Nothing beats a good intention. When I was tasked to produce an exclusive Inquirer Lifestyle shoot of Dubai-based couturier Ezra Santos, I knew exactly whom to tap to produce great fashion portraits.
Assembling a dream team in 48 hours was a challenge, so I first called supermodel Apples Aberin, now based in Manila for Unilever after a five-year stint in Singapore. In a pictorial, it is always about the model and Apples was a perfect fit because of her knowledge and expertise in wearing haute couture. (She went on to wear the extravagant gowns so effortlessly.)
Then I called über-talented Fanny Serrano, who does the best makeup on the planet. For this shoot, Fanny did smoky eyes, carefully drawn like a prima ballerina with exaggerated false eyelashes. His forte is the eyebrows done lightly and feathered. “Other makeup artists do heavy eyebrows, which can make a woman look old,” he said.
Fanny also put the most minimal blush-on. Only the lipstick changes with each outfit. It was his collection of expensive, real hair wigs, though, that changed the personality of Apples in each shot. Fanny could do this under five minutes; he would simply ask what the next gown was and proceed to work.
I also got in touch with Mj Suayan, who will soon be Manila’s hottest photographer. With his assistants Edward Byron Yap and Philippe Escalambre, he worked the Makati Shangri-La’s presidential suite (thanks to Lesley Anne Tan) as backdrop for the Art Deco masterpieces of Ezra, quietly and fastidiously creating evocative images of high chic and modern glam. Mj may even revive black-and-white photos, the standard of classic fashion photography.
Finally, here are Ezra Santos’ signature pieces in bonded neoprene, the newest fabric for winter couture. It is traditionally used for scuba-diving wetsuits, so with the rubber infusion, the
cuts away from the body are achieved without boning, and can look architectural without using petticoats or lining. Santos’ beadwork is deft and soft, like the setting of real jewelry. In this Q&A, he explains the creations you see here.
Let’s start from scratch. What were your inspirations for this collection?
The collection was inspired by the pomp and pageantry of the 1920s, and yet not quite so. It was evocative of the Art Deco era as evidenced by the silhouettes, color palettes and embellishments, albeit softly.
Tell us about the two fragrances, Zoe and Surie, that Bench created for you. What are the main ingredients? How long did the process take? Tell us about the layering of these scents, one for day and one for evening.
Bench was quite familiar with the Ezra aesthetics, as I have worked with them in some significant collaborations. We had a few meetings, and eventually came up with two scents that match the dynamics of the two brands. It was composed of a fusion of exotic, oriental ingredients that hint of some mysterious, faraway places and yet seem intimately familiar. Wear the scents and you will remain lovingly remembered.
Speaking of process, how did you start designing this collection, sketches or mood board? How long does it take, who does your cutting? Please describe your atelier, and your average workday schedule.
The collection was one year in the making, considering my very busy workload of clients’ orders. I have a workforce of very competent people of different nationalities. We work as a team, as I share with them my inspirations and mood board for a particular collection. We discuss each other’s ideas and come up with something that is a work in progress, and bring it to perfect fruition.
Who are the Dubai designers you are close to? Did you all start there together, or did you know each other here? Tell us how you all got started in Dubai. When did you arrive there? Describe your journey now.
Dubai is second home to me and to my other designer friends, which I luckily have in abundance—Michael Cinco, Furne One, Butz Fuentes, to name a few. We came to Dubai almost around the same time, in 1993, and became friends almost instantly. We try to meet up on weekends to dine out, discuss current issues and share each other’s endless anecdotes of the week past.
You are known for your shoulder techniques and the perfect armhole, too. Why is that so important? It is a fact that Balenciaga and Chanel spent so much time on shoulders and armholes. Are you inspired by their design archives?
The shoulder lines, I believe, could make or unmake a dress. Balenciaga and Chanel are two revered designers who were likewise very particular with the form, feel and fit in and around the shoulder lines, and rightfully so. I also believe they have attained fashion immortality for this reason; otherwise you wouldn’t have observed and asked me this question.