By AA Patawaran
When visiting London-based Filipino designer Lesley Mobo messaged me to meet him at dinner at Blackbird on the eve of his flight back to London with his family, I didn’t think it was anything official. But the dinner, though casual and among friends, proved to be a bit of a press gathering, with the usual suspects there.
But before I was ushered into the dining room upstairs, I was welcomed for cocktails by former CCP president Bal Endriga and Hendrick Kiamzon, executive vice president at Meridian International College, better known as Mint, a progressive, if creative, college, which offers such new age courses as Applied Arts and New Media, Information Technology, Environmental Management and Sustainable Development, and Music Business Management.
Over my welcome Mojitos, as soon as I settled down and took my first sip, Lesley blurted out exactly what the dinner was for. “I’m setting up the School of Fashion at Mint,” he said. “But it has to be more than just another fashion school. It’s a higher mission. I’d like it to be the bigger picture.”
I had heard about the plan and even without Lesley telling me about it firsthand, I thought it was a good idea, knowing that the Lesley Mobo model, a success achieved through sheer hard work on a platform that was London, a key fashion capital known more for its quirky, experimental approach to fashion, less wearable perhaps than the stuff that’s put out by New York, its sister city, from which it is only separated by the Atlantic, but because London is braver, bolder, less conservative, and pioneering (this is where Vivien Westwood went against the grain and invented punk and, uhm, two proper nouns: Alexander McQueen, maybe also John Galliano, both of whom went to Central Saint Martins like Lesley).
But really, Lesley is aiming higher. It’s more than a means of giving back. The Aklan-born designer’s success did not come on a silver platter. Before he made a name for himself in the firmament of London fashion, he moved from house to house, sleeping on the couches of generous friends, trying to stretch the £300 his mother gave him when he left the Philippines in search of his place in the world. He earned his degree at Central Saint Martins by the sweat of his brow, not by any scholarship, no British Council scholarship as some people might think. He had to work odd jobs, “cleaning houses,” he said, not knowing he would eventually win what he worked hard for, the Emilio Pucci Award for his graduate collection, for starters, but even that was no preview that he would soon become head designer at Harrods or that, as in 2014, when he was included by Holly Price Alford and Anne Stegemeyer in the sixth edition of their Who’s Who in Fashion, he would in fact be on the same list as Carine Roitfield, Isabel Marant, Riccardo Tisci. Prabal Gurung, and Grace Coddington. There are many more feathers in his literal cap (a cap on his head is a personal Lesley Mobo signature), such as his collaboration with world brands Uniqlo, Diesel, Absolut, and Jasmine de Milo, as well as the eponymous womenswear brand Mobo he launched at Paris Fashion Week in 2009, which found its pride of place on the pages of Italian Vogue and at Musée du Louvre.
“But it’s not about me,” said Lesley. The School of Fashion program at Mint is really designed to give the fashion student and the aspiring designer the skill set and the mindset it takes to make it in the world, whether in the Philippines or elsewhere. “And it’s not just design,” he added. “It’s all the things that make up the industry—fashion journalism, fashion photography, fashion marketing, new media…Mint Fashion School is structured a bit like an art school but with business as part of the trimmings.”
What’s on offer at Mint, beginning this August, is a bachelor’s degree in Fashion, replete with all the subjects required by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). In other words, it is a four-year college course, a baccalaureate, although year-long certificate programs will be available. “What is special about this new program is that we will encourage everyone to work and think differently, to use different individual approaches to every creative problem,” explained Lesley. “Students are allowed ‘to be students’ and encouraged to make mistakes (and learn from them) and have fun at the same time. We only celebrate individuality.”
Indeed, Lesley Mobo’s personal approach is thrown into the program, a philosophy guided by what he calls his “4 Is”—Innovation, Individuality, Independence, and Innovation—which complements Mint’s future-centric education model anchored on the creative, practical application of knowledge and skills. As it says in the program guide, “The Mint School of Fashion covers a broad range of disciplines in order to foster well rounded design professionals capable of creating outstanding fashion as well as taking on other industry roles. The cross-disciplinary nature of the Fashion program encourages collaboration with other Mint College students coming from Film, Multimedia, Music Business, Marketing and Technology programs.”
Thus, this college course, while incorporating the base knowledge necessities, such as Philosophy and the Humanities, will be project-driven and will involve close mentorship, even by Lesley Mobo himself.
“What we want,” said Lesley, “is to provide a stimulating and inspiring environment that enables the development of creative, intellectual, and critical thinking in fashion graduates that, with hope, can improve and reshape what we have (and what is unique about us being Filipinos).”
For starters, Lesley and Mint have partnered with Red Charity Gala, due this year on Oct. 27 at the Marriott Manila, to launch a scholarship program aimed at funding the education of worthy Filipino talent at the Mint School of Fashion.
Mint College is at 1030 Campus Avenue, 2F CIP Building, McKinley Hill, Taguig City. Enrolment going on. 02 551 9651 | 02 5519655 | 02 551-9650 | www.mintocollege.com