Girl in the gallery
Carla V. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 7, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The myth about style in the art scene is propagated by a very cliché idea of how artists and gallery owners dress. When one thinks “art scene,” a certain image is conjured up. Fashionable characters like Edna Mode and SNL alum Amy Poehler (in that hilarious “Art is Dead. Jeans are Alive” sketch for Old Navy) tend to consistently feed this idea of fashion in the art scene: the head-to-toe black, the stylish bob. But for gallery owner Zoe Peña, her personal style is a far cry from the formulated idea the public seems to think of her “scene.”

A former resident of our shores, now residing in Hong Kong and running her own business, Zoe is one of the unsung champions of the contemporary Filipino art in Asia. Having worked in the art industry in Manila since she was 19, Zoe has since moved to Hong Kong and put up Lightbombs Contemporary, a haven for young, up-and-coming local artists to showcase their work to a different audience and to the rest of Asia. Using her keen eye and expertise, Zoe helps talented local artists find homes for their pieces in both personal and corporate collections in Hong Kong and among her other clients around the world.

As an insider in the elusive art world, Zoe’s own personal style reflects a sense of beauty and practicality, ease and adventure — among the many other things she seems drawn to in the myriad of art that crosses her path every day. Unassuming, effortlessly chic, and altogether other-worldly, YStyle sits down with the ever-busy art dealer to talk art, fashion, and her plans for the future.

YSTYLE: What are doing in Hong Kong at the moment?

ZOE PEÑA: I work in art, running Lightbombs Contemporary, which is an arts advisory that focuses on placing Filipino contemporary art into personal and corporate collections. We implement collections management and maintenance programs. Right now we're working on tech-driven ventures that are geared towards the art industry. We are also working on producing a new show for 2015 as we do one big exhibition per year.

This year, I have also co-founded a younger venture called Artery which is collector-focused. I’ve also recently signed on to be a curator for the Artist Pension Trust which is a global pension initiative focused on aiding artists — I am very excited about this role. Other than that, I am chiseling away to hopefully move my family closer to the sea, whether it’s in Asia or somewhere else.  

 How would you describe your style?

I told my friend Niña about this feature and she was a little doubtful of how well I was going to be able to explain why I dress the way I do, which isn’t unfounded. “Whenever I say you look good, you tell me you just rolled out of bed,” she said. I like to look feminine and strong, perpetually put together and comfortable. Simple trouser and top combos paired with a strong shoe/haircut/something. And, echoing Nina, I think every outfit I wear, with minor editing, can be worn to bed!

When did you pick up your dress sense?

Honestly, I just dress in what I feel good in. This feature made me think about my clothes a lot and it felt confusing (but fun!) to put together outfits like a performance albeit to an unwitting audience. I was always questioning the authenticity of an outfit I had put together. Obviously I don’t always paint my hair white, but for the most part, these are the outfits I live in for work and play. I like a well-made shoe and the pajama aesthetic speaks to me on a very deep level. I have a lot of silk, taffeta, leather and ultra-light cotton fabrics like voile in my wardrobe.  For accessories, I have pieces with hints of the baroque, and images of flora and fauna. 

Do you use style to convey any sort of message?

Not deliberately, but I think that’s inevitable. If someone were trying to get to know me, I suppose my style might say something accurate but it definitely would not paint the whole picture.

How do you use clothes to your advantage?

I’m curviest at the hips and my behind, so it depends on how I feel. Sometimes it’s a cinched waist, at other times I’ll opt for something more billowy to skim instead. I lean towards open or low necks so I still feel somewhat demure and feminine exposing that much skin. I go for monochromatic outfits to elongate the body with glints of metallic accents.

Where do you like to shop and why?

Everywhere — there’s no big raison d’être — I pick up things on pure aesthetic and feeling.

What’s the last memorable thing you purchased?

A coat from Tsolo Munkh who is a designer from Mongolia. It’s in this crazy royal blue color with matador shoulders and jade beads lining the shoulders. It’s so wild! I may bring it on a trip to New York next week.

What was the last random thing you purchased?

A gold double barrel pinky ring when I was in Cyprus last month.

Most insane garment you’ve ever purchased?

Vintage sequin dresses from Iran and Pakistan. 

How does being around art all the time affect your style? Are the two mutually exclusive?

Absolutely not.  I live with art 24/7 and I started working in the industry at 19. I think that’s when I started picking up my adult dress sense, if I really think about it. I meet so many characters from all over the world and they all leave something different to be ruminated upon. Then there is the art piece, where each initial encounter is strong visual and visceral. I'm sure I have picked up a color palette or two from a piece of artwork. Art lingers, and I think that’s how I like to dress myself, with a sort of lingering. There is movement in the fabric and always a good dose of perfume that has good sillage. 

Favorite wardrobe piece you keep turning to?

My wedding ring. I’ve recently stopped wearing my engagement ring and like the elegance of a single gold band on my finger. It’s the way my mom and dad wear their bands and I think that’s very understated and sweet.

Favorite drink:

Vodka martini, slightly more dirty than the usual, three olives

Favorite brand/label/s:

Honestly, none in particular as I find good pieces everywhere but I do follow Alexander Wang and Celine closely. 

Favorite gallery/museum:

I don’t think I have one. But my friend and I are going to be seeing the Morbid Anatomy Museum soon which has a show on mourning and I am extremely looking forward to that.

Favorite artists:

Ever revolving, but now, Johannes Vermeer. Yesterday it was Ed Ruscha. The day before that it was Ringo Bunoan. Tomorrow, who knows!

Favorite Sunday afternoon haunt: At home, in bed with my husband and the pups reading books or watching something while dinner slow cooks in the kitchen.

Favorite vacation destination:

Anywhere I can have syruppy slow days.



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