The other Pinoy who dresses up Hollywood celebs

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2014 - 12:00am

Did you know that it was a Pinoy (not as publicized as the others just yet) who was behind the “ladylike fit-and-flare” dress that Paris Hilton wore at the Cannes Filmfest last May that landed her on US weekly magazine’s list as one of that event’s best-dressed?

He’s none other than Rocky Gathercole.

“My dad is an American, with parents who are both American, but he’s Filipino by birth,” explained Rocky when Funfare talked to him at his atelier on Kamuning Road (near corner Tomas Morato Avenue), Quezon City.

Jojo Gabinete and I were pleasantly surprised to learn that Rocky’s life story is perfect to be dramatized in Charo Santos-Concio’s top-rated ABS-CBN series Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK). It was Jojo’s friend Wheeyee Lozada (Willie Revillame’s assistant) who introduced us to Rocky.

Rocky (whose first cousin is a versatile character actor whom he asked us not to identify because the actor might resent it; they are not close) narrated that after finishing second-year high school at Arellano University (with Richard Gomez among his schoolmates), he at 14 stowed away and slept with other street children at the foot of Quezon Bridge in Quiapo, surviving on the kindness of people whom he and company would approach at Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly Plaza Lawton).

“I’m an only child,” admitted Rocky. “I was going through an identity crisis and I couldn’t tell my dad that I was gay. That’s why I left home. My dad, who died in 2007, didn’t have a job and he couldn’t afford to send me to school. He was good-looking kaya maraming babae ang attracted sa kanya. My mom is still around but I’m not close to her.

Then, he earned his keep by selling tapsilog on a kariton along Roxas Boulevard.

“But even as a kid, I was fond of sketching,” continued Rocky, now 47, whose dream at that time was to work as a janitor at ShoeMart but was turned down because one of the job requirements was a high school diploma. “When I became a Born-again Christian, my life changed for the better, thanks to a Korean whom I met in our church, and who recommended me to be a waiter at their friends’ restaurant. During off-hours, I would continue sketching. Mahilig talaga ako sa fashion-designing.”

He befriended a designer (deceased) who, to make a long story short, served as his mentor who paved Rocky’s way to work as a designer in Saudi Arabia, disguising himself as a Fine Arts graduate. “My employer was impressed,” said Rocky, “especially after I showed him that I could sketch a gown in five minutes. Not to boast but mahusay talaga akong mag-drawing, on the spot.”

That was more than 20 years ago. After working for other employers, he saved enough to put up his own shop, this time in Dubai.

“Arab women are very fashionable, hindi sila umuulit ng damit,” said Rocky, “that’s why there are many designers there, most of them Filipino.”

While in Dubai, Rocky joined the Miami Fashion Week and got good reviews that opened opportunities for him to join the New York Fashion Week. “In Miami, I paid to join the event, but in New York, they didn’t ask me to pay,” said Rocky.

It was in New York where Rocky was discovered by an agent, Jacob Meir, now his manager. Among Rocky’s early Hollywood clients was Chinese actress Bai Ling, eventually including the likes of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears (who wears Rocky’s designs on her billboards in Las Vegas) and, of course, Paris Hilton. One of Rocky’s most talked-about gowns was the one worn by a famous Hollywood starlet who didn’t have an underwear. “Pinag-usapan ‘yon ng media all over the world,” Rocky recalled, laughing in amusement.

More than a year ago, his good friend Wheeyee convinced Rocky to come home and put up his own shop (the one in Kamuning Road). He’s also good at designing wedding gowns.

“It was Rocky who dressed up the models featured during the inauguration of Willie’s mall,” said Wheeyee. “That served as Rocky’s introduction to the local market.”
He’s now working on his collection for exhibition next month in Canada where he plans to open a shop. In September, he’s signing up with a shop in New York.

Moral of Rocky’s story?

“If you have a dream, work hard for it,” said Rocky.

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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