NOW comes Hannah Kong from the Philippines’ fairyland of talents whose wand of hands create designs of exquisite beauty. As a fashion designer, her hands sew myriads upon myriads of glass beads, appliqués, crystals and threads, among other wonders, to make elaborate and wearable works of fashion art.
Even more remarkable is that Kong spends hundreds of hours of beadwork, stitching and embroidery following the traditional tambour technique—art wisdom learned from France’s Ecole Lesage Paris.
A premier couture house, Ecole Lesage was established by renowned embroiderer Francois Lesage in 1924. Since then, fashion luminaries Elsa Schiaparelli, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Louis Vuitton, Valentino Garavani, Christian Dior, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Chanel under Karl Lagerfeld have worked under its roof.
In 2002, Maison Chanel acquired Maison Lesage. From this fashion institution Kong learned and mastered her craft.
In an act marking the end of her training stage and posting a grand milestone in her career, the Filipina designer formally unveiled a 15-piece debut collection one beautiful day in May at Aruga by Rockwell in Makati City.
Prior to the inspiring fashion show, The Sunday Times Magazine had sat down with Kong for an exclusive interview in which she told the story of her long—and yes winding—journey into the world of fashion.
Believe it or not, Kong had not immediately realized early on that her true calling was in the business of fashion. This, despite the fact that her father ran a garments company.
Back in college, she had majored in Economics at the De La Salle University.
Asked about the late realization, Kong explained: “When you were younger, you feel that you could do it all. That aside, I had been always more interested in Law. However, I was not very studious!”
Nevertheless, she had dabbled in fashion as a freelance stylist for magazines as early as then.
But it was clear to all who knew her that she enjoyed working with her hands.
Even as a student, she had her own jewelry and accessories line. She bought materials and
assembled the artistic pieces herself.
“After a while, I said, ‘Fashion really is it for me,’” Kong recounted and thus, she took up introductory classes in textiles and drawing at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, USA.
Upon returning, she then enrolled in Fashion Design at the College of St. Benilde, and in time, finished it unlike her previous course, which she had dropped.
But she felt that there was more her hands could master.
It was in 2011 that Kong entered the Ecole Lesage to take an intensive Professional Training for Haute Couture, under which she learned the traditional tambour embroidery that makes use of a frame to sew from under the cloth.
Asked why she chose embroidery among the other handicrafts, Kong explained that that she really liked working with her hands.
“When I found out about the school, Lesage, I was just so amazed with how they did embroidery. It spiked my intrigue about the handicraft even more.”
Indeed, the designer was then unstoppable from learning Lesage’s artisanal embroidery. What was supposed to be a six-month program, she finished in three months time.
“I really worked hard to finish the program quickly because of the high cost of living. But to be able to do it, I found myself sleeping at 4 a.m. just to finish a part of the project,” Kong recounted her experience in Paris.
Yes, just a part of the whole project, which according to Kong, measured a mere 1-square inch. And if her work did not pass the standard of her teachers, everything would be reworked from scratch until it was perfected.
Nevertheless, all her hard work paid off. She graduated not only with the best embroidery skills but also solidly formed in the virtues of discipline and patience.
In 2015, she returned to Lesage to enroll in another program focusing on ribbonwork.
“From then, I finally said to myself that this is what I would be doing for the rest of my life,” Kong revealed to The Sunday Times.
Upon her return to the Philippines, Kong ultimately proceeded to make a career of designing custom dresses for the most discerning brides. She made a careful choice of which clients were the most discerning for she believed they appreciated the most delicate details.
After a year of gaining a following only by word of mouth—she frowned on marketing even in social media— she decided instead to take the Manila fashion scene by storm with her debut collection launch.
Showcased were bridal and entourage gowns in beautiful silhouettes and intricate patterns. Perfect for the modern yet elegant bride was an embroidered sheer tulle gown with threadwork and flower appliqué made from chiffon cutouts, crystals and rhinestones.
Another standout was a serpentine dress in full-porcelain-like complemented with flowing, long tulle sleeves.
Feeling like a princess? Choose from the ivory silk gazaar dress adorned with gems, beads and rhinestones neckline, with off-shoulder sleeves, cascading ruffles and a bow back; or the laced appliqué bustier and a custom-embroidered and hand-beaded tulle skirt.
For the maid of honor, there are simple silhouetted dresses with the same intricate details in soft shades of blue and pink.
To be able to design things as beautiful as her debut collection, what served as inspiration to Kong?
“I believe God is the ultimate designer, everything in nature seems so much in place, the colors and the attention to the minutest detail, and whenever I think about this, I get inspired.”
Think of her as an old soul. Old paintings—especially those of the Louvre Museum in Paris—also caught the fashion designer’s attention, as well as vintage objects.
In the future, Kong could see herself still mesmerized by every new discovery about the Philippines’ own traditional and heritage embroidery and weaves. Her current favorites include the piña and jusi weaves of Lumban, Laguna, as well as the textiles of the T’boli tribe.
“I am trying to find a way of incorporating the traditional embroideries of the Philippines and of France. I want to explore both worlds!” she enthused. “Those are some of the things that I want to try down the line and learn as well.”
For the Filipino craftsmen
To end her wonderful conversation with The Sunday Times, Kong made sure to have this writer recognize her 16-man staff of one tambour embroiderer and 15 sewers, cutters, and mostly beaders.
“Yes, I went to fashion school and learned to sew and do patterns, but if you had me do it on my own, it wouldn’t come out as nice as how they do it,” she said, noting that her people are allowed to give their creative inputs, which at times are even better than her original design.
“So I dedicate the collection to my staff. We are all so excited especially for them to see the creations we made. I just want to celebrate them. Without them, I won’t be able to do what I do.”
Furthermore she hoped really to push the craft for fellow Filipino craftsmen. She explained, “When you see them working, they really enjoy what they are doing. I really want to push the craft because I want to celebrate the hands that make the dress.”
The soul of generosity, Kong also revealed that she had begun training her beaders in the craft of tambour embroidery.
To see them in action, visit the fashion designer’s atelier located at 6063 R. Palma Street, Barangay Poblacion, Makati City.