It took a canceled return flight to London at the start of the lockdown for designer Lesley Mobo to realize the potential of Philippine design. For the past nine months, the well-liked designer has been staying in his hometown in Aklan province, surrounded by family and a wealth of bucolic scenes to fire up his creativity.
Set amid verdant scenes, his Facebook posts consisted initially of freshly caught seafood, shellfish, and steamed rice cakes. These items were not simply bought from the market and styled on banana leaves; he helped catch the fish, collect the shells from the stony rocks near the seashore, and steam the cheese-topped puto made of galapong (rice flour).
This was Mobo’s actual provincial life before fate intervened and he began working and designing for several fashion brands in the United Kingdom. Fate stepped in again with the pandemic and its attendant restrictions.
Despite lockdown, he has managed to design, art direct and photograph a collection of terno made from fabric printed with a riot of hothouse flowers. Mobo also collaborated with the Auro brand of chocolates that uses locally grown cocoa, fruit and nuts, to design the packaging, his first attempt.
The trio of limited-edition chocolate bars are named Si Aida, Si Lorna and Si Fe, and represent the country’s three main island masses—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Mobo’s terno-clad muses appear on the packaging, peering from behind their butterfly sleeves.
In a rapid-fire Facebook chat session with the designer over the weekend, he told Lifestyle about how his projects while on lockdown have made him appreciate his being Filipino and want to find out even more.
“I am loving this whole Pinoy thing. My output, the projects are all based on what I surround myself with. I’ve been eating, sleeping, drinking and living Pinoy with my family for 11 months now. It’s made me realize how beautiful the Philippines really is,” Mobo said.
Trying to fit in
Although there are no regrets since he was able to help his family financially, he said that when he was in London, there was a nagging feeling that he was always trying to fit in, to be more European.
“I would design for different companies in Europe but I was seldom credited. I was paid but as a designer, I felt my identity was not clear. However, since I began doing Filipino designs, I feel much happier. Now, I don’t have to pretend to be cool so I told myself to just continue exploring because the more I do Pinoy stuff, the more I feel at home with myself.”
He admits that some of his images with their saturated colors are “exaggerations of reality,” but that even as a young boy growing up, he always wanted women to wear Filipiniana. “Plus, I’ve always loved flowers,” he added.
The flowers are present on the Auro packaging, but Mobo also had free rein to insert gay lingo like “shalang-shala” (very classy) and “bonggang-bongga” (bombastic).
His decision to follow his heart and explore Filipino culture has resonated with friends and contacts from all over.
“I noticed that people in the industry, even my former colleagues in Europe, all love what I’m doing. They love the whole Pinoy thing,” he said.
Lesley Mobo for Auro Chocolate is a limited edition with 1,000 sets of three. Each set is placed in a woven pandan box from Laguna, and includes instructions on how to frame the packaging after consuming the chocolate. A portion of the proceeds (15 percent) will go to supporting Auro’s agricultural programs to turn Filipino farmers into agrientrepreneurs. INQ