Presenting Lesley Mobo (finally!)
SHOPSIFTED - Ana G. Kalaw () - April 2, 2008 - 12:00am

Two seconds. That’s the length of time Lesley Mobo spent onstage after presenting his first major collection. Two seconds. Just enough for a quick dash onto the platform and a brief wave, leaving his much-appreciative audience bemused and very much wanting to meet the London-based designer who holds a senior design position with a young UK luxury brand. Two seconds. Not enough time for the usual confetti toss and bouquet handouts. No, none of that for Lesley Mobo, never mind the fact that he had just shown one of the most exciting collections to hit the Filipino catwalk scene.

“That’s so typical Lesley,” says good friend Rodney Alday, a London-based Filipino architect who helped with the structural design of Lesley’s stage, referring to his friend’s private nature.

The spotlight reluctance continued on after the show. All throughout, while doing the requisite rounds, accepting congratulations and posing for photographs, Lesley moved about with a dazed look on his face. Shell-shocked. Diffident. As if he wasn’t quite sure how to handle the attention. As if he still had not fully comprehended that his presentation for the Ayala group’s “Bravo Filipino” festival had ended in rousing applause.

For months, since the concept was proposed to him by Sofia Zobel-Elizalde in September of last year, Lesley has been working on a presentation that would banner his own name and label. He mostly made the clothes himself, but would collaborate on the show proper, which included a short film — an eerie looping of a woman dressed in an Oriental ensemble, her arms continuously undulating outward in circles — and a live soundtrack of gongs, horn instruments and percussions, with show director Ariel Lozada. It must have been an overwhelming task, made more so considering that this would be his very first solo showing, in the Philippines or abroad.

I was told that Lesley cried prior to the show. Thirty minutes before first look, the young designer had asked for some time alone. This was probably when he gave in to the recognition that, after all the stress and excitement, the thrill and exhaustion of almost single-handedly making piece after piece, after endless collaborations and creative output, Lesley Mobo was finally presenting his own collection. On home soil, to make it all even more poignant.

“Do you think they liked it?” he had asked Ariel, after he took the briefest of bows on stage. This was a man who had worked with Zandra Rhodes and Clements Ribeiro, who had been interviewed by John Galliano for a possible job in only his second year in London’s Central Saint Martins, who’s had a capsule collection for denim brand for Diesel, whose designs for UK label Jasmine di Milo label have been gracing the Paris catwalks the last few years. Lesley Mobo just isn’t the type to assume anything in Manila, despite all his international success.

In a quick chitchat a couple of days before his presentation, Lesley told me that he wasn’t sure Filipinos would like his pieces. They were created while he was simultaneously working on Jasmine di Milo’s pieces for autumn/winter ’08. So as not to lose focus he decided on also making pieces meant for colder weather — coats, jackets, heavy suiting — for the “Bravo Filipino” exhibition. “I’m not really making business from this presentation anyway. I’m just doing it to showcase the creativity and capability of the Filipino.” But home soil hungrily absorbed Lesley’s black and gray collection. Even if intended for temperatures to near zero, we loved what he came up with.

Philippine STAR columnist JR Isaac, Marie Claire editor-in-chief Myrza Sison and I dissected Lesley’s samples over late dinner after the show. Words and phrases like “order,” “urban,” “precise, but deconstructed at the same time” and “form in sinuousness” were thrown around. Lesley Mobo’s collection had models shuffling around in circles onstage (a concept inspired by the local cockfights. Says Lesley: “The best view of the show is really from above. If you look down on the stage, it all seems like a sabong, which is very much Filipino. Alam ko yan kasi sabongero tatay ko.”) in tailored, yet slightly bulbous, creations heavily dotted with precisely positioned details. Huge buttons ran down bodices flanked by pockets masquerading as arm cuffs (or maybe it was the other way around: cuffs pretending to be pockets). Wool peacoats were dealt sporty treatments with anorak-style flaps and drawstring closures, while waisted parka vests were given a classier upgrade with sleeker tailoring and oversized collars. Gray knitted jackets took on gentle rounded silhouettes and banded hems, wiping out the notion that everything knitted ends up sagging and looking bulky and heavy. Pieces that piqued the most interest were a cropped military-style jacket paired with square shoulders and severe tailoring matched with Boy Scout shorts — gold metallic appliqués were fashioned down the bodice and the leg, reminiscent of punk, although loads more elegant — and a heavily sequined evening gown topped with a lightweight cropped biker-style jacket.

Lesley’s collection took on a more surreal aspect polished up with sleek sculptural hairstyles fashioned with all sorts of millinery: Magritte bowler hats, trilby hybrids, stunted top hats. Let your eyes wander down to the footwear and you see how Lesley completed the look with customized military-inspired footwear fashioned with gold details. This was a collection that tried to subtly emphasize every small, perfect detail — that tried to make every element perceptible despite the monochrome.

“Rafe said he was blown away,” says Myrza, referring to Rafe Totengco, the New York-based Pinoy whose phenomenally successful bag label Rafe has also become a source of Pinoy pride.

Rafe wasn’t the only one impressed. Inno Sotto, whom Lesley credits for his first apprenticeship in fashion, was wholly enthusiastic about his former ward’s presentation. “I stood up and clapped so loud when it ended. He’s just amazing, and so humble.”

And so agrees every single member of that audience who loves fashion and knows what it stands for; each one of them even more gratified by the London designer’s modest demeanor. Lesley Mobo may not intend to sell his pieces in Manila but unconsciously — though expectedly — he has surely sold himself dearly to Philippine society.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, bravo Lesley! Bravo.

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