Enter Samsung Hall and the crowd is barely reaching out to the bar for their free cocktails. Clearly, everyone went for the clothes. The runway is the whole of the SM Aura roof deck. Models cover the whole space, turning so that they never miss an audience row. Jo Ann Bitagcol sighs, “That was tiring,” in an exhilarated tone.
This year at Salon Series 3, designers Cesar Gaupo, Joey Samson, Lulu Tan-Gan, Rhett Eala, and Dennis Lustico conspired to create “collections that are about the clothes, those for real people—no gimmicks here.” Joey Samson proudly explains what they thought about the audience to produce ensembles that expressed the fullness of each designer’s aesthetic.
Preen racks the brains of the five designers and the stories behind their collections.
Gaupo flaunted simple lines, clean silhouettes, with pops of lace, embroidery, and houndstooth print. “It’s not all about being trendy or edgy,” he says. “I went back to classy, classic, and elegant.”
His most compelling look is a white caftan with blue appliqués, worn by Jasmine Maierhofer. His series displayed a uniform silhouette—triangular, taut necklines, with a subdued grandiosity. “Every show that we do is always a growing process, not only in terms of design but also in character. I have great camaraderie with the young designers. The industry has been growing because of this. It’s a big help for designers like us who are [also] about business. It’s not just a show, it’s for the clients.”
Samson went all out, but kept it wearable. Wool, pinstripe, mesh, and lace, all cleverly deconstructed and collaged back together into structured, memorable pieces. He says of his kimono jackets, “The Japanese aspect only came in much after, when the collection was completed. There was no conscious effort to make it look Asian or Japanese.” Every piece showed an element of surprise: a trench coat with an open back, a strict pair of trousers paired with a delicate lace long-sleeved shirt, and a cropped men’s shirt fronted with a fringe. It is a subtle, patient twist to technical, well-thought-out menswear, and Samson pulled it off seamlessly. “We’re a small group now, so we wanted to make collections that remained faithful to the clothes. It’s not just a show, not about the fireworks, no unnecessary frills. We wanted something very simple.”
He expresses how he is grateful to the Salon Series. “It helped me connect to a wider audience. It helped me bridge the gap between making real clothes, clothes that are more relatable, rather than just making clothes that are solely editorial. Still, it’s important to stick to your aesthetic. Salon helped me find that middle ground.”
Tan-Gan’s silhouettes this year were simpler, cleaner, and more thoughtful than all of her previous Salon shows. The designer succeeded in making the show about the piña, as it was displayed on the runway in form of beautifully fitted, wearable, breathy garments: sheer, pinstripe, neutrals with pops of color and print. The series is fresh and progressive yet still appealing to women of a varied age range, proving to the audience that Tan-Gan has gotten to know her market, and has mastered it without betraying her aesthetic.
Her own words put it quite well, as she explains, “My major driving force? The challenge to continue innovating. One can easily stagnate. I’d like to stay modern, in touch with today.”
Lustico’s collection, he says, were based on a films starring John Travolta: Saturday Night Fever and Staying Alive. “A little bit of disco interpreted in black and white.” The black cocktail dresses did not disappoint, though most of the other pieces were a tad underwhelming. I overhear a prominent editor say, “It looks like he’s auditioning blackjack dealers.”
Regardless, Lustico sees this as a creative exercise, and is aware that it is a learning process every time. “As a designer you have to constantly come up with something new so it’s a good practice for us. We learn not to feel relaxed about what we do, and Salon keeps us thinking about what to come up with next.”
Eala’s collection is, indubitably, art-inspired. “The prints on the dresses were inspired by my favourite artists: Matisse, Picasso, Joseph Boyce, and many more.” His collection, though young and progressive, lacked cohesion and a solid narrative. Regardless, it contained distinct elements: painted roses, and a stitching of what seems like a Versace bust on the skirts. It is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s wedding gown—maybe just more organized.
He says, “Of course, you’re with the heavyweights here, you have to be at par with them.” He says that being in the business for two decades and making mistakes showed him where his niche is in the industry. “Now I know what’s good—I know who my clients are. It’s about knowing who your market is. I’m not a young designer anymore, I know who my market is. The menswear is a lot like how I dress. I don’t dress my age. (Laughs)”
The Salon Series might have just presented its best collections yet. With a collaborative air from both the designers and the audience, all with the goal of reshaping Manila’s young couture scene, we can undoubtedly expect more brilliant creations to come.