20 Questions With Designer Len Cabili

The vivacious founder and creative designer for Filip + Inna talks to Yvette Fernandez about her unique tribal wear, her biggest pet peeve, and her dreams of Pete Sampras.
IMAGE Caroline Baclig Schmidt and Nicolai Svane

1. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I check the clock to make sure I’ve had at least eight hours of sleep. If not, I will feel tired the whole day and will need to take an afternoon nap.

2. What do you usually do as soon as you get up?
Take my thyroid hormone medicine and do my devotional.

3. Regular workout?
Pilates, twice a week.

4. Tell us about some of your designs.
I take inspiration from our tradition. I look at the different indigenous groups and pick out specific aspects from their traditional wear and apply them in my ready-to-wear line. Tradition intertwines with the contemporary.

Inna's favorite things: Filip+Inna's fashion bible, Sinaunang Habi, by Marian Pastor-Roces; an akusan, a belt with giant conus shells from Bontoc; beaded bracelets by the Tbolis of Mindanao; B'laan blouse with shell beadwork; tampipis storing Len's collection; Biti and Pilar shorts from Filip+Inna; and Warren Edwards moccasins

5. How long does it take to make a particular item?
It depends on the design and coverage of the beadwork and embroidery. Some pieces take days, some even a few weeks.

6. What are the challenges of working with different indigenous groups?
It's quite difficult keeping in touch with everyone, keeping records of what each group is doing, and keeping track of their progress. They have different customs and beliefs, so I always have to remind myself to be aware of them and work around them.

7. What strengthens you?
My faith.

Len at a city park

8. Fashion staples?
A nice embroidered dress, a pencil skirt, black cigarette pants, a fun pair of shorts, a white linen shirt, a white cotton T-shirt, and ballet shoes.

9. Favorite designer?
I really admire Oscar de la Renta.


10. Jewelry?
A stack of vintage Tboli brass bracelets, medallion earrings from my friend Kismet, and a brass ring also from the Tboli. When I want to wear silver, I go for bracelet and earrings inspired by the Maranao Okir handmade by Kaka, an artisan I met in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur.

11. What do you like most about yourself?
I am patient and always hopeful.

Sidewalk shopping in Hanoi

12. What do you do as soon as you get home?
Go to the kitchen and grab something to drink. Usually water or coconut juice.

13. Guilty pleasures?
Dark chocolate.

14. Secret fantasies?
To be a super heroine.

15. Best decision of your life?
To become a Christian.

16. Pet peeve?
Loose threads or buttons in newly purchased clothing.

17. Dream date?
Pete Sampras. We’ll go play three sets of tennis.

18. Most memorable meal?
It was this dinner in New York at a Thai restaurant in the East Village. I had to leave after the second act of Swan Lake at the Lincoln Center to make it. I rushed all the way downtown but the dinner date was worth it!

19. Qualities you like most in a man?
Humility and kindness.

20. What do you hope to dream about?
My papa would always say, “a dreamless sleep is a restful sleep.” So maybe I will skip the dreaming for now—unless I dream of winning a tennis match over Sampras!

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Yvette Fernandez
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