A French fashion brand name in the Philippines is usually perceived as alluring and of high value. For Maison Métisse, its value lies in perpetuating cultural heritage and the hand work of women.
Métisse, which means a woman of mixed lineage, is not just the reflection of the Filipino-Spanish-Portuguese background of the founder, Adrienne Almeda Charuel. When she was conceptualizing the brand, she wanted her fashion to showcase its diverse cultural influences—French training and sensibility, Japanese dyeing technique and the wabi-sabi (the aesthetic of beauty in imperfection), and Filipino artisanship.
Maison Métisse started out as an online brand, specializing in relaxed silhouettes, sewn with fabrics woven in La Paz, Abra. Charuel incorporates the embroidery of the Itnegs and dyeing techniques based on the Japanese shibori, a method which creates patterns through the binding and tying of the fabric to resist the absorption of indigo.
The fashion collection also includes woven bags and footwear, made of dried water hyacinth, from Laguna. The kaftans, sarongs, kimono tops and poupettes infused with freestyle strokes and shibori dye patterns, and tops edged with Itneg embroidery, have caught the attention of its Instagram followers. When Maison Métisse participated in the 2019 Manila FAME, buyers wanted to order in volume. Charuel explained to them that she only produced capsule collections since she ran a lean operation. Everything is done by hand, from making the dyes to the sewing of the clothes, with the exception of some pieces.
Recently, Maison Métisse has become one of the featured brands at Studio Artesan, the new space for contemporary Filipino fashion with stylized indigenous influences at Rustan’s Makati.
Wearable for global market
“My life in France made a big impact on who I am. It has shaped a big part of my brand,” says Charuel.
Majoring in apparel and accessories design in Esmod Paris, France’s top fashion school, she learned how to conceptualize a collection and developed precision, uncompromising technical standards, and an eye for detail.
“French fashion is timeless yet playful. When I design, you can’t tell that the look came from a certain tribe. It has to be wearable for the global market,” she says.
In Paris, Charuel underwent internship at Yuj, a French activewear brand. She and her husband then moved to New York where she was exposed to hand artistry at the Loop of the Loom, a Japanese weaving and Zen meditation center. Lessons on hand dyeing on natural fabrics and saori, a free-style weaving technique that accepts fabric imperfections as an aesthetic, opened possibilities for her to venture into sustainable fashion.
When her husband was assigned to Asia in 2018, the Charuels settled in the Philippines. She started her business at home, developing an eco-conscious fashion line.
In Manila FAME, she came across the Itneg tribe in one of the booths. Learning that they produced natural dyes which were perfect for her tie-dyeing technique, Charuel went to their turf in Bangued, Abra. She immersed herself in their culture and crafts. They likewise recommended the weavers of La Paz, a town 14 km from the capital.
Meeting the Itnegs and the weavers of Abra inspired her to strengthen Maison Métisse. Only natural dyes are infused because the fabrics are a 100-percent cotton, linen and pineapple cotton. Charuel works with Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) which provides the yarns for Maison Métisse’s fabrics.
People over profit
“I do everything at home in Las Piñas. My creative assistant dyes the fabrics customized in La Paz,” says Charuel. “I loved the patterns created by the natural techniques when I was studying in New York. Coming back, I went to Fujino in Kanagawa, Japan, and took an intensive workshop on shibori. I combine shibori techniques with freestyle hand-painting. When I paint, I go with what I’m feeling at the moment. I don’t like to be structured. No two patterns are the same. I want them to look unique. My pieces are more of art.”
Seeing the abysmal living conditions of the artisans in Abra, Charuel developed a business model that would provide them livelihood.
During the long lockdown in 2020, Maison Métisse sold over a thousand shibori masks to help the Itnegs. Charuel opened an Artisan Fund, an online platform which sells their traditional products. She also supports the Development Action for Women Network, a nongovernmental organization of former migrant workers and victims for human trafficking, which produces scarves and pouches.
“I put people first over profit,” maintains Charuel. “Some people can’t travel. They have shown more interest in local fashion and in helping local communities.” —CONTRIBUTED INQ
Adrienne Almeda Charuel is conducting a beginner’s shibori workshop. Follow @maison.metisse on Instagram; maison-metisse.com