Filipino and Fil-Am designers bring diversity to LA Fashion Week

Filipino and Fil-Am designers bring diversity to LA Fashion Week

For the fashion obsessed, New York, London, Paris and Milan are the places to watch for each season’s trends and styles, as the cities host “Fashion Week” events that highlight collections from established brands to emerging talent.

However, in recent years, Los Angeles has ventured into the mix as a hub of fashion trendsetting with its own set of Fashion Week events — even lasting for the entire month — aimed at bolstering the careers of such creatives.

This year, a handful of Filipino and Filipino-American designers took to the runway to showcase their respective lines; among them, Jenine Nerecina’s Cosmogyral, Veejay Floresca, Kristine Amarillo’s Tale For Esther, Joyce Penas Pilarsky and Pia Gladys Perey.

Finding a sartorial adventure with Cosmogyral

The traveler, wanderer, adventurer, and wanderlust–these are the women whom the fashion brand Cosmogyral aims to connect with. With a unique collection designed for women of all ages and sizes, Cosmogyral (meaning “whirling around the universe”) is a fusion of dreams and reality, inspired by luxury-destination wear and Philippine culture.

The debut collection shown at LA Fashion Week 2015 is entitled Diaphanous, meaning “light, delicate, and translucent.” At the showcase held Friday, Oct. 9th at LA’s historic Union Station, models walked the elegant runway wearing nude-colored, light and airy dresses made of Piña fabric, the same as in a traditional Philippine Barong Tagalog.

The designer is 25-year-old Jenine Nerecina, who was born in Cainta, Philippines and taught to sew by her grandmother at a very young age. She and her family relocated to Lancaster, California, where at a young age she bought her first basic sewing machine and was making clothes regularly. After high school, pressured to pursue a career in nursing or astrophysics, Nerecina decided to take an entirely different route–creating her own fashion line.

Inspired by Philippine culture, Cosmogyral combines three elements: evening wear, nature, and the sensuality of lingerie. The goal of the brand is destination and resort-wear, as in something one would wear when traveling to an exotic, luxurious country. The brand’s goal is to endorse contemporary garments that are hand-made in Los Angeles, exhibiting high-quality products that promote the lavish Los Angeles lifestyle.

“My design mantra is taking three different things and using it as inspiration, and that’s how you come up with a good story,” Nerecina told the Asian Journal. “I look at the things I love and that inspire me, and that’s how I find my aesthetic.”

Nerecina took fashion classes at Pasadena Community College, where she learned the basics of sewing, pattern-making, and other technical elements. Realizing design was her true passion, she then transferred to Woodbury University in Burbank, California, where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design to further her training and experience in the industry.

Cosmogyral was devised during Nerecina’s senior year at Woodbury, where she took a class that required her to draft a business plan for a theoretical brand of her own. After researching, designing, creating, and showcasing the thesis project in a one-woman fashion show, she decided to make her senior collection a new brand, promoting the line as her debut collection, Diaphanous.

“The design process, from research to development to illustration, draping fabric, and then making the garments, started back in the summer of 2014. The whole collection has grown from just six looks to 17, which were showcased at [LA] Fashion Week,” she said.

The favorite elements of her line are the “girly” embellishments in each silhouette, including the pleating and special Piña fabric she uses, ordered directly from the Philippines. “Pina is a sheer material, and it looks luxurious,” she remarked. “My whole collection is sheer, but you don’t think ‘sexy.’ I’m going for a nude, sensual look, definitely not conservative. My idea of ‘sexy’ is sensual, as in the sensuality of lingerie, without actually exposing.”

Cosmogyral is also inspired by elements of nature, as in the smallest details, from snake-skin and sheer, shimmering waterfalls, to the defined underlines of a mushroom, which she uses in dress-pleating.

“Find what inspires you,” she shared. “The tiny details of nature are always a good inspiration.”

On discovering her fashion role models, Nerecina said she simply does not want to be compared. “It’s hard to have your own style,” she said, noting prominent Filipino designers like Oliver Tolentino and Monique Lhullier. “But it’s always about standing on your own.”

Nerecina credits her experience both in community college and in Woodbury’s design program for showing her the business side of being in fashion.

“As far as marketing, what I’ve learned is that nobody could market my brand better than me, since I created and know all about it,” the young designer said. “I would rather work 100 hours a week for myself, doing what I love, than 40 hours under somebody else telling me what to do. I would rather have everything under my own terms.”

She also shared about her journey getting into the LA Fashion Week 2015 showcase, which all started from submitting applications and having key connections through the Woodbury design program. As a young brand, the producer of Fashion Week decided to give her a sponsorship, allowing her to be a part of this year’s show.

Cosmogyral is only six months old, but is barely getting started as a Philippine-inspired fashion brand.

“My next goal is to travel with the brand and get into a showroom,” she said of her brand’s plans for the future. “But first, to have my own practical in-house studio, where clients can come in to see and try my designs. I can see my stuff being sold in specialty boutiques, not being super mass-produced.”

Looking at photos of her collection, she smiled. “I just want to keep creating stuff, to get celebrities to notice and wear my designs.”

Nerecina also shared her muse for Cosmogyral’s next collection: the 2010 Darren Aronofsky film, “The Black Swan,” with a darker, dramatic and romantic [black and wine-red] silhouette. “The concept is that every woman has a good girl/bad girl side. It’s really about fighting with yourself,” she said.

“Family and friends, even my boyfriend called me bold, a go-getter, especially when it comes to promoting [the brand]. I didn’t really see myself like that before this whole thing started,” she said.

“It’s not in our culture to be bold. In Tagalog, they say ‘walang hiya’–literally meaning ‘no shame.’ If somebody said that to you, for Filipinos it’s seen as a bad thing. But we need to be taught that being bold and putting yourself out there is a good thing.”

Los Angeles Fashion Week Design Competition

Up-and-coming designers from around the world came face-to-face on Saturday, Oct. 17 at “Design Warz,” a platform established by the Los Angeles Fashion Week Design Competition to give these creatives exposure and visibility.

The event organized by Lola Alexander Events and sponsored by Nickii Jean Magazine, selected several finalists to participate in the competition: Veejay Floresca, Joyce Penas Pilarsky, Tale For Esther, Megan Smith, Faduma Sidow, Rosee & Babee, Rhaya Ratavosi, Venice Delola, Nikki Kouture, LaRae Wilson, Merocki, Nrtfashions, and Azulant Akora.

Floresca closed the show along with Viktoria by Tina Summers & Brandi Jones and Ashanti Syeni Douglas.

Veejay Floresca on the modern woman 

Veejay Floresca, who won the fashion week design competition in 2014, headlined this year’s event with a Spring/Summer collection that reflects her idea of “the modern woman.”

Each of the looks — sewn and made from patterns, shapes and silhouettes all done by Floresca herself — was inspired by “Studio 54 meets kimonos and taekwondo uniforms.”

“I was fascinated about the effortless look mixed with glamour. I want to create a strong collection that embodies the modern woman,” Floresca remarked.

Floresca, who studied fashion design and merchandising from De La Salle — College of Saint Benilde in Manila, went on to London to finish a course in bridal wear and California for a master’s degree. She also participated in Project Runway Philippines, the International Competition of Young Fashion Designers in Paris and was noted as “The Next Face of Avant Garde.”

Currently based in San Francisco, Floresca has been known for her elegant bridal gowns, despite not planning to make wedding designs her main business. Apart from outfitting brides, Floresca said she is still growing as a designer, and plans to continue developing her patterns and silhouettes.

Though fashion is often regarded as a cutthroat industry, Floresca had this to say to budding designers: “Be true to yourself, create something new, do not copy, and make sure to develop your own style.”

Tale For Esther’s timeless elegance 

Tale For Esther, an LA-based brand created by Kristine Amarillo, reflects on timeless elegance with a romantic flare, focusing on embellishments, meticulous details and fit.

Amarillo, a professional pattern maker who studied fashion design and business management at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, launched Tale for Esther in 2014; since then, she creates two collections a year of ready-to-wear and evening separates for “a polished woman who values quality and innovation.”

“I want to create pieces that are not trend driven, rather pieces that are versatile so women can wear them over and over,” Amarillo said, adding that Tale for Esther targets, “women [between] 25-40, who embrace their own uniqueness and self worth and women who fiercely love and live in equal measure.”

For the competition, Amarillo presented 16 looks — 20 pieces that ranged from special occasion separates to long dresses. The Tale for Esther show began with dark, somber tones, including an all-lace ensemble, complete with a long-sleeve blouse, calf-length skirt with fringe and ribbons laced at the cuffs.

“Everything is structured, tight fitting and suffocating. I wanted to recreate a romantic version of a straight jacket, hence the ribbon ties at the cuffs and added lace for an elegant touch. The collection progress into airy, flowy and lighter fabrics, from long sleeves to backless, off the shoulder and embroidered pieces. I played around with surface design by mixing a myriad of laces together, hand sewn on top of each other to create texture,” she shared.

Joyce Penas Pilarsky

Representing the Philippines in the competition, Joyce Penas Pilarsky set out to boast the beauty of materials found in the country, such as Piña fabric and silk cocoon.

While creating her line, Pilarksy visited the National Museum of the Philippines to gather historical information about her heritage, as well as Mindanao and provinces like Lumban for materials. From there, she was encouraged to create pieces balancing the rich history with modern styles.

Her final look of the night — a wide, striped skirt with lace patterns atop a black long-sleeve blouse and shorts — garnered roaring applause and reactions from the crowd.

At that moment, Pilarsky said, she felt that she would be crowned the winner of the show. And she was, earning a $2,000 prize and four-page spread in Nickii Jean Magazine.

“This competition was a gift from God. I always say that in all that you do, just do your best and leave God the rest,” she said.

Embracing femininity with Pia Gladys Perey

At the tail end of the month, Manila-based designer Pia Gladys Perey held a fashion show for her eponymous line (PGP) on Friday, Oct. 23 at the Sofitel Hotel.

Guests were treated to a sit-down dinner, as models clad in PGP creations strutted down aisles in between tables.

“We were aiming for a luxurious and elegant feel. We wanted to do away from the usual fashion shows and wanted it to be more experiential for our guests and bring something new, which is why we did a sit-down dinner,” Perey said.

Perey, whose ready-to-wear line is known for glamorous pieces with a romantic flair, has dressed celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, Demi Lovato, Gabrielle Union and many others.

Her latest Spring/Summer 2016 collection, entitled “Defying Gravity,” brought that familiar PGP feel with dresses, in colors like peach or light blue, lined with the classic Grecian-inspired drapes. Yet, towards the middle of the show, models came out in more striking pieces, such as a glittering one-piece swimsuit in one instance or a jumpsuit that treads on flirty, yet graceful.

“[The line is] combined with our newfound love for structured, but still feminine pieces made in neoprene,” she said.

Born and raised in Tagaytay, Philippines, Pia was exposed to fashion at an early age by watching her grandmother sew and make patterns. Though she did not receive formal fashion training, Perey worked at several fashion companies and opened her own factory that would manufacture clothing for other brands. She finally started her own line in 2007 and debuted at  Rosemount Australian Fashion Week.

Unlike the stereotyped notion that high fashion is for certain type of woman, Perey said she designs pieces fit for women at any shape or size. Her dresses reflect the celebration of feminine curves through the body-hugging silhouettes, sharing that she is “mainly inspired by how resilient and versatile women are in every stage of her life.”

PGP is currently sold in parts of the Philippines, Australia, China, the Middle East, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and has plans to expand to other parts of the world, such as South Africa.

“We have also started some collaborations with some great brands from the Philippines, as well as a design and book collaboration Hollywood socialite Daphne Wayans,” she said.

Inspired by art, culture and lifestyle from the Philippines and beyond and matched with their innate creativity and dedication, Filipino and Filipino-American designers will continue to initiate trends and create fashion must-haves. Be it haute couture or commercial, avant-garde or defined, imagination or reality, these designers have weaved a dynamic prospect on fashion as they continue to make waves in LA and other capitals.


**Special thanks to Lana Johnson of WJG Asia, Michelle Molina, Nickii Jean, and Coolside Entertainment

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