Towering in beige high heels, Cebu designer Mia Arcenas wore a fuchsia jersey cape dress, adorned with a necklace of rose amethyst, quartz, citrine and crystal quartz stones. The dress and jewelry were her own designs—all with a huge dose of chic.
She explained that her designs were meant to flatter all body types. A size 0 herself, she once challenged her plus-size production manager to try on that same cape dress. The manager, a size 16, did fit—and perfectly at that.
Arcenas has become the go-to designer of caftans for full-figured women who want to feel sensual. She’s also known for her clutches, minaudieres, necklaces, bangles and earrings that are whimsical.
It was the last day of the trunk show at Power Plant Mall for both the Philux furniture and the Mia Arcenas fashion label. At the Philux showroom, mannequins were draped in caftans, halters and dresses in pure silk, lace and jersey.
The first batch of garments sold out during cocktails and the models had to don the new stock.
The clothes were distinctive because of the fabric treatment and animal skin, plaids, paisley prints that had been customized to Arcenas’ specifications in Hong Kong.
“I follow trends but not necessarily diving deep into them. I need to sell. Since it’s a holiday collection, the look is more romantic but edgy with electric pleats, darker prints and lace.
Still, my clothes maintain the signature resort feel and they’re one of a kind,” she explained.
The guests admired the halter dresses, with accents of either a brass collar or rows of pearls; the gold-dipped, wire-framed dragonfly cuff; the jewel-toned sea snakeskin fringed bags; and black and gold envelope bag with detachable chain.
The resin minaudieres are vibrant in perky colors and geometric prints.
“An old dress can be fashionable with a brass belt or any piece from this collection,” she said.
At 24 years old, Maria Irisha Arcenas has an entrepreneurial vision and the discipline to carry it out. Her goal is to bring her accessories label, Mia Arcenas, across the globe.
She grew up with her mother’s factory as playroom. The family-owned Ferimar Import-Export in Cebu makes accessories for Kate Spade, Marni, Nordstrom and at one time, Aldo and H&M.
Her playtime was stringing beads with nylon thread and drawing bags and jewelry with crayons. Her mother, Iris, would then file her daughter’s illustrations and used them as product designs.
When she was 13, Arcenas started attending trade shows abroad. Since 18 was the minimum age requirement for entry into the exhibition site, she had to be dolled up and shod in high heels to pass herself off as an adult.
She could have taken the conventional career path to become a doctor or lawyer. Her late grandfather was the Chief Justice and Senate President Marcelo Fernan. She preferred to study in Los Angeles at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, majoring in apparel manufacturing and management. After graduation, she bought bales of silk with her allowance and returned to Cebu. She made silk into caftans which she embellished, and put on display at the Ferimar headquarters.
She didn’t really expect them to sell. The next day, however, Cebu’s socialites, in search of chic clothes to suit their imperfect figures, snapped them up.
Spotting a potential niche market of women over 40, her mother urged her to produce more caftans. Meanwhile, younger women requested her to produce sexier styles, hence the
halters, plunging backs and shorter hemlines.
In time she started crafting jewelry from semiprecious stones and designing purses to complement the clothes.
Then 20 years old, she put up her own company, Jewels of Irisha, of which she is president.
“I’m the only child, but I don’t want to be spoiled,” she said.
Her first accessory was a bangle of gold-dipped, overwrought wires encrusted with tiny amethyst, jade and quartz stones. Priced at P3,850, that style has remained the most salable to this day, especially in the Japanese market.
In the purse department, the envelope was her landmark style. The most popular is the sea snakeskin envelope which is dyed in stunning colors, from purple to magenta. It’s a hit in the Australian market for its versatility.
The envelope clutch, at P3,850, goes from day-to-night dressing, from the beach to the wedding.
The brass-and-resin envelope purse, at P18,500, is the biggest seller yet. Designer Monique Lhuillier bought a cobalt blue envelope minaudiere with sea snakeskin cover. She told Arcenas that she’s never seen such a functional design rendered in contrasting materials of brass, resin and reptile.
“When the shell minaudieres came out on the scene, I wanted to give it a different take. The shell was dainty so I wanted to make something fun for younger people. I incorporated brass to make them stand out,” said Arcenas.
“The minaudieres are the most challenging. In line production, if something gets caught up in third stage, we start again. The minaudiere may look simple, but there are hidden magnets. The lining should look neat. When people open it and see that the lining is not tidy, they won’t buy it,” she explained.
The designer doesn’t believe in joining the fray. While the trend is melted metals with semiprecious stones, she produces cutout patterns of vines, foliage, flowers and animals on brass belts, cuffs and purses.
She is proud of the fact that the products are handmade in their factory. Her mother’s Ferimar gives work to the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center inmates who do an
extraordinary job of sewing beads in a perfectly straight line, without any guide, and embroidering raffia bags.
The Mia Arcenas line is found at Shangri-La Mactan, Amanpulo, and Shangri-La resorts in Thailand and Malaysia.
On a typical day, she wears two hats. Her mother is slowly handing over the reins to her. As Ferimar’s vice president for operations, Arcenas oversees every stage, from product development to production.
Most of her earnings go back into her business instead of shopping. “It’s all me, and I have to balance the budget,” she said.