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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

entry arrow8:48 PM | A Fashion Show in a Small City

Truth to tell, fashion shows in Dumaguete are usually a joke of microscopic proportions. They are, if we have to be honest about it, only a tad better than tawdry beauty pageants and tawdrier bikini shows. More often than not, they are dimly-lit and barely rehearsed affairs that string together a hodge-podge of ukay wear. The female models are often unfashionably short, and the male ones are often kargador-ic—the types who soon would go about town telling people with such delusional sincerity, “I’m a model.” The dresses themselves are often taken from the racks of second-rate boutiques around town whose idea of fashion is more Jolina Magdangal than Stella McCartney. Sometimes a local fashionista, eager to put on a show, would merely cut denims to shreds and call them “avant-garde streetwear,” giving a bad name to “avant-garde” and “streetwear.” When there are legitimate designs to show, the construction is mostly sadsack—as evidenced by the way Patis Tesoro once gagged upon one Buglasan event, a bevy of tastelessness in sinamay surrounding her. “Oh my God,” I remember her saying.

Truth to tell, the drawing power lies not in the clothes, but in the public display of the nubile bodies of models strutting on makeshift runways. If there’s one Dumagueteño tick that encapsulates our reason to attend these shows, it is the tendency to gawk and then to pretend to get bored. Photographer John Stevenson once asked me, “What’s the use of these shows? Nobody buys these clothes.” And if somebody wants to, where do they go? There are no fashion-forward ateliers in Dumaguete, only high-priced modistas more suited to making prom dresses and festival costumes made of walis-tingting. “Why are we here?” John asked again. I finally told him, “Because we’re bored out of our heads.”

Dumaguete, it might as well be said, is a fashion black hole. It’s understandable. We are a small town barely out of barriotic mindset, forever hedging our bets against the modernity that threatens to embrace us. Our minimalist uniform for every living day, given the nearness of things and the humidity of our existence, is a shirt, a pair of jeans or cargo shorts, and sandals or flipflops. Wearing Armani under the hot Dumaguete sun is out of the question, and your Manolo Blahniks will certainly splinter away in the lubak-lubak of our sidewalks and streets. “Baduy is in the blood,” someone once said to me, which is a bit harsh, but there you go.

It surprised me then that last May 23’s fashion show—at the eternally grimy and sad El Camino Blanco—was fashion at its most refined, at least as far as Dumaguete was concerned. Titled Burst, it was singularly a show that burst more than one thing, my low expectations most of all. Because it actually started right on the dot. Because the designs actually sizzled and impressed. Because it finally placed much-needed emphasis on the clothes. Because it was verily a show. Clocking in more than an hour, what we got were segments after segments of design, some of course more compelling than the others, but all of them brilliant in their own right. This was a far cry from the usual 15 minutes of catwalk we used to get in past shows, where the emphases were on skin, more skin, and scandalously low cleavage—never mind construction and silhouette.

Designers Athena Tandoc, Marie Nueva, Karl Sutterlin, Nikki Teves,
Josip Tumapa, and Carla Bondoc

Nikki Teves, an up-and-coming 21-year-old local designer now studying fashion marketing at the prestigious LaSalle College International, conceptualized the show, and it was only right that she opened the event with a burst of summer wear—in this case, pastel-colored swimwear for the women, with an almost dainty emphasis on fabric flow, Grecian-inspiration, and low cut. The result was a classy version of the old one-piece bikini, at once provocative and conservative—an unexpected combination. The men, on the other hand, donned various stylings of kimono tops in floral print over very short, and very skimpy, white shorts.

Local designer Josip Tumapa followed suit with strapless ballgowns with an abundance of flounce, all of which were reminiscent of rich and silken tapestry, and with differing silhouettes a little too scattered for comfort, diffusing the thread that should connect the collection: one was a high-waisted burst of a purple flower, and another one was an exercise in velvet drapery pulled into place by a well-centered brooch. Not exactly original, and the color and fabric choices are not exactly adventurous—but this is the best collection for women I have seen Josip put out so far. It is with the men that the collection falters a little bit. It forced them to don silken corsets, fedoras, and Ugg boots together with an assortment of pants in different fabrics (ripped jeans, among them) and prints. The result is a mishmash that never really came together.

Manila Clothing’s Carla Bondoc came out with only a short segment—something altogether devoted to skinny jeans with her brand of difference: all of them come in various colors, from yellow to purple, from turquoise to hot pink, from green to red to royal blue, from mint to fuschia, from teal to white, gray, and black, from orange to mustard. Matter-of-fact ready-to-wear-denim, for the teenager on the go. Half-Norwegian designer Marie Nueva, on the other hand, basically did variations of the cocktail dresses that ranged from A-line to ballgown, from mermaid to tiered, but the defining thread seemed to be the soft hues of her prints—flowers for the most part—offset by shimmery see-through that lent the clothes a certain unexpected elegance.

The audaciously colorful clothes of 17-year-old half-German designer, model, and club deejay Karl Sutterlin were a little bit harder to describe, except that they reveled in a sexiness and a certain looseness of concept and wearability—sporty but not exactly, simple but not entirely. “My clothes are a bit weird, I’m not sure if they’re wearable on the street,” he once admitted to Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Bianca Consunji. In that interview, he cited the American flag as inspiration for his clothes: “I chose blue, white and red as the main colors of my collection,” he said. “I wanted to feature very strong colors for the summer.”

Athena Colico-Tandoc’s collection, which ended the show, was easily the most polished of the lot. Each ensemble she created seemed tailored to a degree of perfection, all of them a good explanation why construction is key to the making of beautiful clothes. The well-thought out details—the placement of the patterns, the beadwork, the cut—are astonishingly controlled, and while the influences are varied (one sees a little bit of Chanel, of Halston, of De la Renta, even of Versace), they don’t come apart as a collection. What tied the collection together were the bold uses of over-the-top prints (golden birds or gigantic blooms set in black), gold and silver trimmings, and a Pan-Asian sensibility that reminded one of Japanese and Chinese tapestries, but distilled to a sense of high fashion.

It was a well-attended event, a highlight of Dumaguete’s new Kabulakan Festival, and the attendance of some of Negros’s elite attested to that. It wasn’t entirely a perfect show: the venue was not exactly conducive to such an event, and there were a few unfortunate hecklers in the audience (ang baduy naman…), and the young hosts, save for the minimal efforts of Manila saxophonist Michael Young, were abysmally bad. There was absolutely no eye contact nor rapport with the audience, there was a little confusion in the traffic of segments, nobody could actually hear what they were trying to say, and one was almost tempted to shout, “Speak up, and speak to the microphone!” Then again, as one of the organizers told me right after, one can’t have everything.

Still, it was a great show, and for once, you could actually say Dumaguete was no fashion black hole.

Model Mark Xander Fabillar with Karl Sutterlin and Josip Tumapa

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