In the design world, Rocio Olbes is known not just for winning awards for her bag designs, but also for her wholehearted commitment to her craft.
Even without formal design training, the 27-year-old creative director and designer of Rocio Ltd., a British bag label, has won acclaim worldwide, including a nomination for the UK Fashion Export Award by Princess Anne in 2007, and a Rocco Award for International Trade in the same year. In 2011, she received an award in Tokyo. Rocio is of Filipino and Spanish parentage.
Rocio’s bags have been selling in over 30 countries, notably in chic boutiques, including L’Eclaireur in Paris, La Basillica in Barcelona, and Carouzos in Greece.
She’s been featured in Vogue Italia, in its Voguette section, joining sartorially lauded women, such as Olivia Palermo, Amber Le Bon and Alexandria Hilfiger. She’s been photographed by Nigel Barker for his “Raw” book series, alongside Coco Rocha, Betsey Johnson and Cynthia Rowley. The New York photo shoot, she describes, “was an amazing experience.”
Growing up with her mother and the other women around her formed her design sensibilities; they were her influences. She told Look Book about “being so blessed to have traveled and
experienced new cultures and absorbing the visual difference they bring.”
Rocio’s artistic vision seeks to combine the use of indigenous materials with Filipino craftsmanship. “I try to incorporate Philippine techniques and materials as much as possible,” she says of staying true to Philippine-inspired bag pieces with a cosmopolitan appeal.
“I think we have the most beautiful country with the most beautiful raw materials. I feel so blessed to be from the Philippines,” she says.
Her current project involves a new label, “Henry,” a luxury fashion brand, which she defines as “having a unique sense of glamour and classic sense of style.”
“I felt it was the right time to create a label,” she says of her latest endeavor. “I envisioned it in my mind to be the right balance of Philippine craftsmanship and global appeal.
“I wanted the process to be fun and to enjoy every moment of it,” she says.
“The actual shapes of the pieces are very vintage/classic-inspired and so are the cuts of the wear,” she explains. “What gives it a modern twist is the execution of the weaving and the patterns of the fabrics.”
For instance, she incorporated the classic Filipino solihiya, a common weaving technique during the Spanish era for seat cushions and backrests of furniture, into its luxe leathers and skins.
The weaving process is very meticulous and done completely by hand. It takes 45-60 days just for tanning the sea snake, another material she uses for the collection. She explains that the sea snake is “stone buffed to high luster and combined with black calf leather trims.” It takes another 34 man hours just to cut and manually weave the solihiya face panels.
Among her favorite from the collection is the Angelina Weekender.
“It is by far the most intricate,” she says, “and, in my opinion, outstanding piece I have ever worked on!
“For me, it truly embodies the full extent of the beauty and skill our country can produce.”
The Henry label is available in Manila only through the website theluxeresort.com, and in boutiques in Hong Kong, New York, Madrid, and soon Milan and Tokyo. It fetches from US$300 up to US$25,000.
On top of her devotion to her craft, she immerses herself in humanitarian causes. “I am involved in raising awareness about recovering women and children from abuse, human trafficking and poverty,” she says.
Olbes feels everyone has the right to earn, learn and better themselves. “I have learned more from these women than I could have ever imagined,” she explains. “Their inner strength and stories of survival are what drive me to keep doing what little I can for them.”
Today in Legazpi City, Albay, Rocio will give her first public talk in a livelihood seminar for women who wish to better their lives as much as they can. She is collaborating with a friend on a children’s book to be published soon, all proceeds of which will benefit young girls recovering from human trafficking and abuse.
So, what’s the best thing about being a fashion designer? “It’s watching your label grow and seeing people appreciate your work,” she says. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Personal style: Jeans, and solids. But I am always in heels. Like my mother, I believe women look their best when they are comfortable.
Style Icons: Growing up I always idolized my mother and her friends (my titas), and like a lot of girls I think Audrey Hepburn is an extremely influential style icon to me. She is lovely.
Daily uniform: Jeans, and solids. But I am always in heels. Like my mother, I believe women look their best when they are comfortable.
Fashion vice:Jeans, I love them. And I love buying T-shirts.
Style heroes: Audrey Hepburn and Kate Moss
Designers you look up to: Valentino and Halston
Go-to local designers: Rajo Laurel and Rosanna Ocampo
Favorite labels:Valentino, Halston and GAP. The classic elegance of Valentino is unmatched; the glamour of Halston is unlike any other; and the casual embodiment of GAP is
What recent getup are you most proud of? A plain white T-shirt that says: “Stormtrooper Academy.” I found it in a bazaar and I love it.
Name three items every woman should have in their closet: Jeans, white T-shirt and beige peep-toe pumps
Forever piece: Navy blue sweater from the early ’70s which belonged to my mother
Best style advice given to you: My mother always told me less is always more to find the right balance. And that movement matters so be comfortable but still polished.
Styling tricks and tips: More expensive does not mean better. Try to find the perfect fit and balance, and try to keep things simple and classic.