Indigenous fabric inabel makes it to fashion capital Paris

Marilyn Paed-Rayray, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 08 2019 09:07 AM

Imee Delgado Wissler (L), owner of Conscience de Soie boutique with Nina Inabel designer Niña Corpuz. Marilyn Paed-Rayray, ABS-CBN News

PARIS -- Nina Inabel hits the global stage as it was purposely envisioned since it was launched a couple of years ago. And where else to better launch a designer brand globally than in Paris.

Conscience de Soie, an Asian boutique in the heart of Vincennes in the eastern suburbs of Paris, has paved the way for Nina Inabel garments to be showcased in the world’s fashion capital. 

Dedicated to Asian crafts, the decade-running Conscience de Soie reopened on November 29 after three months of renovation. 

Nina Inabel, the only Philippine clothing item in the boutique, stood out among the limited series of handmade accessories and garments, unique art and design pieces, home decor and furnishing, and antiques from every corner of Greater Asia. 

With the boutique’s concept and warm and inviting space, the store also has the feel of a museum that takes every visitor to the ancient Asia and back to the modern times. Its well-curated selection of Asian art and accessories reflect the diversity in the boutique -- from Japanese bowls and Chinese vases and sculptures to Southeast Asian silk. 

Imee Delgado Wissler, a former US diplomat and owner of Conscience de Soie, started her boutique with her own collections at first and later on handpicked items that she liked from her travels around the world, especially Asia. 

“I lived in Thailand for three years, I lived in Laos and I traveled in Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Nepal… I always liked the culture of Asia with the good taste of things that are handmade, Philippines included,” Wissler said.

Born in Surigao to parents from Ilocos Norte, Wissler said the bestselling Philippine item so far is the black “banga” (clay pot) which serve as “caches pot” (flower potholder) for the French market. She is excited to have Philippine indigenous fabric in her boutique.

Hannah de los Santos-Laval, a Filipina pediatrician from the US and a guest of the boutique’s inauguration, is proud to discover a little bit of the Philippines in the heart of Vincennes. 

“The Filipino things came later but it is inevitable, she’s an Ilocana. We will see many of our things. And, of course, the fact that we’re an archipelago and its many different islands and many different cultures, that’s gonna come out and it’s not hard for our cultural pieces to stand out quite naturally,” said de los Santos-Laval. 

Niña Corpuz, the “accidental designer” behind Nina Inabel, is proud to have brought her clothing line at Conscience de Soie.

“When I found out that they wanted to sell my product abroad, especially here in Paris, I was very excited. I’m here actually for a media summit but I also brought some of the clothes for this Asian boutique. Inabel is the only Philippine garment in this boutique, so I am very proud of that,” she said.

For her, Nina Inabel’s presence in the Asian boutique will open the doors for Philippine culture, talent and tradition to be recognized more in France. 

“Napaka-swerte na may ganitong venue willing to showcase our very own. We will test the market, see how it goes but the fact that it’s already here is a start of something that might open doors not just for me but for inabel in general,” said Corpuz. 

THE BIRTH OF AN ADVOCACY

Nina Inabel started out as a hobby when the ABS-CBN broadcast journalist dressed her daughters with children’s clothes made of inabel, or Abel Iloco — which means handwoven in the Ilocano language. Interestingly, Corpuz’s professional background is not directly related to fashion design but the brand was born out of an advocacy through collaboration with inabel patrons in her hometown. 

The growing interest in local fashion using indigenous fabrics such as inabel has been a boon to Ilocano cotton farmers and weavers. Corpuz shared how the clothing brand supports the community in Ilocos by hiring local artisans who do the detailing and weaving.

For Corpuz, Nina Inabel brand is more than just a business. “It’s about a lifestyle that is sustainable, a lifestyle that wants to uplift the lives of other people, it’s an advocacy. We want to have a purpose and we want to showcase our culture and tradition that is world-class,” she said.

Lately, the Philippines has been on the rise in the global design market because French have always been keen with back stories. The story behind the artisanship, innovation and creativity that pays homage to the traditional crafts of the Filipinos continues to fascinate the French clientele. 

“We are counting on hopefully 'pag maraming maka-discover at magustuhan ito, mas maraming gagawin ang ating mga weavers. So gaganda ang image ng inabel at ang business side nito at kikita ang mga weavers. Panalo ang mga Pilipino,” said Corpuz.

BUY FEW, LIVE PURPOSEFULLY 

Nina Inabel features unique design that has cultural value in preserving Ilocano heritage, like the Binakol weaving, described as ‘Op Art’ of the Philippines for its dizzying geometric patterns that natives believe confuse and distract the evil spirits. 

Corpuz transformed the usual thick, rough handwoven fabrics into modern apparel with an ethnic feel. Luxurious and soft, warm and cozy yet cool and breezy, the beauty and integrity of the craftsmanship is distinct in Nina Inabel. Made of 100% cotton, it is wearable for adults and children alike for all seasons.

Produced in very limited quantity, each piece is unique because it is handmade so no items will be alike. The handwoven cloth contains irregularities just as it should because it is proudly and lovingly handmade. 

“That’s what so special. People want something that nobody else has, something that has a story. The person who will buy Inabel is someone who is very fashion-conscious, who is into slow fashion, who not only wants to look good but also wants to uplift the lives of other people and help the environment as well,” said Corpuz.