Without a doubt, the Philippines is a fount of fashion creatives. With the likes of Monique Lhuiller, Michael Cinco, and John Herrera being recognized worldwide for their creations, it's almost safe to say that Filipinos are innately drawn to fashion. But in a time when everyone seems to be taking a global outlook, it's easy to overlook designs and techniques that are anchored in our heritage.
One of its avid advocates is designer Caroline Mangosing, who has managed to birth modern pieces that do not only honor Philippine fashion in history, but also highlight its potential as a source of sartorial inspiration. She may be based in Toronto, Canada, but her heart continues to be nestled in her home country. Below, we talk to the designer about her hopes and dreams for Philippine fashion through her brand, Vinta Gallery.
1. Hi, Caroline! Please tell us about yourself.
"I am a curious polymath. I went to fashion school straight out of high school at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Richmond, BC–back when I went there in the '90s, it was just a humble community college. After that I went to Emily Carr University of Art & Design (at the time I started it was still Emily Carr College of Art & Design). I have a bachelor's degree in Fine Art in Photography, and worked briefly as a fashion photographer. I actually shot an editorial for Preview back in 2003! Then I got into film and television producing and acting. Then in 2007, I founded Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture, and Vinta Gallery was originally created as a social enterprise within Kapisanan (a registered Canadian charity). After a meandering path, I went full circle back to fashion, with Vinta Gallery."
2. How would you describe your design aesthetic and philosophy?
"My teachers in fashion school were old school Italian tailors, so it’s really influenced my aesthetic. Consequently, this has influenced my philosophy, which is, whatever you’re wearing has to flatter the wearer. And, really, the best way to create garments that flatter is to use tailoring techniques. That’s what I believe, anyway."
3. Do you have a signature design or key element evident through your collections?
"My niche is modern Filipiniana, so everything I design stays loyal to Filipino traditions. I updated my construction and cut to make the traditional garments more suited to our modern lifestyle."
4. You mentioned basing designs on research and tradition. How did you learn traditional ways of making garments like terno sleeves, panuelos, and the like?
"One of my partners is Estelita Lagman—a master couturier based in Manila—takes the helm in our garment construction. She’s been in the business for over 30 years and has worked for other Philippine based designers making couture gowns for the likes of Regine Velasquez and Sharon Cuneta. She’s an amazing talent so I made her a business partner."
5. How do you apply them onto modern garments?
"I collaborated with Estelita to make the traditional butterfly sleeve on the terno more comfortable to wear and so that one could wear a coat with it. Because in Canada and many parts of the US, you need a coat! Our signature terno sleeve, for example, is smaller than the traditional sleeve, and we don’t use cañamaso anymore to create the shape. First of all it’s difficult to sew, it’s so stiff that you can’t wear a coat on top, and you’d have to hand sew it on to the dress. The hand-stitching inevitably comes undone after an evening of hugging people or dancing! It is difficult to wear. So we don’t use that cañamaso, and our butterfly sleeve is machine sewn on the garment. Believe it or not, dry cleaners in North America are scared to clean a traditional terno, they don’t know what to do with those sleeves! Traditionally you have to unstitch them to clean them. But frankly, who has that time? "
6. Where do you usually draw inspiration from?
"I always look at vintage Filipiniana photographs. I get my inspiration from all kinds of places, things, people, art, architecture. All of it."
7. Can you walk us your creative process as you design clothes?
"I don’t have a set way of working. Part of my designs come together from doing research on the internet, and some don’t come until I’m fabric shopping."
8. Is there a specific person you have in mind when you create your collections? What makes a Caroline Mangosing muse?
"The person I create for is someone who can bring Fiipiñana into the fashion conversation. I really just wanted to bring the idea of wearing Filipiniana outside of a Filipina dress code event, and my muse is that person who can rock Filipiniana for work, for brunch on a Sunday or for a cocktail party—not just a super formal Filipiniana dress coded event."
9. Could you describe the lifestyle that fits your design philosophy?
"I think this would be pretty much my lifestyle: urban, North American."
10. Who do you dream of wearing your designs?
"I would love to have all Filipinos in the diaspora to own a Vinta Gallery piece."
11. How has your brand evolved since you started?
"We started with custom made garments only, mostly because we had no financial backing. So we could only make a dress if someone paid first. But now we produce more ready-to-wear. I still prefer making couture, and we do that with weddings. But of course the North American market wants clothes faster, especially because we only sell online. It’s harder for people to have to wait six weeks or more for a custom garment. There’s also the barrier of taking your own accurate measurements. It scares a lot of people. But we are very hands-on in that way, if a customer is unsure, I will do a video chat with them to walk them through taking their measurements."
12. Can you tell us the inspiration behind your brand name?
"Vinta Gallery come from the vinta sail boats from the southern regions of the Philippines. I really like the idea that these vessels bring trade goods, the sharing of culture and cultural products around all the different islands in the archipelago. We called it gallery because, as a retail experience, I loved the idea of making it feel like an art gallery gift shop. I love shopping in art gallery gift shops."
13. What should we expect from the brand in the future?
"Collaboration! We want to have exclusive collections with other retailers online and offline."