WHEN he returned to the Philippines several years ago, after working as an entertainer in Japan for more than a decade, fashion designer Luis “Chito” de los Santos was set on reviving his career.
De los Santos, a graduate of Slim’s Fashion Design School, had a promising made-to-order business before the lure of working in Tokyo beckoned. With a modest capital at his disposal, he looked for an ideal place in Metro Manila two years ago to set up shop.
“It was a choice between Quezon City and Makati,” said De los Santos. “I eventually chose this apartment unit in Makati after I saw the area’s potential.”
The apartment strip along Vito Cruz Extension has become a designers’ row, with Noel Crisostomo and Ronaldo Arnaldo setting up shop just a few doors away from De los Santos. Veteran designer Alex Bitong and newbie Pablo Cabahug’s respective shops are within walking distance.
To stand out in a crowded market, De los Santos decided to focus on bridal wear. As a trained makeup artist, he also offers makeup services to would-be brides, debutantes and prom queens. And this thrust is evident in his use of such details as round-shaped cornices and textured tiles as flooring.
“The cornices are my way of simulating lace and embroidery,” he said. “I opted for round shapes because they’re considered lucky by the Chinese.”
De los Santos describes his shop’s overall look as a cross between “Neo-Baroque and Asian contemporary.” Off-white floor tiles exude a relaxed feel akin to a spa, he says.
Instead of white, he went for what he considers a warmer, less stark color as taupe for walls. Since the look is eclectic, De los Santos was able to bring out his collection of accent pieces from various parts of Asia such as Thailand, Indonesia, India, Japan and the Philippines.
De los Santos acquired some of the pieces during his travels abroad and occasional forays to Bangkal, Makati, but most were gifts from friends through the years. He had a series of shelves built near the shop’s entrance to feature carved figurines—Buddha images, Balinese elephants and candles.
“Since the area is rather small, the challenge was to come up with a nuanced interior without allowing the place to look like a souvenir shop,” he says.
To keep such disparate pieces from clashing with one another, he resorted to color-scheming. He limited most of his pieces to aqua and earth before grouping them together.
“For me, aqua and earth make for an ideal contrast,” he says.
His working table, placed right in front of a framed mirror from Thailand, holds the designer’s tools of the trade—from colored pencils to fabric swatches. Among the designer’s many inspirations is a coffee-table book on the late Filipino designer Salvacion Lim-Higgins.
Apart from studying at Slim’s Fashion School, which was founded by Higgins, De los Santos has had the chance to work briefly for her as an apprentice and one of her illustrators sometime in the ’80s. He has since supplemented his knowledge in construction by attending various fashion-related workshops.
“I didn’t think much of it back then, but now I realize that working for Slim’s (Higgins) was such a privilege,” he says.
Luis “Chito” de los Santos’ shop is located at 238-G Pablo Ocampo Street (formerly Vito Cruz Extension), Makati; tel. 7290590, 0915-2016157.