He was a rising star in the industry; then, fashion designer Puey Quiñones came under fire for a serious blunder that cost him his career. Almost a decade later, he has managed to rebuild everything from scratch, starting anew in Los Angeles, which he now calls home

From the time he left his hometown to make a life for himself in Manila to the time he moved to Los Angeles to rebuild a promising career left in shambles by an unwise decision, Rodolfo ‘Puey’ Quiñones Jnr has led a colourful life marked by successes and mishaps. “God knocked me off my high horse,” the fashion designer states, referencing the controversy involving the infamous department store garment he had been caught re-tagging as his own creation. “I lost everything I had worked so hard to gain; I was forced to leave the industry I loved and find another path for myself.” Yet fortune smiled upon him, regardless, and the second chance he felt was no longer within reach came when he least expected it—a blessing in disguise, as he himself puts it.

Quiñones grew up in Bobon, Northern Samar, in a household that knew not of magazines nor television sets. Living in such circumstances—and being the son of a policeman—fashion was the farthest thing from his mind. As his father wished for him to follow in his footsteps, Quiñones entered university to study political science. “It was not what was in my heart, and so I never finished and left for Manila to live with my aunt—an act of rebellion, if you will,” he shares.

This aunt was a business partner of designer Dennis Lustico. To make ends meet, Quiñones took up a position as Lustico’s assistant, which marked his foray into the world of fashion. Tasked to help with putting the finishing touches on garments, Quiñones soon found himself wanting to pursue his own design dreams.

Under Lustico’s tutelage, Quiñones learnt the importance of choosing the right fabric to suit a silhouette and design. He later moved to bespoke men’s apparel brand Bergamo, where he was exposed to pattern-making, cutting, and tailoring techniques. Designers such as Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Rhett Eala, and Lulu Tan-Gan also took Quiñones under their  wings, educating him on other aspects of the fashion industry.

Even during his learning phase, Quiñones believed that in order to succeed, he had to become someone extraordinary. “There were no social media platforms to promote your work to the world back then, so we really had to focus on delivering quality designs with remarkable craftsmanship to be recognised,” he shares. In 2001, he joined The Philippines Young Designers Competition for Paris, where he became a finalist. This was where he would meet philanthropist and socialite Tingting Cojuangco, who was a judge in the contest. She would become his very first client.

As his clientele grew, so did the demand. With just one seamstress, Quiñones struck out on his own. As soon as a client would make a down payment, Quiñones would use the money to purchase necessities for his label,whether it be a machine or materials needed to accomplish a commission. He had his first solo show, Swell, the year after, where he presented a 30-piece collection (which sold out afterwards) showcasing koryo silk. Indeed, business was good.

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Above At his 2018 bridal show

In 2007, Quiñones’ uncle invited him to join a volunteer group scheduled to visit some prisoners at the maximum security compound at the New Bilibid Prison, specifically to do a lecture on dressmaking. At first, he was apprehensive. But at his uncle’s insistence, he eventually gave in. He recalls, “To my surprise, the inmates treated me with respect. They paid attention to my talk and asked a lot of questions. Inspired, I returned the following week to start lessons. I did this for seven years. It was an eye-opening experience.” He launched the design competition Project Bilibid Runway the following year, inviting friends from the fashion and media industries to serve as the panel of judges. Quiñones  personally funded the cash prizes, but his colleagues were quick to get involved, raising, at one point, 40,000 pesos for the winner. Director and producer Chun Kit Mak took notice of this charitable act as well; he came to Quiñones with the intention of doing a documentary. Titled The World’s Most Fashionable Prison, it was released in 2012—a year after Quiñones committed the fashion blunder that would close the door on his career.

A photo of a double-tagged suit jacket that was commissioned by a soon-to-be-wed couple went viral on the social microblogging site Twitter. One label read ‘BOBON by Puey Quiñones.’ The one that was tucked into one of the inside pockets bore a care label for Dansen, a brand consigned to SM department stores. Bobon was quick to release a statement, clarifying that no such transaction had been processed and that this label design had been retired some time ago. Having passed an RTW piece off as his own creation, Quiñones was in hot water. He issued a public apology on television, expressing his concern with delivering the suit on time, hence the mishap. A refund was made, but proceedings were handled poorly. The internet folk was unforgiving; he was branded a villain of sorts, cast into the role of the nightmare designer. Business suffered as clients withdrew their orders, and Quiñones went into hiding. “It took me a long time to pick up the pieces,” he admits. “I was in debt; I had no career left to salvage. This was the consequence of all the poor choices I had made.”

Forced to change lanes, Quiñones, who loves to cook, opened his Makati penthouse for private dinners. This allowed him to pay off his debts and survive for a time, but he found himself hoping for a comeback. After a failed attempt to get back in the saddle, he left the Philippines to explore opportunities in the United States.

While taking on some odd jobs in Los Angeles—cleaning houses, washing dishes, helping people move homes—Quiñones got a call from an agent saying that a celebrity had expressed interest in having him design a costume for a music video. That celebrity  happened to be singer Katy Perry. Later, he was tapped by the producers of America’s Next Top Model to do a collection that would be featured in an episode of the show. As he slowly but surely began to regain his footing, Quiñones felt that the City of Angels was a good place to start anew. This is where life finds him now, with partner Paul Martineau, an associate curator at the J Paul Getty Museum, by his side.

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Above At the Gobi desert for the 2019 CocoMelody collection

Aside from being the founder of Puey Quiñones / Los Angeles, he is also the creative director of bridal company CocoMelody. Designing for these two ventures involves two different processes: for the former (his own label), he can go about as he pleases with no strings attached; for the latter, he must check on what is trending before he goes to the drawing board. Business priorities right now are growing the client base, expanding operations, and reaching out to luxury department stores who may be interested in carrying his clothes. He also hopes to get to show at the New York Fashion Week after his LA launch in April this year.

It took me a long time to pick up the pieces. I was in debt; I had no career left to salvage. This was the consequence of all the poor choices I had made.

When asked what kept him going in that situation where the easiest way out was to throw in the towel, Quiñones simply says, “I wanted to be a fashion designer again.” This has been his dream since he was a young boy in Lustico’s atelier; it remained his dream regardless of the impact his poor decision-making had on his career. Knowing how it felt to hit rock bottom motivated him to do his best to repair his reputation from scratch. And while he may not be fully absolved of fault in the eyes of many, one cannot deny that he has done very well for himself since.

  • WordsMJ Jose
  • PhotographyChristian Jay Bulda
  • HairJoel Sebastian
  • Make-UpJoel Sebastian