Ilocano designer Arniel Amor Albano, 31, didn’t know what pressure and pushing boundaries meant until he joined the recent “Project Runway Philippines.”
Although he won only third place, he is enjoying his clientele in Ilocos, such as Gov. Imee Marcos, the women of the Fariñas clan, and even clients flying over from Manila who discovered him on the Internet.
Albano is considered the pride of Ilocos for putting the province in the Philippine fashion map.
When Albano’s parents separated, he grew up with his grandmother Teodora Javier in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. He studied at the Ilocos College of Arts, learning to make handicrafts such as bags, pillowcases and baskets. To make ends meet, he worked as an assistant to an established designer in Laoag.
He then took up AB English at Data Center, before transferring to Bel Arte School of Fine Arts to pursue a degree in fine arts.
Upon the prodding of townmate Randy Leaño, who joined “Project Runway” Season 2, Albano went to the auditions in Baguio to show his clothes: a pleated cocktail dress, an empire dress and a black number with laser-cut geometric patterns.
The contestants for Season 3 stayed at a condominium and worked on their designs under immense pressure. Albano credits mentors Rajo Laurel and Jojie Lloren for encouraging him. Albano says Lloren was exacting about seams and finishing; if the dress didn’t meet the designer’s standards, the contestants had to repeat the work.
In the early part of the competition, Albano would end up among the bottom three, until the sixth episode, which he topped by sketching menswear on a tablet. In Episode 7, he won again for his fishnet dress that was constructed like a vase and adorned with lace and electric pleats.
Toward the end of the contest, Albano ran out of ideas; he says he got stuck on making gowns with a serpentina train. Lloren told him the pieces looked like those for beauty contests and not for “Project Runway.” Albano then made a mini-ball gown with fishnet and pink roses. The design landed him in the top 5.
Now, Albano is winning an ever-growing clientele. Last year, when Governor Marcos was looking for a local designer to design her gown for the first State of the Province Address (Sopa),
a tourism officer contacted Albano. The designer collaborated with a weaver from Paoay to make a royal blue inabel, a local fabric, that was made into a terno with a train. In the last Sopa, he made a pink terno, also made from bespoke inabel, for Marcos.
As proof of the governor’s faith in the designer, Albano has been allowed to maintain a showroom beside the Imelda Collection, an accessories store inspired by the former first lady, at the La Tabacalera mall.
Albano’s clients include Cheville Fariñas, wife of Laoag Mayor Michael Fariñas; socialite Chistine Umali-Fariñas, and provincial treasurer Josephine Calajate. He was also a featured designer for a L’Oreal event.
Albano, who admires Rajo Laurel and the flamboyant style of Michael Cinco, has a penchant for experimenting with drapes to make unusual shapes and serpentine skirts. When some of his clients urged him to embellish their clothes with crystals and beads, he went further by adding capiz shells.
The one thing “Project Runway” taught him was patience, says Albano. “I used to rush to make dresses. Now a simple one takes me at least three hours.”