Manners & Misdemeanors
The Tricky Relationship Between Fashion Designers and Clients
A man who’s seen it all in the fashion world reveals how to navigate the tricky waters that often engulf a designer and his client, among other things.
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The contrast alluded to in the title astounds but it best portrays the sentiment existing between an artist and his patron. Haute couture passionately resembles painting and other creative fields involving conception and its ultimate execution.

During those halcyon days when fashion creations were coveted and highly valued by dyed-in-the-wool connoisseurs, the equivalent of today’s fashionistas, these creators (only labeled later on as fashion designers) were wined and dined by passionate aficionados in the hopes of having first dibs on their latest works or innovations.

Parents of young debutantes selected the most visible and the most sought-after fashion creators to design and execute the gown for their daughters’ formal coming out party. A status symbol, the significant and powerful warranted the privilege of requiring the prospective designers to prepare designs they could select from. The aspiring designers, or the ones almost there, would allow themselves to be subjected to such ordeals, whereas the more established ones would push their sharpened Staedtler pencils on sketchpads only after they were formally assured of the commission. Rudely translated, after being given a partial payment.

I have been informed that many of today’s young designers are gallantly liberal in lending their creations, mostly leftovers from past shows, to visible personalities, starting with movie and television starlets or sought after fashion models.

At this stage of selection leading to the final commission, publicity played a vital role. During my designing days, society columnists fulfilled their daily rationing via their corners of the sky, then known as the society pages, and currently labeled the lifestyle sections. This was the battleground where the news hens out scooped one another. Those who provided the juiciest news were usually generously rewarded with exposure in the fairy godmothers’ society columns.

A PRESSING AFFAIR

Important milestones, family events, and occasions were the lifeline of these daily or weekly columns. “Manila Carousel,” penned by Nang Sevilla, the mother of the then ingénue fashion model Conchitina Sevilla, was the most widely read. The Manila Times was then the widest circulated and read broadsheet. The Evening News had its Flora Zaide Valencia. Lulu Henson was Philippine Herald’s while Mameng Perez and Rita Adkins were queens at the Manila Daily Bulletin’s corner, “Night and Day.”

Designers could get recognized and patronized via press mileage. Their work could land on magazine fashion spreads and, if they were even more fortunate, their “masterpieces” would emblazon the magazine covers.

Just like many of my peers, I had this sort of lucky break. The annual Kahirup Ball was an event that most wannabes became obsessed with seeing and being seen in. During the lead up to the event, society writers kept themselves busy angling for sizzling scoops. Speculation ran the gamut—“Who will wear whose creation, or how many carats will so-and-so socialite be flashing from either ear at the Kahirup Ball?”

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Since its inception, the most awaited highlight of the gathering was the Rigodon de Honor. The Visayan elite and those in the Social Register were carefully selected to participate. The fairest ladies and the most handsome gentlemen were seen doing the Rigodon, inspired or patterned after the quadrille or the French minuet.

Slowly and surely the harmonious liaison between the creators and the patrons is pitifully reaching its stage of extinction. Nowadays, what hang or fill the racks on the selling floors of showrooms, boutiques, and department stores are horrendous knock-offs of once sensible designs. Many of these badly finished items are illegally manufactured in sweatshops in impoverished countries abroad.

My fondest recollection of this highlight involved the well-written about terno that la Divina, Chona Kasten, wore. To this day, fashion insiders still recall the glitter-less item, devoid of the cumbersome train, a simple yet very elegant creation of mine, that she wore to the ball. Not a few society scribes took notice of the elegantly different terno. And mind you, such sensational notice or reviews promptly came out in print the morning after.

A MUSE TO AMUSE
Virtual covenants were informally sealed between the wearers and the creators. While the famous Parisian Hubert de Givenchy had the iconic Audrey Hepburn as his muse, Filipino designers, the talented ones at least, searched and honed their own discoveries or muses for inspiration. This writer’s muse was the reed-thin and youthful Tingting delos Reyes, who later became the elegant and fashionable bride of the then eligible bachelor, Peping Cojuangco.

During our golden fashion days, we were much luckier. You see, Tingting was literally a walking mannequin emulated by members of the circles or cliques of her age. We could consider her a walking advertisement. Albeit there is one huge difference between then and the practice of today’s designers and their muses. All the prom dresses and later on the ternos and gowns Tingting wore to important Malacañan socials were all duly paid for by her mother, and later, by her husband.

In those days of yore, designers were extra-cautious in selecting or tapping models. Height and weight were and still are, of course, prime considerations. But on top of those, family backgrounds of prospective models took the lion’s share. Products of illicit love affairs were disqualified and discriminated against. If one turned out to be the daughter of the proverbial “Other Woman,” she had to be eased out or else those who had already signed up would be asked by their respective parents to back out from the prestigious stint.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
I have been informed that many of today’s young designers are gallantly liberal in lending their creations, mostly leftovers from past shows, to visible personalities, starting with movie and television starlets or sought after fashion models. Of course, they also love to whip up new creations in dressing fashion editors who feature their forward and at times inconceivable creations on the covers of some glossy magazines.

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Today, go-getting and up-and-coming fashionistas enthusiastically participate in fashion parades and marathons at the drop of a hat. They are easy prey to situations where there are no losers nor winners. In this arena, the primordial aim is no longer to come up with designs fulfilling basic purposes, namely beauty and function. Sadly neither is achieved. Most, if not all, serve the gaping and screaming audience with pitiful caricatures instead of creations suffused with purpose, usefulness, and elegance.

Slowly and surely the harmonious liaison between the creators and the patrons is pitifully reaching its stage of extinction. Nowadays, what hang or fill the racks on the selling floors of showrooms, boutiques, and department stores are horrendous knock-offs of once sensible designs. Many of these badly finished items are illegally manufactured in sweatshops in impoverished countries abroad.

Try to take a closer look and you are bound to spy items almost impossible to classify—tops festooned with flashy, blinding sequins and tons of beads, or pearls that are teamed with distressed and tattered denim jeans. Only the young, recklessly adventurous crowd in the opinion of a few, manages to get away with wearing them.

In events where the invitations specify Casual Chic, one is bound to bump into herds of fashion victims. They are mostly clad in evening outfits, erroneously in trendy platform Roman sandals. And should you give them a second look, you will see the wearers lug cumbersome tote bags instead of evening boxes or purses. Their handy justification being, the signature bags cost them an arm and a leg.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS
But what most often breaks the camel’s back by way of artist/patron liaison? One common case involves false hopes and wrong expectations. There are some who can draw fantastic sketches in seconds. Beautiful drawings can be a great asset for any designer. Prospective debutantes and blushing brides are easily taken by wonderful fashion sketches.

Too bad then, that at the moment of truth, many end up disappointed. Some brides discover they made the wrong choice when they finally fit the 80 percent-complete gown they are to wear at that once in a lifetime event in their young life. Moral of the story? Don’t rely too much on those Technicolor sketches. It would be much safer and wiser if the future bride picks a design the fashionista has successfully executed before. It may no longer be fresh and oh, so original, but she can be sure of how her dream gown will look like when she finally walks down the aisle.

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Christian Espiritu
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