THE ANCIENTS wove their dreams and aspirations into fabric, and the theme has been consistent through fashion. An exhibit featuring the clothes and collections of legendary Filipina designer Patis Tesoro is on display in the Destileria Limtuaco in Intramuros, telling Filipinos through textile what it means to be a Filipino: what we have been, and what we could still be.
The exhibit is titled Historical Exhibition of Philippine Clothing and Textile by Patis Tesoro, and will be on view until May 23. The exhibit features works by Ms. Tesoro, as well as parts of her private collection, and a few items lent here and there by clients, customers, and friends. The exhibition is part of Balik Saya, a project of the Department of Tourism and the Intramuros Administration, a fashion design competition which encourages aspiring fashion designers to create contemporary designs for the traditional baro’t saya using local materials. The Balik Saya awarding ceremony will be held on May 28 at the National Museum of Natural History.
The works displayed at the Patis Tesoro exhibit are stunning: there are several examples of barong and baro’t saya, embroidered or painted with scenes relevant to Philippine history and identity. As an example, a barong is painted with a pastoral landscape comparable to the work of Fernando Amorsolo. In another hall, a baro’t saya has been intricately embroidered in blackwork, showing trademarks that were stamped on the crates and barrels used during the galleon trade. An antique flapper-style dress made in piña (pineaple fiber fabric) can also be seen, reflecting how the local fabric adjusted to global trends during the period of occupation by both the Spanish and American colonizers. To see how global events can touch even domestic arts, a piña panuelo (fichu) is under a glass case, purportedly meant to be a wedding gift for Queen Victoria in the 1800s. According to an attached note, the fabric and the embroidery are so fine that embroiderers in Laguna said that it was impossible to replicate the same effect.
This is a wonder, because one would think that advances in technology would mean that now, with all of the history of art and all the power of science laid out before us, we can now do anything. Apparently, the limits of this power are still in the hands of humans.
“This is not technology. This is all done by human hands,” said Ms. Tesoro in an interview with BusinessWorld. Apparently, the threads used before were finer than the threads used today, because even the thread, beyond the actual embroidery, was made by hand. Now it’s all machine-made, Ms. Tesoro noted.
As for Ms. Tesoro’s personal attachment to textile, of which she boasts a rich collection worthy to be exhibited, it is still a reflection of history albeit in a smaller scale: the one of her life at home. “I think I grew up with it, because my mother was a dressmaker. In Assumption (where she was educated), I learned how to embroider.”
“I always had a love for textile — more than any other avenue.”
While great epics are played out on seas and land, recorded by scribes for posterity, textile also serves as a record of life and history, in another aspect. “For me, it’s another aspect of history that talks more about the home, about family life, and the community,” said Ms. Tesoro. As for the difference between the study of fashion and the study of textile, she said, “Fashion will represent the movement of time. Textiles can be forever.”
As mentioned above, the trouble with fabric is, when resources run out, or else the skill level to work with it dries up, it’s gone. Asked how we can continue to appreciate something that cannot be replicated, or repeated again, or else something that is meant to be lost or stained, Ms. Tesoro said: “You don’t want to replicate it. You’ll want to document it, you’ll want to be inspired by it, you’ll want to express it in another way.”
“I would say, we have to keep it, as a people. And to be able to keep it, we gotta buy it. It’s all about economics.”
Dreams and aspirations are often woven into fabric. A closer scrutiny of piña, Ms. Tesoro’s favorite textile to work with, perhaps yields a genuine understanding of Filipino people. Piña is made of fibers from the pineapple plant, then woven and beaten into a fabric that can even be finer than silk. What piña says about the Filipino, is, Ms. Tesoro says, that “We are a very refined people.” With a motion of her eye, we follow her quick glance towards a magnificently sequined fabric made of fine abaca, embroidered with a pattern inspired by Picasso. “Even though people say we are an island country; we are monkeys in trees… I beg your pardon.” — Joseph L. Garcia