Rhett Eala has a sharp eye for beauty
Rhett Eala’s livng room is a mix of old and new. The sofa is by MDF Italia, the chairs by Cappellini. The Oriental screen and table with Chinese ceramics are from his mom Roceli “Baby” Valencia Eala who did the paintings on the walls and floor.

Rhett Eala has a sharp eye for beauty

LIFE AND STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Rhett Eala is one very extraordinary person. 

He sleeps at 9:30 p.m., the hour when guys of his age would still be having drinks and chilling out with friends.

He wakes up at 5:30 a.m., a time when the rest of humanity is still knocked out. “It’s nice to do emails in the morning. My eyes are clearest in the morning,” Rhett explains. 

Rather, his one eye is clearest in the morning. Rhett’s right eye is artificial. “I had a congenital defect when I was 10.  So since then, I’ve been relying solely on my left eye.” 

The amazing thing is that even with one eye, Rhett obviously has a clear vision of what is beautiful, for he has produced some of the most beautiful creations in fashion. He also has a sharp eye for the finer things in life.

This is evident in his new home  in one of the best condominiums in Makati , a choice he made since his mother passed away last year. He lived with his mother and sister in Bel Air where their house interiors followed his mother’s taste, which was largely traditional with a touch of Chinoiserie. She also liked a lot of wood.

“Traditional is okay but I prefer modern,” says Rhett. The Oriental touches are still there though, by way of the ivory pieces, the Buddhas and folding screens he inherited from his mom — reminders of the time they spent in another Asian country.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: I first heard about you from Impy Pilapil — was it in the 1980s? — when I spent a couple of days with her in Hong Kong where you and  your family lived then. Tell us about your Hong Kong years.

RHETT EALA: My family moved to Hong Kong when I was 12 and we lived there until I was about 19. So I spent my teenage years in the Crown Colony, which was very different from what it is now. The British influence was still very apparent then. I was exposed to global brands like Matsuda and Kansai Yamamoto from Tokyo. Giorgio Armani had a small shop at the Mandarin then. I was so excited seeing the brands come alive from the magazines I read.

Your mom Roceli “Baby” Valencia Eala was an artist and your grandfather was the famous newspaper columnist Doroy Valencia. How did they influence you?

My mom encouraged me to hone my creative side. I was not much of an academic, though I am a bit of a nerd. On TV, I prefer watching documentaries, crime and war stories. I also like  learning about places. My mom was very supportive of my interest in fashion, so she sent me to Italy for a fashion course after high school. My Lolo Doroy? I remember he wrote his thoughts directly on his typewriter. He was a very spontaneous person.

I was shocked to see your huge abstract paintings in your Rockwell pop-up shop months ago. Shocked because you had not exhibited this side of you. How would you describe your art?

Abstract. With lots of color.

How about your home?

It’s a mix of  old and new. All the antiques you see here were passed on to me  and my sister Gigi who is an architect. (My brother Dennis died of a heart attack when he was 50). It’s my first time to choose furniture on my own — with some help from Ben Chan, who has been my friend for 30 years. So most of the furniture here are things I bought from his Dimensione shop — Fritz Hansen, Cappellini and MDF Italia... See those dining lights? They’re by MOOOI.

Did you ever think of pursuing art as a career? 

I do like painting but it’s a big commitment and it takes a lot of time. It’s a bit too intense for me. Maybe when I retire I will have more time to paint.

What’s your favorite part of your house?

I like the living room because it’s light and cozy. And has mostly neutral colors.

The past decades, you have been quite the trendsetter in Philippine fashion. When you introduced your poncho blouses, all the women in Manila were wearing them. Same with your fringed dresses. Then when you made T-shirts with the Philippine map on them, everybody just had to have one. Your brocade tops with lace on the waist have been copied and recopied. Now you are making those pretty terno tops which are so comfy and wearable. They’re a favorite of Tourism Secretary Berna Puyat. How does it feel to be setting the trends in fashion?

It’s very flattering. As a designer, you have to strive to be relevant. It’s nice to know that I’m still doing something right. Fashion is not just about gowns. It’s about things you wear every day. After all, I started as an RTW designer at Rustan’s. My fashion is simple but luxe, using very good fabrics. They’re not revolutionary but they’re usually pretty and functional.

These past few years, I’ve gone back to RTW which was my first love and I have been really relishing it. I like the fact that I am reaching a wider audience and getting to know the market today. I get a lot of inspiration from old movies and travels.

What state and direction is Philippine fashion taking now?

I think it’s a great time for Philippine fashion. Lots of creative young people are now doing street fashion. For many years, designers  looked only at evening wear. But now the new designers are looking at daywear.

What dreams do you have as a fashion designer?

I still want to do one last show before I leave fashion. 

Leave fashion?

When I get tired of it.  I may want to take up photography or illustration, let’s see.

Looking around, I see that you have artworks by other artists other than your mom. 

Yes, my mom was very close to Impy Pilapil. Also Popo San Pascual, and they did some collaborative works. She was also friends with Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, who did my portrait when I was young, it’s in my bedroom.

Your mom was quite prolific. Are you thinking of mounting an exhibit of her artworks?

Yes, maybe, but we’re not selling them. Before she died, she spent time on our farm in Tagaytay and she was able to finish 12 canvases.

What was the best advice your mom gave you?

You should be grateful that you’re working. Then you’ll realize why work is important  in your life.

Have you realized this?

I am a workaholic.

It’s past 8 p.m., nearing your bedtime.

No, I will watch The Crown first on Netflix.


And that’s Rhett Eala’s way of chilling.

* * *

Follow the author on Instagram and Facebook@milletmartinezmananquil. Email her at mmmananquil@philstarmedia.com.



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