I have to confess. Apart from having worked with local fashion designers during my stint as an editor for a weddings magazine in my “past” life, I don’t personally know the work of many Filipino designers.
I hardly ever have clothes made, and instead choose to buy everything off the rack—only because it is more convenient and less time-consuming, so I am really out of the loop when it comes to fashion designers in the Philippines.
The odd times I’d hear a designer’s name being talked about would either be because of his/her extraordinary and noteworthy collection, because he/she has just been appointed as creative director for a big retail brand, or because sadly, he/ she has been accused of copying someone else’s work (either internationally or locally).
Having celebrated Philippine Independence Day at Mega Magazine’s Pinoy Pride Ball, and more recently, having a new president sworn in to lead our country, made me think about being more nationalistic, and so my interest in Philippine fashion was piqued.
I realized there are so many Filipino fashion designers, and yet only a handful of them have penetrated international markets. Off the top of my head (at at least to my knowledge), I can think of Monique Lhuillier, Josie Natori, Lesley Mobo, Michael Cinco, Furne One, Oliver Tolentino and Ezra Santos.
Unlike major cities like New York, London, Milan and Paris, where there is one organizing body responsible for putting together an official calendar of fashion week events and designer show schedules, Manila seems to have a few, apart from the independent fashion show events scattered throughout the year.
This has actually left me confounded, and it doesn’t help that I am unfamiliar with the country’s “official” fashion week schedule. So I asked Mega Magazine’s editor in chief Peewee Isidro to shed more light on this.
“There is the ‘Salon’ series show that features a select group of designers, though they don’t have it yearly. The most consistent are Manila Fashion Festival and Philippine Fashion Week. But there are also shows that independent designers mount either in partnership with a co-presenter or on their own, especially if they are celebrating a milestone year or launching a special collection. ”
With 55 or so apparel designers on the combined roster of these organizers and shows being mounted on a regular basis, I am inclined to think we have a powerhouse of a fashion industry with talented individuals capable of doing just as well outside of our country.
Because at its simplest (although the formula for success in fashion is anything but), having the right financial partner, a well-connected PR and marketing team, and a good product lineup—design ingenuity, coupled with quality consistency and delivery deadline reliability—would allow an apparel designer to break into the international retail market.
I am still confused by the small number of local designers who manage to “cross over” versus the number of designers we have, so I digress.
The accessories and bag industry, on the other hand, isn’t as complicated (to me, anyway). And because of Philippine Independence Day, I actually started seeking out more brands that had bags designed and made in the Philippines.
Island Girl: Designer Janice Chua is a Cebu-based accessories manufacturer who supplies bags for exports (Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are two of her clients). She offers something different to the bag market; less “highbrow” and more casual, the price points of her handwoven and hand-embroidered pandan leaf zippered pochettes and shopper totes, hand-stitched with fun and even inspirational phrases, are very reasonable.
Calli Fashion: Calli’s lacquered box clutch bags caught my eye during Manila FAME. The strength of the brand lies in the collection that features hand-carved and hand-painted box bags. I was very impressed, not just with design, but also with quality. Designer Tessa Nepomuceno also won the Katha Award for product design at the Manila FAME back in 2014.
Filip+ Inna: I discovered this brand at The Travelling Trunk shopping event, and was blown away by the concept behind Lenora Luisa Cabili’s brand. She works with indigenous groups like the T’bolis for beadwork and embroidery, and the Maranaos for weaving and artwork, to create not just apparel but also bags. The ones that caught my eye were the very unique minaudières, hand-embroidered by T’boli women.
I won’t be surprised if some of these names (including the ones that I have yet to discover) will follow in the footsteps of successful bag designers Bea Valdez, Celestina Ocampo and Rafé Totengco. In fact, of late, a new generation of bag designers, like Zacarias 1925’s Rita Nazareno and Joanique’s Malou Romero, have already established international market presence and continue to build up their brands overseas.
The number of local bag designers making a name for themselves while carrying the Philippine flag overseas is promising. For a change, it is real nice to look within the country for good, local talent when it comes to fashion—and I’m so proud to say that we do have plenty of that!