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14 FEBRUARY, 2024

Philip Torres: Designing the Kapampangan Identity

There is a ball skirt in the atelier of designer Philip Dizon Torres in Angeles City that shows the meticulous work that goes into each of his designs. It’s a long, black skirt that took six months to complete and 10 hands to sew the fabric embellishments and stitch patterns.

It’s a stunning piece—feminine, textured, flowing even with the weight of thousands of small embellishments made from folded fabric that look like small flowers.

It’s a rare black on black piece because his brand, Pidayit by Philip Torres, is quite literally a colorful patchwork of fabrics and inspiration. The ball skirt is just one of hundreds of pieces hanging on rolling garment racks in the covered area right outside his studio, where he draws his designs and chooses which fabric goes with what, what pattern or color goes with which.

Torres created Pidayit more than a decade ago during a time in his life when he was “having a midlife crisis and seeking a deeper purpose” as a designer. He just had to look around in his house to see the tons of fabrics he had accumulated throughout his career and look around his province of Pampanga to find that purpose.

Pidayit, a Kapampangan word that means to put or to string together, is Torres’ way of starting a tradition in a province famous for culinary traditions but not for textiles.

The designs of Philip Torres, Pidayit, which means to put together.

In the south, Iloilo has hablon, derived from the Hiligaynon word that means “habol” or to weave, a textile made from abaca, piña and cotton fibers using a handloom. In the north, Ilocos has inabel, also a handwoven fabric bearing the province’s distinct style and patterns. In Mindanao, there’s t’nalak woven by the Tiboli people of South Cotabato.

What about Pampanga? There is no weaving tradition, no textile identity. But there is a tradition of handmade furniture and intricate wood carving.

Torres is a proud Kapampangan and with Pidayit he wanted to create a distinctly Kapampangan identity in textile design: made from retaso or pieces of fabric that are as colorful and flamboyant as the people, cut and stitched by hand, and inspired by the province’s produce and its position as the country’s culinary capital.

The word pidayit (or pidayit-dayit) was the perfect name because Torres wanted to distill the culture and history of Pampanga into a brand name that best represents its colorful fiestas, cultural traditions, and people working together.

“I incorporated the cooking traditions and the produce into my designs,” he says. “They’re happy designs because that’s what the people are, and we use the colors of Pampanga’s fiestas and santacruzan.”

Pidayit makes truly one-of-a-kind clothes that are handmade, one clean stitch at a time. First he does the design by combining color blocks and patterns, then he chooses the accessories for the fabric. Sometimes they cascade like a waterfall on a skirt, a sleeve or the front of a blouse; sometimes they are bunched together to create another pattern on plain fabric.

The designer in one of his creations.

One of the signature styles of Pidayit is pin cushion-like accessories that are stitched onto the fabric. It’s a labor-intensive process but it’s worth the beautiful results. “The shape of those particular accessories was inspired by the tomato,” Torres says. You find them everywhere—on skirts, trench coats, jackets, blouses, gowns, dresses, terno sleeves, shawls and pants. Torres also uses them in hats, bags, sandals, cellphone cases; and in tapestries and installation art.

For the APEC Summit a few years ago, he worked with architect Royal Pineda on an artwork that was installed at the Clark Convention Center. He was also commissioned by Malacañang Palace to create souvenirs for the APEC leaders’ spouses. Torres says, “They had seen my work in a trade fair in Manila (he participates in Arte Fino) so I made Pidayit shawls using silk organza with our signature stitching and texture.”

 

The Transformative Power of Design

When he founded Pidayit, Torres also wanted to push his advocacy for the environment and to create livelihood for the women of Pampanga.

To be part of the circular economy is a tall order in the fashion industry. Ruled by consumerism and disposable fashion, the craft of stitching and assembling pieces of fabric is a lost art. While fabric stitching can be deeply meditative and calming, today’s world has given us a sense of urgency for all the wrong reasons. That’s why Torres was very particular in training the 80 women he employs. These stay-at-home moms knew how to sew for sure, but they had never done a skirt that costs P60,000.

“The first time I was doing Pidayit, people said, ‘What happened to Philip? Why is he using retaso? Parang laos na siya,’” he says with a laugh. In a country where retaso is mostly made into floor mats, their doubt was understandable but he wasn’t deterred.

“I believed from the start that there was value in it. It’s not just for me but for everyone—to give women financial empowerment, to highlight the culture of Pampanga, and to achieve zero waste in what I was doing as a designer.”

Philip Torres enjoying the life of art

When you look closely at his creations, you can tell that his sewers have the technical skill to wield a needle and thread for a consistent pidayit-dayit. The threads are expertly connected for a textured effect—a reminder that slow, meticulous craftsmanship creates something magical out of nothing: discarded fabrics that are now one whole piece, telling the stories of Pampanga.

Many of the stitching styles are simple—cross stitch and running stitch among others—but they make for eye-catching designs. “They’re like the home economics projects from before that I’ve elevated,” Torres says.

Inside his studio, he demonstrates the versatility of a shawl accessorized with different sizes of folded and stitched round flowers (as small as they are, you never see the threads that form them). “You can wear this so many ways.” He puts it around his neck for cold season travel; flings one side over his shoulder to complement an evening attire; ties it around his waist for an avant-garde statement.

When he’s abroad and wearing a Pidayit shawl or hat, he’s always stopped on the street and asked, “Who are you wearing?”

He proudly answers, “I’m wearing me, a Filipino.”

 

Past and future

There’s a reason traditional textiles are unique to their places of birth. Handed down from one generation to the next, they are steeped in the culture and environment in which they were first made. The t’nalak of Mindanao, for instance, is nicknamed “woven dreams” because of the Tiboli people who make it. The abaca they use is stripped, split, dyed, backstrap woven and pounded to create patterns from their ancestors that are so distinctly Tiboli that even outsiders can identify t’nalak immediately.

When Torres was tossing the concept of Pidayit in his head, he was also influenced by his environment, but he didn’t have that kind of long-held tradition as the southern weavers to reference. His environment was in his own time. Born and raised in Pampanga, Mt. Arayat and the rolling farmlands and rice fields were his constant views—and yet there was also that totally different side of the province with the American Air Force Base in Clark.

“I grew up consuming American PX goods from Dau and Nepo,” he says.

The Kapampangan designer happily inspects his designs.

There were five Torres siblings born to parents who owned a small restaurant in Angeles City. “My parents were very simple and typical of Kapampangans who love food, fiestas and celebrations.”

In decades past, Kapampangans would celebrate fiestas like there was no next year. There were colorful buntings on the streets, fiesta spreads were abundant, friends and strangers were welcomed into people’s houses. This was the culture that Torres grew up in. “You know Kapampangans, they’re mayabang,” he quips. That “yabang” revolved around food—who had the tastier bringhe, the more tender meats, the better kare-kare.

“The colors of fiestas, the ingredients like sitaw and kamatis, the happy atmosphere—you find all of these in my Pidayit pieces,” he says. But there was also that western influence by way of the American presence in Clark and fashion magazines. When he was growing up, he says, he wanted to be as famous as Coco Chanel, Dior and Valentino.

The designs crosses over the traditional.

After high school, Torres enrolled at Slim’s Fashion School for six months, and then at San Sebastian College where he earned his degree in Economics. “After I graduated, I started making ready-to-wear for friends and relatives. After a year, I put up my own atelier called Prét-á-Porter by Philip Torres.”

Of the local designers, he looked up to Joe Salazar and Christian Espiritu who were big names in Filipiana fashion and wedding gowns.

“After celebrating my 25th years in the business back in 2010, I realized I wanted my own identity. How could I compete with other designers here and abroad? I think stepping out of my usual design and creating fashion out of retaso was the boldest decision I ever made,” he says.

On his future plans, he says he’s working on showing his Pidayit collections in Milan and Japan.

At its core, Pidayit is more than just joining pieces of fabric together. It’s Philip Torres’ expression of love for Pampanga and to tell its stories to the world.