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When children’s dresses and suits are an artist’s canvas

A LONG dress decorated with painted doll-like faces and detailed with ribbons, and suits sporting faces of popular cartoons are some of the creations of fashion designer Robbie Santos and artist Migs Villanueva. The clothes are custom-made items for pre-teen children.

In “A Day at the Atelier” fashion show-exhibit,pieces from Vares Jeune, Mr. Santos’ couture line for kids, serve as wearable canvases for artist Ms. Villanueva’s paintings.

This is Mr. Santos’ second collaboration with an artist. His Voyageur fashion show featured Mr. Santos’ Septieme Rebelle collection which used Juvenal Sansó’s archival textile prints. This time Art Lounge Manila brought Santos and visual artist Villanueva together.

“I was asked by the gallery if I wanted to collaborate with Robbie. I reacted very excitedly about that because I’ve always wanted to do something like this ever since, but I didn’t have idea who to partner with. When the opportunity came, I said ‘yes’ right away,” Ms. Villanueva told BusinessWorld in an interview via Zoom.

The artist and fashion designer had attended Mr. Santos’ Sanso print fashion show in June last year at the Art Lounge Molito.

“During that event, I was fortunate to have met Migs for the first time. I was asked if I would be willing to collaborate with Migs for a project,” Mr. Santos said in the same online interview.

A COLLABORATIVE CREATIVE PROCESSThe collaboration began in July 2022. The project was initially meant for a display exhibit featuring 16 looks with dresses, shirts, and suits for children. It later evolved to include a fashion show in September.

“Vares Jeune is bespoke luxury. It is a reflection of the child’s parents’ taste that would prompt him or her to wear the label. I advocate fashion that is beautiful and durable, a stark contrast to today’s fast fashion,” Mr. Santos said of the brand. “I love seeing kids in wonderful outfits, whether dressy or casual, while at the same time being their usual precocious selves.”

A three-time Palanca Award winner who ventured into the visual arts under Mauro “Malang” Santos’ tutelage, Ms. Villanueva’s works are recognizable with her signature depiction of children’s faces using only three dots for the eyes and mouth.

Ms. Villanueva said that the challenge with working on clothes rather than flat canvas is fitting the image to its shape.

“The canvas is treated before you paint on it so that the paint will adhere to the canvas very well. But in the case of [clothing] fabric, there is no medium on top of the fabric. It’s harder to paint and you have to follow the shape of the dress, unlike the square or rectangle in a canvas,” she said.

“To make it easier for the artist to paint on the dress, I made a lot of A-line silhouettes. If I were to make something like a circle skirt, then the artist requested to send the dress in pieces and not assembled,” Mr. Santos said.

Mr. Santos added that the process of creativity for a designer is different than that of an artist.

“How an artist creates is very organic,” he said. “So, she has a general idea in mind, but it depends on where that moment takes her until the development of idea becomes organic. Ito yung naisip niya sa una, pero ’yung ending iba na (She may have an idea at first, but the end is very different).”

For designers, limitations include the surface of the body, and the model’s height. Embellishments such as embroidery and beadwork are done afterwards.

“The suits are fabulous on their own. They are so well-made and it’s so scary to draw on them,” said Ms. Villaneuva of the boy’s clothes. “So, there’s an emotional difficulty for me to tamper with the clothes,” she admitted. “I tried to make the designs as simple as I can.”

“I was so happy and I’m very impressed with the way the dresses were made. It is my first collab[oration] with a designer,” she added. “It’s a very fulfilling experience.”

The exhibit and fashion show were held in December at Art Lounge Manila Molito in Alabang. The gallery is currently accepting commissioned works on Vares Jeune pieces with paintings by Ms. Villanueva. Measurements of the client will be taken, and the fabric will be sent to the artist to paint.

“Even after the exhibit has [closed], the gallery is still there to represent me the artist and to represent me for the collaboration,” Mr. Santos said.

Orders and inquiries about the collection can be made via @varesjeune on Instagram or contact 0917-814-2675. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman

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