An awe-inspiring interaction between conceptual art and avant-garde fashion reimagines the milestones of Jesus Christ.
“Stitching Faith and Fashion” is a capsule collection of couturier Steve de Leon’s 40-piece obra of fashion-forward Filipiniana and tapestries, embellished with religious iconography using organic materials.
These were inspired by Pope John Paul’s “Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary,” marking important events in the early ministry of Jesus Christ. The clothes and tapestries serve as a blank canvas on which nacre, carabao horn, camel bone, hammered brass and fabric scraps form collages of symbols and images.
During the pandemic, the designs were compiled in a book, “The Mysteries of Light in Tapestry and Artwear,” and were exhibited at the Eskinita Art Farm in Tanauan, Batangas.
Curator, arts educator and collector J. Sedfrey Santiago helped him mount the post-pandemic edition at gallery of the National Commission of Culture and Arts building in Intramuros. The exhibit is on view until Jan. 31.To fit the compact space, Santiago focused on the pieces that best represented the life of Christ.
In Jesus’ family, Joseph’s barong is an overlay of vintage jusi, cotton from Taal, Batangas, abaca silk, hand-embroidered kanyamaso (backing for embroidery) and silk-screened silk worn over inabel pants. Made from delicate materials, the breast plate is appliquéd with his face on it.
Mother Mary is represented by a terno made from a collage of old saya (long outer skirt) materials, done by the late cultural icon Gilda Cordero Fernando, and worn over a vintage tulle chemise. De Leon explains that he draped the terno with satin suggesting her motherhood.
Swags of electric pleats evoked the face of the Holy Trinity. The silver Rosary across her chest represents Jesus.
Jesus is portrayed in an abaca silk barong and pants made from sinaluan, a Yakan fabric with vertical geometric patterns. His breast plate is embroidered with the chalice surrounded by rays of light sewn with beaten brass strips. The backside of the barong presents the Holy Cross made of shell and gold tambourine jewelry.
De Leon portrays the two sides of Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ disciple who betrayed him to the Israeli tribunal, through textural contrasts. Judas wears an abaca silk barong under a cardigan made of stripped banana from Iloilo over draped pants made from kinamayan, embroidered cotton from the Itnegs. The chest plate depicts a face, embellished with accoutrements, while the back side is made from scraps of saya. The fancy headdress, tilted to one side, symbolizes how Judas was blinded by materialism.
Clad in a tuxedo style barong, Peter, the disciple who became the first Pope, wears a capelet made from banana fabric, and a kerchief shaped like the mitre, suggesting the costume of the pontiff. It is paired with inabel pants.
The exhibit’s focal point is a tapestry of the Last Supper, embroidered with the faces of the 12 Apostles, made from scrap abaca, glass and wooden beads and the chalice and host made from mother-of-pearl and vintage ivory. A long bench facing the tapestry gives the viewer the experience of being part of the gathering and sharing the meal.
“Steve has been underrated as a designer,” says Santiago. “There is no other designer who has been acknowledged in separate fields—the Designer of the Year medal from the Manila Fashion Designer Award (MFDA) Foundation and the Philip Morris Philippine Art Awards as one of the five Grand Prize winners in the Philippine Art Awards in 1995. His work is very fluid and done effortlessly. If you remove his clothes from the mannequin and put it in a glass, it becomes visual art.”
De Leon says 2022 marked a new beginning for him after the pandemic. At the onset of the lockdowns in 2020, his sewers returned to the provinces and have since resettled there. It was his faith that kept him afloat when there were no clients.
“Last year, I was proud to experience my fulfillment as Filipino, a designer and an artist,” he says.
In Nov. 21, De Leon was the featured local designer in “Filipino Barong and Indonesian Wastra: Threads and Patterns of Kinship,” a fashion show celebrating 73rd anniversary of diplomacy between the two Asean countries. The event showcased his piña creations and batik by Wastra, a supplier of traditional Indonesian textiles.
A few days later, his niece walked down the aisle in his creation, inspired by a 1950s patadyong (a Visayan tube skirt). When De Leon opened his exhibit, “Stitching Faith and Fashion,” in December, he felt accomplished as a visual artist. He explains that the repurposing of fabric scraps and sewing them into the garments symbolize his own renewal.
“My life has evolved from a nationalistic Filipino to a designer and now an artist making art to wear and tapestries at age 70. The exhibit expresses my personal relationship with the Lord,” he says.
NCCA Building is at 633 General Luna St, Intramuros, Manila.