Four of the country’s top fashion designers will stage a show dubbed simply as “Salon.”
The buyers’ show featuring the collections of Cesar Gaupo, Lulu Tan-Gan, Jojie Lloren and Dennis Lustico will be at Peninsula Manila’s Rigodon Ballroom on Sept. 12.
Directed by Ariel Lozada, it promises to be more of a business than a social event, aimed at the designers’ clientele.
“Fashion, after all, is a business,” says Tan-Gan, who began planning the show with Lustico six months ago. “We want to have the kind of shows we used to have where clothing is the main topic, not the entertainment or the stage.”
“Salon” promises to be a good mix of styles and talents.
Gaupo and Tan-Gan are contemporaries who began developing RTW clothes for SM in the ’70s. Lustico and Lloren rode the wave of young designers who parlayed their success in contests and corporate shows in the ’90s into lucrative careers doing made-to-order pieces.
“We will each be producing 15 clothes,” says Lustico. “My collection will be simple, wearable clothes.”
“You won’t see the usual show clothes,” Lloren adds. “These are clothes that would make the audience say: ‘I want that because I can wear that to a party.’”
The salon show is a selling show. Clients can have the clothes altered to their measurements, or tweak the designs.
Only those with invitations will be allowed to enter, says Gaupo.
No invitation, no entry? These guys mean business.
Are you happy, content, satisfied with your careers?
Cesar Gaupo: Very content.
Lulu Tan-Gan: Kasi kasali siya sa show. (Laughter)
Gaupo: I’ve always been content with my career. It’s probably an attitude.
Jojie Lloren: I’m happy but not yet content, in the sense that I still want to do something more.
Going back to Cesar, what drives you to excel if you are content?
Gaupo: My being content does not mean I will not go forward. After doing other things I really like, I always feel like I am starting anew. Or when I’m already there, I would always feel content. Parang ganoon. Wala bang ganoon? (Laughter)
Dennis Lustico: I’m more of challenged. [Because] I’ve diversified into uniforms and bags. I want those to be successful also. There’s always the made-to-measure, but I’m very aggressive in those two.
How about you, Lulu?
Gan: I’m happy. I don’t really plan. I make use of opportunities; it has always been that way. I find opportunities like the show we’re having. It was really unplanned. It came so fast because we’re very in tune with each other.
Whose brainchild is the project?
Gaupo: It was Lulu and Dennis’ idea.
Gan: We’ve seen a lot of shows—huge, big shows—but we wanted to have those shows we used to have where clothing was the main topic, not the entertainment.
So there won’t be any naked men this time? (Laughter)
Lustico: Depends on Achi. (Laughter) That’s Frederick [Peralta].
Lulu, you said you wanted to do a show where the stars are the clothes and not the personalities. Are you pertaining to the big shows featuring the Middle East-trained designers?
Gan: I didn’t even think about that. It’s just a major visual I have of big stages, big lights. Everything is on a big stage.
Yes, but your director is Ariel [Lozada].
Gan: Yes (laughs). Ariel has his own creativity, but he works around our concept. We probably belong to the old-school designers. We value our craft. That’s where we come from. It’s not marketing first. I’m not saying it’s the fault of the designer. There are also many products today—from cars to telecommunications—and they find fashion as a very easy vehicle to promote their products.
Do you feel threatened by young designers who get the attention of young fashionistas?
Lustico: No, because we have our own clients. They have particular tastes, and we have an advantage because we worked with them first. It’s nice to see new designers, especially those who have the craft and talent, because you see the industry growing.
Gan: It’s very healthy, keeps us on our toes.
How is RTW doing?
Gan: It’s okay as long as you have a niche. There’s more competition from foreign brands. There are also the young designers.
Cesar, is your shoe business still around?
Gaupo: No, I already closed shop.
Dennis, why did you stop making ready-to-wear?
Lustico: I didn’t have a permanent subcontractor, and ginagawa ko sa shop, so it got in the way of made-to-order. If you compare the two in terms of revenue, made-to-order is more lucrative, so I decided to close RTW.
Same case with you, Jojie?
Lloren: Yes. With Myth (Greenbelt 5 store), I could deliver only two dozen per season. So I told the owners, sayang my slot, you should give it to another designer who could focus more. But it was moving well at that time.
Gan:Sometimes when you do so many things at the same time, eventually you lose quality.
Has the fashion landscape changed a lot since you started in the business?
Gan: A lot.
Lustico: Mas ine-exploit ngayon all the avenues with regards to ads, multimedia, all aspects.
Are you guys active in social media to promote your business?
Lustico: No. (Laughter)
Gan: We’re kinda low-tech. (Laughter)
Lustico: That’s our weakness.
Gan: I’ll be on Facebook for three days, then I’d be like, what’s my password again?
Gaupo: Ako naman, ang problema ko diyan, I want to limit my manpower because I want to do other things.
Gan: Lagi sya sa Majayjay in his beautiful house. He spends a week there.
The younger designers do it themselves or have people doing it for them. They post on Twitter, Instagram. Do you refuse to join the bandwagon?
Lloren: I hate self-promotion. I know that business-wise [that mind-set is] not good. I feel like I would be hard-selling myself.
Gan: The marketing comes second, the craft comes first.
Lustico: But I think we should also change our attitudes.
Gan: Yes, like with my daughter, I can really see the response.
Lustico: It’s really effective.
Gan: I guess we’d get there soon after the “Salon” show! (Laughter)
Lustico: I’ve started on Facebook. I happen to have a niece, that’s why. (Laughs)
Has lack of textiles limited you?
Lustico: Yes, all the time. It’s always been a problem, but we make ways. It’s an accepted fact that whatever you have in your mind cannot be realized all the time because you don’t have all the materials available. But somehow you can make other things.
Gan: Find other ways.
Do you still feel like experimenting at this stage? Is it still fun?
Lloren: Fun pa rin, challenging pa rin.
Gan: When the occasion calls for it.
Lloren: Minsan disappointing. (Laughter) In my mind it would look fabulous, then comes the product. “Diyos ko, ang pangit!” Or, hindi pala pwede. (Laughter)
Can you describe your collections? Your inspirations?
Lustico: The works of Zaha Hadid, an Iranian architect who is into very futuristic buildings. What I love about her work are the sinuous details. She calls it “fluid geometry.”
Lloren: My inspiration is Art Nouveau. I did Art Deco before. I challenge myself, my sewers. “Day, mamamatay tayo diyan.” (Laughter) There will be soft pieces but structured, black and white. I tried and experimented with different colors but I found it baduy.
Gan: My inspiration is Asian ethnic but modern. Very easy pieces to wear. The silhouette is very Asian. Asian moderne.
Jojie, you have Jill and Luna (for Rustan’s) but they’re not yours. Why not make them yours and have your own line?
Lloren: I used to have an RTW line. Wala na ngayon kasi ang kumikita na lang were the owners. They get a big chunk of your sales, then so many patong-pating pa. Tiis na lang with one percent.
Gan: So far I’ve been lucky. Cesar and I, we came into RTW first. Cesar was early, was it with Rusty Lopez?
Gaupo: Larrie Silva was first.
Gan: We’re lucky we were the first few in RTW. It took time and we enjoyed what we were doing. We didn’t have as much competition from foreign products. Wala pang “made in China.”
Is it killing business, all these cheap imports?
Gan: Depends on where you are. If you are doing business that involves creativity or you’re a creative person, your business will definitely not compete with imports. Imports are convenient, they come in a collection.
Gaupo: And they’re cheap!
You still have boutiques?
Gan: L Manila at Greenbelt 5. I’ve closed my RTW already. For a while I thought I wanted to retire, and took up Fashion Education. That was also the time I decided I wanted to do piña.
How about the footwear business?
Gaupo: At first I was doing very well when I had a show in Paris. I had orders from Italy and LA, but my biggest problem then was whenever a buyer approached me, I’d always be asked if the shoes could be made in Italy. They would say, “Your shoes are lovely, they’re beautiful, they’re very well-done, but selling it might be hard for us because they’re not made in Italy.”
At first, I thought doing it in Italy would be very expensive, but according to them, the shoes would be easier to sell because they would be “made in Italy.” That was my frustration.
What stopped you? Economics?
Gaupo: It’s not economics. I would have to travel every now and then. In the six years I was in HK, I was traveling so much I really got tired. I’d love to continue designing shoes. Ang ganda talaga, but my time!
Gan: There are two kinds of buyers today: very big, or very small but very upscale. The market has changed a lot to very upscale or very mass ever since China opened its doors in 1997. That’s the reason retail companies that used to hold two brands now hold 10 to 20 brands. They have to work with the scale, the volume of the business. Either you go mass, or artisan and upscale.
How do you respond to mass-market dresses?
Lustico: The more it challenges us to come up with handcrafted pieces, to come up with better-designed items, more personal, more artisanal.
Are you pressured to keep your prices low?
Lustico: Not at all. First, you’re targeting those boutiques Lulu mentioned. All the more you can go higher.
Gan: And you really have to select your quality and workmanship, and use quality materials and components. You can’t go in between and make tipid because the upscale market understands your work.
Gaupo: If you’re artisan, you’re creating your market because it’s very unusual. It’s different from what everybody is wearing. And that’s how you really make it better.
Gan: The focus of a designer should be design, not the business. But the trend in the next 10 years is, the Asian market matures more in the fashion industry. Asia is still very manufacturing-based, but it’s starting to be aware of its creative talents. That’s where the maturity of Asia comes in.
It’s very Asian to think that “I don’t need a designer, I can do it.” (Laughter) But I think that will pass and the new generation will understand the profession of design and will respect it. It’s different today, and Asia is going to catch up soon.
What are the disadvantages of being on TV? Has it cheapened the Jojie Lloren brand?
Lloren: No naman. I’m not a designer on TV, I’m a mentor, so those two are different worlds. Ang disadvantage is in the mall, people say, “Hi, pwedeng magpa-picture.” Ako naman, sige, kaso minsan nakakahiya.
Gan: As we mature, we’ve also gone into fashion education. I’m with St. Benilde. I’m a consultant to their Fashion Design and Merchandising program and we also make our fashion workshops. It’s a very good for us to be able to pass on our experience to the younger designers.
Gaupo: Some schools will also consult you in making their curriculum… [Although] I realized after learning so many things not from school, but from clients and from doing business, that something’s wrong with the curriculum.
What do you think are the weaknesses of the current curriculum?
Gaupo: It’s very generalized. You copy this, you draw this. It’s too bookish. It has to be very personal. Nagwa-one-on-one ako kapag merong interestadong estudyante. Sinasabi ko sa kanila, “Anong interest mo sa fashion? Is it high fashion, ready-to-wear? Who is your favorite designer?” From there makikita mo kung ano ’yong dapat maging direction. Hindi general. Because being creative is very personal.
Best way to learn about fashion is to work with a mentor.
Gaupo: I think so. That’s how I started. With Aureo Alonzo, Pitoy Moreno. In my generation, ghost designer ako noon for Aureo Alonzo, Ramon Valera. I was in high school then.
Paanong ghost designer?
Gaupo: When I worked with Tita Conching (Sunico), they would have an event or big show. Mga apat kaming illustrator and they would say, “This is the concept, theme.” You start moving around with that, then there are fabrics. Mabilis kami noon. Pero totoy lang ako noon. Sasabihin ni Pitoy, “Nasaan na ’yong bata?” (Laughs) It was nice.
I also worked with Slims, Salvacion Lim. Pero si Aureo ang nag-mentor sa akin noon while I was studying at Slim’s. He said, “Are you interested in teaching fashion design?” I said, “Me, teaching? I just finished high school.”
Mga masters pala lahat ang mentors mo.
Gaupo: Sabi nila, “I love your colors.” Ang galing ko raw magkulay. Sabi ni Aureo, “Come and I’ll teach you more sa shop.” That’s how I got interested in draping.
How do you translate that method in school?
Gaupo: That’s why you have to know the student first before you start teaching, because each one has his own abilities.
Lloren: A four-year course will have the basic subjects like English, Math. Let’s say, first two years are formative in terms of patterns. Tapos merchandising, tapos third year, the student will know if he wants to take a merchandising course. Specialization na. He’ll say, “I want to be a designer so I will take more pattern, sewing, designing classes.”
Gan: You can be interested in fashion, but there are so many other careers in fashion other than designing.
Gaupo: How you will run your own business as a fashion designer, doon kami nahirapan. Pagdating sa pera; kaya ang daming nakaloko sa ’kin. Kasi you’re so focused on designing, hindi mo alam niloloko ka na.
Gan: That’s the business side you don’t learn when you go to vocational school, which is focused on techniques. In school it’s more general, you have business, business ethics. History of fashion.
Gaupo: Most young designers don’t know fashion history. Minsan mali ang mga fabric, techniques. Walang definite look.
It’s so easy to go to fashion school. It’s good on paper. They say they went to Parsons, CSM.
Gan: Yes, and you don’t know if they took up an associate degree or just a short course.
Gaupo: Experiencing the craft is most important.
Lloren: And the dedication to the craft. Ngayon puro naka-oufit lang sa school. That’s what they like most about fashion. Sa abroad it’s different, mga naka-T-shirt na mukhang marumi. Artist feel; dito fashionista.