A Tribute To Rajo Laurel And 25 Of His Most Iconic Bridal Gowns
To make it to 25 years in the fashion industry is a major milestone. However, the more remarkable achievement is his ability to stay relevant and in demand despite the proliferation of choices on designers and easier access to international brands. Rajo Laurel has done more than last. He continues to be one of the leaders of the industry through the fashion empire he’s built and started with one seamstress at his friend’s basement in 1993.
These days the fashionable crowd knows Laurel for his couture work and his wedding gowns. Many Filipinas dream to walk down the aisle in one of his creations, especially on the biggest day of their lives. Perhaps what has made Rajo’s contribution to the local wedding industry so special is how he has not just created timeless, elegant gowns that brides would faint over, it’s that to this day, he remembers each one like his friend. Of course, many of Rajo Laurel’s brides are the stylish women he’s met and worked with through the years, before they were ready to say I do. But asking Rajo to recall and recount his bridal work for the past two and half decades (he says he’s done around 2,000 weddings) has shown that he treats weddings with the respect and care as if they were all his own.
Rajo once said that part of a designer’s goal is to make his clients look good and feel beautiful, so we look to Rajo’s wedding collections to honor his achievements in fulfilling the goal. After all, women always want to look their best on their wedding day and Rajo makes sure of that. Here we pay tribute to Rajo Laurel’s outstanding career through some of the most beautiful wedding gown creations of his 25 years in the business.
Rajo said he had too many favorite gowns to mention so we compromised on listing down the 25 wedding gowns that are most meaningful to him. We asked Rajo to say a few things about the brides he’s dressed through the years. Read on for what he has to say about his own work.
Amanda Griffin Jacob
"My love affair with layers and waves started with Amanda’s wedding."
Dr. Anna Palabyab-Rufino
"I loved the colors and the style of this wedding. I loved that even if the weather was not too good that day, we all had a great time."
"It was a daunting challenge to create a wedding gown for a princess. But she was so kind and accommodating and this resulted into one of my favorite wedding gowns that I have created. Her gown looks very simple but it’s all hand beaded using Murano glass crystals that took me over five months to hand bead."
"I have known Chris since we were children as we are practically related. I loved this wedding as it sums up to me what timeless elegance looks like."
David Pilgrim and Richard Batol
"This was special as this was my first gay wedding. My good friends had me do this all the way in England."
"I collaborated with my friend Rafe Totengco to create the wedding gown for his niece. I loved the collaboration as it was the first time I did so with another designer. The result was breathtaking."
"Divine is my muse and I knew from the day I met her that her wedding gown would be in gold! She trusted me completely—she did not even see a sketch or a swatch. She actually did not want to fit her wedding gown and I had to insist that she did."
"My youngest sister’s theme was close to my heart as it was modern Japanese. We used several kimonos and obis to create her wedding and I loved her train."
"A wedding in paradise! I made a gown for someone who I find to be so extremely beautiful. It was simple, understated and just breathtaking. The details were so subtle you could actually miss them as they were T’boli patterns on her wedding gowns hand stitched and lined with the finest sugar beads."
Joy Zapanta-Del Rosario
"A degrade wedding gown from white to gun metal grey. All done with the finest caviar beads accented by a shoulder train that was so dramatic. I loved this wedding gown so much."
Judith Zapanta-Berenguer Testa
"This was the first time I used black for a wedding gown and it was really quite stunning."
Katrina Sandejas Mañosa
"Her gown comprised of a cathedral jacket and an inner evening gown. This modernist take on a wedding gown defines my complete aesthetic."
"Imagine doing a wedding gown for someone you have not met and have not seen. We managed, however, to create this beautiful wedding gown that was hand painted on many layers of organza. I loved the trust and the faith that Kim had in me and my team—often that is all you need."
"One of my most favorite weddings. I did this more than 22 years ago and it still remains quite relevant to this day. Her matte gold entourage actually started a big trend for me."
"My very first wedding gown in full color. It was in this wild magenta pink. Indicative of Joey’s spirit and individuality."
Mariana Vargas - Morado
"A wish granted and a promise fulfilled. I met Mariana when she was barely 8 and we pinky swore that I would do her wedding gown."
"My best friend got married and this was pure happiness and joy! We have seen the world together and to see her so happy in my dress is what makes my work all so worth it."
"Celebrating the indigenous weaves of Pineapple and silk but done in a very modern way."
"Hers was one of the most fashion-forward weddings that I have ever done. Sheer lace and architectural construction equals pure fashion!"
"Defining the pure luxury and romance of what a classic wedding gown looks like. I hand carried her lace home."
"Imagine a wedding in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I created a gown for one of the most enigmatic and dynamic women I know."
"The fact that she wore a dusty pale peach as her wedding gown was a testament to her personality and strength. Her wedding gown was actually the after-party dress which she initially wanted to wear to the ceremony and her actual wedding gown she ended up wearing to the after party."
"I have been collecting vintage laces for many years now and I waited to create a collage of this for my friend Teresa. Her bohemian vibe was perfect for what I had in mind for her. Her wedding was like an editorial from start to finish."
"(For her 20th anniversary) Imagine doing a gown fit for Game of Thrones?! This was what we were able to do for my love Tessa. The closest thing I could have done for royalty."
"My sister’s wedding was almost like my own. Her theme was the British Raj period when England occupied India. The colors of her wedding were like plum and magenta jewels. We even had a giant elephant at her wedding."
"This was my very first wedding and it still remains my favorite. It was inspired by a striped T-shirt."
Here Rajo answers these questions in an interview and talks about his hopeless romantic ways after all these years working at weddings, plus the best marriage advice he’s heard:
Metro.Style: Do you remember the first bridal gown you designed? How did you feel at that time and doing something you hadn't done yet—to be trusted with a gown for such an important milestone?
Rajo Lauel: I absolutely do. My first bridal gown was for Yvonne Banzon Climent. I remember it like it was yesterday: I wanted to create for her a bridal gown based on a striped T-shirt. It was a round neck wedding gown with cap sleeves. The stripes were in various lines of pearls and nacre beadwork with a full skirt in ivory bisque silk alaskin. I remembered how relaxed Yvonne was and she wanted nothing too floral or too girly, which made me really happy as I knew I wanted something fresh and different. I was really excited and really anxious but I had the confidence that I would do the task well. Yvonne was referred to me by my cousin, and I knew that this was the start of something special.
MS: What drew you to do bridal work or why did you enter into bridal as well? What need in the market were you hoping to meet then?
RL: I love the intimacy of weddings and going into the mindset of creating the most important dress any woman will ever wear. I thought that was something I would like to be part of. I started so young and I really didn’t think about marketing and strategy then. I just wanted to make wedding gowns for my clients who ultimately became my friends. I guess I was just at the right place at the right time.
MS: How has bridal work changed over the years (now that the wedding industry is much bigger than perhaps when you began)?
RL: It’s a really vital industry now, with lots of key players and even the international brands upon us. It’s very exciting indeed. There are so many price points and markets to consider that you really ought to know who your customers are.
MS: …And how has it remained the same?
RL: In my mind, it’s really about the service you give your clients. That has remained the same. The kind of care and attention you give to them is of equal importance to the wedding dress itself.
MS: What do you like to focus on or highlight for a woman on her wedding day?
RL: I like to focus on the bride. I love it when you notice the woman more and not her dress. I am from the school of thought where the woman has to be wearing the dress and not the other way around. I also focus on making sure that the bride can enjoy her day and have fun. It’s pointless if one cannot move on your wedding day. LOL!
MS: What is your design process with brides like?
RL: I am very interactive. I love the process of working with the bride to find what exactly she is looking for. Because we deal with custom design, your only limit is your imagination. And that for me, is really exciting.
MS: Do you have any anecdote/very memorable stories/brides you care to share?
RL: I have so many, like my only double wedding that I did. That was special of the many destinations weddings that I have done. However, on top of all those are the weddings I did for my brother and my sisters. Because in many ways, I was like the bride there.
MS: What do you enjoy most about doing bridal even after all these years?
RL: I really enjoy the process. From the idea, to slowly creating the pieces as they come to life. I love those seconds as I prepare the bride before those big doors open. Seeing my bride walk down the aisle and taking a look at her groom and knowing that I was part of that magical moment is really priceless. I am a hopeless romantic and this is why after all of these years I still get butterflies and goosebumps each time I do weddings. When I get those feelings, I know that I have done something good.
MS: What was the most challenging bridal gown you have created so far and why?
RL: The most difficult weddings are those from women who really do not know what it is they want and you must be very patient and full of care when this happens because your duty is to guide them towards the right path. This trust and faith is deeply important. If this is not present that it is all for naught.
MS: Please complete the sentence: A Rajo bride is…
MS: What's some of the best marriage advice or words of wisdom you have heard?
RL: There is no such thing as perfect wedding and it is those imperfections that you will all remember in the end. The most important people are the bride and groom—all hell can break loose but if you deeply love one another, nothing else matters. Details are just that, details.
RAJO: Friend of Brides
Some of Manila's most stylish brides remember working on a dress of a lifetime with the celebrated designer—and the intimate relationship that has followed
Tell us about your wedding gown. Why did you wear gold?
It was always my joke that I wanted to look like The Lady of Manaoag. But in all honesty, I love how regal and she looks in gold. I would always joke with Rajo that I wanted to look like an apparition. This was years before I even met my husband. Come wedding planning, I didn't even ask for a sketch. I just told him, “Keri mo na yan!” Ha ha ha! I even refused to fit. He's been dressing me for years, so I don't see the need to fit. The trust is 100%. I just fitted once—because he really forced me to. You know he's a perfectionist.
My past posts has been all about my thank yous. And hindi pa tapos guys. Still waiting for the official photos ?? tiisin nyo. Minsan lang ako mag pakasal ?? Amidst the happy thoughts, may bumasag and said that it seemed like a declaration of love for my friends instead of my new husband. In one of our marriage seminars, Father @titocaluag's first activity for us was to list down things we are grateful for. We were given a few days to do this before we can compare notes. It's not a surprise that most are names of specific people in our lives. Father explained that for a relationship to be successful it should first start with being grateful for your blessings. Life is not perfect nga naman but God will always give you what you need to get by. I will never be ashamed of thanking people, nor will I stop kasi binasag yung trip ko ?? we are very very lucky. Very lucky with all these new and old friends we are sharing. Now, dalawa na kaming nagpapasalamat ?? and will continue to do so because we will always be grateful for everyone's love. #finalleeshesaidgo #GoLee
What is it like to work with Rajo?
When designing, I always just give him an emotion, a feeling, or a place. Then I give him creative freedom. Some pegs are funny, some are serious. A sample peg for my outfit for my son Baz’s baptism: "Gusto ko kontrabida sa Familia Zaragoza, ha!" Ha ha ha!
Thank you to everyone who made time for our little @baz.go’s christening! Thank Ninong @rajolaurel for his baptismal gown, Tito @elmerlapena for the cutest cake, our @cafemarygrace giveaways (yes! This is the best idea. Nag agawan mga guests haha!), @arteegram_manila for the cutest pillows, @oil.my.gosh for the oils, @gideonhermosa for the super cute set up (Ayaw umupo ng guests sa ganda. Haha!), father @titocaluag for being there since our wedding to our first baby’s baptism and @niceprintphoto for the photos and video coverage!!! #BazGo
What do you appreciate most about working with Rajo?
His talent, work ethics, vision—those are a given. His work speaks for itself. It's the friendship that people don't know about. This is one person who's always on my speed dial both for good and bad moments. I think it's also mutual because there was a time I had to sleepover his house for three consecutive days with no clothes! Buti nalang designer siya. Ha ha ha! Our relationship is way more than the muse and designer relationship. He even forced me to date Blake so technically, he found me a husband!
Please describe your wedding dress. What was your idea and inspiration for it and how did you and Rajo arrive at this design?
I got married at a beach, so I wanted something light and comfortable to walk around and dance in. I told Rajo that I had imagined a body fit silhouette and that the one design detail I really wanted were beaded sleeves. He immediately understood what I wanted and pretty much got it down on the first try when he sketched it out. He came up with a beautiful scalloped design for the sleeves and a stunning Art Deco inspired beadwork pattern on the dress. It was absolutely perfect, I teared up when I first tried it on. It was very “me”, he couldn’t have been more on point.
How would you describe your experience working with Rajo—from your bridal gown to other creations you have worked on together years after?
Collaborating with Rajo is always so easy and fun. He is a very skilled and talented artist and has an eye for detail. As a designer myself, I truly appreciate his craftsmanship. He knows what looks good on me, what to emphasize and accentuate, what colors would suit me best. He’s also extremely easy to talk to so the process of it all is always a breeze and a fun time at his studio!
What do you enjoy or love most about Rajo?
Rajo is one of the kindest and sweetest people I’ve met. I’ll never forget how he was there for me right before I walked down the aisle. He was with me as I waited in a little office room in the back of the resort and helped calm my nerves by reassuring me that I looked great, holding my hand tight and cracking funny jokes. He hugged me tight right before the big moment. It’s a beautiful memory and I will always be grateful to him for this, and grateful for our friendship.
Please describe your wedding dress.
If I had to describe my wedding dress in one word, it would be timeless. We knew right away what direction we wanted to go: very romantic and classic. From top to bottom the dress was covered in delicate Chantilly lace which Rajo hand-carried back from Paris for me. In the end, it became a long sleeve off shoulder gown but originally it was built as turtleneck which we actually cut just two weeks before my wedding. Can you imagine? But the truth is I was not nervous at all because I knew it would be perfect no matter what. After all I was in the best hands.
How would you describe your experience working with Rajo?
It is hard for me to put into words what it was like, simply because the whole experience was so magical and special. From sketch, to first fit, to him dressing me on my actual wedding day. To be able to have my wedding dress made by one of my dearest friends, to laugh and cry along the way, was so personal and so special. I call him our personal “dream-maker” for a reason.
What do you enjoy or love most about Rajo?
Rajo wants you to be your most beautiful self. That matters most to him above everything else—that you look and feel your most beautiful. That is his vision. As a friend, he never fails to love and support you through all your stages in life, that it becomes impossible to imagine going through any milestone occasion without him. He shares the joy with you. He just wants the best for everyone and gives so much to those around him.
What was it like to design your wedding dress?
I’ll never forget our first meeting for my wedding dress. I walked in there full of excitement and emotion and said: “I want to be a pirate bride! Like someone who ran off from her arranged wedding, stowed away on a pirate ship and shipwrecked on a desert island with the love of her life!” And Rajo looks at me and says: “Oh! Ariel when she gets her legs!” And I’m like “yes!!!” This pretty much sums up my design relationship with Rajo. Whatever cockamamie farfetched concept I have in my head, he manages to envision the same thing and turn it into a super chic ensemble!
Tell us about your wedding dress.
We had settled on washed silk with raw edges draped over a corset with braided silk seemingly holding things together. It was fluid, sexy, and simply amazing. As an afterthought, we planned the after-party dress in blush, very simple and romantic with gorgeous ruffles and pleats. It consisted of a body suit and two skirts. When I came to fit everything... the moment I put on the after party dress it became clear to me that this was THE dress. He had captured every blushing and romantic emotion I was feeling... it was like he knew exactly who I was and what I was feeling at that very moment! It was amazing! Because they are separates I still can use all of the elements today! The pirate gown I used after dinner, dancing the night away barefoot on the beach.
What do you love about Rajo?
Rajo is one of the most incredible people I know. He is hardworking and considerate. He is truly a people person and will design for babies, men, women in all life stages and forms—from shorts made out of African wax print fabric to an elegant ball gown of emerald satin silk. He tackles each item of clothing with equal importance and he doesn’t impose anything on you because ultimately what he wants is for you to feel and look your best! But above all, he is abundantly generous. With his knowledge, his kindness, his time. More than a designer, he is such a dear friend to me and my husband alike, we love him so much! And all his success is well deserved!
Photos courtesy of Rajo Laurel's Archives.