The successful collaboration that was at the forefront of "fashionalism" is now over. Rhett Eala has left Collezione-C2 after five years, which had seen the designer bringing new energy into the 40-year-old brand with the My Pilipinas line, featuring tees and other items of casual clothing emblazoned with the Philippine map. He is now with the Plains and Prints team as their most recent collaborator, having designed the recently launched Spring/Summer 2012 collection.
The switch raised eyebrows in the fashion industry as insiders speculated whether a conflict of interest or a breach of contract was involved in Eala's transfer. In an email interview, Eala maintained that his collaboration with Plains and Prints should not have caused any problems. "My contract with Collezione-C2 was non-exclusive and Plains and Prints was well aware of this when they signed me on. Given that Collezione-C2 and Plains and Prints cater to completely different market segments, I didn’t think that there was any conflict of interest," he said.
Joey Qua, the owner of Collezione-C2, felt differently. He told us that he found out about Eala's new project in January of this year, four months after Eala signed a contract with Plains and Prints. "Sometime in mid-January of 2012, while at a dinner with some friends, I was asked by someone how I felt about Rhett’s design collaboration with Plains and Prints," he began. "I was of course caught off guard and it came as a big surprise to me since I had absolutely no knowledge of this—more so since we have maintained a great working relationship for five years. I never expected this from him." He continued, "He had a live contract with us for both Collezione-C2 and DUE—it was very disappointing for me and the entire organization. We would have expected disclosure from him at the very least."
Eala told us that he took on the Plains and Prints project in order to cater to the country's broad retail market. "Roxanne [Farillas, owner and creative director of Plains and Prints] and I have known each other for a couple of years. She came to me last year for a possible collaboration. Since one of my main goals as a designer is to design for a broader market, collaborating with the brand was something that interested me."
Two days after Plains and Prints launched their Spring/Summer 2012 collection, Eala's contract with Collezione-C2 was terminated (it was renewed in June 2011 and was supposed to have run until June 2014 for both Collezione-C2 and DUE | Collezione). Qua said, "I tried to find a suitable compromise, but when I found out that he signed a two-year contract with the other brand, I didn’t think it was fair to our brand and the organization. Trust and transparency are key to a good relationship, [and] once these are not in place, it is very difficult to continue to work productively."
He continued, "My job is to safeguard the brand and to take it to the next level and I felt that his actions were detrimental to our brand’s vision and values, and has an absolute conflict of interest since the brand he signed up with falls under the same retail category as Collezione-C2 and DUE. Almost half of our sales is derived from our casual ladies' wear line, thus the very glaring conflict of interest."
Qua, however, also laments the end of the collaboration. "It is regrettable that this had to happen as we feel we had a very good partnership with Rhett, but I guess he had different ideas about the future."
Eala, meanwhile, felt that he and Collezione-C2 have grown apart, saying, "over the time that Collezione-C2 and I grew together, we reached a point where we started to lean towards different directions, which led to our parting of ways. Designing for Collezione-C2 was a great learning experience for me. I believe that I have contributed my best to the brand in the last five years that I have worked with them, and I am thankful for having been given that opportunity."
Despite everything, both parties are intent on moving forward in their respective ways. Qua informed us that Collezione-C2 has already taken steps to form a new creative team, which will be in charge of the brand's "creative evolution." "Collezione is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, so we are looking forward to the coming changes that will be very exciting and new, to say the least," he said. "With the new creative team in place comes a new creative direction—the brand's design/aesthetics will experience exhilarating changes that will be more distinct, but nevertheless, we will still stay true to our brand’s heritage and forge ahead with our brand identity, which is a proud, all-Filipino brand that will maintain its DNA of fashion, art and a spirit of nationalism that will eventually go global." He added, "We can’t wait to show our clients what we have in store for them, especially now with our new creative direction for the label in the pipeline."
Meanwhile, the future remains bright for Eala. "You can expect more from me in Plains and Prints in its next few collections," he revealed. "The brand has other exciting things lined up for working women, but I’ll leave it at that for now." He also mentioned that "collaborating with Plains and Prints is just one among the many projects that I am currently pursuing."
"I am looking forward to a very exciting 2012," Eala enthused. "I am first and foremost a designer—I am at my best when I am doing what I love and enjoy the most: to create and design. For those who have known me for a long time, they’ll know that this is my passion."