by Brian Tenorio via the Philippine Star | August 29  2009

MANILA, Philippines – I was shopping once in Sydney for a nice coat for my sister. After several hours of going through different stores, I saw this Asian female with a nice top. I asked her where she got her nice jacket. She said, “Oh, I got this in Bayo, but it’s a store in the Philippines, you know?” In fact, yes, I do know. Since then, my travails have been more of shopping for experiences and food trips rather than shopping for clothes. The clothes I buy or have made in Manila.

So what is Filipino design? What is World Filipiniana?

Believe me, this will be the most important detail to know if you are a designer outside of the Philippines, temporarily or otherwise. Before being identified by your own name, you will be thought of as Filipino. That, I think, is a good thing.

Let us define Filipiniana first. Salvacion Arlante and Rodolfo Tarlit’s report, The State-of-the-Art of Filipiniana Collections in the Philippines, outlines a comprehensive definition: “Books and non-book materials about the Philippines, produced in or outside the Philippines, by Filipinos or non-Filipinos, in any of the Philippine languages, or in a foreign language.”

Ateneo de Manila professor and sociologist Dr. Fernando Zialcita provides a more succinct and workable definition: “Things from the Philippines (politics, environment, literature, art films, etc.) or things that define the Philippines as such.” The tiniklingSan Miguel Beer Pale Pilsen, butterfly-sleeves, etc., these products are easy to identify as Filipiniana.

World Filipiniana, on the other hand, is that area in space where products are Filipino either by origin, design, or execution with qualities that take on the global aesthetic. That “global aesthetic” feature is really what makes World Filipiniana different from just Filipiniana. You can’t exactly pinpoint where these products are from, but upon further inspection, or maybe a deeper reading, you will realize the Filipino components and qualities that are present in their make, materials, style, themes, or references. The music of The Out of Body Special (featured by Time magazine), Vogue magazine favorite Minaudieres by Celestina, Bert del Rosario’s karaoke — these are much, much more difficult to identify as Filipino if you are not from the Philippines. In fact, even for most Filipinos everywhere else, these tickets are difficult to make out as ours — is it because they are not made out of capiz, or are not as aromatic as adobo, or that they lack that certain rhythmic percussive beat? They may not readily seem familiar, but Filipino design is embodied in these products. That is World Filipiniana: from Philippine-design but of a global aesthetic.

Harnessing these products and identifying them as World Filipiniana creates more value for Philippine design. More value can eventually translate to profits or opportunities.

World Filipiniana as a Creative Asset

World Filipiniana adds an extra dimension to this definition by emphasizing sustainability through profit. How can more of excellent things be made if there is no demand? Anchoring the definition of World Filipiniana to value and sustainability only means that it is a creative asset (or a tool for driving profits). Recognition, honor, and the love of country are cool motivations as well, but a product or design must be profitable of value in order for it to be made, propagated, and distributed. That must be realized by more Filipino creatives and designers in the Philippines and from all over.

I quote Von Totanes (filipinolibrarian.blogspot.com) when he asked: “Why is it that more Filipinos than foreigners are Googling ‘Philippines,’ while more non-Thais, relatively speaking, are searching for ‘Thailand’? Could it be that only Filipinos want to find out about the Philippines?” Is there a demand for things Filipino? If Googling countries is likened to consumers shopping for brands, then we would have to agree with the Design Management Institute (DMI.org) article that says, “…brands are no longer just products. People can be brands, companies can be brands — even countries can be brands” (Corporate Brand and Packaging Design written by Jack Vogler, 2002). Objects from around the world can be identified as World Filipiniana — that is our brand and we must use that to our advantage.

Identify, Update, Participate

First, the Filipino creative must correctly identify as many things as possible as World Filipiniana. These or of the Philippines, we must own them.

Second, we must re-acquaint ourselves with Philippine design history while updating on our knowledge of trends, methods, and sources.

Third, we should learn from cultures around the world. Really, the global traffic of products and ideas are about supply and demand — when there is less demand than supply, when there is limited space for recognition and consciousness, things become more competitive. We would also create more value for our country while we are at it.

Fourth, we must participate in the global dialogue of design as Filipinos.

And lastly, expand and develop Philippine design. A Filipiniana-inspired gown is not only about using indigenous fabrics and tribal patterns, but may also use subtler references. Filipiniana is integrated into the essence of the design — the meaning is enriched and with that, the piece may even be more wearable in a New York after-party, Paris soirée, or Tokyo tryst!

Pride + Practice = Progress

A chat with Boston-based Filipino-American artist and designer Bren Bataclan (bataclan.com) has resulted in more ideas about nation building through education on Filipino aesthetics. Bataclan asserts that the Filipino aesthetic “could be the next big thing” as it has been in several industries, here and there, from time to time. He goes on to say that pride is intrinsic to the success of Philippine design. I will add to that and say that pride plus practice equals progress for our culture and economy.

I gave a talk once at the Asian Institute of Management. Seeing that some of my designs did not seem to have direct references to Philippine culture, one of the participants asked me what made my designs Filipino. It made me think why she thought that it should have been one of my goals. On hindsight, I think my answer then was very honest, and can be considered practicable knowledge for other Filipino designers. If you breathe in Filipino, you tend to exhale Filipino as well. World Filipiniana — whether predetermined or otherwise  is our contribution to this universe. It is ours, and in so many ways, it is us.

* * *

Iranian-born Filipino-American Brian Tenorio is a New York-based designer, multi-awarded in print and graphic design, business and entrepreneurship, and recently in accessories design (his label was included in the 2008 book 50 Must Buys in Manila). As a multi-disciplinary creative, Tenorio is launching a new designer line of sustainably made caskets, Lux Mortem, and two designer coloring books this year. Tenorio graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University and finished a Managing the Arts Program at the Asian Institute of Management. He is currently with the Design Management Program of Pratt Institute in New York and a member of the Design Management Institute. Post comments on his blog, Only Superlatives, at http://blog.briantenorio.com