Updated 17:38 PM PHT Wed, March 15, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — You’d think it was chaotic, but really, it was the opposite. Backstage at the last day of Bench Fashion Week — on its premiere run — was methodic madness at worst, but the pre-runway hubbub (production managers wailed show sequences at the top of their lungs; stylists scrambled to tuck, models debated at which exact point to perform their on-stage pivot) only provided audible proof of how the three-day event was staged quite expertly. It's as if it wasn’t Bench’s first fashion week at all.
What is the retail empire doing in the business of organizing fashion weeks, anyway? While Bench has mounted fashion presentations in the past, most notably their yearly underwear extravaganzas (their Bench Body shows are veritably of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show persuasion of pomp and pageantry), the pioneering local casualwear brand decided to pull a Mercedes-Benz this year and host a string of fashion shows featuring both designers and retail labels.
Bench Fashion Week head stylist Noel Manapat makes the case for the brand delving into a scene that is commonly associated with designers: “I think what fashion shows do is to present clothes in a different manner to people — for example, [when you see a shirt] in store, you are thinking in more practical terms. If you see it in a print ad, you are looking at it for inspiration. But in fashion shows, you show people another way of wearing [clothes]. You make people experience fashion in different ways.”
The three-day event, held at Bench’s very own basement show space, was a breakthrough in two ways: first, it allowed Bench and its other retail labels (under mother brand Suyen Corporation) to showcase their wares outside of the typical boutique window display: fast fashion franchises such as Cotton On and American Eagle Outfitters found themselves worthy of a runway-going audience, with the presence of Filipino fashion editors, local style icons, and social media buzzmakers.
“We want people to remember that we are more than just fast fashion,” American Eagle Outfitters merchandise manager Jeric Paulo Lim asserts. “We have pieces in our collection that invoke design and emotion.”
Second, and most noteworthy, Bench chose to include Filipino designers in its fashion week line-up, as they showcased their own collections at the event: local streetwear label Proudrace, womenswear and bridal designer Sassa Jimenez, and menswear designer Ziggy Savella introduced new pieces seen first at the event. For Bench, sharing the spotlight with designers — an act that may seem like courting the competition — only strengthens their Love Local advocacy, promoting Filipino-made clothing and subsequently, Filipino talent.
“[The advocacy] is about pushing everything that’s local,” Manapat stresses. “Because the market already exists, Ben [Chan, founder of the Bench group] decided, ‘Why not help young designers be exposed in the same platform as retail brands?’ That’s why we included designers, even if we don’t sell their works.”
Bench Fashion Week also marks the launch of the Bench Design Awards, a competition aimed to send a Filipino design talent to show at the Amazon Fashion Week in Japan this coming fall.
For Ziggy Savella, who took more than a year creating his Great Depression, Dirty Thirties-inspired menswear collection, he finds Bench Fashion Week a fitting avenue to present his new collection. “It’s a good platform to get myself out there,” he says. "Everyone knows Bench — its market is more mainstream. It’s a way to tap a different market.”
Finally, as the three-day series of shows came to a close, Savella verbalizes accurately why Bench Fashion Week is a concept worth anticipating for seasons to come, and why its almost-flawless execution makes the brand seem like it’s been staging fashion weeks for ages: “Bench has been here [in the business] for 30 years. I feel like they know what they’re doing.”
Photographer's assistant: Mac Villaluna