ON June 29, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines paid tribute at the CCP to eight “extraordinary Filipino artists whose vision, imagination and dedication make manifest the genius and fire of the Filipino soul.”
Earlier conferred the Order of the National Artists (Orden ng mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) by outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte, the exemplary Filipinos are Gemino Abad (Literature); screen Superstar Nora Aunor, writer Ricardo Lee and director Marilou Diaz-Abaya (Film and Broadcast Arts); opera singer Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (Music); choreographer Agnes Locsin (Dance); actor/director Tony Mabesa (Theater); and fashion designer/educator Salvacion Lim-Higgins (Fashion Design).
“We honor our new National Artists whose constant and remarkable creativity guides us through the chaos, crises and challenges that unremittingly batter us, and infuses us with renewed strength, fortitude to move forward, hope to carry us, new ideas to energize us,” NCCA chairman Arsenio Lizaso said in his welcome speech. “As we go through the pandemic, widespread disinformation, and mediocrity that pervades and threatens to be the norm, their works emerge to be all the more important and crucial. This recognition is vital in guiding us toward what is truthful, excellent, liberating and edifying.”
While musical and dance performances, film clips and dramatic excerpts were shown to highlight the works of the other National Artists, an exhibit of the couture creations Lim-Higgins, also known as Slim, was mounted at the CCP Lobby. The fabulous dresses include her earliest works from the late 1940s up to her last collection in 1990, the year she died.
“Slim has always been my first choice for National Artist for Fashion. In fact, I think this award is so very much delayed! No other local designer had that discipline and mastery of clothes construction as she did,” says Dom Martin Hizon-Gomez, OSB, who, when previously known as the couturier Gang Gomez, honed his skills after he graduated at the Slim’s Fashion and Arts School in 1968.
“Her exhibit at the National Museum many years ago already established her superior credentials and discipline. No amount of exquisite ornamentation can make up for a poorly constructed dress. I’m happy to say that since I studied at Slim’s before I went to New York to study fashion design, I felt well-equipped and prepared,” Dom Martin continues. “In fact, looking at my first works at Mayers School of Fashion Design, my teachers always asked where I studied fashion design before. I am most grateful to Slim’s for that important foundation, which still helps me now in designing liturgical vestments for the [Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon].”
Fresh out of Slim’s, young designer Dinnes Obusan won the bronze medal at the 2020 TernoCon, a terno-making contest headed by lifestyle brand Bench and the CCP.
“As an alumnus of Slim’s, I am so happy and very proud because I have learned so much in fashion and dressmaking because of her and her school. Studying most of her work inspires a lot of students, and so I am who I am because of her,” shares Obusan. “The most important values and lessons that I learned from her and that I still apply up to now is being hardworking, meticulous, and putting love and effort in every creation that I make.”
The gold-medal winner of TernoCon 2020 is also a Slim’s product, Hannah Adrias.
“We’ve been waiting for this day to come because she deserves this. We are so proud and honored to be a Slim’s graduate. She was the standard. Her school produced some of the best designers known not only here in the Philippines but also worldwide, designers I look up to,” Adrias says. “What we are taught in school is called the Slim’s Method. Her precise way of drafting, cutting, and sewing garments, we are still using now. It still teaches us the value of hard work in every piece we make and reminds us that there’s no shortcut to making a well-crafted garment.”
Unlike the Nobel Prize, the Kennedy Center Honors (generally) and dames and knighthoods, the Order of National Artists can be given posthumously. So Lim-Higgin’s son, Mark Higgins, accepted the honor for her.
“A truly great masterpiece, whether it is a painting or a sculpture, a novel, a piece of music or dance, is timeless. Something that is decades or centuries old can still inspire generations after it was created because it was original, beautiful and exquisitely crafted. The fact that my mother’s work still resonates with so many people today is an indication of that,” Higgins said.
Observing her work while he was growing up is what made Higgins realize that fashion is actually 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. She would create these masterful confections of her imagination that would either defy gravity or succumb to it. There were dresses in marvelous states of suspended animation or others which manifested her organic fluid draping of fabric cascading sinuously over the body,” he added.
“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 the engineering that would support this masterpiece,” Higgins explained. “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. Today, Slim’s body of work serves as testament to how clothing and textile can form just as powerful a narrative as any other artistic medium.”
Image credits: MARK HIGGINS BY PAUL SUGANO