Tolentino came back home recently to stage his very first gala show, hosted by Metro and Metro Society magazines together with Samsung.
His Metrowear Icon show, held at Sofitel, featured a 75-piece couture collection, incorporating native fabrics such as piña, abaca, raw silk cocoon, and jute: “I'm trying to promote our fabrics so these great skills that have been passed down for 500 years continue into the next generation and keep our skilled kababayans employed,” he says.
Old Hollywood was his inspiration—pieces that are classic in cut and style, but full of drama through the use of ruffles, appliqués, and printed fabrics, to name a few. “Old Hollywood was something that inspired me as a kid in the province. We didn't have boutiques so I'd watch old movies with my mother and I was always interested in the fashion. She'd buy me international magazines at Clark and I'd look at the celebrities. Since I'm now dressing up people in Hollywood, I wanted to modernize the look.”
Spring was definitely in the air, as his collection included rosettes, floral hues, and floral-printed fabrics that give off an enchanted, fairy-like aura. To add to the mood, models moved with ballerina-like, graceful steps that were feminine and alluring. Male models, in turn, came out dashing in their barongs. “The fabric is a more luxurious version of the piña. The embroidery is a little more elegant and refined. I lined them and cut them like a suit. I loved the way they looked on the guys when they walked out,” Tolentino explains.
It was a couture collection that showcased the perfectionist in Tolentino, with each piece crafted meticulously. Tolentino obviously gives his all when it comes to designing clothes—this collection was three months in the making.
Style Kit: How and when did you start making clothes?
Oliver Tolentino: I started as a boy with sketches of dresses in all my school books. When I was about seven, I would stay inside while the other kids played and watch my mother's seamstress. I started altering my brothers' hand-me-downs so it would be like new clothes for me.
SK: When and why did you leave for the US?
I expanded into the US in July 2009 because I always dreamed of having a shop in Hollywood and dressing celebrities. Since I still have my Makati shop and videoconference with clients here, I don't feel like I've left.
SK: Filipino fabrics like piña, abaca, and raw silk cocoon are obviously your favorites. Is there a story behind your love of these fabrics?
This question always surprises me because I'm a Filipino so it's not unusual for me to have worked with piña before. I believe that if we Filipino designers don't promote our native fabrics, then who will? Eco fashion is a hot topic around the world right now, so it's just added enjoyment for me to be able to work with our native fabrics and it's such an interesting thing to do. I have tried to take our "old" fabrics and modernize them and show that couture can be created from them. I was so surprised that a friend of mine told me after the show that he was disappointed I didn't use piña in my Metrowear Icon collection. I informed him that over half of my collection was piña, abaca, raw silk cocoon, water lily, and jute! I took that as an extreme compliment that I had used our native fabrics in such a way that they looked like luxurious international fabrics. That has been my goal and for a Filipino not to recognize our fabrics, that's high praise for the end result of my efforts.
SK: Your American business partner, Andrew Caruthers, shared with us that you traveled all the way to the provinces and met with the people who make these fabrics. Could you share with us how the experience was like?
My business partner, an American, Andrew Caruthers, and I both have met with the Fiber Industry Development Authority in Manila and also DTI in Aklan about how to promote Philippine fabrics in order to support weavers in Aklan and the embroiderers of Lumban. DTI Aklan toured us around the different weavers and we observed how piña is made—literally, as someone pulled the leaves from the pineapple plants and stripped it down before us. I gave advice on the types of fabrics I'd like to see from them. Since then they have produced new fabrics that are extremely creative and high in quality.
SK: We hear that you intentionally veered away from black, red, and white gowns for this Metrowear show. Why is that? Is it because you want to promote colors?
While everyone knows I love colors, that's not the reason. The reason was that I wanted to challenge myself. Black, red, and white are such popular evening gown colors because they capture the eye and dazzle. For this collection—and I wonder if people who attended noticed—I excluded black, red, and white. That forced me to create couture pieces out of colors that are more challenging to create "wow" pieces from. It was just something I wanted to see if I could do, especially in Manila, and it was a rewarding challenge. The show director kept saying this was his first show ever not to close with black gowns or white wedding gowns.
SK: We enjoyed Kuh Ledesma’s walk on the runway. We’d love to know what is it you like about her.
Firstly, almost everyone in the fashion industry in that room knew that Kuh Ledesma does not walk for anyone! She never has! This was her first time and that was the shock factor. Then to see her have so much fun with it and pose on stage was a treat. Kuh is someone special to me because everyone knows she has discriminating taste. I was touched when she agreed to be a part of the event, and then was surprised myself when she agreed to walk. If nothing else, I'll always have that Kuh Ledesma honored me by walking for the first time in my first Philippine gala!
*For inquiries and appointments: Makati boutique, including ready-to-wear, is located in the Colonnade Residences building at corner of C. Palanca & Legaspi streets near Greenbelt 1, 856-7088. Los Angeles boutique: 9003 Melrose Avenue, West Hollywood, CA. (310) 858-0555. Visit Oliver Tolentino’s website at http://www.OliverTolentino.com; facebook page: Oliver Tolentino; and Twitter ID: DesignerOliverT