Interview

Patis Tesoro On Carving A Life Outside The City

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Renowned designer Patis Tesoro speaks to us about the artist life, and how it’s led her out of the metro.

Story by
Photography by
Fruhlein Econar
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Best known for her work in saving piña and other local fabrics, Patis Tesoro decided to leave the city behind and move into her new home, a garden café and B&B in San Pablo, Laguna, where she continues to reside today. In this interview first published in 2016, she tells us about her life, and what it’s taught her about design, beauty, and the life of the artist.

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GRID: Why did you decide to make the move out of Manila?

PATIS: You know, when I was young, I partied a lot. I went to nightclubs, discos [in Manila]. Oh, yeah; party girl. In the business [of fashion] you have to be a party girl. But as you get older and more established, you can choose. And I find it’s better to choose here. This café is… it’s a means to meet new people, an area where you can exchange ideas. It helps to pay the bills. Having a garden is very expensive. That’s labor. It’s been over 30 years [in the making]. It’s very different from the Manila gardens.


When did you realize this was what you wanted?

PATIS: I had already planned this in my 30s. I had no money—of course, you have to earn that. But little by little, almost everything [you see] here, I planted. It’s all organic. I just knew that I liked being organic and I liked being environmental… I was always an artist. This is the fruit of my life’s work, which I think is great.

Ink and pencil illustration by Patis Tesoro

Where did your philosophy of upcycling come from?

PATIS: I was born in the ‘50s. I’m a baby boomer, and I was born five years after the war finished. There was no such thing as “throw away”; we used everything, cooked everything… the world was shattered. There was no such thing as [waste]. Everything you did, you did yourself. Your imagination had to work. I’ve always lived like that. I collect things, you know; I like old things. But I’m not one of those collectors that wants things to be perfect or pure. As long as it’s beautiful, I’m happy.

“What will you do when you’re old? You never think about it [while] you’re young.”


Can you tell us more about your idea of beauty?

PATIS: Beauty is literally, sorry to be so trite but, in the eye of the beholder. I can do this and there will be people who will say, “This is awful!” I find that there was a time when the little black dress was the thing—everyone in a party walked in, in all black. So boring. And now it’s all mix mix mix, anything goes sort of thing. Taste is really in the eye of the beholder, and those that know how to push it. So for me, my philosophy is to enjoy it, and if you can do it while enjoying it… great. If you’re doing it because you want to sell it, then you’re going to look like everyone else in a gallery.


Have you always identified yourself as an artist?

PATIS: Yes! After high school, I went to America to study art education for secondary schools. But I never finished because my mother died, and I came home and I married. My first love is really art. I’m lousy in Tagalog, in mathematics… I’m lousy there. But it’s really art.

Rack of clothes in Patis Tesoro's B&B

Do you have a preferred medium now? I see that you do a bit of everything.

PATIS: I do what is convenient for me. Now, my dream is to have a studio. But a studio needs time, and I want to do oil [painting]. Oil takes a long time to dry and you cannot be interrupted, so how—how, when I am doing so many things? I do pen and ink because I can put it in a box and bring it around and multi-task.

“If you’re doing it because you want to sell it, then you’re going to look like everyone else in a gallery.”


As a traveler, how do you keep up with your schedule?

PATIS: My husband died just last April; I traveled after that. I had an exhibit in Madrid in the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia. I’m going to have a fashion show in November. But the way I do business is different now.


It seems like you’ve made a lot of decisions late in your life.

PATIS: Well, I grew up in the 1950s, and got married in the 1970s when it was flower power. I was a part of that. My hippie-ness stopped when I got married; he was a professor. But I was already like this: I was always organic. I grew up with it. You just do what makes you happy. I’m enjoying myself even though I’ve lost my husband. I’m sad, but I’m happy.

Many people [choose to stay] in Manila, and they end up there, old. All of us will get old. All of us, unless you die young. What will you do when you’re old? You never think about it [while] you’re young. But I already started thinking when I was in my 30s. How long will you live? How will you live? People were telling me, ‘Why? You’re only in your 30s. You’re only in your 40s. You’re only in your 50s.’ I’m happy because I’m here. I work for this. In my time, I didn’t know if I could do it. Not in the field I chose, or rather which chose me. But today? You can do business everywhere. Everywhere. It’s interesting how things are changing.

Portrait of Patis Tesoro by Fruhlein Econar
“I was always an artist. This is the fruit of my life’s work, which I think is great.”


Do you think it’s also changed for your industry?

PATIS: Oh, yeah. And how. Couture is gone. Handmade clothes? Wala na. In the old days, it had to be. There was no other. And the custoreras were there, embroiderers, finishers, they were all there. Today, all those people are gone. They’re OFWs, they’re service-oriented. So even young designers have a hard time. They share one custorera, or one cutter. I have my own custorera and I pay her a costly sum. My people are now less than ten. [These specialists] used to be easy to find. It is very, very difficult now.

But there is also a positive side. I see many people, young people, who are really growing an interest in it. It’s morphing in a different way because the labor force is different. My type? I don’t know if it will survive, although now I’m using simpler embroideries. Can you revive it? Yeah. But you have to really change the way you create. The tide is changing.

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This story was originally published in GRID Issue 15.

Tubes of oil paints

This story was originally published in

Issue 15 | Lands of Plenty

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