Daniela Arango in Francis Libiran
I first heard about Francis Libiran back in 2013 when he dressed Megan Young for the Miss World paegant. My friend sent me a photo of the dress on Instagram saying, "You need to follow this Filipino designer! He's super talented!" And it turns out my friend was right, because Francis Libiran's designs are not only exquisite, they're elegant with a strong sense of craftsmanship.
I had heard that Francis would be showing a collection at the Filipino Community of Guam's 63rd Anniversary Ball, so I immediately volunteered to help out with the fashion showcase. I was really excited because it's rare to be able to work with couture garments on Guam. Mainly, because we live on a tiny island where fashion experiences tend to be few and far apart.
At the dress rehearsal for the fashion show, I was able to see Francis' gowns on the racks. I also recognized Megan Young's dress from the Miss World paegant as one of the gowns. There were 5 designers presenting at the showcase but only two designers were showing red carpet style gowns: Francis Libiran and Nat Manilag. Nat's designs were sophisticated and glamourous. I wasn't familiar with Nat's work but I immediately fell in love with his designs. It was amazing to watch the gowns grace the runway and to be able to see the delicate craftsmanship up close.
After the successful fashion showcase, I had the honor of sitting down with Nat and Francis to ask them a few burning fashion questions. 😆
UNO: Let's get to it -- what does fashion mean to you?
Francis: Fashion for me is something very personal and something as an individual you should identified with a certain fashion with what you're doing, how you style yourself and how you present yourself. That's why every time I speak with a client I would always want to talk to them first so that I am inspired with how that person is.
Nat: For me, well I believe that fashion is a venue for collaboration and expression. Each detail is usually inspired by my innate sense of style and my flair for design.
UNO: Where do you draw your inspiration from when designing?
Francis: Designing is something very sacred and as a designer it can be difficult sometimes to come up with a certain design. It just has to have that right mood and inspiration and I mean sometimes in the middle of the night I'd be watching TV and something comes up, you know-- it could be reminder from a picture or something and then ideas would just overflow. When I'm designing, I always lock myself inside a hotel room and just have a clean slate inside my head and silence [because] I need to be there in the moment when I am designing. That's why it's very sacred and in my design process I want to be alone because I want to be able to concentrate fully on it. I think I'm a little hardcore when I'm designing. (Laughs)
Nat: Everything that I see is interesting, so I always think of how I can incorporate it in my designs. Of course, it sometimes depends on what event my client is going to and then I'll design something. I also study her anatomy and expose her best features and from there I'll begin my design process.
Nat Manilag with Model, Phoebe Palisoc
UNO: Who are your inspirational fashion icons?
Francis: When I was 8 years old, I would always design for someone walking down the red carpet. I remember vividly when I'd be sketching at the back of my notebook I would present an actress walking down the red carpet, just feeling the fabric, and explaining the small details of her gown. And looking back, I would always think of how my mind was so pure at that moment and to think that now after 20 years of designing, I'd be designing for actresses of the Philippines on the red carpet. (Laughs)
UNO: Wow, and even Tyra Banks!
Francis: I know! I mean it's fascinating how our minds work. Sometimes when I have a difficult time designing, I would always go back to that time when I was a kid. Because I guess for me, that's the the purest--when you're a kid--you're not afraid to do a lot of things. I remember growing up and looking at magazines and the designers in the Philippines and I'd be thinking I can do better--and you know you tend to compare yourself and you start to draw and be inspired by their works. So anytime I'm having a difficult time designing, I always go back to when I was 8 years old and my mind was just fearless designing a lot of things.
UNO: And for you, Nat?
Nat: Well, ever since I was in 3rd grade, I loved watching beauty pageants and I'm always inspired doing gowns for beauty queens. I love the way they play with the fabric when they do their walk and when I design, I would always want my designs to be flirty and soft with movements.
UNO: And is that what elegance means to you?
Nat: Yes, that [the dress] should enhance the body of the woman.
Francis: For me, elegance is something how you carry yourself in public and how people would see you in a particular outfit.
UNO: You both were a part of the fashion showcase at the Filipino Community of Guam Anniversary Ball. What inspired your collections that you showed at the ball last night?
Francis: My collection is a mixture of all the details that I've been doing, like my signature cut outs, art deco patterns, and different forms. I have an architectural background so I love lines and it's very visible in the patterns that I do like in beading and embroidery. Every time I think of something in terms of designing I would always think of how the public would notice my gown and say it's a Francis Libiran gown without a tag; I want a signature look that would make people notice it right away and say, 'Oh that's a Francis Libiran gown.'
Nat: I love playing with the fabrics, draping, folds, and being able to incorporate fully embellished embroideries and details. That's why I made capes, because I wanted something the models could play around with while they were walking.
UNO: And how would you describe the Nat Malinga man or woman?
Nat: I think I capture the modern day man or woman during a special moment in their life. They're sophisticated and they command a presence once they enter a room. Yeah, I want them to shine every time they attend a special event because it's their moment.
UNO: How would you describe the Francis Libiran man or woman?
Francis: I would describe the person wearing my clothes as someone who is confident and sure of themselves, someone not afraid to show-off certain details [of their outfit] and unafraid to carry themselves in wearing a particular style. I guess you could say someone who is just being comfortable with themselves.
UNO: What do you see for the future of Philippine fashion?
Francis: Filipino designers are very talented. The Philippines is rich with good designers and every year we see a lot of up and coming designers. We're evolving to be international and we see a lot of international Filipino designers like Michael Cinco. There are more who have made their mark in the fashion industry and you could say that the Philippines is an emerging fashion capital for Asia. We're trying to compete with Tokyo and Bangkok, and Filipino designers are very particular about incorporating our Filipino culture in their designs. We want to make a mark you know because a lot of people say we're a mix of culture and they never know if we're Spanish or Asian. However, if you take a closer look at our rich culture, you will find that there are a lot of things that we can show off to the world.
Phoebe Palisoc in a Francis Libiran gown
Nat: I agree with him. Philippine fashion is very big right now and we have a lot of international designers. Our designs can compete with anyone else on an international level, especially with our couture designs because we're very creative and resourceful when it comes to materials.
Francis: I guess since the Philippines is a third world country, we don't have the technology but we try to innovate what we have. This forces us to be really creative and to do everything by hand. That's where the passion and creativity come in, we want to create something beautiful but we have to make it by hand.
Nat: Yes, and the labor can get expensive since everything is by hand and it takes a long process.
Francis: With fast fashion right now, you can see how meticulous Filipino designers are with designing, whether it's clothes or accessories.
Nat: Also, our clients hold very high expectations of us. Since they feel that it's a custom made gown, it's an exclusive design for them. There's some pressure on our part to do our best.
Francis: Yes, and sometimes I would like to use our local fabrics like the piña and abaca. Every time I use these fabrics, I want to create something that's different from the traditional mestiza with the butterfly sleeves because that's what it is usually used for. I like to think of how I can create something from these traditional fabrics that will look international and wearable.
UNO: What is your advice for anyone working in any creative field, whether it be design or writing?
Francis: My advice would be -- and it could be for anything in any field -- keep innovating what you're doing and concentrate on it. Study [your craft] on a daily basis and try to keep doing it. Never stop. Never be complacent and always improve, improve, improve. Don't be afraid to make changes because change always makes the outcome good.
Nat: Be inspired everyday and remember that each day is a learning process. You are your only competition so it's important to challenge yourself to create something.
Carmela Tyquiengco in a Nat Manilag gown.