The SLIM Salvacion Lim-Higgins gala held last Tuesday evening, 24 November 2009, at the Museum of the Filipino People [ at the National Museum complex ] was, quite simply, THE Philippine fashion event of the year. It honored the fashion achievements and career of a Chinese-Filipina couturiere who proved that she could measure up, inch for inch, to her European contemporaries, the gods of haute couture — Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino Garavani, et. al..
If Ramon Oswalds Valera — with his penchant for line and magnificent embellishments — was the Filipino equivalent of both Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior, Salvacion Lim-Higgins — with her talent for fabric manipulation and deft construction — was the Filipina equivalent of both Cristobal Balenciaga and Madame Gres.
The gala evening was also the launch of the ultrachic coffee table book “SLIM” on the oeuvre of the couturiere which was painstakingly put together by Salvacion Lim-Higgins’ only daughter Sandy and only son Mark, written by the articulate, witty, and edgy Lizza Nakpil [ a close and longtime family friend ], and designed by graphic designers du jour B & C. In the spirit of sharing, the Higgins siblings also commissioned softbound copies of the book available for a more reasonable price accessible to fashion design students and teachers countrywide.
As the magnificent setting of the Beaux-Arts – style Museum of the Filipino People [ National Museum complex ] and its imposing Marble Hall practically demanded, Social Manila arrived in full force and in full DDG dropdeadgorgeous style, in a critical mass, according to social observers, unseen even during the Monique Lhuillier gala, and the Joe Salazar and the Ramon Valera retrospectives.
All of Manila’s socialites, establishment and newly-minted, senior and newly-ripened… Cristina Castaner-Ponce Enrile; the very social blueblood Dolores “Loleng” Arguelles-Panlilio [ whose gown for a “Mancomunidad Pampanguena” ball was in the exhibit ]; Carlyn Manning; the muse of artists, intellectuals, and multimillionaires, writer Gilda Cordero-Fernando; Ching de las Alas-Montinola in a red gown; influential “Philippine Daily Inquirer” publisher Marixi Rufino and husband Alex Prieto; social lion Ado Escudero; designer Criselda Lontok; Conchitina Sevilla-Bernardo; arts patroness Irene Marcos-Araneta; banker Raul Tuason Manzano; Gaita Araneta Fores; Sunshine Lichauco de Leon; Ino Manalo; Michelline Syjuco; Celine Lopez; Wendy Puyat; Miguel Rosales; Cris Siguion-Reyna Villonco; Joie Lhuillier; Crickette Yu and husband Donnie Tantoco; Hindy Weber and husband Gippy Tantoco; fashion muse and camp icon Tessa Prieto-Valdes; Frannie Aguinaldo-Jacinto; Marit Yuchengco; SLIM’s niece Jeannie Goulbourn; Katrina Goulbourn-Feist; SLIM’s niece Frances Lim; jewelry designer Wynn Wynn Ong; et. al..
All of Manila’s principal fashion designers were there: long-established designers Pitoy Moreno, the iconic Christian Espiritu, Frederick Peralta, Tony Cajucom, and Peter Lim; creme de la creme doyen Inno Sotto; uberexclusive Pepito Albert; Hollywood success Ito Curata; Carla Sibal in Lanvin; design genius Jojie Lloren; society blueblood and favorite Rajo Laurel; couture wizard Ivar Aseron; Joey Samson; Louis Claparols; Kate Torralba; Mich Dulce; Jappy Gonzalez of the uberchic “Homme et Femme”; show business doyen, designer, and professor Eric Pineda; Lito Perez; James Reyes; Joel Escober; fabulous Tina Daniac; Martin Bautista; new designer Gian Romano [ from Central Saint Martins, London ]…
The other powers of the Philippine fashion world were present in full force: powerhouse editrix Thelma Sioson-San Juan; Cosmo magazine EIC Myrza Sison; Preview magazine editor Pauline Suaco-Juan in a fabulous Cary Santiago creation; Faubourg Saint-Honore elegant fashion guru Rorie Carlos; editor Katrina Araneta-Holigores; top stylist Michael Salientes wearing an amazing, fully gold-sequined muff [ “Andre Leon Talley-ish,” according to fashionista Cecile Zamora-van Straten ]; uberstylish stylist siblings Liz Uy and Vince Uy; Ingrid Chua-Go; top make-up artists Denni Tan and Patrick Rosas; high fashion arbiter Larry Leviste; influential Jojo Liamson of Bench; jewelry designer Oskar Atendido, et. al..
Also present were the high style trio of top investment banker Andrew Gan [ Beacon Holdings ], interior designer to “le gratin” Jonathan Matti, and top stylist J. Lee Cu-Unjieng. Ditto the chicest of the chic, most stylish of the stylish twosome Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo; Surface designer to “le gratin” Liliane “Tats” Rejante-Manahan had the crowd gushing with the chic yellow SLIM caftan of her legendary mother-in-law Elvira Ledesma-Manahan which she donned. Tats’ great friend, aristocratic blueblood artist and designer Don Escudero, was also there. Top production designer Gino Gonzales was in a Japanese-inspired ensemble in several shades of gray. Aristocratic collector, museum donor [ Museo De La Salle ], and high style arbiter Jo Panlilio, taking a break from the spectacular decoration of his new pied-a-terre overlooking Roxas boulevard and Manila bay, was also there.
Easily the most expensively dressed and shod lady at the gala reception was the beautiful and statuesque Victoria “Vicky” Panlilio [ one of the swanlike daughters of the legendary international jeweller Fe S. Panlilio ], clad entirely in this season’s Chanel, eliciting discreet oohs and aahs from the very fashion savvy among the crowd gathered in the Marble Hall. As one top fashion authority observed: “To those who truly understood fashion, Vicky Panlilio stood out among the hundred beautifully dressed ladies at that reception. Because she did not look like the usual Filipina lady: She looked straight out of Park avenue. She had that effortless look of the International Rich, like Dedes Zobel and Maricris Cardenas-Zobel. Vicky P. wore her clothes easily, the clothes did not “wear her” at all; She was in pants and she got away with it. Unlike many of the ladies there who really dressed to the nines, short of an overhaul, one sensed that for Vicky P. it was just another party, and that the fabulous Chanel ensemble she wore was just one of the many that hung casually in her closets. One instinctively knew that she dressed and lived like that everyday…”
The SLIM Gala was also significant as it was the passing of an era and the dawn of a new age… It was not lost on the older guests that the grandes dames of times past — who would have reigned over such a glamorous, major social event — had finally gone, gone, gone. NO MORE Meldy Ongsiako-Cojuangco, no more Chito Madrigal-Collantes, no more Mary Hernandez-Prieto, no more Chona Recto-Kasten, no more Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, no more Pacita Ongsiako de los Reyes-Phillips, no more Conching Chuidian Sunico. NO MORE Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos. In their place have emerged younger and younger stylesetters, the new exemplars and arbiters of the New Crowd.
Fashionable Manila has forgotten that the fashion icon Imelda “Meldy” Ongsiako-Cojuangco was a loyal client of SLIM Salvacion Lim-Higgins during her younger years. Meldy, Mrs. Ramon Cojuangco, lived in Santa Ana, Manila and would go to Vacion’s atelier along Avenida Rizal, even before the latter had moved uptown to posh Taft avenue. It was only when Vacion had passed away that Meldy Cojuangco turned to Pitoy Moreno, now the designer most associated with her, for her evening dresses and gowns.
Although it was set in Manila, Philippines, the SLIM Gala was straight out of the “Runway” magazine fashion gala scene in the fashion cult movie “The Devil Wears Prada”…
Acknowledgments: Mark Higgins, Sandy Higgins, Frances Lim, Caloy Campos, Jo Panlilio, Eric Pineda, Gino Gonzales, Larry Leviste, Don Escudero, et. al..