloren.

Christian spirit

“Inno continues to be relevant as he shares what he knows and encourages young designers, like in his Fashion Watch series, and now at TernoCon,” Lloren added. “He is a mentor to many to this day, which is why he is very well respected. Young designers know his work.

Sotto declined when asked for comment.

“Winning” names

For the PFC, Aquino said he chose “deserving candidates based on criteria, instead of being biased in favor of just one.”

Among the many possible candidates, Aquino added that they chose names “with rolling” and which are “winnable”.

“You have to understand that this is also a political exercise,” Aquino stressed. “Joe and Pitoy have been identified with Imelda Marcos. Inno has been identified with the Ramoses. . . “

In 2009, Moreno’s name was drawn into controversy when he was one of four individuals named National Artist through the “presidential prerogative” of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The four were not nominated by the official selection committee of the NCCA and CCP. The Supreme Court overturned the proclamations in 2013. (Moreno died in 2018.)

Pitoy Moreno

“We want to be part of the conversation,” Aquino said. “This question is always asked: is fashion really an art? Naturally! He talks about the time. It is a timeless representation of culture. . . “

“You can’t create a national award, make an exception with Valera and say, never again,” Higgins told Lifestyle in a phone interview. “This calls into question the credibility and integrity of the award, because why him and why never again? We have set a precedent.

He cited the couturier Yves Saint Laurent, decorated in 1985 and 2007 with the Legion of Honor, the highest order of French merit, and buried as a hero upon his death in 2008. “I doubt that France would have given him that s ‘they considered shallow fashion.

Fashion as art and craft

Higgins, an artist and writer himself, added in an email to Lifestyle: “It’s unfortunate, but often in history one of the stigmas of a developing country is that it rarely recognizes its own artists and geniuses before the most developed countries recognize them. .

“In my opinion, fashion is both an art and a craft. Art is in the vision of design, and craftsmanship is in the making or execution of it. However, not every book or painting that exists is great art or great literature – there is also a business side and a superficial side to everything, and the same is true of fashion.

Inno Sotto

“The principles of designing and manufacturing a garment are practically the same as those applied to architecture, which is already included in the categories of national artists.

“Not only does fashion have to be seen as an art form, but you already have some of the most prestigious museums in the world, such as the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London archiving from extensive collections of both costumes and contemporary fashion.

“This is because the most developed countries realize that clothes and textiles are precious objects that present their own unique information about human history in terms of economy, culture and society. And any fashion that is contemporary today, decades or even centuries later, becomes costume or artefact.

Patis Tesoro

Higgins’ mother, a pupil of Carlos “Botong” Francisco, also started out as a painter, but later chose fabric as a medium for artistic expression.


In Higgins’ nomination form, he wrote that his mother was the “personification of the liberated post-war Filipino woman who, among other things, turned the terno into a work of art.” The terno came to represent a newly independent nation with a bright future ahead of it, and would reflect the glamor and sophistication of Paris fashion houses.

Ben Farrales

He also highlighted how the Slim’s school founded in the 1960s mentored prominent names in Filipino fashion, like Salazar, Cesar Gaupo, Michael Cinco and Joey Samson, among others.

Lloren, Aquino and Higgins accept the possibility that the honor won’t even go to a fashion designer this year. Not only is the award not given to all categories every time, the nominated fashion designers also face others in the Architecture, Design and Related Arts category.

But, they agree, if a fashion designer is indeed named a National Artist, whoever he is, it will be a triumph for the industry.

“It’s a win-win,” Aquino said. INQ

Joseph E. Golightly