Top and skirt both by Vivienne Westwood, hat by Mich Dulce
This Christmas, #TeamPreenPH honors pieces from our archives. We’re crashing your holiday parties with this potluck of stories that we hope can make for conversational pieces or light reading before the food coma sets it.
“I chose this story because it allowed me the amazing opportunity to collaborate with people I admire greatly. Judd Figuerres is one of my most favorite visual artists. His videos just have so much soul and artistry, and working with him is the easiest thing in the world. I don’t often get to work with photographer Joseph Pascual (whose Facebook posts are Easter eggs on my feed) but when I do, it is always a joy because of his intuitive understanding of what an editor wants.
And of course, I felt extremely privileged to tell designer Mich Dulce’s story when she decided to come home after a high-profile stint in Paris. Mich is a friend I’ve known since college, and even then, I knew that the world would eventually come to know her outsized talent. That she has a fantastic personality, ballsy humor, and the ability to give a great interview are just icing on the bundt cake.” —Cai Subijano, managing editor
Mich Dulce is a real character. And while it’s too easy to cast her as a polarizing figure—with her in-your-face personality and acerbic wit, along with the bubbling of her ample bosom out of a billowy blouse, helped along by a tightly laced corset—sometimes it’s a lot more fun to hold your tongue and let her tell you her story.
I have at least one chance encounter with the designer every time she comes home to Manila, and she always has a story I just have to hear. Last year, there was a horrifying encounter with a welcoming committee of cockroaches in her Parisian flat. While shooting this story, she had another one about a friend who tricked her into thinking that a dirty phrase in French was the equivalent of asking for a light.
“I think the reason I always have a story is because I’m so gullible,” she admits.
She had just returned from a nine-month stint in Paris working as a milliner for one of the most revered French luxury houses in the fashion industry, though a binding non-disclosure agreement prevents her—and this writer—from revealing the name.
“When I was starting to make hats, I would make a list of what I wanted my hat brand to be like, and it was their brand. I was like, ‘I really love this brand,’” she told them during her job interview.
I still remember the excitement surrounding her move to Paris because well, that was less than a year ago. She had just completed her first solo exhibit in Finale Art File and landed her first solo magazine cover for Inquirer Red. Her hats were already stocked in London, New York, and Tokyo. Ages ago, I watched the very first episode of Gossip Girl in her apartment, only to see one of her hats appear on Blair Waldorf’s head in later seasons. After everything she had already achieved, Paris seemed like the next logical progression in her career.
Except Mich hated Paris.
“I have to admit, at first I really couldn’t deal with it. I was really like, ‘I hate this place, I never want to live here, I hate everything,’” she said. “And also, I had so much to do. I was telling people that I saw more of Paris when I didn’t live there.”
Statements like these are difficult to swallow, and they often put people off because it sounds incredibly entitled, ungrateful even. But it also happens to be her truth, something she’s never shied away from expressing. If you would just hear the rest of what she has to say, it gets better.
“It was super hard in the sense that I worked a lot because I had my day job, but I was also working on my brand, so I literally had no days free,” she expounds. “But it was probably the most educational point of my life. It was an introduction to full-on luxury. When you enter the ateliers, you’re surrounded by the history of the fashion industry. And I was a part of it. ”
Months later, when I heard that she had left the maison, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Yes, of course it was going to be hard, but finally, one of our own had reached one of the pinnacles of working in fashion. It was an affirmation of the one thing we’ve always told ourselves: Filipino talent is world-class. And just when we had gotten used to the idea of it, she was done. What the fuck happened?
Going back to her roots
Her rationale goes like this: “One of the things I’m super passionate about [are] Filipino materials. Working for a French brand, you don’t have control over what the world needs to see. And the world will see it as French,” she says. “At the end of the day, it always has to represent where I’m from. I’m always going to have materials that are Filipino because I think it’s important not to just do what you want to do. Do it in the way that’s close to your roots.”
Fair enough, but she also wasn’t blind to the fact that she was essentially turning her back on what could probably be the singular most significant accomplishment of her lifetime.
“I was like, how can I top that? Where do you go after where I came from?” she asked herself. “It was weird because that was always the question of everyone at work. Where do you go after that? There’s no other place to go to. It’s the highest of high.”
For some people, maybe. There are people who achieve their dreams, and they realize that it’s everything they’ve ever wanted. But there are others who are horrified to discover that after all that hard work and anticipation, they’ve changed their minds. But they’ve become attached to everything they gave up on the way to the top, so they stay there, and little by little, they’re ruined by it.
From the way I see it, Mich was one of the few who were brave enough to walk away. It’s the same amount of courage, I would imagine, it takes to risk leaving the warm, cushy safety net of a city like Manila, which she has done again and again with the encouragement of people like Chuvaness blogger Cecile Zamora-van Straten, and stylists Michael Salientes and Melvin Mojica.
“Michael was always the one who was like, ‘What are you doing in Manila? You have to go. Leave! You’ll always have Manila. If you don’t want to be there, you can come back. But if you don’t explore, you’re never going to go out,’” she recounts. “And for me, that was the life-changing thing.”
Let’s be honest: Many of our most talented in this country are emboldened to leave because they know Manila will always be there to break their fall. But we can’t ignore those who choose to stay out of fear for having nothing to show for it once they set their sights internationally.
“At this point, I’m super grateful and I’m happy, but I hope that I have other places to go. I’m not going to say that I’m going to end with that. I’ve invested so much time into my brand that I’m just not willing to see it die.”
A return to form
After reaching the “highest of the high,” the only place to go is back home. So here she was, back in Manila where it all started, furiously working on her next collection. “I came back because I didn’t want to forget the things I realized about Paris.”
“Paris is the center of fashion, and it really changes your perspective. In London, people want crazy, cute, quaint things. In New York, they want hip things. In Paris, they want chic. Like, everyone is chic. If it isn’t chic it doesn’t fit the mold,” she explains. “Paris was kind of a wake-up call for me, that not everyone’s going to wear jumbo ears on their head or huge bows.”
Her first step is a collaboration with artist Adam Green, which is set to launch in New York next Tuesday. Like many of Mich’s encounters with people we only read about on The Cut, this project happened almost entirely by chance when she bought one of his pieces. “When we met, he said, ‘Oh, you make hats,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll make you a hat.’ And he had so many great ideas for hats, and I really liked his work. So I said, ‘Let’s not just make a hat, let’s make a whole line.’”
The result is a small capsule collection of men’s and women’s hats and headpieces, which will essentially kick-off the re-launch of her namesake brand.
“I’m adding diversity to my product line. Before I used to work just with T’nalak straw and local straw. Most people are familiar with my work with headpieces, mostly little veils, headpieces, and caps. But this season, we’re doing the whole shebang. It’s full-on millinery from day hats to fur felts to straw hats to berets and [even] bridal,” she reveals.
Her upcoming spring/summer 2016 collection is inspired by the Third Eye and the occult, though it may not be immediately apparent because faeries were translated into butterflies to make the pieces more accessible. The collection is also a direct reflection of all her Parisian education: “It is a little bit more mature. In the past the things that I did were a little bit kitsch and a little bit novelty and cute, and now, after my work in Paris, I feel like I’ve grown.
Taking her leave
In spite of her conflicted relationship with it, Mich is by no means done with the City of Lights, but when she does return (her working visa is still valid), it’s going to be on her own terms. “I’m hoping there’s a way to work for someone in Paris still, and fingers crossed, I’ve got a new lead. I’d like to work as a freelance designer for a French brand or British brand and then keep my brand alive. It’s kind of important to me that I still have my brand,” she says.
After all, she’s come too far only to quit now. Lest we forget, Mich has gone out to the world and she does have plenty to show for it—even before Paris happened.
“I was selling in 14 cities in high end stores, and that made me really proud. It was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, it can be done.’ I’m not the only one out there. There’s Bea Valdes, who has the same concept and she’s out there,” she continues. “It was a proud moment to see my work alongside Balenciaga, Chanel, [Vivienne] Westwood—these brands that I really, really love, and that’s a huge achievement.”
“It’s not about making money. It was seeing people accept things I made alongside really luxury items. Because that was the goal, for people to see our products as luxury items because we deserve it.”
Wherever this next phase in career takes her, though, we’re pretty sure that no matter where she ends up, she’ll always have a great story to send back home.
Mich Dulce’s millinery and corsets are still available in Manila. For orders, call Lea at (02) 634-7078 or e-mail [email protected]. For more information, visit her official website.
Video by Judd Figuerres Photos by Joseph Pascual Sittings editor Randz Manucom Makeup by Finella Manuel of MAC Hair by Analou Enriquez of Bench Fix Salon