“I started with designing T-shirts while I was taking up Fine Arts in UST,” says Vic Barba, when asked how he actually started out in his craft. He adds that it somehow just came naturally through the prodding of his friends and a number of others, whose names aren’t so alien to the society pages. It is this conﬁdent yet approachable air, coupled with Vic’s sheer determination, that have enabled him not only to constantly create such wonderful pieces, but also to sell them.
First, he got the fashion industry’s attention through his Vittorio line at Sari-Sari Store, the progenitor of which was Tina Maristela-Ocampo. Then came X, the go-to store for special occasion dresses. Another venture would be C’est Toi, a line for the younger teen market, which in Filipino, means ikaw na nga—a line he loved to say. His most recent store, Barba at Greenbelt 5, caters to a more upscale clientele. Upon entering the store, one is wont to notice how everything—mainly the mix of curios lining the store’s shelves—seem to be stark white. “Remember that scene in The Producers where Uma Thurman (as the secretary Oola) paints everything white? That was what I was thinking of.” Equally inspired would be the light coming from the bulbs artistically hanging from the ceiling—seemingly hitting every crevice of the store and every silhouette of his impeccably sewn clothes at just the right angle. In this space, one not only gets to admire the neat tailoring and craftsmanship of the wares, but also get a larger sense of the designer’s minimalist approach.
This sense of restraint, of course, could only come from a man of discipline. Apart from being well-known in the fashion industry, Vic is also a seasoned equestrian. He actually still rides every morning, and even trains a few students in the sport. When asked if this translates to his work as a designer, after a few seconds of thought—plus a quick run of the hands through a soft mop of curls—he then answers with a yes. “Maybe it’s also why I love using menswear fabrics—even for clothes I design for women.” Indeed, the elite pastime does call to mind a masculine-skewed wardrobe of pants and polos in a subdued palette. The motif carries on to the designer’s love for plaid, as is evident in the pieces from his current collection, and the shopping bags, which are part and parcel of the store’s image. This isn’t to say, however, that Vic designs with a stiff hand.
“Jersey, cotton twill... I like working with fabrics that have a little stretch so it moves with the wearer. I also love working with natural fabrics because it’s appropriate for our climate... I’m also fond of fabrics that have body and are high in drape ability.” With such ﬂuid raw materials, it’s no surprise that Vic likes to highlight the human form, never wanting to overplay nor overpower the wearer. As such, his sources of inspiration, which range from the concrete (“a blade of grass”) to the abstract (“an emotion”), are never taken literally—just the thing for Vic’s style-literate customers who have a strong sense of what they want, and more importantly, what is actually wearable.
The same holds true for the self-assured Vic. “Coco Chanel has always said that, ‘clothes that remain in the salon have no importance more than a costume ball,’” the designer quotes. “This is a business. At the end of the day, your clothes must sell.”
“I do not like to overplay or overpower the wearer, which you see a lot of these days. Clothes should speak and not shout.”
A palette of blue, black, and brown, as well as an affinity for jodhpurs and checked fabric belie the designer’s horseriding pastime.
“I’ve always gravitated towards the sublime and somber. I like metallics too.”
ART & WORK
A wire sculpture by Steph Palallos hangs in his store, highlighting the drapey form of his harem-like trousers.
Vic sources all his raw materials from the Philippines and has everything done locally as well. “I used to source from Hong Kong, but it wasn’t worth it.”
—written by Carmencita Sioson and Anna Canlas; reprinted from Preview December 2009