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Grand finale

Fashion designer Chito Vijandre draws inspiration from the Philippines’ dramatic history and translates it into a stunning 40-piece collection

Images by Jun Arañas

It is with no small amount of irony that fashion designer-turned-interior designer Chito Vijandre turned his back on fashion sometime in the 1980s, a period known for its maximalist aesthetics and larger-than-life proportions, only to return in a big way in 2016 when color, texture, layer, detail, and bling have resurfaced and reclaimed their rightful places in global fashion.

Indeed, Vijandre couldn’t have chosen a better time to make a comeback and show Millennials as well as older people who were either asleep during his heyday or perpetually afflicted with short memories how good he still is. But whether we’re in an age of minimalism or decadence, the 40 jaw-dropping pieces Vijandre showed during last Saturday’s Red Charity Gala could very well stand on their own.

Now on its eight year, the annual dinner-cum-fashion show for a cause spearheaded by Tessa Prieto-Valdes and Kaye Tinga for the benefit of Assumption Batch 81 Foundation and Philippine Charity Red Cross has moved from Shangri-La Makati to its new home at Shangri-La at the Fort. Organizers hope to generate at least P4 million for charity from ticket sales and a series of auctions.

In the hands of a lesser talent, Vijandre’s attempt to combine rich colors, materials, and embellishments as well as layer various fabrics and accessories—from silk to lace, velvet to chainmail, feathers to studs—could have turned either costume-y or, worse, into a disastrous mishmash. Instead, what the event’s well-heeled guests got was a visual feast in texture, coloration, combination of materials, and techniques following classic references that the designer reworked for today’s fashionistas.

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Charlene Almarvez, Kaye Tinga, Ivo Buchta, Chito Vijandre, Tessa Prieto-Valdes, and Ben Chan receive a round of applause from the audience (Manila Bulletin)

“It doesn’t mean that he didn’t write Filipino literature just because Nick Joaquin chose to write his works in English,” said Vijandre, as a sort of analogy, a few weeks back. “I’d like to believe that my clothes mirror Filipino sensibilities despite my deliberate attempts not to use traditional materials like piña, jusi, and abaca.”

Vijandre and director Ariel Lozada worked on a theme that traces the history of the Filipino people through seven suites or episodes such as pre-Spanish, Spanish, Commonwealth Period, Oriental, post-American, medieval-style wedding, and revolt. One common thread that binds together the seven collections is the designer’s deliberate attempt and almost flawless ability to execute his rich ideas. Models emerged from what looked like a series of floor-to-ceiling plastic tubings arranged to look like a maze. In keeping with the presentation’s episodic quality, Lozada chose seven types of music that complemented instead of overpowered Vijandre’s vision.

Vijandre used a great deal of what he described as “real” fabrics like chiffon, velvet, brocade, lace, jersey, and raw silk. Even the accessories his models wore, from costume jewelry to shoes, headdresses to body armor, were either sourced or designed by Vijandre and crafted by his team, which included “my sewers from long ago whom I had to borrow from their current employers for this show.”

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Almost everyone in the audience had their favorite suites. For this writer, the standouts were Vijandre’s opening salvo, which revolved around a pre-Spanish ethnic theme, as well as his homage to the country’s carnival queens wherein models wore light, flowing lace and chiffon gowns in cool, delicious pastel shades. It felt refreshing to see these iconic clothes reinterpreted and in full color vis-á-vis the purely white and off-white photographed ensembles worn by the country’s carnival queens almost a century ago.

In the ethnic series, the designer stayed away from such de rigueur fabrics as piña, jusi, and sinamay because “everybody has been using them.” Instead, he painstakingly had raw silk strips and overlays painted to look like t’nalak fabrics, albeit with bigger prints and in bold colors.

Even the designer, during a post-show interview, had his favorites—the carnival queen collection and his version of revolt with models wearing velvet dresses with uneven hemlines and layered with lighter fabrics like chiffon and jersey in contrasting colors. Jackets made either of feathers or chainmail added to the collection’s visual appeal and fierce factor.

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Vijandre also showed his ease in working with shiny and sometimes colorful fabrics like brocade and lamé. His Oriental series consisting of separates like statement jackets and shiny pencil skirts, some of which had already debuted in a smaller event, were also well-received. The designer’s knack not to make literal interpretations of clothes from a particular period also assured that his pieces wouldn’t look like well-made costumes.

This was evident in every suite, but more so in his homage to the country’s Spanish heritage, which featured toreador-inspired plaid pants and jackets, complete with ruffled details on the sides and back, in lieu of the usual baro’t saya and traje de mestiza. Instead of using solid fabrics, he opted for translucent materials to simulate skirts and poet sleeves. He even used as accent on the bodice wearable trellis, for lack of a better term, teaming with artificial leaves and flowers on some looks.

His post-American or Sampaguita Pictures-inspired glam didn’t have anything to do with the model Dovima or Christian Dior’s “New Look,” and instead featured several draped lamé dresses with chiffon inserts to symbolize perhaps show biz glitter as well as skirts made up of countless tassels that probably mimicked the volume of crinoline and circle skirts that defined the 1950s.

Grand finaleApart from his eye for color, texture, proportions, and embellishment, a good part of Vijandre’s genius lies in his ability to put seamlessly disparate elements and influences together. Like my fashion-forward seatmate so aptly put it, his fashion isn’t for everybody because not every woman can get away with his attention-grabbing ensembles. But if you’re as daring as Valdes or as chic and polished as Tinga, then you better wish Vijandre has a change of heart and stays for good this time as a fashion designer.