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Lulu Tan Gan weaves piña into your everyday wardrobe |


Lulu Tan Gan weaves piña into your everyday wardrobe

KISS ASS - Ana G. Kalaw -

It’s not every day that you have a bunch of 20-somethings gushing over piña fabric. But it’s not every day either that the same bunch of 20-somethings see piña made into something apart from the traditional barong or Filipiniana formalwear. Piña has always been a stiff, colorless, fibrous fabric that only saw light during weddings or the SONA. And it was usually worn by the older set, our parents and grandparents and their peers. That is, until Lulu Tan Gan decided to experiment.

Lulu, the designer best known for her resort-inspired, travel-friendly knitwear, has always been fascinated by piña, having been inspired by the elegance and durability of her father’s baul-stored barong. But she wanted to do something completely different: no ternos or stiff wedding wear. Her instincts as a ready-to-wear designer pushed her into recreating piña into pieces that were more contemporary, more of an everyday thing. “We wanted to give the fabric the same practicability and relevance as knitwear.”

Dream team: The Tan Gan team, composed of president and creative director Lulu Tan Gan, vice-president Jessica Tan Gan and managing director Sergio Boero, is taking piña to new possibilities.

Lulu’s first challenge was to strip the fabric off its stiff and dated reputation. “Piña is not difficult to handle like we were taught. It’s just used too much in formal wear where it’s starched and dry cleaned. But piña can also actually be soft and flexible.” Not too many know that piña is actually washable and can actually look and feel nicer when it’s laundered by hand with soap and water. “Washing makes it softer and gives it a bohemian feel,” observes the designer. And it’s also easily stored. Lulu shows how she folds her pieces wrapped in acid-free Japanese paper in a compact, moisture-proof bag.

The next step was to prove that the material is not only necessarily synonymous to barongs. Lulu’s initial foray into piña use had her incorporating the material into knitwear. Her 2008 collection for Fashion Watch displayed colorful resort pieces with piña sleeves, skirt paneling or lengthy shawls.

New hope: “We wanted to make piña more modern and relevant,” says Lulu Tan Gan, now the newest champion of the fabric many deemed to be antiquated.

For her most recent collection, Lulu has taken it a step further, reinventing piña and piña silk as an accessory apparel. She has capes and caftans, boleros and geometric vests that you can wear back-to-front: pieces that can upgrade a jeans and tank top pairing, pieces that easily transform a little black dress into a completely different ensemble. Piña pieces that you can even wear with shorts.

“My daughter Jessica always reminds me not to forget the young,” says Lulu. (Jessica Tan Gan, a summa cum laude graduate of fashion merchandising and business management from California’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising now works with her mom as the company’s vice-president.) And she’s taken the advice to heart. Lulu still uses beaded lace and sequins as embellishment, but she balances these out, also brandishing her creations with metal hardware, rivets and studs. She even has vests dyed in hot pink. Hence, the gushing from the young, fashion-forward guests in her recent collection showing.

Crossing over: Piña only for formal wear? Think again. Lulu Tan Gan shows us how to wear the indigenous fabric with jeans. And even cut-offs.

While she’s trying to go contemporary with her designs, the process of creating these pieces had to take a backdating. The grain of the piña fabric is very delicate and requires meticulous handling by hand. Piña has to be cut slowly and very carefully, following the natural lines of the fabric. Lulu has had to do all the cutting herself. “I still haven’t found a cutter that can really work with the delicate and sensitive grain of the piña. Most cutters are used to fast cutting like how it is in the factory.” Beadwork and embroidery, also hand-sewn, are done with extreme care. “You can’t just sew on the beads anywhere.” Thus, a small bolero takes about two to three days to complete. “We’re being ambitious by doing everything by hand.” 

Soon, Lulu plans to make knitwear with embellished piña bibs and more reinventions in other colors and patterns. Soon, she would have attained her eventual goal of promoting piña as a purely Filipino fabric to the rest of the world. Soon, piña creations will be as iconic as her knits. But for now, Lulu is happy that she has achieved what no one else has in recent generations: made piña part of the everyday wardrobe.

* * *

Lulu Tan Gan’s new piña collection is available at L Manila, Greenbelt 5.

Vested interests: Geometric vests can be worn front-to-back to give a new spin on a little black dress or any solid-colored shift.

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