IT WAS decades ago when I first met this petite beauty and brains fully loaded with fine artistic talent.  Carmaela was kind of shy and her mother dearest, Mae Braceros-Alcantara, did most of the talking.  The mother-and-daughter team showed me their Crystal Seas fine crafted and well-designed products of fascinating fashion and home accessories that dared me to take a second look.  I still remember that our first encounter took place in a bazaar held at that cavernous space which is now the SM City’s appliance store on the second floor.  It was mother Mae who approached me and told me she was a former classmate and still a dear friend of my cousin, Agnes Locsin.

YOUNG Davaoeña artiste with a conscience, Carmaela Braceros-Alcantara

YOUNG Davaoeña artiste with a conscience, Carmaela Braceros-Alcantara

     I still remember giving the duo’s Crystal Seas handwoven shawls to celebrities like award winning, dramatic actress Angel Aquino; and the Avant-Garde fashionista of lifestyle media, Tessa Prieto-Valdes, among others.  I will not forget that cover shoot we had of M Magazine in Manila when Angel Aquino, after being presented with Rajo Laurel’s expensive dresses, opted instead to wrap herself in nothing else but Carmaela’s burgundy colored, handwoven shawl which I gave her for pasalubong on our first meeting.  I was struck with Angel Aquino’s daring; and we’ve remained friends to this day.

Everytime I go abroad, I’d always make sure to bring along Mae and Carmaela’s fashion accessories for pasalubong.  You can never go wrong with them as they seduce the lucky recipient with something new to catch their eyes and cast a spell that they’ll fall madly in love with them.  And then the sudden realization that the handwoven cloth, metals, fine gems, and mother-of-pearl beads are all from the earth.  Then you pay more attention, like I did, that planet earth is at the heart of every Mae and Carmaela’s obra maestra that was now my own full blown environmental appreciation.

Carmaela, the eponymous label of the young and passionate designer, Carmaela Braceros-Alcantara, which she is presently launching in New York and later in Europe, is a brand rooted in the rich culture and natural heritage of the Philippine Islands.  The Carmaela collection of minaudieries features a special fabric of life handwoven by the women of indigenous tribes of Southern Philippines.  Carmaela consciously offers these dream weavers the opportunity of continuing the artistic legacy bequeathed to them by their ancestors and at the same time, providing them work to support their families.

“There are 11 tribes in Davao City.  This time, I want to honor them through a special design I made, the Mandala.  Black, red and yellow/gold are used which are dominant colors used in the traditional garments of the 11 tribes.  Black represents one sky that we are all under.  Red represents the fervor in each Davaoeño’s passionate spirit; and yellow or gold represents hope for the bright future that we look forward to,” Carmaela narrated as she added, “When you look closely, around the Mandala are 11 coral nuggets in brass that is gold-plated with gold from Mindanao.  Each nugget is made with equal precision and design, which speaks of a shared culture and identity amongst the 11 tribes.”

The creation of Mandala was made possible through the collaboration of Carmaela Braceros-Alcantara with the local community.  Carmaela’s advocacy is to use her design for social good, where she works closely with the indigenous people, women and disabled people with the hope of improving their lives somehow.

DAYAW Earrings by the Carmaela label

DAYAW Earrings by the Carmaela label

“The goal is to present to the rest of the world our multi-faceted culture by creating designs that make use of our indigenous materials, provide better livelihood opportunities to various communities and enhancing traditional skills of our local artisans…Mindanao has suffered from a very negative image in the past decades.  People associate the place with unrest and conflict.  The Mandala shows how beautiful diversity can be; and if seen as a resource and opportunity rather than a setback, it can create cultural connections and narratives that matter,” Carmaela clearly pointed out.

The bright and passionate designer even quoted words of wisdom from Teaching Community: The Pedagogy of Hope, “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity.  Moving through the fear, finding out what connects us,  reveling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.”

Before leaving for New York and then Europe, Carmaela showed Davaoeños a shining example of of her latest artistic expression: couture jewelry or is it art jewelry?  “Davao City is also known as the ‘City of Royalties,’ where abounding resources grow such as Durian, the King of Fruits; Waling-waling, the Queen of Orchids; and the Philippine Eagle, the King of Birds.  What better way to represent all these riches than through jewelry,” she stated.

In her Dayaw (meaning good, valuable, superior or beautiful) Earrings, Carmaela made use of gold and silver to represent the abundant resources the earth gives us.  “The 11 tribes, though living in different places, are held together by the flowing Davao River from the mountains to the sea, as how the gems are arranged.  The gemstones represent the vibrant harvest that is cultivated; and the colorful nature of our people.  Diamonds stand for the most prized gem of all, the 11 tribes of Davao City.  It is their rich heritage that makes our city like no other…Throughout our history, Davao and its people have been through challenging times, yet we emerge stronger and brither.  Golden South Sea Pearls stand for Davao City, a microcosm held together by its people.  Its golden color reflects that we are all under one sun, reflecting its light to others.  The pearls’ roundness shows that we as a people are united, dynamically living in harmony.”

As Carmaela envisioned it, her Dayaw Earrings is for “one who lives for the present yet values timelessness, and appreciates finer details and craftsmanship.”

I am so proud of you, Carmaela (and mother Mae), and I wish you all the very best.  May good people like you harvest the fruits of your good and conscientious labor earlier than expected.

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