Emma Hepburn Ferrer shares her transformative journey through the Philippines, her insights into local fashion culture, and the powerful resonance of the “Intimate Audrey” exhibit.
This is an excerpt from Lifestyle Asia’s October issue.
Emma Kathleen Hepburn Ferrer spent about a month in Manila, working on the Intimate Audrey exhibit with her dad Sean Ferrer and the whole team behind it. And it’s exactly how it sounds. An artist herself, she spent days hanging photos and arranging curated memorabilia of her grandmother, Audrey Hepburn.
In a tank top and jeans, she was involved with logistics and even the manual labor of it all, hanging photos of her icon of a grandmother in the exhibition hall, arranging letters carefully curated and framed, ensuring everything is as her dad wanted it to be.
AN INTIMATE CONVERSATION
“Some people might think that she and Sean were just directing people who were involved in putting up the exhibit but they were really hands on and so involved even in the most physically-taxing parts of the preparation,” shared Carmina Sanchez-Jacob who worked with the Ferrers in bringing the exhibit to the Philippines. Emma’s time in the country has been split between working on the exhibit, engagements to promote it, and doing interviews. At the vernissage, she was a vision in blue and every bit as charming and patient with everyone who wanted a photo, an autograph, or a quote or two for the articles being written about the event.
After all, it’s not everyday Audrey comes to Manila. And though it’s a posthumous visit, the profound affection Filipinos hold for Emma’s grandmother is undeniable. Its weight and resonance, Emma admits, still eludes her grasp to this day.
“I still haven’t fully realized the gravity. And it’s a work in progress. And I think that it will happen until the day that I die trying to understand what she meant for people and what she continues to mean and what she means for me,” she shared. Emma did not get the chance to meet her grandmother, who died just a year before she was born. What she knows of her grandmother is through the stories of her father and how the world remembers her.
As a young girl, she would see her grandmother’s face on handbags and in people’s homes–even her friends’ kitchens. It gave her an idea of how well-loved Audrey was. “As I’ve gotten a little older, it’s now more of trying to understand what she represented to different people on an individual level and what she meant for them and why they looked up to her. It’s different for everyone, but that’s what makes it special.”
EMBRACING EVERYTHING LOCAL IN MANILA
Emma was born in Switzerland but grew up between her birthplace, Italy, and Los Angeles. At 29, she currently lives just outside of Florence and is taking up a Masters in Fine Arts (MFA). This is her first time in the Philippines–a country she may not have had a personal connection to before but has quickly become something beyond familiar. “It was incredible to get to know the country and its people better. There is so much culture, history; so many layers to the Philippines and it is truly a magical and fascinating place,” she reflected.
Admitting a great interest in Southeast Asia, her visit to the Philippines left a mark on her perception of culture and life. During her stay, Emma explored local customs, traditions, and the vibrant art scene. Emma added how she encountered the genuine kindness of the locals, leaving her with lasting impressions of warmth and generosity. She was also enchanted by the talent of local artists and artisans.
“I remember visiting Intramuros and marveling at a man who made his own little puppets of birds from feathers and wooden sticks. He had them dancing to music he was playing,” she recalled. “These puppets were so beautiful, and so well made. I brought one home to my boyfriend’s nephew. It was a simple memory, but one that has stuck with me. The artistry was beautiful, and the joy in the air palpable as everyone laughed while watching him dance with these little puppets.”
But it wasn’t just the people that captivated her; the country’s cuisine was also something she got to enjoy. “Filipino food is delicious! All of the flavors are superb,” she enthused, reflecting on the sensory journey through a variety of local dishes. “From the mangoes to the calamansi to all of the delicious rice, noodle, and soup dishes I ate, I ate superbly.”
Appreciating local craft during her stay extended to the realm of fashion, a domain where Emma found herself captivated by the work of Filipino designers and weavers who create the fabrics. “Traditional Filipino dress is gorgeous,” she acknowledges. She even found herself in Greenhills at some point, a highlight of her trip. “Seeing all of the pearls, the handmade silk, and piña clothing, the barongs, it was such a feast for the eyes.”
Emma’s encounter with Filipino fashion designers and their intricately crafted creations left a lasting impression on her style sensibilities, broadening her horizons beyond the familiar. During her cover shoot for this issue of Lifestyle Asia, Emma exclusively wore pieces made by Filipinos. “I really mean it when I say that this photoshoot was a special experience for me. The location, the production, the clothes, it all felt so traditionally tied to Filipino history, but with a contemporary edge that is unique,” she said. “I was given the honor of bringing home some vintage Auggie Cordero barongs and lace-sequenced and embroidered clothing. They are beyond stunning,” she said. “The materials, to me, are what really set Filipino clothing apart. All of the handmade natural fabrics are so beautiful and unique; something that you really don’t see in the rest of the world.”
INTIMATE AUDREY: BRIDGING GENERATIONS
Still, at the heart of Emma’s journey was Intimate Audrey, which is currently the most personal tribute to her iconic grandmother’s life. Her life is something Emma tends to reflect on deeply and something she and her dad wish to share with those who see the exhibit. That beyond the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, there is so much more to Audrey Hepburn. “My grandmother grew up in war-torn Holland. She was a refugee of war.” This shared history, the profound impact of war and suffering, resonates deeply with Filipinos, whose own history has been marked by similar challenges.
“I think it’s important for younger generations, including my own generation, not to become detached from this history, even though today many of us live in peaceful territories and countries… We mustn’t forget where we come from, and the sacrifices that were made by our ancestors to get where we are. We must honor those stories and keep telling them to our children.” Audrey spent her last few years focusing on humanitarian work, a passion of hers that was passed on to Sean and now Emma who are both active in advocating for the rights of children.
Read the full cover story by purchasing a copy of the Lifestyle Asia October 2023 magazine via SariSari.shopping or select newsstands in National Bookstore and Fully Booked. Subscribe to the E-Magazine via Readly, Magzter, and Press Reader.
Text by CAROL RH MALASIG
Photos by SHAIRA LUNA
Assisted by EMELITO LANSANGAN
Sittings Editor: CANDY DIZON
Art Director: MARC YELLOW
Creative Director: PAOLO TORIO
Stylist: ROKO ARCEO
Makeup by CARISSA CIELO MEDVED, assisted by EUGENE PAUL DAVID.
Hair by MONG AMADO
Shoot Coordination: MAE TALAID
Shot on location at MIRANILA HERITAGE HOUSE & LIBRARY
Special thanks to THE BENITEZ-TIRONA MIRANILA FOUNDATION AND GALLERY MIRANILA BY THE BLUE LEAF