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A First Timer's Guide to Talking to a Fashion Designer

It's one of the most important relationships in your life.
A First Timer's Guide to Talking to a Fashion Designer It's one of the most important relationships in your life.

The first time I ever went to a designer was when I was 16. It was for my prom and my mom brought me to the legendary Joe Salazar. I don’t remember having a particular design in mind and we left the magic to him. He created a beautiful ivory strapless column gown. The fit was impeccable and hugged the body’s curves in the right ways without compromising my modesty. It fit so perfectly that the adolescent in me never had to tug my dress nor constantly squirm. 

To me, a dress should be fabulous enough to be remembered by those who see it, but comfortable enough for you to forget about it. Otherwise, it’s not worth wearing at all. 

It was simple yet so commanding — a mark of true couture. But his artistry did not stop there. The drama unfolded as I turned around to reveal a waterfall of pink English garden roses at one side of the back, cascading from my shoulder blade down to ground. Each flower was meticulously made by hand and looked so real. They were made even more beautiful as they were peppered with delicate crystals, as if to mimic the sparkle of morning dew on the petals. I still keep this dress in my closet and safeguard it like a treasure hoping that one day, one of my daughters will wear this work of art once again. 

Being in the fashion and beauty industry for over 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with countless Filipino designers. It was the height of couture runway shows back then, an era before the explosion of fast-fashion and retail. As a runway model, being backstage was actually the best seat in the house — I got to see the clothes before anyone in the audience did, I got to meet the brilliant minds behind the designs, and because I personally got to wear their clothes, I knew who were really masters in their craft versus those who just whipped up something that looked photogenic on stage but used cheap materials and had horrible fit and craftsmanship. 

Designers are really in a unique position to make women look and feel like a million bucks. Aside from being paid to create a special outfit, clients give their trust. Yes, sometimes approaching a designer can be intimidating, but here are six things to remember to make that first meeting go smoothly.

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1. Don't be late for your appointment. 

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It’s the first sign of respect and you want to start the relationship right. When you are late, it signals that you feel your time is more important than the designer’s. If you’re more than a few minutes late, don’t be offended or blow steam if you have to wait for your turn or even lose your appointment. Being late happens, but take responsibility when it's your blunder. Remember, it’s always okay to call the designer to let him/her know you’re going to be late!

2. Bring pictures of the styles you admire. 

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They’re really worth a thousand words. If you merely describe the cut or style you want, the designer may interpret it differently. If you bring a picture, the communication is clear. But remember these are just style pegs to avoid any misinterpretation, so please do not expect the designer to copy. Fashion designing is a craft and art form where the artist can express his/her creative ideas. If you want an exact replica, please just go to your neighborhood mananahi. 

3. It’s okay to ask a lot of questions. (Even about the price!) 

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No one wants to be surprised at the end. Or worse, disappointed. There is no such thing as a stupid question. Stupid questions can be of great importance, and they’re useless if left unasked. If it’s your designer who has questions for you, respond to them — the faster, the better. Don’t be afraid to ask the price of the work you want done. Do not wait to ask until the end or just guesstimate the cost based on what you paid another designer — you may be in for an unpleasant, awkward surprise. Honesty is important, too. Tell your designer if you’re in a rush or on a budget. Time and money are the main constraints for a designer. Be frank because sometimes they will figure out a solution that fits your time frame or budget better.

4. Don’t be shy to ask to see their work up close. 

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It’s different to see their creations on a website or magazines than in person, so don’t be afraid to ask the designer to show some pieces he/she has made. Their atelier/workshop/studio is often their showroom, too, so they’re sure to have some creations on display. Like with all other purchases, a consumer wants to know what he/she is buying. You inspect the specs of a mobile phone, run your hands over the leather of a designer bag, or even just tinker with the features of a new ref. It’s no different for designers and having clothes made with them. This gives you a better appreciation of their work, too! 

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5. Keep a sharp eye for poor stitching. 

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This isn’t the sole measure for good or bad design, but to me it’s a red flag on quality. I hate tight stitching, especially on the hems. It signals to me the sewing was rushed and the puckering instantly cheapens everything. If the hem of my bedroom curtains look better, I would think twice. It’s called couture (and you’re paying a good sum of money for it!) because it’s made-to-measure and is created meticulously, often by hand, and is not hurried. 

6. Be a good client. 

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They say a woman will have three important relationships in her life: with her hairstylist, the one who does her nails, and her go-to designer. It’s so true because I’ve known these three kinds of people longer than I’ve known my husband! It’s a relationship of trust that you invest in. When I look back, these are the people I turn to for milestone occasions, too. 

Aside from being the co-founder of Happy Skin cosmetics and a beauty columnist, Preview's guest editor for April, Rissa Mananquil-Trillo, spends her time as a doting wife, a loving mom, and lives every aspect of the stylish life we all aspire to. 

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