The life cycle of a fashion show

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A sponsors' photo wall being prepared for the Manila Fashion Festival (left) and samples from Mark Tamayo's 'Marked 2016' on the rack. Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “We’re all about minimalism,” is one way Ronnie Cruz, founder and CEO of Art Personas, would describe Manila Fashion Festival (MFF), one of the company’s productions. But at 9 a.m. on the second floor of Edsa Shangri-La, as models walk the neon-drenched, still-being-built runway in front of an imaginary audience to a looped soundtrack of Rihanna, Selena Gomez, and unrecognizable electronica, it’s almost hard to believe.

Everything about the event — the venue, the faces, the preparations — is larger than life, even during early-morning rehearsals. At half past 10, the director dismisses the models with a genial, “You may go. Thank you, very good kayong lahat. We finished early.” In about an hour, they’re due for a styling call in a makeshift holding room two floors below.

MFF 6 Two models show off clothing from Zalora (right). Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

The air in hair and makeup is frenzied and in perpetual motion. Some models waiting for their turn have to sit outside on the hotel’s pristine carpeted floor because the holding room isn’t very big. But there’s a positive energy going around. They’ve done this all before, after all — and yet, in some ways, they have not.

New, fresh, emerging

Launched at the tail end of 2014, MFF has quite some room for adjustment, much of which will be carried out through its Fall/Winter 2016 season. The event is “all about creating a change in mindset: how we do fashion and how we conduct the business of fashion,” Cruz explains. “[We did it because we’re] really focused on putting [the] spotlight on Philippine fashion and e-commerce. As soon as you see the collection on the runway, you’ll actually be able to preorder most of them online.” It’s little wonder, then, that MFF includes partnerships with Zalora and Ava, the country’s “two biggest online fashion destinations,” according to Cruz.

MFF 4 Samples from Rhett Eala's 'Nirvana' on the rack (right). Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

Another shift can be seen in the introduction of two brands from Milan, thanks to Albisetti International, a company that has had a hand in the production and distribution of brands like Chanel, Fendi, and Moschino. There’s Dress Coke, a licensed label from Coca-Cola, and the sportswear line Lauquen. Cruz is particularly excited about the prospect of introducing Dress Coke not only to the Philippines but also to a decidedly larger region. “It will be launched in Asia for the first time, and it’s [right here] at MFF!” he says. “We didn’t chase after it — we were chosen because they saw how well we presented collections here in the [country].”

The final change is the most important to Cruz, and for good reason. “We are here doing things for the talents in the industry,” he says. “But this time around we want to give something back to the community.” With donations from the designers and partners like Zeal Cosmetics and Seven Friday, MFF is primed toward becoming a platform for awareness and fundraising for the Better Future Foundation. The nonprofit organization’s projects include creating candy with antibodies for diarrhea immunity — already resulting in successful medical missions in the Smokey Mountain area — and helping less fortunate children and citizens obtain birth certificates for formal schooling and other necessities. “There’s no better forum to help create awareness than events such as this,” Cruz says.

‘This is Manila’

The collections from the designers are delivered at 4 p.m. sharp, each with a perceptibly distinct basis of inspiration. However, they do have one thing in common, even if it’s not immediately apparent. “Our theme this year is ‘This is Manila,’” Cruz says. “It means, ‘Hey, this is the Philippines. We have a lot of talents here, but we also have a lot of heart.’” He ticks each item off with his fingers: “This is fashion, this is style, this is class, this is innovation — this is also a revolution.”

MFF 3 A model in Mark Tamayo's 'Marked 2016.' Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

There’s Mark Bumgarner’s “Formations,” a line of structurally complex silk evening wear that promises to combine the romantic with the practical. There’s also Rhett Eala’s “Nirvana,” a study in intricacy, its main features being lace, bows, ruffles, and stunning embroidery on denim. Anthony Ramirez’s “Cielo y Tierra” creates textures out of silk chiffon and makes use of nudes, blacks, and whites, while Cheetah Rivera’s “Andromeda” is a patently space-themed line, with galaxy prints and shimmering sequins. Capping it all off is Mark Tamayo’s “Marked 2016,” which turns what you’d expect from menswear on its head and makes a statement with layers, interesting cuts, long skirts, and a heavy dose of symmetry.

Now and next

Where is Philippine fashion headed? Cruz breaks into a grin, then answers, “On the right track, hopefully!”

“Our intention is to make Manila the next big fashion destination,” he says, citing Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore as a few of the cities that have been taking Asian fashion by storm. “There are several events in the Philippines held annually, and they’ve done terrific work in the last how many years promoting Philippine fashion. But I think what makes MFF different is that it has a specific mission. MFF is not just an event — we are a platform for commerce, and we’re here to highlight Philippine fashion and the many talents that exist within it. Not only the designers, but also the stylists, photographers, media, the magazines. We’re all a part of this. And we need to put the focus on that.”

MFF 2 Models line up for the presentation of Mark Tamayo's 'Marked 2016' (left). Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

Last year, MFF started partnerships with the top fashion schools in the country, including SoFA and iAcademy, in which graduating students get to showcase their creations. “We’re starting young, we’re starting fresh with these guys,” Cruz says. “There’s no better way to start on young talent than schools.”

Another focus for Cruz is the transition of designers from made-to-order to ready-to-wear lines. “Philippine fashion designers, as you know, are heavily focused on made-to-order,” he says. “But if you stick with it — although there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s a market for it — you’re not going to be able to compete with overseas fast fashion.” He adds that the partnerships with Zalora and Ava, acting as distribution channels for the designers, will set this vision further into motion. “They’re now getting into the ready-to-wear business, which will hopefully make local fashion more competitive with global fashion.”

The long haul

By 7 p.m. the anticipation is at its peak. A line has formed at the registration booth — a veritable who’s who of media personnel, magazine editors, designers, celebrities, and insiders — and, once inside, they are treated to an open bar and the same party music from this morning.

Backstage, it’s equally frantic, but for different reasons. The makeshift wardrobe area is packed, with makeup artists at the ready for touch-ups and designers on the run making adjustments. “There,” the designer Mark Tamayo says, straightening the hem of a model’s outer shirt, which ends just below his chest. “Now you’re ready.”

MFF 1 A model poses in an outfit from Rhett Eala's 'Nirvana' (right). Photos by CZAR KRISTOFF  

How does Cruz see the growth and future of MFF? “We are thrilled to be managing and coordinating this effort, and we just want to keep on changing,” he says. Despite the difficulties that may arise, he says, “what’s important is people just get to see how great the shows are, how great the collections are.”

At last, the opening night starts. It’s a little late, but it’s going without a hitch. The lights are dimmed, the music is turned up, the models are lined up, the first collection is presented — months, weeks, days, hours of preparation, and it all comes down to these first 15 minutes, the very definition of results

And as it all unfolds, Cruz’s earlier words about minimalism begin to make much more sense. “We’re sticking to our core values,” he explains, and lists them: collaboration with all sorts of people from the industry, innovation in the way the show is presented, and, most of all, integrity. “To me, integrity is the integral part of what we do. The investment we’re putting in here is something that will help the industry grow, which will make everyone grow.”

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Manila Fashion Festival Fall/Winter 2016 runs from April 11 to 14, 2016, at the Marquee Tent, Edsa Shangri-La, 1 Garden Way, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City.