The world of Philippine fashion is one that dreams. From couture to ready-to-wear, many Filipino tastemakers have conjured up their sartorial formulae from the country’s storied history, diverse cultures, and generations of inspiring muses. Thus, the local fashion industry is in no shortage of top talent – though the cream of the crop nowadays may be narrowed down to a few. These include Michael Cinco, Monique Lhuiller, Francis Libiran, and Josie Natori.
Take a look at their inspiring journeys and design philosophies.
Known for his elaborate couture gowns, Cinco has made waves in both Hollywood and Paris. He counts Sofia Vergara wearing his creation in the Golden Globes, and more importantly, being the first Filipino to show in Paris’ Haute Couture Fashion Week as major achievements. Other celebrities known to have donned the Michael Cinco brand include Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez.
Currently based in Dubai, Cinco is however a man of humble beginnings. “I grew up in the picturesque town of Catbalogan, Samar whic provided me with a lush setting where my inspiration would run in wild abandon,” he tells in a Golden Globes interview. Some of his early childhood muses included Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, whose elegant costumes in their films inspired him to pursue a career in fashion.
Today, he maintains a steady client base spanning the West, Middle East, and Asia – thanks to his designs that juxtapose detailed fabrics with glimmering Swarovski crystals.
When asked what continues to drive him to put out inspired work, he simply states “I’m inspired when I’m in love!”
Francis Libiran’s creations play with both classic silhouettes and statuesque architecture. “I love playing with lines, patterns, and stuff… I love experimenting with old embroidery,” he tells the Canadian fashion website Ramp1886.com.
Libiran’s “linear dress” for instance has captivated the likes of Tyra Banks, who has featured his works in the hit reality show America’s Next Top Model. Moreover, she has even worn Francis Libiran dresses to various red carpet events.
Such aesthetics can be traced back to Libiran’s background as an architecture major in the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and as an eventual student at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines. Going back further, Libiran counts his mother Rebecca as an inspiration, thanks to her elegant personal style that he has witnessed since childhood.
A resounding success with local and international style set, the Francis Libiran brand today operates boutiques in Manila.
” ‘Who are you wearing?’ ‘Monique Lhuiller,‘” is an oft-heard red carpet phrase when one switches to entertainment channels like E! Tune in, and you’re bound to see someone like Emma Stone, Michelle Obama, or Taylor Swift wearing her elegant dresses. Society mavens in the magazines too can often be seen being wed in her bridal creations.
Yet like her fellow Filipino contemporaries, Monique Lhuiller has her roots firmly in the Philippines. Speaking to British department store Harrods in an interview, she says “From a very young age, fashion was ingrained in me and always part of my life. Growing up in the Philippines, my mother was my greatest source of inspiration… I was particularly inspired by [her] most feminine and glamorous dresses.”
Moving forward though, Lhuillier eventually moved to Los Angeles, where she attended the prestigious Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising.
Seeing a wedge in the market for more fashion-forward wedding dresses (in part due to her own dress-finding debacle), she eventually started her own line in 1996. This is all thanks to her business acumen, creativity, and supportive husband, who helped establish her burgeoning enterprise. After rolling in a few dresses to several buyers and editors, the rest, as they say, was history. History in the sense of a large international presence – in Monique Lhuiller shops, luxury department stores, and a home lifestyle line – of course.
Vogue readers flipping the magazine’s pages would likely recognize the sensual lingerie ads by Natori, a lifestyle brand helmed by Filipino-American Josie Natori. Shoppers from New York to Manila are sure to pass by her own stores too, given the brand’s extensive worldwide presence.
Josie Natori’s style journey also began in the Philippines, where a society more open to women in power fostered her entrepreneurial talents. Born Josephine Almeda Cruz, she initially found her calling in the realm of finance – becoming the first female Vice President of Merrill Lynch. “Never had I fantasized, or dreamed, or even cared about being in the fashion business,” Natori recalls in a Racked.com interview.
The roots of her fashion line began on a whim, when she brought a Filipino blouse to a buyer at the Bloomingdales department store. Encouraging her to turn it into a sleep shirt, Natori eventually had the idea of pursuing garment-making as a full-time career. “At the time, lingerie was either lewd or frumpy,” she narrates on her official website. She gradually filled a niche in between however, due to her creative and business smarts, as well as decades of hard work.
She had also transformed her passion into a wider lifestyle brand too, with additional lingerie lines (Josie Natori, Natori, Josie, and N Natori), a ready-to-wear collection, and home, eyewear, and fragrance products collectively comprising her business.
With these achievements at hand, Natori was also bestowed the Order of Lakandula in 2007 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Considered the highest honor for a Filipino citizen, Natori had essentially catapulted an unwitting whim into an aspect of national cultural heritage.