­­Chito Vijandre returns with a 40-piece collection for the Red Charity Gala
Raymond Ang (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Chito Vijandre is his mother’s son. 

“She was a maximalist,” he says. “And she was a party girl. She would throw these costume parties in Bacolod. There would be partying, drinking and I would be by the stairs just watching.” The way he tells it, Vijandre’s childhood was a scene straight out of Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata with his mother as the fabulous matriarch famous for throwing parties and her love for afternoon mahjong.

Consorcia Vijandre was particular about her look, had a very defined style, and knew how to make an impression. The younger Vijandre — known for his work’s whimsical eclecticism — admits that his mother’s larger-than-life antics were sometimes a source of embarrassment for him. At an age when most kids just want to fit in, his mother’s irrepressible style made her stand out and consequently forced him to stand out with her.

“There was a time when she had to pin a medal on me in La Salle because I won an art contest,” he says. “She had just come from Egypt and she bought this fabric with the bust of Nefertiti printed on the material. She brought it to her hairdresser Ruben Nazareth and said, ‘I want this hair.’

“I didn’t know she was doing that so she comes into the gym in her Nefertiti dress and Nefertiti hair and then she was going to pin a medal. I said, ‘Oh my God! She looks like the dress’ I was so embarrassed!”

 

 

 

 

Still, it was his mother’s style, manner of dressing and rigorousness with which she put herself together that helped shape the eye that has given Vijandre a long-running career as one of the country’s premier tastemakers. It’s the eye he uses as co-owner of the dazzlingly eclectic Manila boutiques AC+632 and Firma, and the eye he used in his since-discarded first profession — that of one of Manila’s top fashion designers.

The Art Prodigy

Growing up in the ‘60s, the prepubescent Chito Vijandre was an art prodigy. He frequently swept the local art contests and was even sent to the Mexico Olympics in 1968 to represent the Philippines. (“I had to paint a big mural.”)

At 18, a practical consideration led to the occupation that eventually became a calling. “I said, I really want to become an artist but I’ll starve! So I told my mom, ‘I want to be designer,’” he says. “And she said, ‘Okay, if that’s what you want.’ She gave me money and said, ‘Here, start your business.’”

And so at 18, Chito Vijandre started his business and became a fashion designer. He formally studied fashion design at the Slim’s Fashion and Arts School to improve his craft further, and by 20, was already mounting his first one-man show at the famed La Concha at the Hyatt. Vijandre was very young but his reputation as one of Manila’s top fashion designers already preceded him. His beaded flapper gowns — his signature dress — took the local fashion scene by storm when he introduced them all those years ago.

Still, in the late ‘80s, at the peak of his powers, Vijandre suddenly decided to stop making clothes, choosing instead to focus on interiors and, later, AC+632 and Firma, the boutiques he co-founded with his partner Ricky Toledo. “You know I stopped designing at my peak,” he says. “I felt like I had to do something more lasting. My artistic urges went into interiors after. I found that it was a more lasting expression of my art, rather than clothes that are so ephemeral — at the time, that’s what I felt.”

Still, in 2010, when Slim’s co-director Mark Higgins invited him to be part of a presentation to honor the fashion institution’s 50th year in 2011, he relented. “My last collection was in the early ’80s,” Vijandre said at the time. “When Mark invited me to be part of the show, it rekindled my urge to do a collection.” As part of the show, Vijandre presented a capsule collection along with other alumni. “Chito’s story was the great big comeback,” Higgins told The STAR at the time.

That was the same show that caught the attention of Kaye Tinga, co-chair of the Red Charity Gala on Oct. 8 at Shangri-La Fort, who later told media that Vijandre is her “dream designer” for the 2016 show. When Tinga finally asked him, Vijandre replied: “Sure, why not?” The Red Charity Gala is an annual event that aims to raise funds and awareness for two beneficiaries — the Philippine Red Cross and the Assumption High School Batch 1981 Foundation. Every year, the highlight is a capsule collection from the honoree designer. 

And so, the Red Charity Gala is Vijandre’s first solo show since he quit fashion almost 30 years ago. While he clarifies that this is not a return to fashion design but simply, one show, his return comes at a time when a Chito Vijandre is sorely missed — a true visionary, a storyteller, a designer beyond trends. While the contemporary scene remains plagued with designers accused of simply adopting — at worst, outright copying —international runway trends, Vijandre stands apart, taking no cues from the current trends and instead making his return in a 40-piece collection that reimagines and reconfigures Philippine history and our notions of Filipiniana.

“I really wanted to do a Filipinana collection that didn’t look like Filipinana — like what everybody else is doing, the sleeves and all,” he says. “What’s behind my Filipinana is the history, it’s not the dress itself. You won’t see any terno.”

The 40-piece collection is divided into seven suites, each telling the story of a specific era in Philippine history: Pre-Colonial (Galleon Trade), Colonial (the Spanish settlement), The Revolt (the KKK), The Carnival Queens (the Japanese occupation), Hollywood (American rule), OPM (inspired by Filipino pop music), and The Wedding (a finale that goes back to the time “when the Filipinos were still in the coconut trees”).

“I enjoy doing that, when you conceptualize something and you have to put it all together,” he says. “It’s a designing process that I really enjoy doing. It’s the same thing with the stores. When you choose products that are beautiful, it’s the same process. Interiors are also the same — there should always be a raison d’être for doing things.”

For this collection, Vijandre has a decidedly loose definition of “Filipinana” — shedding formal rules and choosing instead to make clothes that embody the spirit and suggest certain historical events from the time. One of the looks from Pre-Colonial, for example, is comprised of a midriff, a bolero, and matador trousers — not the style of the Filipinos in those times, perhaps, but, being made from the fabrics and materials that you would have found on a galleon at the time, it embodies the spirit of the galleon trade and proves a worthy tribute to the era.

“The fabric, the details and the language used don’t have to be indigenous Filipino,” Toledo chimes in. “Because who’s indigenous here? From the time when we were children, our parents and grandparents, we’ve been exposed to the world. So if you’re stuck to that, it’s a limited expression of what’s Filipino.”

Was respecting tradition a consideration for the designer? “I didn’t respect it,” Vijandre says, laughing. “There’s no sense in hanging on to tradition. You can do it with reverence but you don’t have to hang on to tradition.”

But by “disrespecting” our notion of what Filipiniana should be, by updating it, adding feathers to it, cutting it into matador trousers and making it contemporary, he’s done the Filipiniana the greatest tribute — he’s made us care about it again.

“If Nick Joaquin writes in English, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not Filipino,” Vijandre says. And true enough, in a seven-suite collection that takes us from the galleon trade to the contemporary Philippines of karaoke birit sessions, the designer presents a vision of the Philippines that is inspiring, astonishing, and emotionally accurate — a flesh-and-blood understanding of our history.

The Muses

For his return to the runway, Chito Vijandre looked to four women from Philippine history and art for inspiration — national hero Gabriela Silang, the fictional characters Candida and Paula from Nick Joaquin’s A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, and the pre-WWII actress Carmen Rosales.

“Gabriela Silang because she was a feisty woman and because of her ideals, Paula and Candida for their being so cloistered — they were so parochial in their manner but Candida was feisty in her own way,” he says. “And then Carmen Rosales, the Greta Garbo of Philippines movies, because she was the epitome of Filipino glamor; she was impeccable, she was mestizo — of course, all Filipinos love mestizos — and she was feisty.”

But looking at pieces from the collection — takes on the Filipiniana that certainly know how to make an impression — it’s not hard to draw a link between this maximalist approach to tradition and Vijandre’s own childhood, all those years growing up as his mother’s son.

“I want to show that you don’t have to dress in a dowdy manner in order to look Filipiniana,” he says. “They don’t have to be beauty queen ternos.” It’s a sentiment you can imagine his mother — Nefertiti hair and all — might approve of.

 

 

Photos by REGINE DAVID

Produced by DAVID MILAN

Makeup by DON DE JESUS

of Mac Cosmetics

Hair by CATS DEL ROSARIO

of At East Jed Root

Modeled by CHARLENE ALMARVEZ

of CALCARRIES

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