In his hometown in Panay, the acclaimed international designer reflects on local traditions and arts.
Photos courtesy of LESLEY MOBO
In fashion, haute couture shows us the aesthetic of a fashion house or a designer at its most aspirational. The custom-fit clothing, often created using hand executed techniques, is high art that marries craftsmanship and design. They are worn by celebrities and fashion icons that most of us can simply admire from afar.
London-based Filipino designer Lesley Mobo has designed his fair share of custom gowns that have graced international red carpets. But recently he has been brought closer to home. At the start of the pandemic, the designer chose to fly to his hometown in the Panay Islands. Miles away from his atelier in London, Mobo found himself reconnecting with local traditions and weavers.
Visiting the iconic La Herminia in Old Buswang, Kalibo, the designer began sharing photos of the weaving and embroidery process of piña fabric on his Instagram. One of the most recognizable Filipino textiles, piña is used in many of traditional Filipino garments, including the barong tagalog, as well as the pañuela and camisa of a traje de mestiza dress.
“Piña fibers are extracted from the leaves of pineapple plants,” writes Mobo in an Instagram post. “Red Spanish pineapple cultivation is centered in Aklan, mostly in Kalibo and Barangay Mobo.”
It is an arduous, time-consuming, and labor-intensive process. Mobo shares that to complete just a few meters with the traditional decoration of callado, or handembroidery on piña, it can take weavers up to six months.
The Aklan-native calls the textiles haute culture, a reference to the fashion phrase haute couture, while recognizing the significant cultural value and heritage behind the process and the design.
“The piña fiber is now being bought raw by foreign weavers who are interested in the fibers but not the fabric. They develop it into something else, like piña leather,” Mobo shares with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “What we do here is traditional and all done by hand, so one direction is to promote it as haute [culture] textiles. Because it is a traditional fabric, we can hope that the local market will continue using it.”
An haute couture garment is aspirational because of the thought in the design and the toilsome process behind it. Meanwhile, haute culture aspires for greater recognition and preservation, particularly as the fashion world becomes more and more saturated.
“Haute culture is used by other countries to describe their weaving products, and it’s good that we in the Philippines can attach it to piña,” adds Mobo. “It justifies its cultural importance and why it is expensive. Because everything is made by hand, a labor of love.”