When Valerie Villar-Zayco wed nearly three years ago, she had bad dreams about her wedding dress.
Not having seen or tried on her custom-made gown close to the altar date, “I had nightmares that my dress was maong,” the young woman recalls. Her then-fiancé was so distressed seeing her that way that he said she ought to just buy a dress off-the-rack to get it over and done with.
“It was crazy!” she said.
In truth, Villar-Zayco’s original plan was to buy a ready-made dress after she found online a design she liked. But the bridal label, Rosa Clara of Spain, wasn’t available in Asia. She ended up having the design copied, “but it wasn’t the same.”
She then vowed that Filipino women should have the option she never had.
Villar-Zayco, 29, spent the last two years of her married life working to bring in Rosa Clara to Manila. She has partnered with Victor Siasat, local distributor of the fashion brands Mango and Guess.
“It’s an option,” Villar-Zayco says of Rosa Clara, which opened earlier this month in Makati City (G/F, The Residences, Greenbelt Tower III; tel. 2381310). “The goal is not to compete with local designers, because I love them and I still go to them sometimes.”
According to her research, 600,000 weddings are held in the Philippines each year. “Even if only 1 percent of that can afford this kind of a dress, that’s still 6,000 brides, and everyone can share in the pie.”
The main Rosa Clara line starts at P140,000 to P300,000; the Two by Rosa Clara collection, favored styles from older collections, starts at P68,000.
Other formal wear, called Fiesta collection—for bridesmaids, proms, debutantes—starts at P30,000. Boleros and cover-ups for the church are also available.
The label was created by a Barcelona designer named Rosa Clara in 1995, with classic, minimalist looks that were popular in the 1990s. It has evolved into a popular label that offers about 300 styles each season for its 60-plus boutiques worldwide.
For 2012, it has a wide range of styles with strapless necklines favored by Filipinas, as well as more demure, Grace Kelly- and Kate Middleton-inspired dresses.
But is the Filipina ready for such a concept?
It seems that they are. In its first two weeks of business, it had five brides buy the sample styles right there and then.
“That’s what we grew up with, having our wedding dress custom-made when the time comes,” says Villar-Zayco. “But it’s also fun for brides to try on different styles. The thing with having a gown made, you talk with the designer, and six months later, sometimes you don’t see anything yet. If you get to try on anything, it’s just the lining.”
When a client comes in, she sits down with one of the boutique’s consultants, Sam Eduque and Nicole Hernandez-de los Angeles. She picks styles she likes from the lookbook, and off into the fitting room. When she decides on a dress, a contract is signed. A 50-percent downpayment is required. The dress is delivered from Spain four months later.
All the fittings and adjustments thereafter are done in-store; a tailor, trained by the Spanish headquarters, is in the shop at all times for the fittings and pinnings. The dress doesn’t leave the store until it’s fully paid. But Villar-Zayco says they’re working out with credit card companies to allow zero-installment plan payments. (In Spain, a similar financing option is offered.)
“We go through the lookbook and mark the styles the bride likes. It gives me an idea of her taste,” says Hernandez-de los Angeles, a commercial model and recent bride herself. She trained under Marchesa and Oscar de la Renta. She and Eduque assist brides by appointment.
“The bride I like is the kind who has done her research. A typical bride would try on seven gowns, usually no more, as she ends up falling in love with one and refuses to try another.”
While some 80 styles are available in-store, if the choice is unavailable, the bride is made to try a similar silhouette. Instead of just imagining what you would look like from a sketch, you get to try it on and see for yourself, says Villar-Zayco.
Many brides come in with a specific style in mind, say the consultants. Strapless and sweetheart necklines are typical choices. But 95 percent of them end up with a completely different look from what they initially had in mind, according to Eduque.
Even in Spain, says Villar-Zayco, the brides she met while in training would come in saying they want something simple, but more often than not end up with ball gowns. A recent Greenbelt walk-in initially picked a draped asymmetric style for her beach wedding. When she tried on a lace dress—“and she vowed she’s not a lace kind of girl,” says the managing partner—she fell in love with it, and asked her mom to change the wedding venue instead.
“I tell them to come in with an open mind,” says Hernandez-de los Angeles. “Sometimes your idea of a dream gown may not be what will really work for you.”
The concept of Rosa Clara is opposite that of working with a custom designer, who usually starts with a sketch. “But the final dress won’t look exactly like the sketch,” Hernandez-de los Angeles points out. “Here we work backward. We already have the actual garment, so you’ll know right away what it feels like on your body, what silhouette works on you. No surprises. And if you feel you want to make it your own, we can do it for you as well.”
Rosa Clara can tweak a preferred style, add or take out embellishment, change sleeves or necklines, according to the client’s specifications, at cost.
At the press briefing, the owners and consultants coaxed and cajoled journalists into trying on the dresses. Try as many as you want, they said. And that’s exactly the consultants’ goal: to get clients into the dressing room.
“When they enter here, they come in poker-faced. They don’t want to reveal too much,” says Hernandez-de los Angeles. “But when they put on the gown, that’s when you see their reaction. You can tell they’re loving the dress.”
Hernandez-de los Angeles knows too well the ease of picking your wedding dress off the rack. She did just that for her own wedding.
She bought ready-made in New York City, where she lived at the time, from a popular designer and had it altered to her specifications.
“I knew my gown since I was Grade 5. I got exactly what I wanted,” she says.
A bride, she says, should ask herself two things about the dress: “Is it comfortable? Can I eat in it? Most brides don’t think about that so they’re uncomfortable on their wedding day. They can’t move, or their bustier moves up to here.”
Rosa Clara allows some half-inch for size adjustment, in case the bride gains weight.
Most women don’t know their body type that they dream of a dress with a silhouette that doesn’t really work for them.
“The way you see your body is different from what it actually is,” says this consultant. “That’s where I come in… I will never impose what I like. I’ll make them try what they like. Then I show them an alternative. We want to highlight your best assets.”
A lot of psychology is involved when dealing with brides, she adds. It also includes determining the “decision-maker” when a client steps in. Is it the mom or the bride?
The Rosa Clara crew believes superstitions no longer apply to most modern Filipina brides. They would like to try on more than the lining. For half the brides that have come in to try on clothes, they came in with their groom. While some come with the moms, others come alone or with their girlfriends.
“It’s fun, eh,” Hernandez-de los Angeles says. “Even if you don’t end up buying from us, you find out what’s going to work for you just by trying on the dresses.”
Villar-Zayco, who’s based in Singapore with her husband Paco, has no doubt that Filipinas are ready for the Rosa Clara concept.
“We make our own money, so we choose what we wear. Budget is important, I know that so well. I don’t want spending on something unnecessarily. But when it comes to quality, I don’t compromise.”
She adds in jest: “Choosing your gown is as important as choosing your groom because you have to live with it for the rest of your life. You choose what you love.”