The sarong as canvas for female empowerment and fine art

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Artist and visual designer Paulina Ortega's latest project is a new collection of sarongs with Float Swim, featuring illustrated female figures in art set against sweet, summer pastels.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Sydney-based visual artist and designer Paulina Ortega may be the quintessential multi-hyphenate. Having worked in an ad agency in Manila and a design boutique in Singapore, the 27-year-old Cebu native has amassed an enviable portfolio of happy clients like Barbie, Samsung and HaagenDazs, while never losing her footing — or her roots — when it comes to personal passion projects, exercising her personal creative voice through art-based collaborations with local brands as well as group exhibits in the Manila art scene.

In her seven years as a working professional, Ortega has managed to make her voice of fun, feminine quirk apparent in her work, both professional and personal. Her latest project, a new collection of sarongs with Float Swim (Ortega first worked on the swimwear brand’s branding and identity) and featuring illustrated female figures in art set against sweet, summer pastels, reveals much about the various things that inform her work.

CNN Philippines Life caught up with the designer over email, to ask about her latest collaboration with Float, life’s interconnections, and what it’s been like, working from a different coast. Below are edited excerpts of the interview.

Paulina.jpg "There’s definitely a very feminine thread that runs through my work," says Ortega. "My hope is that, across the board, what I do also reads as work that is thoughtful and considered." Photos by NATALIA PARSONSON

How's life in Sydney treating you?

Life in Sydney's been pretty sweet. I've been very busy setting up my design studio here. I moved into a little office space at the start of the year, and have since hit the ground running. It's been tiring but also exciting!

My days consistently alternate between design work for the studio and art projects that I try to do for myself. Most recently, they've been a toss-up between expanding the design work I've been doing in Sydney, continuing to collaborate with brands that inspire me from back home, working on new paintings, and scheming to bring some special projects to life, such as this one with Float! It's a lot to juggle, but I love it.

You do a variety of things really well, from branding to painting, from textile design to graphic design. How do those different mediums inform each other? What do you think are the common traits of your work from medium to medium?

I generally feel like Hermione Granger from book three of the "Harry Potter" series, wishing for a Time-Turner to split myself into a few versions, so I can do everything I want to.

I’ve always admired designers and artists who have been multi-disciplinary in their approach to creativity (The Eameses, Massimo Vignelli, Ellsworth Kelly, Matisse — you name it), and that’s definitely something I consider valuable in my own work. Everything informs and enriches one another. At some point, all the dots connect.

"I love that Float stands for feeling good about your body, feeling comfortable in your own skin."

I’m still such a novice and am just playing around with textile design at the moment, but these sarongs, for instance, were definitely shaped by my influences in fine art, illustration and design.

On the surface level, there’s definitely a very feminine thread that runs through my work. My hope is that, across the board, what I do also reads as work that is thoughtful and considered.

How did your collaboration with Float come about? Why did you decide to focus on sarongs for this collaboration?

The idea for the sarongs came about while I was taking a textile printing course in New York during the dead of winter. Everyone in class was working on wool scarves, hoodies, and quilts, but all I could think about was how much I missed the feeling of a warm day at the beach! Naturally, I thought of sarongs — the light, soft feel of the fabric, the summery colors, the many hours I've spent on them tanning away.

I immediately approached An [Estrada of Float Swim] with the idea. We've been friends for a few years now, and I've had the pleasure of doing work with her since Float first launched. I absolutely love what she does and what the brand stands for. If I was going to make sarongs, I knew I wanted to do them with a brand that did things well and I felt really captured the spirit of summer back home.

float-x-paulina-paige-2.jpg The idea for the sarongs came about while Ortega was taking a textile printing course in New York during the dead of winter. "All I could think about was how much I missed the feeling of a warm day at the beach! Naturally, I thought of sarongs — the light, soft feel of the fabric, the summery colors, the many hours I've spent on them tanning away."

Float Swimwear is becoming known as a brand that stands for quality swimwear for women of different body types. Personally, what do you look for in your swimwear?

I love that Float stands for feeling good about your body, feeling comfortable in your own skin. It's part of what inspired the prints you see on the sarongs themselves. All the illustrations on the textiles are playful takes on classic female nudes in fine art. If you look closely, you'll see The Three Graces, a Venus de Milo type figure, and a nod to Manet's Olympia. They're all based on images that celebrate the female form and depict it as beautiful.

My hope is that while girls are out tanning in their Float suits, with much of their body parts left exposed, these sarong prints can be a nice little reminder for them to appreciate and have fun with the lines, curves and beautiful little nuances that make up the female form.

Some of your high profile local projects include the bestseller “Besties” by Solenn Heussaff and Georgina Wilson and the “Love Local” campaign for Bench, where you served as creative director of the book. You're also a contributor for various publications like Rogue, L'Officiel Manila, and YSTYLE and now you're working with Float. What are the secrets to successful long distance relationships with your collaborators and clients?

I really make it a point to keep that connection to home and continue to do work in the Philippines. Maybe it’s stubbornness, but even as someone who isn’t physically there, I still want to contribute and do my tiny part in adding to the conversations that help shape the evolving Filipino identity and creative landscape. It's minuscule, really! But I want to still be involved somehow.

The funny (and great) thing about living in 2017 is that I constantly work with clients from the U.S., Tokyo, Singapore, the Philippines, etc., even as I sit in my desk all the way down in Sydney.

Secrets? Thoughtful work, respectful relationships and a speedy internet connection!