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As the country adapts to the new normal, local fashion’s most celebrated names find ways to exhibit their pieces—showcasing the Filipino’s enduring spirit for creativity and purpose

Driven by creativity, innovation, joy, and boundless energy, the fashion industry suddenly found itself at a standstill during this pandemic. The fashion world felt the brunt of the crisis as businesses were put on hold. And even when industries started to open for essentials items, businesses related to so-called “luxuries” were still not allowed to operate. As top designer Rajo Laurel put it, “The Pandemic caused by Covid-19 certainly had a deep and numbing effect on our Philippine fashion industry. Many of us stopped our operations to a grinding halt and our resources were all practically put on hold.”

But surely, an industry populated by the most imaginative and innovative individuals can’t simply accept a seemingly hopeless fate.

After a brief moment of reflection, fashion movers realized that the industry could provide immediate and much-needed help by shifting their operations from the production of stylish garments to life-saving ones. “The human spirit is a resilient one. For those of us who could, we immediately pivoted our operations to the creation of PPE’s for our frontliners. We used our talents and resources to help those most vulnerable. I am so proud to come from an industry that at its core is imbedded with the desire to be of service. That is what most of us did and continue to do today. By finding creative ways to approach the matter on hand with style and grace,” added Laurel.

Designer Puey Quiñones was also one of the first to respond to this need by quickly pivoting his productions. He created PPEs for distribution to frontliners and more than 20 hospitals and would personally deliver these essentials when no one else could.

And now that the country is slowly moving into a “new normal,” more changes are happening, galvanized by a few with a keen instinct for disruption and the need to reinvent and take the industry where it needs to be. Something had to be done to reignite the passion for this beloved industry.

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A screenshot of Rajo Laurel’s Runway Online.

Taking fashion shows and events online

It didn’t take long for director Robby Carmona to heed this call. “I just felt that an initiative had to be done to jumpstart the industry. So, one morning, I called up our dear friend Rajo Laurel and asked him if we can collaborate on a project in time for his birthday. I thought of not just creating an online fashion show but an online event where everyone can gather and be part of it. Everyone was given front row seats while watching #RajoRunwayOnline, Rajo’s first online fashion show from the comforts of their home,” Carmona shared.

And it almost felt like the real thing. Attendees came and hobnobbed virtually while waiting for the show to start. One could literally feel the energy and joy. “It gave the audience an opportunity not just to watch but also to interact and share some of their ideas in the comments section,” added Carmona.

It was not an easy feat to stage such a show, logistics being the biggest challenge. Everyone had to work remotely, from models to production assistants to the live stream crew. But as Carmona said, “Challenge accepted. Through this online show, I, together with the whole Saga team learned a lot and are now looking forward to dabbling in the digital realm.”

“I got a lot of messages not only from people of the Philippine fashion industry but also from the live events sector saying that they were so inspired after watching the event. It gave them a new reason to stand up and create again. The message resonated to them that it is now time for us to embrace the new future,” relayed Carmona.

Meanwhile, Laurel’s clients were more than thrilled to shop for the beautiful pieces from his “Hacienda” collection. “They were all tired of wearing their house clothes. Fashion will always be about self-love and care. As long as we live and breathe, we always will want to look good and take care of how we look,” said Laurel.

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A Randy Ortiz creation.
A sample of the runway looks of top designer Rajo Laurel.

Fashion as a force for good

Veteran fashion director Jackie C. Aquino, an industry leader and mover, also did his part to advocate purposeful change by creating a simple film entitled “New Normal, Fashion for Healing,” with the intent of uniting the industry and encouraging individuals to “save and buy local.”

“Now is the time for us to speak as one voice and unite in solidarity. We wanted to present a video online that will rally the public to help support Philippine Fashion. This will also show the entire nation that together, we can move forward, rise above the challenges, and help revive the Philippine fashion industry,” Aquino shared.

The conceptualization and production of the video were participated in by industry leaders, 29 designers, countless models and featured the music of noted composer Louie Ocampo, who gave Aquino permission to use his arrangement of the iconic “Dalagang Pilipina.” “And while all this was happening, the Facebook page BUY FILIPINO was also born. It is the brainchild of 2 friends, designer Vic Barba and stylist Jing Monis and they asked me, and designers JC Buendia, Rhett Eala, Randy Ortiz, Tonichi Nocom; stylist Henri Calayag; Road Manager Rey Lanada and Protacio Hospital CEO, Marco Protacio to help start the Facebook group,” said Aquino.

The film gave the industry the boost it needed, especially because it was released right before the country transitioned to a state of General Community Quarantine. It sparked hope and inspired individuals to create again. “This was an emotional journey that began as my love letter to the industry that gave me so much. As a result, part two is now being done and it will focus on fashion accessories designers. Our cultural heritage needs to be protected with a lot of brands relying on the craftsmanship of cultural communities and local artisans. The project is spearheaded by the Magic 8, composed of the 8 Filipino-brand delegation that was led by CITEM and joined the Las Vegas Magic show last year. Magic 8 has already invited more designers and brands to join,” added Aquino. 

Salome Uy in a custom-designed mask.

Fashion for Protection

After pouring his energies into helping frontliners, Quiñones soon shifted his energies into creating protective wear for his stylish clients. For this forward-thinking designer, it was all about forecasting the trends of the future. “The goal of the Fashion for Protection Collection was to create a line of PPE suits that are affordable and chic. The PQ PPE offers the wearer an additional layer of protection when traveling, shopping, or visiting other high-risk locations,” Quiñones explained. PQ PPEs are made from fabrics approved by the Department of Health in the Philippines that are water-resistant and breathable.

Together with the launch of his site <shop.pueyquinones.com>, Quiñones presented his designs through “Fashion Forward,” an online event that culminated in a runway show highlighting Fashion for Protection and Summer 2020 Collections. Set against a backdrop of plastics diffused with lights, the runway was heavily inspired by the changes of how we interact with the physical world amidst the pandemic.

Quiñones’ show was simulcast both in Manila and LA, demonstrating that even now, the Filipino designer can conquer the global stage. This moment in time has indeed provided the industry with an opportunity to work together to redesign a better future. While the times are uncertain, one thing is clear: The industry needs to unite and harness its resilience, grit, and creative power to overcome its challenges.

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