Art/Style/Travel DiariesStyle

Ilocos cotton farming: An idea put into action—and fashion

One sunny day, Dr. Joven Cuanang presents the Filipino designers to show what vision and will power can do

Pepito Albert’s one and only design in ‘ALGODON’ modeled by Joann Bitagcol (Photo by T. Sioson)
Ilocos cotton farming

At curtain call, foreground from left, Vic Barba, JC Buendia, Anthony Nocom, Randy Ortiz (Photo by T. Sioson)

Not even the afternoon heat deterred people from going all the way to Antipolo, to Pinto (Museum and more), to watch ALGODON, a fashion show showcasing the Ilocos cotton in the collections of Pepito Albert, Vic Barba, JC Buendia, Anthony Nocom and Randy Ortiz.

Last February 5, at the Pinto Art Museum’s cavernous Gallery 7, these stalwarts of Philippine fashion design showcased how far they could take the Ilocos cotton in their designs for women and men, while adhering to their signature design DNA. The Ilocos cotton is not as supple as silk, far from it; it is not fragile nor soft, but in the hands of these designers, it showed the extent of its versatility and wearability, both as main fabric or accent.

Barba rolled out his wearable casual wear that could take the wearer from day to night because it was neatly tailored, with well-thought-out accents and color.

Buendia designed the coordinates he’s been known for in recent years—e.g. cropped terno tops with tailored skirts.

Ilocos cotton farming

JC Buendia in Algodon (Photo by T. Sioson)

Ilocos cotton farming

JC Buendia in Algodon

Ilocos cotton farming

JC Buendia in Algodon

Nocom’s away-from-the-body shirts and other ensembles were a hit among the audience. He brought out the utmost aesthetic value of the indigenous prints and geometrics.

Ortiz, the designer whose trademark romantic elegance has made him one of the country’s foremost designers, knew how to blend the Ilocos cotton with his fluid, feminine silhouettes. We thought the indigenous cotton would lend itself only to structured tailoring, Ortiz proved us wrong—he used it for his supple column gowns.

Ilocos cotton farming

Randy Ortiz in Algodon

Albert designed a solitary ensemble, but it was a masterpiece: somber gray and black of structured bolero that bared the flesh (trust Joann Bitagcol to pull it off with elan) and a balloon skirt that billowed as Joann glided down the ramp and around the snaky chairs. The layer of tulle over the skirt played up the movement.

Mounting this fashion show was nothing short of a labor of passion for the doctor/renaissance man Joven Cuanang, the founder, the moving force behind the Pinto museum, and the arts and culture movement from Antipolo to Ilocos. Dr. Cuanang has always supported and championed the heritage preservation of his native Ilocos and since the ‘80s, the culture revitalization and environment preservation of Antipolo where he lives and where he set up the Pinto Museum, now a popular destination cited in global travel sites.

Dr. Joven Cuanang explains the cotton farming movement before the fashion show. (Photo by T. Sioson)

Before an audience that filled the vast Gallery 7, Dr. Cuanang explained the back story:

“ALGODON is a celebration of the revitalization of cotton farming in Pinili, Ilocos Norte.

The effort is worthwhile in many ways. Cotton farming supplements traditional products, rice, corn, monggo and vegetables. It can be a farming substitute for tobacco, most especially, as this is harmful to health.

Moreover, it provides the yarn for cotton fabric, now preferred ethically  over synthetic fibers. Cotton, among other plant-derived fibers, like abaca, maguey, pineapple, cultivated in farms, fertilized organically  and colored from plant-derived dyes, is consonant to  acceptable  standards for clothing, prevailing globally. Ecologically, this direction is sound.

For 20 years, cotton farming stagnated in Pinili, in fact , in most of Ilocos and the rest of our country. Our effort is a small step in revitalizing it. We want to demonstrate, that this is possible.

ALGODON is a statement of an idea put into action. Painstakingly, over the last six years, we nurtured it from the seed, farm to fiber to fashion.
Farm-produced cotton  has its rightful place in our times. It is part of our cultural heritage.

It should be revitalized all over our country.

The project that is now providing a viable livelihood to the farmers and weavers of the barangay in Pinili, Ilocos Norte, is attributed to Ed Rinen of the Philippine Fiber Development Authority who provided the seeds, Faye Loreli Manzano, a young research scientist at the Mariano Marcos University in Batac, who is responsible for extracting natural dyes from local plants, the president of the University, Shirley Agrupis, and most of all to our National Treasure, Magdalena Gamayo , who continues to weave and teach inabel weaving at age 96, and to Maribel Ongpin of Habi, and Irene Marcos-Araneta for their continuing moral support.”

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