It was a “no-holds-barred” event, as one participant put it, honoring National Artist F. Sionil José. And anyone who knows Manong Frankie (as the younger writers call him) was not surprised, because the novelist is known for his outspoken views and candid opinions which sometimes jolt the uninitiated.
Prima ballerina Lisa Macuja was the host.
Another program at the Glorietta, Makati City, paid tribute to National Artist Levi Celerio, the lyricist. And there was Pilita Corrales performing, coaxing a shy son of Ka Levi to sing and kiddingly warning him: “’Pag ’di ka pa kumanta sasampalin na kita (if you don’t sing I’ll make your ears ring).”
The gimmick for National Artist Botong Francisco was a fashion show, with dolled-up models parading around in clothes inspired by the works of the muralist. A panel discussion followed, with actress Cherie Gil interviewing author Ino Manalo, art buff Tingting Cojuangco and painter Totong Francisco, a grandson of Botong.
These are just some of the recent events of Freeway Art (www.freeway.net.ph), a pet project of Elite Garments Inc. which promotes its National Artist Collectors Series. Other National Artists honored through clothes thus far (and still counting) are writer Nick Joaquin, painter Ang Kuikok, poet Jose Garcia Villa, painter Vicente Manansala, and designer Ramon Valera.
In addition, the firm manages the boutiques Solo and Ensembles. Solo celebrates Pinoy pop culture through its Cartoonist Memorabilia Series, as headlined by iconic cartoonist Larry Alcala. Ensembles, on the other hand, has its Young Designers Series.
There are 26 Freeway stores all over the country, 16 Solo stores and 12 Ensemble stores.
The collection is enough to make any fashionista giddy, like one editor I know. These include semiformal cocktail dresses, tailored workwear like skirt dresses and work shirts, and Sunday wear like casual knit tops, all executed in various ways. There are also fashion accessories like tote bags, necklaces, watches and bracelets.
Who conceptualized Freeway Art?
“When most retailers were using celebrity endorsers for their products, my sister (Katty Qua) and I thought of trying something radically different,” recalls Sheree Gotuaco, CEO if Elite Garments. “Why not feature the works of Philippine National Artists? This way we can create awareness in our current young market and enhance appreciation of Philippine Art.”
The word was spread around by sympathetic editors, writers, bloggers and through Facebook, Twitter, e-mail/“text blasts” and word-of-mouth.
She adds: “We do not have big budgets to spare, so we do our best to be creative in how we market our merchandise.”
“The sales of design series do well because they are all limited edition runs,” Sheree reports. “Once the series is launched, we do not reproduce them after the season. The sell-through of most of the items is high at 80 to 90 percent to being sold out.”
So it’s profitable?
“The company is profitable at a decent level,” Sheree notes. “The competition is tighter today than in the past years due to more local and foreign entrants, so it is these Filipino design series that allow our brands to stand out and offer something that any foreign brand cannot offer.”
She concludes: “The talents of our Filipino artists come in different forms, and to capture them and reintroduce them to today’s time is a wonderful journey for us as well. We hope that we are making a difference in our own small way.”