Rosenthal Tee walks out of her house at 9AM, carrying a black garment bag almost twice her size. I ran out of the car to help her carry it, and when she passed it to me, I almost lost my balance. “This is so heavy! How many gowns are in this?” I asked her. “Six. Do you really find it heavy? I’m used to it!” she replied with smile. The contents of the bag were pieces from her latest Holiday 2018 collection, which she designed for the MEGA Fashion Week runway just a month ago. They were also the outfits chosen for that day’s Lifestyle Asia digital cover shoot.
One of the Philippines’ most sought after young designers, Rosenthal Tee is on a steady rise in cementing her reputation as one of the modern fashion masters. Luckily for us, Mondays were her self-proclaimed day off, giving her a couple of hours to shoot. Upon arriving our cover location at Casa Lourdes, the beautiful ancestral home of Angel and Lourdes Cruz, Rosenthal’s plans to avoid work flew right out of the mansion’s 50-year-old windows. She was consistently on the phone, coordinating outfit pick-ups, giving go signals to her seamstresses, and dealing with clients inquiring about her designs.
While sitting on the makeup chair, she kept her cool and easygoing personality even under the pressures of work happening kilometers away in her Ortigas fitting studio. She chattered about life, relationships, fashion, business, food and art—subjects a well brought up girl ought to know. Rosenthal, who is now 30 (and thriving), wasn’t always like this. She used to call herself a wallflower, but years studying abroad learning fashion and tough love from her family made her the hardworking artist and businesswoman she is today.
A Wallflower in London
Rosenthal Tee has shared numerous times with Lifestyle Asia on what inspired her to become a fashion designer. “I loved watching my mom and grandmother dress up and try things on,” she shared. Despite, appreciating the beauty of things, she never considered herself a fashion girl in her youth. She did, however, loved painting, joining numerous art classes during her summer breaks. “I wouldn’t call myself an artist, but that’s where I really learned about color and how to use them,” she recalled. The artistic young girl spent her early days in Poveda as one of the shy types.
When college came around, she decided to go the Ateneo de Manila University, taking up a management course. Still, fashion was not in her mind. “I considered myself one of the wallflowers in college. I was a late bloomer. Everyone knew their sections in life. Leaders knew they would be leaders, doctors knew their path. People knew what they wanted to do. I was just…there,” she shared in between layouts. Despite her quiet nature, her aunt noticed Rosenthal’s eye for beautiful things. She casually suggested that she might be interested in studying fashion design.
Rosenthal played with the idea in her head. “I like watching the process of things being made. I like it more than the actual finished product,” she laughs. Interested with the procedure of constructing a garment, she decided she’d spontaneously try her hand in it. Rosenthal asked her parents if she could study fashion design in London, and they eventually said yes. From not being interested in fashion at all, she found herself on a plane headed towards England to take a four-year masters course on Fashion Design at the Institute of Marangoni. After a few weeks into taking classes, she absolutely fell in love with it—the grind, the vibe, the people she met, and the clothes felt like a dream. She didn’t want it to end, so she applied for smaller courses at Central St. Martins as well.
“I really miss the liberty I had there. My artistry vibes off from what I’m feeling, and when I was in London I just felt so liberated. I think it really shaped me as a person. Coming from a private catholic girl’s school, London gave me a chance to see and experience things. I feel it made me more well-rounded and more confident,” she recalls. After graduating, Rosenthal was eager to take the plunge and open her own fashion house back in Manila. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that was part of the fun.
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Taking the Plunge
Upon arriving home, Rosenthal quickly went to work. She was afraid that if she didn’t act upon her passion right at that moment, she might lose her momentum. “I technically should have had more experience, but something in my gut told me to start now or I never would. You hear all these stories of women studying fashion abroad and coming back, and then they never started. Which is such a shame. My family worked so hard [to send me to school abroad] and I didn’t want to be a burden. So I opened with their help and asked if I could use my dad’s ancestral home in Marikina [as my production house],” she recalled about her early days in the industry in 2013.
The Marikina location housed the aspiring designer’s few sewers. She also borrowed one of the family properties in Valle 6 to conduct meetings and fittings. Rosenthal looks back at these days as stressful, but also very happy. She says she would go to all the fabric suppliers herself with the help of her mom and grandmother. “They love haggling so they would always go with me,” she laughed. Today, the busy designer’s schedule is so packed that she cannot make personal appearances at fabric stores anymore. “I can’t do that so much now because I don’t have time. I still do all the buying though, but it’s all technology now. I’m friends with the suppliers, so it’s as easy a Viber message or phone call. It’s all faster now.”
Although she was excited and confident to start work back then, Rosenthal admits that there was still a stigma she had to overcome when starting out in the industry. “One of the challenges I had when I started out was that I look very young, and there was a stigma to that. People would ask, ‘Can she actually get it done? Because she looks like she’s fresh out of school.’ Someone also told me that I should settle down so I could quit the fashion industry and just sit around and look pretty. But I’m in it for the long run and for the difficulty that it entails.” Rosenthal didn’t listen to her critics and continued to trooper on. She wasn’t going to let her age or her gender define society’s expectations of her.
Business really began to pick up a year later, when Megan Young chose to wear one of Rosenthal’s bridal pieces during her rounds for Miss World. People were asking, “Who’s this new fashion designer on the block?” Her strongly feminine design aesthetic was capturing the eyes of Manila’s fashion crowd. Rosenthal, who considers Christian Dior and his 1940s golden years to be heavily influential in her work, adapted classical silhouettes and brought it up a couture notch. Gowns were embellished with origami bows, lots of texture, “and an extra touch of Swarovski crystal.”
The Big Apple Comes Knocking
Three years into her fashion career, Rosenthal was surprised when she was contacted by a Manhattan-based PR firm who was organizing a show for emerging designers at New York Fashion Week. “The independent PR firm was focusing on exploring up and coming designers. When I asked them how they found me, they just said they found me online. I had one portfolio up on something called NotJustaLabel.com (a virtual showroom and e-commerce website) and they say that they saw it. Till this day, I always encourage other young designers to post their things online.” Naturally, after fashion week, a Filipino fashion star was born. Orders skyrocketed, partnerships with other companies blossomed, and magazine editors came knocking at her door.
By 2017, Rosenthal decided to move her fitting studio from Valle 6 to Parc Chateau, located at the heart of Ortigas’ business district, to be able to accommodate more business. She has retained her father’s ancestral home in Marikina for her production house, traveling back and forth venues to make sure that her business runs like a well-oiled machine.
Between her NY Fashion Week debut and today, the young designer has continuously added achievement after achievement on her resume. She shortly taught fashion at SOFA for two years. She is also one of the Philippines’ premiere bridal designers. Rosenthal shares she values working with brides very much, stating that she feels like one every time she designs a wedding gown. Her artistic process includes putting herself inside the shoes of her clients, similar to a method actor preparing for a role. She’s showed in multiple locally esteemed fashion shows like Marry Me at Marriott and MEGA Fashion Week 2018. Recently, she launched a collaboration with Karimadon called “K x Rosenthal Tee”.
“Miss Josie Go, the owner, asked me if I could do a collaboration. The first question I asked was if I could do anything I wanted? She said, ‘Of course! I came to you because I want something younger and fresher.’ I used materials that they don’t usually use in the brand. It just hit stories and it’s also online.” Rosenthal teases that we can expect another ready-to-wear collection with Karimadon come the summer of next year.
It’s All About Real Women
For Rosenthal’s Karimadon press presentation, she chose real women to model her clothes rather than sticking with size 0 models. “I prefer muses over models, because women worry when they see models,” she shared. “They say that she only looks good in the clothes because she’s thin. I like real women, so I reached out to friends over the years. I wanted to show people these are pieces that you can really wear.” Over the years, there have been many women Rosenthal considers as muses. This list includes actresses Lovi Poe and Jasmine Curtis Smith, Jeweler businesswoman Marion Branellec, and current Miss World Philippines Katarina Rodriguez.
“Their common traits is that they’re all young, and with all their success they’re all so grounded. Their positions in life are really something that’s been worked for. They may be the “daughters of someone” but they’ve really done something to position themselves in places of power. I like people who work for their success, with or without the help of their family. I had it and was privileged to have it too, but no one can say I didn’t work hard for it.”
Recently, actress Lovi Poe closed the designer’s MEGA Fashion Week Show, wearing a show stopping pink dress detailed with intricate beading. Although a lot of people really loved Rosenthal’s Holiday 2018 collection, many were shocked that she decided to forgo her classical silhouettes, filling the runway with yards upon yards of velvet, beads and jewel tones. “It was my first escapist collection, and I got mixed review, but I’m okay with it. Each collection is a learning process, and the feedback was so varied for this. I loved it.”
The 20-piece collection was actually inspired by a 1910 painting by Henri Rousseau called “The Dream” that Rosenthal saw while visiting New York. Angel Yulo, who wrote about the show for Lifestyle Asia describes the painting as, “A red velvet sofa nestles in a dreamy jungle landscape. It’s a picture of feminine confidence, of one embracing the daring spirit of a woman.” While designing the collection, she was listening to a lot of funk music, so she imagined who that woman in The Dream would be if it were set in the 1970s. The product of her vision resulted to the 2018 Holiday Collection, a mix of lush gowns, cocktail dresses and jumpsuits, expressed in jewel tones, glitter, crystals, layered ruffles, neon starburst fabric, and a lot of cool funk. It was a statement that had to be made in this point of her career, because Rosenthal wanted to try something new. “I can’t really say it’s a turning point in my career. But in retrospect five or ten years from now, we’ll see,” she says.
Still the Eldest Daughter
When asked what she would say to a young woman eager to follow in her footsteps, Rosenthal was silent for a moment before saying, “That’s so hard! I would say, get ready for a rollercoaster battle towards success. Cause it’s not going to come easy. You can see the gloss. It’s all shiny and pretty but that’s just 10% of it. The 90% percent is going to stinky markets and haggling, and baring your soul on a creative output that people will either love or hate.”
“People always ask me, ‘Do you feel like you’re high up there?’ I always say no, because my family keeps me grounded,” Rosenthal shares while sitting on the wooden floors of Casa Lourdes after the shoot. The digital cover shoot was quick because the humble young woman had no qualms about anything. Her eyes even lit up when the KFC arrived. It was refreshing to see that even after all her success, she still enjoys the simple things in life. “I’m still just the eldest daughter. You can be a president of a country, but at home you’re still a child. I don’t let my accomplishments get to me. It’s still a constant pursuit of being open to what people have to say.”
Five years into her career, Rosenthal has a lot to show for it. She’s shown in numerous fashion weeks, has become a preferred designer by many celebrities and socialites, and she’s even been asked by a popular local brand to do a ready-to-wear collaboration. But still, she remains the same as she was since she got on that plane to London to pursue a newly discovered dream.
However, there are a few differences to note. The first being her confidence level. Secondly, her new found style. Thirdly, her rising popularity. Lastly, her clients are less apprehensive now with her youth and capabilities. “Now, there’s more assurance of what they think I can deliver,” she says. That stigma about her youth and gender is long gone, and she made is disappear by simply working hard towards her goals to becoming successful. “I didn’t know I was so competitive until I started in fashion,” she laughs. “Some days, I feel like I’m too ambitious trying to make a look happen. It’s more of a competition with myself—a thirst to do better, always.”
Photography by Yukie Sarto
Styling by Roko Arceo and Chino R. Hernandez
Hair and makeup by Pamm Merrera
Shot on location at Casa Lourdes
All clothes by Rosenthal Tee from the Rosenthal Tee Holiday 2018 Collection
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