Starweek Magazine

Barongs woven with dreams, art and style

Edu Jarque - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — In a joint endeavor where one would expect a catastrophic clash of creative forces, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the initial collaboration between Silk Cocoon founder Jeannie Goulbourn and Bacolod-based painter Charlie Co resulted in unique menswear that are truly works of art.

With elements inspired from painted moons and clouds, animals and flowers, and bold colors and shapes gracing its textured fabric, the traditional barong Tagalog has been given a contemporary rebirth. Retaining the rigid yet perfectly-fit angular silhouette, the formal staple has been treated as the canvas infused with the vision of Charlie Co.

It was this vision that intrigued world-renowned fashion designer Jeannie Goulbourn, so much that their serendipitous venture began.

“His work reminded me of Marc Chagall,” says Goulbourn.

Indeed, Co’s themes and technique are reminiscent of the Russian-French modernist painter, though with a strong and distinct voice of its own.

Based on 14 paintings, which resulted in 24 distinctive designs enkindled by the advocacies of Filipino philanthropists, such as business and industry icon, the ageless Washington Sycip, former diplomat and supporter of terminally-ill children Junie del Mundo, solar lighting and sustainable rural electrification champion Jimmy Ayala, and education reformist Sen. Sonny Angara, and some foreign ambassadors to the Philippines,  Silk Cocoon celebrated its 19th year with the shared goal of inspiring and helping others.

The affair’s beneficiary was Hopeline, a 24-hour telephone service that offers counseling to callers suffering from depression, anxiety and abuse. Goulbourn’s advocacy to address these problems was sparked by the untimely passing of her daughter Natasha.

Many of Co’s paintings were brought about by challenges in his own personal life as well, particularly when he underwent surgery for a kidney transplant.

“Starting from my days of recovery at the hospital, I am now constantly reminded of time and how precious it is. I do my best not to waste any of it because life is so dear,” confides Co.

He deeply empathizes with Goulbourn’s cause and this is perhaps one of the reasons why they found synergy in their inventive adventure. He recounts his career as the result of factors that profoundly affect him.

He is much focused on his experiences, and on the dreams and fantasies he has, all of which burst into fanciful and provocative imagery.

Drawn to surrealism and balanced with an astute regard to his surroundings, Co builds his own wonderland of color. He is attracted to red, orange, yellow, blue and green, which he relates to the people of Negros. Black and white, on the other hand, evoke a sense of stories and a depth of emotions for the artist.

Co describes himself as someone who is passionate about his craft. Painting is so engrained in him that he finds it hard to imagine doing something else. Even during his free time, he paints, paints and paints some more.

“But if I weren’t painting, I would probably be a furniture maker, which is what my father wanted me to be. Belonging to a traditional Chinese family, this would have been my business. He warned me about there being no money in the arts,” recounts Co.

Being accomplished in his field, he shares that he derives his inspiration from other artists as well. In particular, he loves the work of Laguna-born Danny Dalena and the late National Artist Ang Kiukok.

As a traveler, Co enjoys attending art festivals around the world, but never without his trusty brown leather bag containing his pencils and paper, and his insulin injections.

“Wherever I am, I want to maximize opportunities to be inspired and to create. This is why I found the collaboration with Jeannie absorbing. I’ve always been curious about how it would be if fashion was made out of my paintings. And now it has happened,” he shares.

As we regarded the barongs on the display – almost painted themselves with details so whimsically yet tastefully rendered – our admiration for Jeannie became all the more palpable. Here we saw the genius of the designer emerging from the subtleties of workmanship up to the chosen hues of the woven threads. 

At this point in our meeting, Jeannie enters the room, at once filling it with her vibrant cheerfulness and delightful ideas. She describes the process of how the final silk pieces were conceptualized and executed.

“You see, I did not want to lose the dream in the adaptation. I concentrated on an interesting aspect of the image and I worked from there. I want to make the barong exciting and playful, and to have that TGIF feel. The aim is to have men wear them for fun or leisure, and not to be afraid of color,” says Jeannie.

“Pink has landed in the Philippines,” she playfully adds.

Both Jeannie and Co say that their journey was a wonderful and triumphant ride.

“I have great respect for Jeannie and what she does. As a designer, her work is stunning and full of vitality. As a person, all the more so,” says Co.

The match made in heaven has put forward relevant causes into light, as well as poignant recollections of victory over dark times. With souls as beautiful as their creations, these artists succeed in what can only be done by people who are in love with life, and who will always find, through adversity, the exquisite solace of art and invention.





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