Designer Rajo Laurel launched his spring/summer collection Hacienda in a Facebook Live virtual fashion show directed by Saga Events' Robby Carmona.
Rajo Laurel & Robby Carmona prove that fashion lives on(line)
THE UNGENTLEWOMAN - Gabbie Tatad (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2020 - 12:00am

The fashion industry, like many other areas of art and commerce, has been concerned about its future in the face of the pandemic. For many local designers, the idea of crafting custom pieces for clients in a world where celebrations are now done screen to screen, and where physical touch can be lethal, has been highly discouraging.

“Fashion, by its very nature, is a tactile and tangible industry,” esteemed designer Rajo Laurel tells YStyle. “We rely a lot on how one feels; we adjust things on what we touch and see. Imagine doing a task with two or even three of your senses removed.” Having chosen to quarantine in his rest home in Batangas, Laurel adds a somber, more personal note: “It has been more than 65 days of isolation. I have been trained to work six days a week, 12 hours a day for 26 years. To not be productive and to cease what I do can be deeply depressing and daunting.”

This is why it was an utter delight when the inimitable Robby Carmona of Saga Events called Laurel with a fledgling idea. Carmona opened with the words, “Rajo, are you ready to do your first virtual fashion show on your birthday?” Like a great improv student, Laurel said yes, and they hit the virtual ground running. Carmona notes that, while virtual fashion shows had been in the pipeline for Saga, this jump was immediate and took off with only a two-week lead time.

Into the unknown

“I’ve been doing live events for 25 years, and this is really something different. Everything was done remotely. All meetings, all content that we had to do, pre-production, editing, approvals were all online,” explains Carmona. Laurel says that the process was more or less similar to planning a physical runway show, but that pre-production was infinitely more intense. The foresight that came with Carmona’s almost three decades of experience was necessary to iron out every possible setback the production could encounter.

Designing looks for a virtual space, for instance, came with a new challenge of trusting the models to handle the execution. Luckily, the ladies and gents of Mercator were well equipped and up to the task. Gela Laurel-Stehmeier created the makeup look, one she describes as “soft, subtle, sublime” — rosy neutrals against an ultra-dewy canvas. Jing Monis came onboard for hair, designing a chic, undone twisted bun for the female models and a clean but textured off-the-face coif for the men. These hair and makeup looks were filmed in detail, and practiced by the models until perfected.

The runway show was shot and edited prior to the stream to avoid technical malfunctions, but also to provide creative liberties for video. Each model received comprehensive guidelines on how to proceed, starting with how to style and prep the outfits. They were given a mood board and instructed on choreography. They were taught how to set their phones to HD, including diagrams and measurements on how to uniformly set up their cameras. On the day of the actual shoot, Carmona and his video team were live with the models, directing and adjusting as each model sent over rough takes via Viber.

“We are not really allowed to have what we knew of as a fashion show before, so this is a way,” says Laurel. “I am sure the concept and process will improve. There will be new tools and new technology. However, for now, I feel like we are adventurers; like Galileo braving a brand new world.”

The greatest show

On May 19, 6:30 p.m., Philippine fashion history was made. A mix of beloved friends, industry talents and fans from different corners of the world gathered to tune in live. As it aired, 1,700 sets of eyes were on the Saga Events stream — already more than the number of people that had previously squished into a physical events space to see Laurel’s work come down a runway.

“Rajo Runway Online” began with a pre-show hosted by Issa Litton, who steered the audience through the process. Clips of team meetings, models putting on makeup and doing hair, as well as Laurel and Carmona talking animatedly about their experiences putting the show together, began to stream. Laurel paid tribute to some of his greatest muses, such as Tessa Prieto-Valdes, Tim Yap, and many others. This was a natural segue to another muse, Joey Mead-King, who introduced the collection from a beautiful backyard space in Los Angeles, overflowing with greenery.

Laurel’s spring/summer collection for 2020, Hacienda, then came down the virtual runway to an original score by Brian Cua. The pieces reflected the name of the collection brilliantly. Its color palette was refreshing and soothing to the eye: soft khakis and olives, interspersed with blues and vibrant but creamy greens. The silhouettes married a utilitarian aesthetic with the age-old idea of café dressing — where much of the garment detail occurs on top, which is what’s seen when you’re seated at a table in a café. (It was almost oddly prophetic, since the collection was produced before our current practice of holding meetings and gatherings over video calls, where below-the-torso dressing is optional.) There were voluminous sleeves with pared-down skirts, some charmingly textured draping around the midsection, and unabashed asymmetrical ruffles. The women’s pieces had an ethereal air but were grounded in functionality, and the men’s pieces were clean and cut with precision while remaining utterly joyful. The collection successfully hit a middle ground between special pieces to treasure and those one could live their lives in, and was a truly charming ode to the tropics.

The show wrapped with a truly stunning intercut: the screen split into three frames and as the models mimicked a traditional final walk, the shifting background behind each model blended into that of the next. It was like watching each person walk into another’s space, inducing an almost voyeuristic joy for the vast majority of us isolating in our homes.

The new normal

Although there was a glitch in the initial broadcast, the show finished strong, with a loving and supportive audience screaming out praise and gratitude for the inspiration in a stream of comments. As of press time, 28,000 people have seen the show in its entirety. What was once an exclusive event for the eyes of those in the industry has been burst open into the welcoming arms of fans in search of beauty.

When asked about designing for the new normal, Laurel muses, “I am also trying to figure this out myself. I am both a reactionary and a directional designer. I need to listen more and understand more what this new normal is. In my mind, it is more personal, more special. Not meant for mass consumption. Smaller, slower, made better. Rewiring the ancient values of greed and speed. This is how we must proceed.”

He has fellow creatives in mind when he so thoughtfully adds: “We all need to find a way to begin. To all come out of our isolation as more considerate and empathetic creatives. We want to be catalysts of this major paradigm shift, to come out stronger, inspired, and willing to create again with more heart. A desire to slow down and be kinder, not only with how we design but also how we are as people.”

 

RAJO LAUREL ROBBY CARMONA
Philstar
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