Threads of life

Growing up on Mindanao, the second-largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines, Lenora Cabili was surrounded by artisans creating reels of fabric from abaca (a type of banana-like plant native to the country) from an early age. Shredded, dried and dyed, the fibres were woven into mats, accessories and clothes – a stunning footprint of the island community.

Today, Cabili is one of the country’s strongest proponents of indigenous fashion – her label Filip + Inna showcases intricate weaving, embroidery and beadwork from across the archipelago.

“My mission is to create while also reviving, even preserving, ancient traditions of the Philippines that are in danger of becoming lost,” says Cabili, whose work with 11 communities across the country also offers an opportunity to improve livelihoods.

A centuries-old tradition in the Philippines, the embroidery Cabili sources includes cross-stitch patterns of indigenous people and intricate callado (filigree work where yarn is painstakingly pulled off the cloth) from the country’s lowlands. She has just finished work on the Felicia Dress from her B’laan Collection, which features 15,000 glass beads, all stitched by hand. “It took the artisan five weeks to finish it,” she says. 

A former dancer turned fashion designer, Cabili’s Filip + Inna – a portmanteau of Filipino and Filipina – clothes are essentially a map of the country, highlighting regional crafts and materials. Cabili travels the islands, tracking down unique creations and collaborating with artisans to create distinct garments and accessories for women. It’s a time-consuming process, but it guarantees individual, highly personalised pieces – each artisan also puts their name on the garments they create.

While collections change with availability and the seasons, pieces might include resort-style tops, chemises, boleros, lounge pants and caftans. No two garments are ever alike. Embellishments often nod to the traditional garb of various communities and Cabili keeps a collection of garments from far-flung islands for inspiration.

“I wear Filip + Inna clothes with pride because behind every garment is the artisan and her life story,” she says.



Peninsula academy

While Peninsula hotels around the world have their own distinct character, one thing that ties them together is a supreme sense of style – plus the Peninsula Academy.

A thoughtfully curated collection of bespoke tours in each hotel’s city, the academy is designed to immerse guests in the local landscape, highlighting everything from history and culture to contemporary arts
and cuisine.

At the Peninsula Manila, a diverse programme includes a helicopter tour of WWII relics as well as a craft class and Burda: Hand Embroidery Art of the Philippines. The latter sees Peninsula guests spend an afternoon at the atelier of Lenora Cabili and learn how each piece she designs is gawa sa kamay (handmade).

Over coffee or champagne and canapés, guests can enjoy a salon show featuring select pieces from Cabili’s latest collection, which they may also purchase or have custom fitted.

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Lynn Christiansen’s World of WearableArt

Eleven years ago Lynn Christiansen made the decision to throw in her job as a marketing executive and follow her true calling. Now she is a regular collaborator with Los Angeles fashion designer Jeremy Scott, and has almost won the Supreme World of WearableArt Award, twice.

This year her entry ‘Gothic Habit’ (pictured) was awarded first prize in the American Express Open Section and runner up to the Supreme Award.

A line she read in a self-help book was the catalyst for change says Christiansen, who at the time was unhappy in her work but couldn’t figure out what to do next.

“The one line said ‘when was the last time you lost track of time?’ I was in grad school and had some air-drying clay. I sculpted this little leopard and when I looked up it was dark outside. Hours had passed. I thought back to this moment and said, ‘that’s it. I’m quitting the job, taking leave and going to art school to study sculpture,” she says.

During her study she discovered she had an affinity with metal, which led her to making jewellery, including runway pieces for the fashion department which caught the eye of Scott.

One of their most memorable collaborations to date was a meat dress, presented at New York Fashion Week two days after Lady Gaga wore a real meat dress at 2010 The Grammy’s. The timing was coincidental. “We debated, do we show it or should we not show it, and in the end we decided to show it,” she says. “It was kind of fun because it even won an MTV online poll of whose dress they liked better. Ours was much classier. It’s based on prosciutto not raw meat, and vegetarian because it was made out of silicon rubber.”

Christiansen, who hails from San Francisco, is now a respected artist/designer and seven-time World of WearableArt (WOW) veteran, taking out a number of awards for her work including the 2013 International Award.

This year’s award-winning entry ‘Gothic Habit’ was made from laser-etched felt and wood, and constructed with more than 2300 individually cut pieces that were painstakingly assembled to create an astonishing sculpture of a gothic cathedral.

Christiansen’s inspiration for the garment was drawn from the idea that entering a religious building provides a spiritual experience in itself, “the rising arches, heavy stone and raw beauty are stunning”.

She discovered the process of laser-etching and cutting after realising working with metal was exhausting, not only for her but also for the models who have to wear the garments. Her 2010 WOW entry ‘Horridus’, inspired by the Australian thorny devil lizard, was a suit of armour made up of hundreds of metal scales. “After I finished Horridus I lost the feeling in my thumb and index finger for about a month and thought I probably needed to try something new,” she says.

‘Gothic Habit’ by Lynn Christiansen is part of the World of WearableArt exhibition on show at Auckland War Memorial Museum from November 21, 2014 to March 22, 2015.

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