The legacy of Slim

‘Salvacion Lim Higgins: National artist for Design’ celebrates the preeminent designer’s creative genius that has revolutionized—and continues to influence—Philippine fashion

SLIM'S WORLD From left: National artist for Design Salvacion Lim Higgins photographed in 1983, draping fabric on a dress form in front of a mirror

Mallgoers will have the rare opportunity to view the visionary work of national artist Salvacion Lim “Slim” Higgins at the upper ground level atrium of SM Aura Premier from Sept. 5 to 14. The exhibition, “Salvacion Lim Higgins: National Artist for Design,” celebrates the preeminent designer’s creative genius that has revolutionized—and continues to influence—Philippine fashion.

“Observing her at work while I was growing up is what made me realize that fashion is both an art and a craft. The art lies in the vision and the craft is in the application. The art is in the dream, the craft is in making it real,” says her son and artist Mark Lewis Higgins, who curates the show. “She would create these masterful confections of her imagination that would either defy gravity, or succumb to it.”

In June 2022, Slim was honored as a national artist in the design category. The Order of National Artists Award is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and letters. She is the only Filipino designer with gowns in the archives of both the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

Exhibition visitors can look forward to a stunning selection of dresses and photos from a career spanning more than four decades. These are exquisite gowns and ternos worn by the fashion icons of their time: Edith Nakpil Rabat, Chona Recto Kasten, Lily de las Alas Padilla, and Diana Jean Lopez in breathtaking black and white photographs. Higgins describes these as “dresses in marvelous states of suspended animation, or others where she manifested her organic, fluid draping of fabric cascading sinuously over the body.”

‘The art is in the dream, the craft is in making it real.’

The exhibition, which also includes her timeless gowns and dresses, showcases Slim’s enduring signature style: intriguing silhouettes, groundbreaking design, and exquisite technique. “In creating a garment, she would apply two elements to her process: architecture and sculpture. The architecture would surface in the building of the form, the scaffolding, construction, and engineering that would support this masterpiece. Always thinking in three dimensions, her final touch would be molding and manipulating the fabric onto the human form, transforming the wearer into an elegant human sculpture.” adds Higgins.

Salvacion Lim Higgins was born in Legaspi, Albay in 1920. She studied Fine Arts in the University of Santo Tomas under national artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, but never finished her studies due to the outbreak of WWII. In 1947 she opened the Slim’s atelier and, in 1960, founded Slim’s Fashion & Arts School with her sister Purificacion Lim, which is today headed by Mark Higgins as director.

As the oldest fashion institution in the country, it has mentored tens of thousands of designers all over the Philippines. Alumni include fashion luminaries Oskar Peralta, Joe Salazar, Cesar Gaupo, Oliver Tolentino, Albert Andrada, Joey Samson, Martin Bautista, and Michael Cinco.

SM and the Slim’s Fashion & Arts School have had many exciting collaborations over the years, notably in exhibitions of the works of graduating students, which were held at premier SM Malls.

“Salvacion Lim Higgins: National Artist for Design,” one of many exciting fashion events at SM Aura Premier, opens on Sept. 5 and runs until Sept. 14.