Not a slim chance

FROM COFFEE TO COCKTAILS - Celine Lopez () - November 22, 2009 - 12:00am

The disenchantment happened in tiny little fractions. Perhaps a much-anticipated afternoon deflated by the delivery of a jacket from a young designer who did not bother to line the piece and left me feeling like I was wearing a loofah. Dresses dreamed up in strawberry fields only to drop like day-old French bread when worn. Cocktail pieces with beading that, to quote Cher in the movie Clueless, “from afar it looks like a Monet, up close it’s just a big mess.”

The young Filipino designer has always had kaleidoscopic blood running through his or her veins. However, oft is the moment when concept overrules function. The journey from paper to cloth has become an abstract art devoid of the old traditions of dressmaking and pattern design. Instead, it’s like dresses made for paper dolls, with closures less secure than Lindsay Lohan.

The release of Manila couturier Slim (Salvacion Lim Higgins)’s retrospective tome this Tuesday to a select few in the National Museum (it will also be available in book stores) serves as a voluble indicator of the possibilities of the Filipino designer. The effervescent prose of the contributors such as Lizza Nakpil and the photographs of Neal Oshima, as well as the styling of Marta Lovina, dazzle like a Slim dress in a random gala.

Slim, as she is known to the fashion crowd and international press, has long created detailed and superbly tailored dresses in progressive and unique designs. Her workmanship was so precise that her dresses were known to have looked as good turned inside out (very Martin Margiela… Slim started her magic in the ‘40s).

The encyclopedic details of the book focus on Slim’s career divided into elements such as shape, line, surface, influences, bride and imprint, not only highlights Slim as a singular talent but also as inspiration on the perspicuous duties of today’s designers. She worked hours and hours on patterns, 3D bead design, draping and shape. Her favorite foible was that of a woman in Paris who chanced upon a hat shop; inside she found a beautiful but expensive hat made with one ribbon. She questioned how a hat made with one ribbon could cost so much. The milliner took the hat away and unraveled it until it became one ribbon; then she gave it to the woman and offered it for coins.

Slim was all about craftsmanship and it is a feat for a woman who did not really have any formal training, but she did adhere to the French code of couture when creating her dresses.

The book captures a long-gone era — an era of undying glamour, when women looked and dresses like ladies. Her children, Sandy and Mark Higgins, decided to expedite work on this book when Slim passed away. After a couple of years of research and collation of her exhaustive catalog, which led to them stumbling upon refreshing discoveries such as the Mamie Eisenhower dress that they were searching for and which happened to actually be on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Or the bayanihan dress that inspired Lladro to create a ceramic piece based on the outfit made by Slim.

The siblings have also taken over the Slim School of Fashion in Makati, an institution that has educated greats such as Cesar Gaupo, Joe Salazar and Joey Samson. The book is an imperative companion for the fashion flock. The special-edition books will available at the gala and the more accessible softbound versions will be available in bookstores for students and young designers.

Let the enchantment begin.

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