For Randy Ortiz, the true measure of one’s craft is when people can recognize your work at one glance and not mistake it for someone else’s.
“Made ka na (You’ve made it) when people see that,” he said.
When he marks his 30th year as fashion designer with a fashion-cum-art show, “Randy O 30: Homage,” on Nov. 26, guests will see riffs on the many elements of his body of work—embroidery, textures, ultra-feminine silhouettes—that have brought him to this point, details that clients and fashion watchers know to be distinctly Ortiz.
The show is, by no means, a retrospective, he said, but a nod to his signature styles, “translated in different ways, and made relevant for today.”
He chose a salon show with a mini art exhibit by 10 select painters inspired by his work, at The Peninsula Manila’s Conservatory, to celebrate the milestone.
It will be an intimate affair, with no more than 300 guests—“people who have been with me since the beginning, since I’m doing this for me. I’m not after capturing a new market. I’m at that point where I’m no longer aspiring to make clothes for anyone or everyone,” he said.
Relaxed and easy
He’s also asking his guests to come in denims—perhaps not quite literally, but meaning, dressed relaxed and easy, “since there are so many balls and events this season when people have to dress to the nines, and I just want my friends to come and chill.”
The easy vibe will also serve as counterpoint to the intricate craftwork of his 70- to 75-piece collection of cocktails and formal wear. (The larger-than-usual number of looks only grew to factor in the model rotation, he said.)
Modeling for him will be the sons and daughters of top seasoned models—children of the likes of Tweetie de Leon Gonzalez, Desiree Verdadero and JB Abesamis, Marina Benipayo, Hans Montenegro and Cara Subijano, Patty Betita, Mellany Carlos, and Wilma Doesnt, among others.
He’s not going after these youngsters’ demographic, Ortiz quickly clarified, but he’s giving them “a glimpse of my sensibility, in a way that maybe they can appreciate.”
He’s doing the show more for himself, to celebrate his journey in the last three decades, not so much to entice a new generation of young customers. He’s not after the millennials.
“I don’t even do social media much. If my brother doesn’t prod me to post about our products, I forget. It’s just not me. It’s not kalakal for me.”
Before launching his own line in 1988, Ortiz partnered with Katrina Ponce Enrile for a “backyard business,” making clothes for their friends. He and Enrile were “discomates.”
In 1988, his best friend, fashion director Jackie Aquino, asked him to do a show for Ateneans—Ortiz and Aquino were both graduates of De La Salle. Ortiz showed alongside Vic Barba, who, like Ortiz, would later be designing a line for the boutique Sari-Sari. (Aquino is directing Ortiz’s 30th anniversary show.)
Ortiz studied hotel and restaurant management “because it was the ‘in’ college course at the time.” His dad, a judge and ConCon delegate, wanted him to take up law, “but I told him I wasn’t as smart as he was.”
After the first show, he left his business with Enrile and set up his own. “My dad was supportive. He saw how happy I was, and he didn’t have to give me money anymore. I was the middle child of seven children. He told me to take over the lanai, so that was where I put my sewing machines. I called all my college friends and told them I was already making clothes. And I’d peddle. I brought the clothes to friends’ offices.”
His father, however, didn’t give him seed money. So the young man borrowed from the friend of his sister—P30,000, which he repaid in three months.
Not long ago, with a brother, they set up an online business, which led them to make barong Tagalog for the Asian Games and uniforms for some companies. He has also discovered the lucrative pop-ups in specialty bazaars, which he plans to do more of after his show.
Ortiz is a success by any measure, with his fair share of high-profile celebrity and low-key but affluent clients. It’s quite an accomplishment, especially since he’s sort of shy and doesn’t do the social rounds to promote himself.
He’s also good with money.
“At my peak, when I was doing 10 weddings a month, I also had my share of splurges. But I was able to buy my condo and my shop. I know how to set my priorities when it comes to finances. That’s what I always tell these young designers—save, save, save!”
With his success came the attendant pitfalls, most notorious of which was the Nancy Binay brouhaha in 2015, where both designer and client got pilloried for a dress worn wrong. Politics in the age of social media made Ortiz collateral damage in the attacks on the senator.
“I had fears after that incident with Nancy, but ‘Bangon, Kapatid’ ang title ng movie!” he said with a hearty laugh. “It was not a bad experience, but a lesson learned. I recall Pepito (Albert) and Inno (Sotto) telling me, ‘Rands, it’s just one f—–g dress! We all make mistakes!’”
What hurt him more was one client who came to have a dress made and said, “Make me a dress, but don’t make me into a Nancy.”
“That was painful. It kept coming back. Why would you come to me and insult me? But you know, business got even better because I learned and I became more careful. I corrected.”
He’s no longer bothered by comparisons to his contemporaries. He feels secure in his place in the industry.
“Will my career lose meaning if Lucy (Torres-Gomez, his muse) stops wearing me? I worked for my stability—emotional, mental, financial—so I don’t feel insecure that certain clients no longer come to me. I’ve become more selective without necessarily being elusive. I don’t want to be doing clothes for everybody. Tapos na ako sa magkapangalan lang.”
While he does watch and observe what his colleagues like Cary Santiago and Michael Cinco are doing, he is never trying to be them.
“What they’re doing is so different. I’m not trying to be them and I can’t be them. These young designers are all trying to be a Cary or a Michael, copying their silhouettes and techniques. But doing that won’t help you last. You have to make your own mark. I just do my homework and improve on it.”
It’s a good time for the local fashion industry, and the many shows are an indicator of that, he said. He is producing his own show in part. “I found out it’s hard to find sponsors if you’re not huge on social media, because that’s the basis of sponsors.”
But he’s not beating himself up over it. “If people don’t appreciate what I’ll do for the show, it won’t bother me as much because my expectations are managed,” he said.
“You just have to be natural about things. Even the way you market yourself shouldn’t be too studied. I just want to celebrate.”
“Randy O 30: Homage” is co-presented by Omega, The Peninsula Manila, Diagold, Wine Depot, Volvo, Jing Monis Salon and Lifestyle Asia.
Photography: Jerick Sanchez
Model: Lucy Torres-Gomez
Editorial coordinator: Luis Carlo San Juan
Hair and makeup: Jing Monis Hair Salon