In just a span of three years, Bataan native Oliver Tolentino successfully made a mark in the Hollywood scene, which now has a continuous demand for his statement-making creations. His latest red-carpet moment was no other than this year’s Academy Awards, where Lincoln actress Gloria Reuben chose to wear his dress among racks and racks of couture options. “She put mine on and after she took one look in the mirror, she said she had found her gown. I was so flattered. The skirt alone took one month with the handmade cutouts, so I’m very proud of the gown,” recounts the designer.
The Oscars concludes a successful awards season for Oliver, who has about a dozen of his outfits worn on various red carpets, including five on American television shows. His creations have also appeared in PEOPLE, US Weekly, InTouch, Life & Style, and OK magazines, as well as the New York Daily News and New York Post’s coveted Page Six.
So what makes him exceptional from the rest? Read on as he talks about his design career and his advice to young designers with the same Hollywood dream.
You’ve already accomplished a lot with just over three years in the U.S. What do you think is your greatest strength?
Love for what I do. I knew I wanted to be a designer at a very young age, so I never had doubts about what I wanted to do with my life.
What’s your greatest weakness?
As is typical with a lot of creative people, I’m sometimes not good with the business side.
What’s the toughest challenge you’ve encountered in your design career and how did you deal?
That's the same as my weakness; if you don’t have a business mind, you encounter a lot of challenges. There are few designers who don’t have organizational and financial issues at some point in their career because they’re more creative- than business-minded. I'm fortunate to have realized that when I did.
What’s your most unforgettable red-carpet moment?
I don’t know if I’ve had a really unforgettable red-carpet moment, but recently, I was surprised and proud to turn on the TV during New Year’s Eve and see Fergie in my dress. It was nice to be able to share that experience with friends at our party. Seeing an outfit on TV is pretty unforgettable. I think I’ve seen my dresses on six national American TV programs in just the past couple of months and it’s always a thrill. Recently, dressing Lincoln actress Gloria Reuben at the Academy Awards was exciting. It’s so hard for designers to dress anyone for the actual Oscars red carpet. I was also very proud as a Filipino when Maria Menounos wore my piña gown to report from the red carpet at this year’s Emmy Awards.
Name the top three celebrities you wish to see on the red carpet wearing your creation.
I’d have to think about it, but I usually say Angelina Jolie because I think all designers would like to dress her once.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get inspiration from memories of nature in my home province, Bataan—the mountains, water, plants, and flowers. I also get inspiration from traveling to exciting places around the world.
How do you handle pressure?
I cook to relax. Mostly Filipino dishes.
Name a particular fashion item you can’t get enough of:
I’m a very simple jeans-and-T-shirt kind of guy.
What do you miss most about the Philippines?
I have an active boutique in Makati featuring ready-to-wear and custom-made clothes with regular and new clients coming in everyday, so I feel very connected to the Philippines even when I’m not there. I’m on the phone with the Philippines everyday and I spend a couple months each year there in person. I also have lots of Filipino guests passing through L.A. and I host dinners for them at my home. The Philippines is always with me, although of course I miss all my friends very much.
What can we expect from you this year?
I always strive to get better in my craft so hopefully I will create better clothes. But I’m already thrilled with 2013 because a dozen Hollywood actresses have worn my outfits on red carpets this recent awards season.
What’s your advice to budding designers?
Become a designer because you love designing and creating clothes, not because you think it’s glamorous. Being a fashion designer is a job and is all about hard work, not going to parties. You have to really want to design and produce clothes. I also advise to keep studying and learning in order to perfect your skills.
Click on the gallery to check out Oliver Tolentino's A-list clientele.