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LA PIÑA
Wednesday, 07 January 2009

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'Wherever there are textiles, there is civilisation’ (F. Arechabala)

While researching the next MAG issue for this website over the holidays, I came across pineapple fiber. Pineapple fiber? Yes pineapple fiber, isn't that amazing?!

It was Sandra who had sent me the flyer of an exhibition in Madrid on this exclusive material three years ago. And as we won't have enough space in the MAG to tell the whole story of pineapple fiber, I kick off this Year of the Natural Fiber with some history on this super chic piña fabric. It's a story told by the curators Javier Fernandez de Angulo and Yolanda Garcia Villaluenga of the exhibition 'El piña, el tejido del paraíso (from September 2nd until October 5th 2005 in the Cultural center ‘Casa de Vagas’ in Madrid).

The first time I laid my eyes on pineapple cloth was at the home of the Philippine consul. He placed a red leather box on the table and with a ceremonious gesture he took out some packages wrapped in white silk paper. On unfolding them, I understood why Philippine high society found the maximum expression of luxury in this meticulously embroidered and fine weft cloth. pine_fiber4.jpg

The Spaniards arrived in the Philippines dressed in thick wool, but it wasn’t very long before they were seduced by oriental subtlety. Using the leaves of the American pineapples, the Asians warped a garment that was so sophisticated that travellers who arrived on the islands noted in their chronicles: ‘The strangest, most beautiful and delicate object in the world’. Piña cloth was more valuable than gold or silver and no other jewel could compete with it. From 1800 onwards, Manila was the most elegant city in Asia and all lavish ceremonies like christening and wedding occasions bore their touch of pineapple.

In search of the current craftsmen behind the fabric, we arrived at El Nido, a village located on the island of Palawan. Surrounded by rice fields, the pineapple plants grow wild in the woods. Some of the craftsmen used to be fishermen who lost their arms or legs when dynamiting the coral sea beds. Others returned from Manila dissappointed, seeking a more decent way of life. It’s them who have decided to save the pineapple cloth for everyone.

The history of pineapple cloth has grown in tandem with the Spanish presence in the Philippines. Nowadays there are important collections in museums in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco. We have tried to pay tribute to this fine treasure and suggest exquisite haute couture as a way forward for the most valuable fabrics.

After reading this wonderful narrative, I'm very sorry I missed that exhibition but very happy to have Sandra on board as our new blogger! She just sent me these pictures of piña dresses, designed by IED Madrid students, Marta Donday and Cindy Figueroa. It looks like the curators' dream has come true and I know one thing: all good comes from Spain!

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