In partnership with HSBC, Tatler Philippines invited a few of the country's most noteworthy fashion designers to speak on the issues closest to their hearts and the industry they're in

A panel of the Philippines' most distinguished fashion designers spoke to Tatler Philippines editor-in-chief, Anton San Diego, last 14 October 2020. Patty Ang, Mark Bumgarner, Rajo Laurel, Dennis Lustico, and Vania Romoff shared their insights on style, fashion, and loving local amidst the pandemic.


One of the key points of the night — a statement made and agreed upon by all — was the importance of loving local artistry. In partnership with HSBC, the five designers supported the call to buy local brands. "Buying local is helping ourselves," Dennis Lustico said. Rajo Laurel agreed. "The [fashion] industry in itself is not just us designers, it is a collective group of individuals, [all of whom are connected to each other]. If you support local, you support the community of artisans, models, and creatives that essentially build this economy." In that way, the call to support Philippine products isn't just an isolated entreaty made by a handful of familiar names. In many ways, it's become a communal responsibility to support one another. 

In previous years, there's been a misappropriated notion that buying imported items was more impressive than buying local. But as people continue to rediscover the talent of our fellow kababayans, it's become clear that Filipino creativity is, in many ways, just as good and oftentimes very exciting. 

"If you put our work side by side with the world's best designers, I guarantee we're head to head in terms of talent, creativity, and genius," Rajo said. The designer, who's recently been featured in L'Officiel USA and Elle magazine, is simply proof of such. 

The uniqueness of homegrown talent is also very evident to Vania Romoff. "There are so many factors that influence us — there are so many furniture makers, so many amazing creatives. I think it's just because of where we are, and who we are," she said.  

The others agree, stating that the Filipino culture — as a melting pot for Eastern and Western traditions — has become a unique voice in the story of design. "We have different points of inspiration, but at the end of the day, our [being Filipino] is what makes us unique," Rajo added.

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There is no doubt that Filipino creativity shines through in many ways. But in these unprecedented times, how does it manifest?

The designers first talked about how tastes have changed during the pandemic.  "At this uncomfortable time, people are really looking for comfort," Patty Ang observed. 

Vania agreed. As a wedding designer, she's also noted that the gowns she's created in the past few months have become less grandiose. 

"Personally, I answer to the sensibility of the times," Dennis put in. "People right now see the simplicity of life. My designs are geared in that direction: comfort and being calm and at peace." 

Because the pandemic has been a tumultuous experience for many, the designers' creations needed to heed to the proper context. But slowly, as the economy springs back to life, what is evident is this: life goes on. 

"What changes is appropriateness," Rajo said. "But life does go on, and in fact, I think fashion right now is even made more meaningful [because of it]." 

Throughout the discussion, there had been a palpable sense of drive among the five designers. To them, it was important to create and in that way, to survive. 

"It is during this dark time wherein creatives create more," Mark Bumgarner observed. "We are more introspective, more thoughtful, more creative." 

Of course, all of such is delivered through a new medium and it's — you guessed it — online. As one of the senior designers, Rajo said that he had been taking time to embrace the current technology, utilising the tools available for him. He spoke on his first online fashion show with Robby Carmona and even noted that the pandemic seemed to be helping the international community come together. "Globally, we are all on the same level now," he said, referring to the state of the pandemic in a worldwide context. "It opens the playing field because people are not just looking at their own backyards anymore. [They are starting to realise the talent] in places such as Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and of course, Manila." 

All five of them also revealed that they were dipping their toes in other endeavours. Aside from upcoming holiday collections, most of the designers had also revealed plans for a furniture line. Rajo Laurel is launching Rajo Home on the first week of November with everything from placemats and napkins to bar cabinets. Mark has also created wallpapers and furnishings set to launch at the end of the month. Meanwhile, Vania, who is currently pregnant with twins, spoke on her upcoming line of nursery accessories set to drop in 2021. 


All in all, the pandemic seems to have been a great learning experience for the five of them. Dennis has said that he's been taking time to learn about e-commerce, which certainly seems to be the way of the future, even after things have calmed down. 

Mark, who's been open about his sources of inspiration, has learned to innovate within the constraints of the times. "[Before], I used to say travelling [was my inspiration] but now we can't do that. So it's travelling and the women we dress." 

As industry veterans and successful artists, the five also had some advice for young designers. In a time such as this, breaking into any industry is difficult. Their two cents? "Study, experiment, be curious, persevere. Don't think of fame, think of the work," Dennis said. 

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Rajo's own tip may resonate well with many young people. At a time when seemingly everything has been put on hold, he advised: "Don't be in a hurry, take your time." The designer expounded, saying that young designers have much more freedom to create. "When you're a starting designer, your only happiness is yourself. So your take time and harness this happiness and use that energy to dream and to create beautiful things because that only happens once — when you're a young designer."