Salvacion Lim Higgins’ Retrospective Is Democratizing Fashion | Designer Profile
Designer Profile

Salvacion Lim Higgins’ Retrospective Is Democratizing Fashion

Courtesy of Mark Lewis Higgins

For the month of September, Slim’s artful designs are available for viewing.

The genius of Salvacion Lim Higgins has proven to stand the test of time. Slim, as the fashion designer came to be known in the ’50s, brought glamour to the Terno and elevated Philippine fashion to the levels of haute couturiers in Paris. The skirt of her iconic geometric Terno, for example, which looks like a wrap billowing in the wind, was constructed with only one seam. Over half a century later, Slim’s designs remain as contemporary and as stylish as ever, with no hint as to their age. Her pieces remain the only fashion work by a Filipino to be displayed the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

Black velvet and ivory colored lace gown, created for Maribel Aboitiz in 1957. Photo by Bob’s Manila.
National Artist for Design Salvacion Lim Higgins photographed in 1983, draping fabric on a dress form in front of a mirror. It is said she often worked this way.

Slim’s pieces were described as architectural and sculptural, and were often compared to the designs of Christian Dior, who got his start in fashion across the globe around the same time she did. Despite her avant-garde, almost gravity-defying silhouettes, Slim’s pieces were lauded for their comfort. Unlike other fashion art that leaves the wearer with limited mobility, the women Slim dressed rarely felt restricted in movement, highlighting her prowess as a dressmaker.

Just this year, the late haute couture designer, who passed in 1990, was named a National Artist of the Philippines—only the second fashion designer ever to receive the distinction after Ramon Valera. Alongside her legacy of reinventing the Terno, another remains: her namesake fashion institution, the Slim’s Fashion and Art School, launched in 1960. Through her designs and school, she paved the way for fashion to be considered art just as much as other fields.

Neal Oshima. Courtesy of Mark Lewis Higgins
Neal Oshima. Courtesy of Mark Lewis Higgins
Neal Oshima. Courtesy of Mark Lewis Higgins

An Exhibition of Dresses and Photographs

This month, from September 5 to September 14 at the SM Aura Premier atrium, visitors will have the opportunity to see these incredible examples of the designer’s wearable art up close. Her children Mark and Sandy, who took over their mother’s school after her passing, have always upheld the ethos that fashion is for everyone, ensuring that anyone interested in pursuing design had access despite a lack of funds. This retrospective is a continued step in that direction.

Courtesy of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School
Pam Quiñones

“This is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time—an exhibition of my mother’s work in a mall,” Mark tells us. In Mark’s view, the Philippines is a mall-centric country, meaning malls are a go-to for most of the population and garners “a very different audience than you get at a high-profile fashion event or a museum exhibit.” He believes it’s important for everyday people to see Filipino artistry at this caliber “so that it doesn’t just become something for the elite.”

Mark, an established artist, costume designer, and fashion educator himself, curated the exhibit. He explains that most of the pieces on display at Aura are reproductions of the originals—the team and students of Slim’s painstakingly deconstructed and replicated his late mother’s techniques. He explains, “There are so many pieces in our archive that are so fragile, it’s too risky to leave them out in public for prolonged periods of time.”

Frosted white pleated gazar ball gown with magenta colored lace overskirt. The cape forms part of the skirt. Created for Diana Jean Lopez in 1959. Photo by Veluz Studio.
Pearl white organza dress with corded loop embellishments, created for Chona
Recto Kasten in 1957. Photo by Bob’s Manila.

Mark and his late sister Sandy worked tirelessly to preserve their mother’s creations, and some of the oldest dresses at the exhibit were dated to the 1950s. They also strived to give pieces renewed life to inspire coming generations and lent some restored gowns to celebrities like Maja Salvador and Anne Curtis.

Slim’s at the Metropolitan Theatre

Apart from exhibit at SM Aura, Mark has plans to continue exhibiting his mother’s work, with a special project lined up at the Metropolitan Theatre, which has gone under extensive renovations in recent years to restore it to its pre-World War II glory. “This will be the first exhibit there,” he excitedly shares, adding that the exhibit’s theme will be Salvacion Lim Higgins and the Filipino Identity.

“I’ve been wanting to do an exhibit of my mom’s work, but purely Filipiniana,” he continues. Adding that her references spanned Muslim and Igorot attire as well as barongs, he says it’s “not just Ternos and Maria Claras” for his mother. “I want to show young designers that range. One of the important things about her Filipiniana is that none of it looks like [a] costume. They’re all very wearable and very modern.”

Courtesy of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School
Courtesy of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School
Courtesy of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School
Courtesy of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School
Courtesy of Slim’s Fashion and Arts School
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