Books and rabbits ruled the planet I grew up in but also fashion, an omnipresent passion that runs through my family, from my Lola Marina down to my elder daughter Hannah.
I took a detour from my writing to work in the world of fashion for 17 years with my sister Letlet, but the fashion journey began much earlier than that.
Baking as a child in my Lola Marina’s kitchen, with her house just next to mine, you could not escape the kustureras, bolts of fabric and gowns with tiny rose and sampaguita embellishments. Fashion was my lola’s passion alongside her garden and kitchen.
In my own home, my mom Malu started her children’s shop in a room on the ground floor. It then moved to a proper space across the street but still within the compound, and wearing her creations in voile, piqué, and organdy was de rigueur at children’s parties.
Graduating with a literature and philosophy double degree from DLSU, I taught English and Literary Forms at my alma mater while waiting for inspiration to write books for children.
The inspiration never came and at best I wrote poetry and regular fashion pieces for the now-defunct Manila Women’s Wear.
My goal is to create a little capsule collection for myself.
So I asked my sister if she wanted to get into business with me and that’s how Vicky & Letlet started. We were known for ready-to-wear, quite a novel thing in the early ’80s, our obi sashes and our formals, from prom dresses to bridal gowns.
It was quite the ride for 17 years, with travels and fashion shows punctuating the day-to-day routine of running a factory and a shop in Forbes. But I never felt complete, even while writing food columns for various publications, so I returned to my first love.
After 17 years, lo and behold, the children’s stories began writing themselves! They needed the decades of experience as fodder, and I have since written about 40 picture books, mainly for Vibal Publishing.
But fashion never quite got out of my blood.
For my daughter Hannah, currently a fashion design scholar at Benilde, it literally is in her blood and she blazes a trail all her own—paying homage, but taking no inspiration from the works of her great-grandmother, her Mommy Malu, her Tita Letlet or me.
Earlier this month, we caught the Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibit when it opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT).
There was hall after hall of exquisitely curated gowns by the master Christian Dior and the designers who brought his house forward and into the future after his untimely demise.
I was overcome by waves of nostalgia, delight, regrets—teetering precariously on the brink of tears as I walked through exhibit areas showing the evolution of the House of Dior, through corridors of photographs, past spectacular rows of gowns set on a giant slanted slope amplified by mirrors and a play of lights.
I fell in love with the white room, comprised of toiles or prototypes of designs in progress. There was a room filled with stars and gowns created for Hollywood stars. There was a marvelous hall of bags. There were videos of his seductive perfume ads—it took over two hours to take everything in.
Earlier I had bought a gorgeous Issey Miyake book for the princely sum of P1,000 at the Tsutaya bookstore in Daikanyama. I’ve also been accumulating fabrics for myself whenever I accompany Hannah on fabric-buying errands in Manila. My goal is to create a little capsule collection for myself.
In the meantime, here’s a recipe for the delicious daube of beef I had for lunch at the MOT right after viewing Dior’s Designer of Dreams, an exhibit that left me dreaming and hungry for fashion.
Cover a kilo of beef brisket, peeled onions, sliced carrots, and crushed garlic with a bottle of good red wine. Let marinate, even overnight. Drain the meat; reduce the marinade a little by simmering.
In the same heavy pan (I used my Dutch oven), brown some bacon and add more onions. Remove these and brown the meat. Return the bacon, onions, and reduced marinade plus a bouquet garni (bundle of fresh herbs wrapped in katsa). Add beef stock if needed. Cover and braise in a 350 F° oven for two hours.