FASHION

Gabbie Sarenas ‘immortalizes’ Filipino culture through fabric and embroidery

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We talk about the creative process with the young fashion designer Gabbie Sarenas. Illustration by MARIA SARAH ORLINA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — As more and more young designers turn to local culture and heritage for inspiration, the market becomes saturated with terno sleeves and indigenous textiles. Young fashion designer Gabbie Sarenas operates in the same realm, but what she brings to the table is her meticulous attention to detail. And this doesn’t just shine in the craftsmanship of her work, but also in the sheer playfulness of each piece. With contemporary silhouettes and delicate, hand-embroidered patterns, Sarenas’ work is always fun. She describes her brand as “specializing on local material as statementwear for both men and women.”

She’s also a natural storyteller. On her website, she describes some of her pieces as “pages of culture immortalized,” created to “tell the romance of heritage.” As such, her collections don’t just incorporate local textiles and fabrics; they often tell of local folklore and rituals. In her 2017 fall-winter collection called “Pagtanom,” she paid homage to Filipino rice farmers and their fertility rituals. Meanwhile, “Veronica”, a more personal collection made in memory of her late grandmother, incorporates Filipino garments such as the tapis, barong Tagalog, and the duster.

Armi Millare in Veronica tapis by Gabbie Sarenas. Photo courtesy of GABBIE SARENAS

A look from Gabbie Sarenas' collection called "________, Nagmamahal, _______." Photo courtesy of GABBIE SARENAS

Martin Del Rosario in a Luna Bow Blouse by Gabbie Sarenas. Photo by JL JAVIER

As part of CNN Philippines Life’s series of Q&As with Filipino creatives, we spoke to Sarenas to talk about her work, creative process, and the principles that guide her and her brand. The interview has been edited for clarity.

What do you think are the essential traits of a creative person, especially in your field?

I can't stress these enough: curiosity, grit, trust, respect, sensitivity, critical thinking, patience, and discipline.

What is the core philosophy that guides your work? How does your day usually go?

The objective is to champion Filipino creativity through fabric, embroidery, and story. I am a firm believer in the incubation of ideas, so continuous education is important — be it on your own or from different perspectives.

My day [varies], but the week will revolve [around] light to heavy research, fittings, sourcing, customer service, art viewing/gallery-hopping with friends, and some hobbies not totally related to my work. I do my best to keep it holistic and well-rounded for my sanity.

Tell us about your latest work.

Apart from custom work, [I’m] just gathering information for this year or maybe the next. Ideas just sprout out of nowhere.

Do you look back at your past work? Why or why not?

Yes, especially when I go blank. Going back to your past work grounds you when you feel overwhelmed — it reminds you of why you do what you do, your objectives and goals. The “look” can change and/or progress, but your heart doesn't.

You mentioned to me that you turn to two people — your tita and designer Hindy Weber Tantoco — when you’re stuck in a bind. Do you consider them your mentors? Do you think it's important to have one?

I consider both mentors and friends. Apart from the fact that they're older than me, they’re women who are self-made and women of principle. I see that they practice what they preach yet they're cool and easy-going — they know how to fight their battles. It's important to have different figures in your life but you have to choose wisely on who you let into your circle. Their principles affect you and can also influence you. It's an energy thing.

What inspires you?

I get inspiration from beautiful things, emotional things, empowering people, things that grow, whys and hows, problem solving. I like to read, I like to learn, I ask a lot of questions. I like art and asking about the process, I like creative problem solving and/or critical thinking.

How important is social media in your work?

Instagram is an important tool for us as we can release work in real time. It gives us the ability to reach out to clients and potential clients in a few clicks — locally and internationally.

What skills do you wish you had?

Painting, drawing accurately or realistically, business skills (math!), playing the piano... and the list goes on.

What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by people in your field today? How do you overcome them?

There are many challenges that people in my field face regardless of their stage. Based on experience, it starts with how to start and what direction to take. Finances would be another, finding the right people. Then the copying issues come to play, as well as how to keep the business afloat.

I haven’t fully overcome those but I just always go back to my goals and objectives. For me, it always works. We will always have problems with money and finding more people but we make it work.

What myth about your field of work would you like to debunk?

Maybe that fashion is easy.

What have you learned from work that you've applied to other areas of your life?

Maybe [becoming] curious and observant, and [learning the importance of] covering all your bases.