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ANTHONY Tentativa isn't used to doing interviews.
Before local media got wind of his win in a fashion-design contest in Paris, the Catbalogan, Samar, native was quietly enjoying his anonymity in the French capital, where only last year he and his wife launched their clothing label.
In our e-mail exchange, he apologized if his answers were unclear the first time, as this attention is all new to him. This coming from a man who is now designing a premium women's pret-a-porter line in the world's fashion capital, alongside well-known labels like Chloe, Paul & Joe, Vanessa Bruno, Isabel Marant.
In September, Tentativa and his wife and creative partner Sharon La Madrid Benson, won for their year-old label Les Tentativas, the grand prize in the fourth edition of the Talents de Mode, a design competition whose main goal is to be the launch pad of emerging designers.
The couple won the equivalent of 21,000 euros, including free rental of a workshop-boutique space at the Village des Créateurs in Lyon for two years, as they develop their brand. Les Tentativas will also get to present its collection in a booth at the Paris fashion fair pret-a-porter in early 2011.
The win was unexpected, said the designer, who was initially reluctant to compete, but his wife prevailed upon him. They were the last to submit their entry.
Tentativa, 40, studied Fine Arts, major in Interior Design, at the University of San Carlos in Cebu. As a young man, he admired the fashion designers Christian Espiritu and Loretto.
"I said to myself I can also become one of [these] designers someday," he said.
Briefly, he designed in the Philippines under the name Antonio Baughman, taking on his German stepfather's last name. In 1991, he left for Bahrain to work as fashion designer, still with one goal in mind: to go to France to pursue a fashion career.
Tentativa arrived in Paris in December 1993. An aunt later found him a job as clerk at the Philippine National Bank there, where he worked for eight years. It was there that he met Benson, 45, a native of Bicol.
In 2003, Tentativa finally quit his clerical post and enrolled with Benson at Esmod, a fashion school. For two years, he studied design and patternmaking; she, patternmaking.
He continued his studies at the Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, the famous alumni of which include Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Issey Miyake, Andre Courreges, Jean-Louis Scherrer and Jerome L'Huillier, the chief juror at the Talents de Mode contest.
For his finals, Tentativa was chosen from a select set of students to present their mini collection at the Carrousel du Louvre.
The Tentativas knew better than to take shortcuts. Before launching their brand, Benson went back to school to study business and marketing; her husband studied fashion management for another year.
It wasn't an easy path setting up their label, not so much for their race, Tentativa said, but "because financially we didn't have [a] big capital at all." But as luck would have it, they met two French investors who saw potential in their business plan and were willing to give them a shot.
Les Tentativas (www.lestentativas.com) was born in April 2009.
The brand caters to an haut de gamme (high-end) market, 25- to 45-year-old women who prefer a style that is "ultra feminine, fresh, sensuelle and nouveau chic," said its designer.
The Tentativas' "urban and smart brand offers sophisticated pieces, reinterpreting frivolously and lightly the French woman with feminine and comfortable clothes," according to the Talents de Mode website.
The brand is positioned against globally known labels like Chloe, Paul & Joe, Vanessa Bruno, Isabel Marant. It's sold in a boutique in Paris, and in their own shop in Lyon.
The Fall-Winter 2010 collection that won them the contest has a strong '50s and '60s retro-vintage feel. Tentativa used a lot of virgin wools, pure silk, cashmere, cupro and fine cottons.
Tentativa is in-charge of design; Benson, the marketing and production. He's the company president, she the director. The Tentativas have two children, aged 13 and 8.
Despite his success, Tentativa has stayed grounded. He has no illusions of grandeur. He said he doesn't aspire to be the next Karl Lagerfeld; he simply wants to develop his brand well, and in the process, sell a lot of good clothes. He believes his clothes hold their own against the competitors,' in terms of quality and fabrication.
"I have my own style. I don't aim to compete, either with the French or with other Filipinos."
It is, of course, his long-term goal to be able to make his clothes available in the Philippines.
"I wish [to] someday see my creations in one of the department stores there or [even have] my own boutique. I'm proud to be Pinoy!"
For that to happen, he will, however, need an investor, Tentativa said. Aside from that, "Patience is the key to everything, and always, prayers. Walang impossible."
It looks like this fashion designer now needs to get used to doing interviews.