In her 15-year career as stylist, Bea Constantino remembers a particular experience. “I styled Paris Hilton during her first visit to Manila and convinced her to wear all Filipino designers for all her appearances here.”
Now, the stylist has found a different means to advocate local design through her own label, Herman & Co. The label, which is sold online at wearherman.com, works with Mindanao tribes and communities.
Bea founded the label to champion the materials of her hometown and her family’s heritage.
Now, she’s trying to find a balance between promoting and profiting from her brand, and still honoring the spirit of her forebears, skipping the landmines of cultural appropriation.
How did you start Herman & Co? What was the idea behind it?
I was searching for something with more substance. One day it just clicked: hundred years in the fashion industry + colorful heritage no one really talks about = clothing line that does just that. I wanted to bridge the gap between peace conflict areas in Mindanao, which included Sulu.
I have this ridiculously ambitious vision that maybe if we start looking at Mindanao differently then perhaps the energy there will change and somehow have a slow shift toward peace. I might be crazy but in my small way, I want to try. My visits down south made me see that these communities had a wide assortment of artisanal products and woven textiles but were inaccessible due to the peace situation, so I wanted the brand to help sustain them by providing a platform.
What was the process of putting the label together? The challenges?
It has not been easy. I was solely funding it and the brand had to take a step back when I would get busy with styling. Supplies are not regular. Some of the weaves are really easy to purchase but some weaves like our traditional Tausug weave called Pis Siyabit can be tricky to acquire. I prefer to source it straight from the community, and, in the past, the village I sourced from couldn’t be accessed due to security operations.
The restrictions of the weaves vary and depend on the community, which is why research is so critical.
For us Tausugs, our traditional textile Pis Siyabit is a symbol of courage and nobility, which is why they used it only for head scarves and waist bands to sling around their weapons.
Now, it is used as an accessory but is considered inappropriate when used below the waist. Not everyone knows this because the weavers tell them to go ahead and use it anywhere to make a sale.
How would you define appropriation if you’re Filipino but not a local member of the community you are sourcing from or not a member of that tribe?
For me, cultural appropriation is taking something from an indigenous/tribal community and using it to profit without acknowledging the community. I think we’re only learning about cultural appropriation now and the rules and parameters have not been clearly set.
What will your next collection look like?
We pay homage to the easy Pinoy afternoon living. Think tita in hair curlers playing mah-jong with their amiga. Shapeless and billowy dresses perfect for that lifestyle.
Can you talk about your family and their community and how that comes into play in your work?
My family is from Zamboanga and Sulu. I grew up in Manila but always felt a strong affinity to the South. All the stories fascinated me and I was always told to remember I come from a special place with a rich heritage.
My great great grandfather, Herman Leopold Schück, sailed from Germany to the Sulawesi Seas and settled in Sulu where he forged a blood brotherhood with the Sultan. I’m fifth generation.
What should people who have never been to Mindanao know about the place?
To approach it just like our mothers taught us how to act when visiting someone’s house: be respectful toward the homeowners and respect house rules. Proceed with caution but keep an open mind.
Take us through your beauty regimen.
I try to let my skin breathe as much as possible so I prefer not to pile on too much makeup so I just do the usual concealer, a dab of powder, blush and bronzer to contour my cheeks. For skincare, I wash my face with warm water first to let my pores breathe and end with cold water to close them.
From time to time, I do a nice face mask or even a scrub. And before sleeping, I apply coconut oil to moisturize naturally. I haven’t done it fully yet, but I’m trying to use fewer chemicals on my skin. I have falling hair from time to time due to hormonal imbalance so I dab lavender oil on my scalp and it helps minimize the hair fall.
What products do you use?
L’Oreal Lumi Cushion Foundation; Kiko Skin Trainer CC Blur (I use this when I have extra dry skin from traveling); L’Oréal Lucent Magique Blush; L’Oréal Infallible Matte Powder; Kiko Universal Fit Hydrating Foundation (I use this when I get a little tan); Happy Skin Shut Up and Kiss Me lip liner (I love this local brand!); Happy Skin Shut Up and Kiss Me liquid matte lippie; Happy Skin Eye Am Here to Stay 24-hour eyeliner; and L’Oréal Infallible Matte 24-hour foundation (I like L’Oréal’s sheer finish and ultra light feel on my face).
And for skincare?
L’Oréal micellar cleanser (the only cleanser that didn’t make me break out, totally swear by this!); Scrub Talulah once a week; Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede cologne; Vaseline Cocoa Butter Lip Therapy; Lucas’ Papaw ointment (I apply this on everything); Korean face mask; Sage for good energy, virgin coconut oil; and natural lavender oil from Bali for my scalp to minimize hair fall.
How would you define your style?
Understated minimal. Lately, I’ve been drawn to simpler silhouettes and less layering.
What would you like to be buried in?
My grandmother’s Aureo Alonzo vintage brocade gown.