Inspiration

Fashion Siblings Carry the Torch of Iconic School

Unwaveringly proud of their multicultural upbringing, Mark Lewis and Sandy Higgins have practiced their respective trades in all corners of the world and have returned to run Slim's Fashion and Arts school.
IMAGE JO ANN BITANGCOL
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Since 2009, siblings Mark Lewis and Sandy Higgins have been co-directors at Slim’s Fashion and Arts school, the venerable institution founded by their mother Salvacion Lim Higgins and their aunt Purificacion Lim in 1960. “After living outside of the Philippines for quite some time, me especially, Mark Lewis and I became more involved with the school after we worked on the book about our mother to mark Slim’s 50th anniversary,” says Sandy. She adds, “One of the reasons I moved back to Manila was to be around for my dad, as well as for my mother’s youngest siblings. And to take on her advocacy—the school.”

Before assuming greater responsibilities at Slim’s, Sandy and Mark Lewis had been citizens of the world, first as students, then later in their chosen careers. She left Manila when she was 19 to study fine arts, majoring in film, and spent the greater part of the last 20 years in Hong Kong, working as a creative director for a marketing and communications firm, “guiding people toward balancing method with madness,” as she puts it.

Mark Lewis also took up fine arts, and later pursued fashion design at Parsons in New York, allowing him to work closely with his mother at her atelier. Following a childhood obsession with drawing, he also became a visual artist of note, painting mostly in Rome, Italy. “It’s a little sad that his work gets more exposure abroad,” notes his big sister.

Born to a Filipino-Chinese mother and an Irish father, Mark Lewis’s artwork has always celebrated multiculturalism, combining the best of the East and the West, the Old World with the New. The diaspora of the Filipino is a recurring theme in his body of work. But for now, the brushes have been set aside as much of his time is devoted to mentoring students at the school.

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Mark Lewis and Sandy at the Slim’s school library, with its bound issues of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and more, from the 1930s onward.

 

Source of inspiration

Sandy Lim Higgins: A vision.

Mark Lewis Higgins: Travel and books.

Greatest professional influence

Sandy: The advertising industry, which teaches you to cut through clutter, think faster and harder. Get your mind racing, rather than just your heart.

Mark Lewis: My mother. She not only taught me how an artistic mind can function well, but how to be ethical and dignified in a creative industry. She also had a very strong sense of self—who she was, and perhaps more importantly, who she was not—so jealousy, competitiveness and insecurity never really existed in our world growing up.

Favorite project or object that you created

Sandy: A book about our mother’s work. It was meant to inspire young artistic minds, and to show them that our recent history isn’t just about scandals, crime, and debilitating politics. We have a culture of creativity (aside from indigenous artistry) that’s been around for a while… it’s in our DNA. It’s an asset, we should nurture it.

Mark Lewis: Whatever the latest collection of paintings I’m working on. 

Favorite city to visit

Sandy: Hong Kong is intense and like a drug to me. It assaults you with sights, sounds, and smells. It’s cosmopolitan yet inherently traditional, polished yet not without character. It’s the fastest city in the world, which I find stimulating.

Mark Lewis: Istanbul! It has so many incredible layers of history everywhere you look—empires upon empires. Over the last 20 years, I have seen it evolve into a very chic, modern city so you have an intense contrast of the ancient and traditional with the very “hip and happening” all in one amazing city.

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Favorite museum

Sandy: Beijing. The whole city is a museum, of both historic and contemporary significance.

Mark Lewis: The Istanbul Archaeological Museum, on the grounds of the Topkapi Palace. It contains a vast amount of objects and sarcophagi from all over Asia Minor, Byzantium, and the Hellenistic world, not to be found in any other museums in the world.


Thai letter cases in silver atop silk velvet from Istanbul; men’s rings from Afghanistan.

Style icon

Sandy: Audrey Hepburn. She had style, substance, and subtlety.

Mark Lewis: A toss-up between Luisa Casati and Josephine Baker. Their eccentricities came from a very genuine place—not so much because they deliberately set out to attract attention, but because they could barely contain themselves.

Personal style staple

Sandy: Understated clothing.

Mark Lewis: The color “bittersweet chocolate brown.” It’s my black.

Ways to discover new designers

Sandy: Slim’s grads! Lots of fresh talent there… I look forward to newbies getting on their feet so I can become a client.

Mark Lewis: By talking to my friends everywhere who are in the fashion industry, or in glossy magazines at hair salons.

Favorite fashion designers

Sandy: I particularly like the work of Joey Samson, Milka Quin, and James Reyes. Internationally, I think Balenciaga, Schiaparelli, and Miyake were true artists who took fashion to new levels.

Mark Lewis: That’s a tough choice having grown up in this industry–but it would be between Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Gareth Pugh, Isabel Toledo, and Yohji Yamamoto. From the past, Alix Gres, Charles James, and Christian Dior, and Cristobal Balenciaga.


An icon from Mark Lewis’s “tribes” series resting on a bench by Gabriel Barredo; an antique porcelain teapot.

Favorite fashion era

Sandy: The 1960s…it was clever, playful, experimental. It didn’t take itself too seriously.

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Mark Lewis: The early 1920s. The world was still recovering from the First World War, and everything about it was changing–from art, fashion, literature, and music–I think this was the first time that mankind had ever made a conscious effort to rebel and to change the way things used to be. It was probably the most significant and deliberate evolution in modern human history.

Favorite film

Sandy: Off the top of my head: Diva, by Jean Jacques Beineix, who was 27 years old when he did it. It was the first film to make me think, “I wish I’d made this.” I also like most of Ang Lee’s movies–they have a restrained fearlessness to them.

Mark Lewis: One favorite would be The Fall, by Tarsem Singh. I have such a long list. Also Prospero’s Books, by Peter Greenaway. And if you include documentary films, anything by Michael Wood.

Favorite writer or book

Sandy: Children’s Letters to God, by Stuart Hample.

Mark Lewis: The Venetian Empire: A Sea Voyage, by Jan Morris, or just about anything else she has written. From the past, I would pick Virginia Woolf, Hermann Hesse, and Marguerite Yourcenar.

Favorite home accessory

Sandy: Light dimmers.

Mark Lewis: Books.

Advocacy

Sandy: Empowerment through vocational education…and discipline! Just because someone is not academically inclined or enabled doesn’t mean he can’t learn how to prosper (honestly).

Mark Lewis: To find a way to prevent ancient monuments all over the world from being destroyed by war, civil unrest, or even politics.


An opium pipe from Cambodia; paint in every conceivable color on Mark Lewis’s drawing table.

Words to live by

Sandy: “The best way to predict the future is to shape it.”

Mark Lewis: “Life is what happens in between all the plans you’ve made.”

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Guilty pleasure

Sandy: Being irresponsible, even if only for a day.

Mark Lewis: Cigarettes.

Most treasured possession

Sandy: My passport.

Mark Lewis: My paintings, and the archives of my mother’s body of work–her creations, her sketches, and photographs. They are full expressions of our two lives.

Best gift ever received

Sandy: A rosary from a student at Slim’s. It was an unexpected and heartfelt way of thanking me for something that I didn’t think twice about doing.

Mark Lewis: My mother’s DNA and the privilege of growing up with her. 

Greatest hope for the future

Sandy: A highly regarded Philippines, known for people who are creative, skilled, effective and a pleasure to work with.

Mark Lewis: That my paintings somehow attain more significant academic and intellectual value in the history of art long after I’m gone.

This story was originally published in the April 2013 issue of Town&Country.

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