MIMI Parrel-Pimentel, a 45-year-old fashion designer from Cagayan de Oro, is taking the Philippine fashion scene by storm and is steadily making a name for herself worldwide.
As a college student, Pimentel spent her free time at her aunt’s dress shop, mindlessly sketching designs. She is now one of the Philippines’ most sought-after designers and has received the honor of being appointed the presidential fashion consultant of Malacañang, wherein she is in charge of dressing and styling President Rodrigo Duterte. This has led her to have the opportunity to design Duterte’s inaugural barong, as well as the barongs of the ASEAN ministers and the outfits of their spouses, cabinet members and other government executives when the ASEAN Summit was held in the Philippines in 2017.
That same year, the designer had also designed the Filipiniana gowns for the Miss Universe candidates during the Philippines’ hosting of the pageant.
The Asian Journal’s travel and lifestyle publication, Balikbayan Magazine, sat down with the fashion icon and native of Mindanao and Cagayan de Oro at her shop on Jupiter Street in Makati, as she spoke about her roots, career, and plans for the future.
BBMAG: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
PIMENTEL: I was born and raised in Cagayan de Oro, and graduated with a degree in International Studies at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan in 1992. After that, I studied fashion design at Madonna School of Fashion and Design and graduated in 1994. For the next three years, I worked as an in-house designer for my aunt, Jessie Sia.
I got married in 1997 and established my own shop, Mimi Parrel-Pimentel Boutique and Dress shop. In 2000, I was an awardee of the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation, as the Best Female Entrepreneur in Region X. I went on to pursue further studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins.
When I returned to the Philippines in 2011, I opened the Fashion Institute of the Philippines Cagayan de Oro Branch and the year after, I established the Philippine Institute for Skills and Arts Development (PISAD), a Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) accredited school. In the past few years, I have received various recognitions, such as the Business Leaders Award from the Business Week Mindanao Corporation (2012), and opportunities like joining the International Fashion Show in Canada and New York (2015).
In 2016, I was appointed the presidential fashion consultant of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. In 2017, I had the chance to dress up Miss Universe candidates in Filipiniana gowns and make the barongs of ASEAN ministers and outfits for their spouses, cabinet members and other executives from different government agencies. I also joined Singapore Fashion Week that year. Earlier this year, I joined the House of Ikons fashion show in London. One of my advocacies is to help promote the local fabrics, particularly Mindanao silk, to give livelihood to the weavers.
BBMAG: Where did your love for fashion design and dressmaking begin?
PIMENTEL: As a kid, I loved to draw cartoon characters. My mother opened a dress shop inside our house when I was six years old. I remember that I loved playing with the sewing machines and buttons. When I was in high school, my aunt took over the dress shop after my father opened a construction business. The shop and construction business were both in one place. I started observing my aunt and how she dealt with clients and seamstresses.
When I finished college, instead of sitting around and doing nothing, I would sit at a table and sketch dresses. I realized that I had this strong interest in fashion. As time passed by, my aunt started noticing my potential and discovered that I had innate skills in fashion designing. She saw that I had these cohesive designs in my sketches and she offered me to make a design for her fashion show — it was a life-changing offer that paved the way for my fashion career.
The first collection that I made for my aunt was thought to be glamorous and started to have high demands. Seeing this, she brought me to Manila after I had graduated in international studies at Ateneo De Cagayan in 1992. There, I studied at the Madonna School of Fashion and Design for two years. As soon as I got back to my hometown, she hired me as the in-house designer for three years until she left to migrate to the U.S., and that was when I took over the business.
Being the successor of my aunt, I managed the business and slowly gathered loyal seamstresses and clients.
BBMAG: Where do you find or look for inspiration when creating a piece?
PIMENTEL: I gain my inspiration through some of the international artists like Elie Saab and Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Dior, among others. Traveling allows me to view the fashion trends in different perspectives as they come from different countries with diverse cultures. Furthermore, I get inspired seeing distinct and native fabrics that are available in that particular country that cannot be seen anywhere else. The abundance and uniqueness of these fabrics are what keep me reminded that you can be infinitely creative in your own way — and that’s what makes fashion full of surprises.
BBMAG: Where have you traveled?
PIMENTEL: I have traveled around some states in the U.S. like California, New York, and Florida, Washington, and Las Vegas. In Canada, I had shows in Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver. I have also traveled around Dubai, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. As I travel, I usually shop for fabrics that are only exclusive to that particular country.
BBMAG: Who are some fashion icons you look up to?
PIMENTEL: Among my choices are Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marilyn Monroe. For local celebrities, Lucy Torres, Dawn Zulueta, and Gretchen Barretto, because they all have a taste and class.
BBMAG: How would you describe the perfect client?
PIMENTEL: Customer satisfaction is the toughest part in running a fashion business. For me, when you make a design for a client, it has to fit his or her personality and synchronize with his or her daily habits. A perfect client is someone who is open to new ideas and design concepts. And most of all, someone who trusts you as the designer.
BBMAG: Can you name a client who was the most fun to work with?
PIMENTEL: President Duterte! He is a funny person, easy to deal with, and mostly, he is a good payer. He will not use what you made for him if you will not accept his payment. He is a great man, and always loves to joke around. (Laughs)
BBMAG: What is it like working with President Rodrigo Duterte?
PIMENTEL: I find it exciting, challenging and amusing. After working with him for a while now, I have been able to observe and understand his fashion preferences and how he likes his barongs and suits to look and feel like. I found out that he is not that “maarte” with the designs. He is more after comfort than style. In fact, when I presented 10 designs for his inauguration barong, he chose the simplest one with only the Philippine flag embroidered on the left side. I also made some intricate designs but he chose the simplest. What’s nice about him is that he patronizes Mindanaoans and supports my advocacy to empower women farmers who play a very important role in the sericulture industry. “Mindanao silk,” a product of Laguindingan, Misamis Oriental was what President Duterte wore during his inauguration. And to complete it, I also added his favorite pants, which were made of corduroy.
BBMAG: What was it like dressing the ASEAN leaders?
PIMENTEL: It was an honor to dress up the ministers. It was a rare opportunity to meet and talk to these powerful people on earth.
BBMAG: Do you have some advice for aspiring Filipino designers?
PIMENTEL: One of the biggest misconceptions that I get is that in order to be a fashion designer, one must have all the shades of a pencil, all those coloring materials, and all those expensive machines. But I tell you, you can start off with [just] a pencil and paper. Mix that together with passion and effort, and dedicate some time to it. Then you will find yourself riding the train towards your dream to become a well-known and a world-class fashion designer.
BBMAG: What are your thoughts on being the fashion icon of Mindanao and Cagayan de Oro?
PIMENTEL: Being a fashion icon means setting future trends. It also means being timeless in your style.
BBMAG: What is next for you?
PIMENTEL: I’m looking forward to my international shows. I’ll have a series of shows abroad in the upcoming months. I was invited to the House of Ikons in London this past February, so I had been busy preparing for my collection. It is a 20-piece collection with various designs like casual wear, formal wear, and barongs as well. The series of shows for “Hibla” will soon make its way to New York, San Francisco, Vienna, China, Japan, and Australia. I am also currently working on the gowns for former first lady Imelda Marcos and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.