Awe, Glowing Filipino Pride

By Rachelle Cruz

A pivot to Asia seems to be the fashionable trend nowadays.   Big industry leaders in the world of fashion are looking to the East to fuel inspiration and innovation found in the authenticity, artistry and craftsmanship of local artists and emerging designers.    With the Philippines’s rich heritage and culture, it is no surprise that the evolution of fashion has come a long way, and has brought traditional garments like the Barong Tagalog, or Terno, the butterfly-sleeved one-piece dress made famous by the former First Lady Imelda Marcos, to haute couture runway shows.
With Toronto’s mosaic of multiculturalism and a strong Filipino presence among its communities, coupled with the city’s eclectic tastes in fashion and arts, it was the perfect place to embrace and launch the world’s first Canada Philippine Fashion Week.

Executive director and founder of CPFW Jeff Rustia

Jeff Rustia, the executive director and founder of CPFW brought his vision into a reality after he scribbled these four words down on a napkin during a sabbatical trip to Manila, as he mourned the loss of his late son Kol, who was born with Trisomy 13, a fatal genetic syndrome, “The event combined all the passions of my life.  My love for Canada.  My love for Philippines. And my love for fashion.  But most of all, my eternal love for my late son Kol,” Rustia said.    The week-long event celebrated the Filipino arts, culture, entertainment and showcased Filipino and Canadian fashion icons, along with budding designers, with proceeds going to the Kol Hope Foundation for Children.

But the most anticipated event was Philippine Fashion’s Biggest Night  on June 14th that rocked the stage at the Roy Thomson Hall with designers among them, A-lister Francis Libiran, including John Ablaza, Nat Manilag, Brian Maristela, Kim Gan, Evan Bidell, Noel Crisostomo, Roland Alzate,  Mikee Andrei, Vince Tolentino, Leonard Co, Amina Aranaz, Norman Noriega, Jon de Porter and many more.  Top supermodels like Ria Bolivar, Keisha and Miss World Canada Riza Santos, were among those donning swoon-worthy collections that weaved elements of ethnicity buttoned up with a modern twist, and lavish designs using native materials such as hand-woven pina cloth, chiffon, taffeta or silk either draping with intricate beading, or elegantly minimalist, modern, and chic.

“We were so blessed to have such an amazing turnout and support from our volunteers to our guests to our sponsors,” Kaye Penaflor, PR & Media Relations Director for PLDT CPFW said. A crowd of 2,500 adorned the theatre that seats 2,630. Ticket prices were tagged at $55 or $100 for VIP.

John Ablaza kick-started the show with his Pamana 45-piece Collection that was inspired from the orient tribe of Mindoro, the Mangyan Peoples.  Even Toronto-based designers like Brian Maristela, creative director of House of Lizares, are going back to their roots to cull out creative fuel, “I want to showcase something that embodies that (Filipino culture) as well as my Canadian culture.  For this collection, the inspiration was the barong,” he said.

Highlights of innovation shone through, as it was no ordinary fashion show by any means.    Project Terno challenged designers to flaunt their Canadian spin on the Terno.  One-of-a-kind creations graced the stage from Evan Bidell, Kenneth Barlis, Mic Carter, John Ablaza, and Vinta.    In another segment, Pistahan Couture beautifully curated a fusion of cultural highlights and fashion as designers like Oz Go, Nino Angeles, Nat Manilag and Kim Gan, developed their own interpretation of 12 different festivals celebrated at home from Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan to Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon.

Fashion designers grace the stage after the show

Fashion designers grace the stage after the show

With all the glitz and glam, interspersed with traditional folk dance numbers, the night was no less short of phenomenal.  The excitement and awe grew to a feverish pitch when Francis Libiran’s 100 dress collection, one of the night’s favourites, dazzled the stage.  Libiran, who catapulted into international fame and prominence after being featured as a designer for America’s Next Top Model shared his excitement, “I was so thrilled to be part of this event.  This is one way of showing the world and Toronto that the Filipinos have an eye for fashion.  We are very brilliant as designers, especially because Filipinos have very limited resources back home. We know how to improvise things to make it look beautiful,” Libiran said.

Libiran collaborated with Jon de Porter, a Toronto-based fashion jewelry designer, who specializes in precious stones and pearls from the Orient to craft beautiful unique accessories for his gowns.  And on working with an iconic designer such as Libiran, De Porter has only great things to add, “I really admire him, he’s got such discipline, such ethics, and he has a really creative mind,” he said.

The general sentiment after the show was a mixture of surprise, awe and a dash of home-sickness, but most of all the glowing Filipino pride that people wore on their sleeves as they shuffled out.


“It’s really interesting to see Filipinos rise to the occasion.  I think everyone will get a glimpse of the other side of the world, and how we are a melting pot of other cultures. Filipinos know how to do drama, and they know how to do it well,“ Veronica Valdes, 25, from Toronto shared.

Pia Almacen, 31, is another proud Filipino-Canadian who brought her dad with her to the event, “It was one of those moments when you are proud to be a Filipino-Canadian. This is a great representation of the Philippines and how far we’ve come, and how we are really great innovators,” she said.

The richness of colours, materials, and intricacies dramatically displayed was indicative, not only of Filipinos’ skill and unique talents, rooted in both culture and history, but in the process seemingly cultivates how Filipinos define themselves as a nation.  However, one thing stays constant, bejewelling the air during the night was the beaming Pinoy pride and heart.

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