Designer TC Alvarez-Sibal says she’s no minimalist. For a dress to look special, she believes it has to have a bit of embellishment and a few pops of color and texture here and there.
But embroidery, appliqué and beadwork need not make a piece look stiff and difficult to wear. They also shouldn’t limit the wearer from mixing and matching, say, a top with either jeans or shorts. It’s a constant challenge she and her younger sister Ana Alvarez-Laygo of TwoChic are confronted with.
“My line is very emotional,” says TC. “Embellishments are really my signature. Manila is so small. Every piece should look unique. I don’t want my clients to bump into each other wearing the same pieces.”
While TC is the team’s creative dynamo, Ana is the numbers person and the former’s “sounding board” for every collection she makes. After almost five years of doing business in Pasig, TwoChic recently moved to an apartment unit in Poblacion, Makati City (call 8992435).
“We want clothes women would feel comfortable in, whether the need is for for day or for evening,” says Ana.
The first floor is devoted to TC’s ready-to-wear pieces, such as printed, beaded and embroidered blouses, dresses and skirts. They’ve also set aside an area for accessories, some of which TC designed herself.
In keeping with their desire to make the clothes “exclusive,” each piece comes in multiple sizes, but in limited quantities. Most of the pieces skim instead of hug the body.
For summer, TC is doing an “exotic” collection consisting of printed cotton and chiffon pieces with matching beadwork on sleeves and necklines. A few dresses and separates made of solid colors are fully embroidered.
Painted in jewel tones, the shop’s walls echo the colors of some of the pieces on the rack. Animal print accents in the form of curtains, chairs and table runners are recurring themes found in both first and second floors.
The second floor is where she and Ana attend to customers in need of made-to-order pieces (see sidebar). An adjacent unit houses the company’s production area, including TC’s embroiderers and beaders.
TC, whose idols include Tom Ford, Valentino and Givenchy, didn’t have any background in fashion prior to attending a one-year course at the Academy of Arts in San Francisco. Before that, she took up sociology at the Assumption College.
“But she really loves clothes even when we were little,” says Ana. “Among us girls, she’s the one who loved to play dress up.”
Still, TC wasn’t convinced that a full-time career in fashion was for her. It was, she says, “half-foot in, half-foot out,” as she contemplated whether to become a designer or a merchandiser.
It was as one of Inno Sotto’s featured designers in an earlier edition of Fashion Watch in the late ’90s that TC got her big break. She caught the attention of New York-based Filipino designer and businesswoman Josie Natori, who was on vacation and watching the show at the Manila Hotel.
Natori ended up hiring TC, and for eight years she was one of her designers working in the company’s factory in Pasig. When TC left Natori, she took a hiatus for several years before setting up TwoChic with Ana.
“It was only when I joined Josie that I really realized what I wanted to do,” says TC. “I didn’t become a teacher or a social worker.”
When Natori asked her to come back, TC obliged. She now spends two days of the week in Pasig as the company’s consultant. The rest of her week, including Saturdays, is spent with Ana at TwoChic.
“I have two kids and Ana has three, so it’s a tough balancing act for both of us,” says TC. “Even if we want to, we can only grow the business so much. Since we’re not big enough, getting a place in an established mall is out of the question.”
TC’s first love has always been RTW. She also enjoys doing couture stuff, but not half as much as the thrill she experiences creating an entire off-the-rack collection based on a particular color scheme and storyline.
“TwoChic doesn’t have a mall presence yet,” she says, “but come middle of the year, I will be consigning items at Joanna Preysler’s Tint boutique at Greenbelt 4.”
PHOTOS BY ARNOLD ALMACEN