Once in a while, a creation by a Filipino fashion designer gets international approval. A Hollywood star dons a gown by a Filipino on the red carpet, a handcrafted minaudière by a Filipino brand appears on the cover of a glossy with worldwide circulation. These are reasons for pride because they validate that distinct Filipino vision and craft. But for the designer and the rest of the industry that these purportedly open doors for to a global stage, what happens next and how can we keep it going?
“Fashion and ingenuity when not translated into business means nothing.” - Dennis Lustico
Launched in July, Fashion Exchange International (FEI) sets out to be that missing link. Its founders, events director Robby Carmona and public relations and marketing maven Carmina Sanchez-Jacob have been rallying for Filipino fashion in ways they know best: Robby produces memorable shows with his Saga Events, while team and Carmina have produced the Salon Series for the past four years, which has revived the salon tradition of being intimate with the clothes and having one-on-one relationships with the designers. The two have been collaborating with each other for years, but they didn’t realize how much more they could do together until one fateful lunch. They both knew that the made-to-order model in which the Philippine fashion industry operates is a deterrent to designers looking to grow as a business, according to Carmina.
One of the Salon Series’ pioneer designers, Dennis Lustico differentiates Salon from FEI: “Salon is directed toward a local, intimate and made-to-measure setup, while FEI is geared toward ready-to-wear for international and multiracial markets.” Dennis has already been dabbling in ready-to-wear, making pieces for high-end Filipino online shop VitoStudio.com, expressing his passion for business and clothes. “Fashion and ingenuity when not translated into business means nothing.”
IMAGE Jeanne Young
Dennis Lustico's quirky and bejewelled collection for FEI.
Robby and Carmina joined forces with sales professional and beauty queen Valerie Lim and Asia Pacific MNC corporate veteran Henry Chan on the finance side. Differentiating itself from other local fashion projects, FEI’s marketing and branding platform is all about making connections, learning from them, and linking people and companies working for a common goal. For our designers and brands, these could be international buyers and high-quality manufacturers.
FEI launched with a two-day event at the Marriott Grand Ballroom. Its highlight was a fashion show where four of the country’s top designers presented their ready-to-wear lines for Resort 2017, meant for overseas distribution through FEI’s invited international buyers from China, Singapore, Indonesia (one represents Galeries Lafayette in Jakarta), and a showroom owner from Paris who is connected to distributors in the United Kingdom and the Middle East—all strategic markets the platform aspires to gain ground on. Carmina noted that these buyers not only provide business opportunities, but are also a source of knowledge about what will sell and information that will guide how FEI designers can build their brands.
IMAGE Jeanne Young
Rajo Laurel played with abstract patches that resembled produce for his collection.
Salon designer Ivarluski Aseron, who, like Dennis, has also been creating pieces for VitoStudio.com, opened the show with a tailored collection inspired by the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. Francis Libiran, whose Art Deco signature has made its way to America’s Next Top Model Cycle 18, distilled his aesthetic into sleeker silhouettes in his ready-to-wear label for men and women, Libiran. Dennis designed for a decidedly younger and international market for his sub-brand De Lustico with a textured and colorful collection communicating whimsy and sophistication. Rajo Laurel, whom Carmina initially invited for Salon Series 4 and has landed on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily in 2010, drew inspiration from the Memphis movement of design with a magpie-like penchant for collecting prints and imagery (thus the collection’s name, Magpie+Memphis) under his already established RTW line, Rajo!. All four designers displayed a condensed yet evolved version of their aesthetic.
“It was not another fashion show but a solid business plan to bring Philippine designers and brands to different foreign markets. FEI already influenced how we worked,” Rajo shares. “Before we presented the collection, we were already preparing with them for more than six months. It has given us a fresh and vibrant perspective to the whole process.”
Read the rest of the article in our September issue here.
Photographed by Jeanne Young
Styled by Loris Peña
Makeup by Don de Jesus for MAC Cosmetics
Hair by Ethan David
Nails by Jinky Oliveros of Beauty & Butter
Models: Lyndsay B. of IM Agency and Drew Barrett of Elite Manila
Production design by Justine Arcega of SaSO Greenhouse Design Studio