EXCLUSIVE: Inside The Pampanga Atelier Of Mak Tumang, The Designer Of Catriona Gray's Iconic Gowns!
This is where Catriona Gray had her iconic Miss Universe gowns made.
Located in Mexico, Pampanga—about a two-hour drive from Manila—is a glass house where Filipino couturier Mak Tumang spends most of his days. A spacious yet cozy office serves as a literal extension of his home—it is where friendships are formed and extraordinary dresses are sketched. It's also where dreams come alive. Enter the compound, and walk inside the glass-walled nook—you'll see that natural light illuminates the space, enveloping the room with a warm, golden touch. "[The walls of my office are made of] glass because I'm very attached to nature. I get inspired by the environment. I want to see plants all around me [as I sketch my designs]," he quipped.
On days he feels worn out, he simply sits on his desk to observe his surroundings, taking in as much inspiration as he can. The birds in the sky, the classical music from his outdoor surround stereo, the luscious green landscape that envelopes his safe place like a moat protecting a kingdom. All of these bring him joy. "This is my favorite spot because I feel recharged whenever I see this view."
"My office is very clean—it's just white with a touch of green," Mak smiled, leading us to his garden. Just a few steps away from his desk is a patio where one can relax under the warm Kapampangan sun. The couturier beamed as he toured us around his yard, the layout of which he co-designed with his friend, landscape architect Joshua Cunanan.
While his garden boasts of bright, rejuvenating hues, the interiors of Mak's atelier tell another story. Step into his studio and you will spot the stark contrast between his office and his signature creations. Mak, who is known for designing lavish, intricate couture pieces, has an affinity towards simpler interiors. "I'm a fan of white walls, because I want my creations to stand out. When clients come in, gusto ko mapansin nila agad 'yung mga gown," he shared.
Among the interesting pieces that welcome Mak Tumang's guests is a replica of Miss Universe 1994 Sushmita Sen's seashell-shaped chair. Ever the pageant enthusiast, Mak also has the original chair; it's in his office in Makati.
Of course, one cannot visit the designer's creative space without noticing his extravagant dresses on display. One of Mak's star pieces is The Blazing Siren, an Ibong Adarna-inspired gown he handcrafted for Catriona Gray for the Miss Universe pageant. The long gown was made with thousands of Swarovski crystals intricately handstitched onto feather-like gold thread embroidery. It was no surprise why the fiery creation went viral overnight—yet the masterpiece looked even more breath-taking in person.
IBONG ADARNA ?????? The Blazing Siren by @maktumang My preliminary gown was inspired by the 'Ibong Adarna': a prominent Filipino folklore that is a mythologicalnous bird. Story goes, the Ibong Adarna's enchanting voice can enable complete healing to anyone who hears it. Some artists liken it to the mythological Phoenix where it recurrently regenerates itself by arising amidst a spectacle of flames and candescence. This makes it a fitting symbol of resilience, rising and rebirth. ?????? My earrings were designed by me and executed by @tesserajewelry as another ode to the Philippines with the Philippine sun and golden South sea pearls, our national gem. ???? Thank you to @maktumang for his amazing craftsmanship and exquisite execution of this gown, to @justine.aliman19 and @ton_lao for styling in @bragaisjojo heels and @tesserajewelry. Thank you to mamang @hairbybrentsales and @jellyeugenio for teaching me to slay my hair and makeup! And to @carlosbuendiajr, the man behind my walk ?? I love you all!!!
For women searching for maximalist fashion pieces, the 32-year-old couturier is the person to call. "My aesthetic is all about the beauty of the details. Every Mak Tumang piece has a story," he told Metro.Style. "That's also the reason why my fitting room is very spacious—my bridal gowns are usually big, and they have long trains."
Hanging on one of the designer's walls are three of his most memorable dresses. The first piece from the left was worn by Miss Jamaica during the Miss Earth 2009 pageant, where she won best-dressed in the Eco-Design Wear segment. On the center is a dress made of abaca, which was inspired by the curly hair of religious images—before making it big in the fashion industry, Mak was first a designer of vestments for religious images. Finally, the garment on the right was a sample he submitted to apply for the Young Designers Guild.
Meanwhile, the designer's workshop is located inside a building within the great white compound. Mak's team of over 20 are dressed in white coats, as they cut precise patterns and sew dreamy pieces.
The finishing area, on the other hand, is where the magic happens. Final touches are carefully put onto gowns of all shapes, sizes, and colors—it's beadwork heaven!
On the second floor of the building is Mak's very own stockroom, where millions worth of materials are stashed. Everything from fabric and Swarovski crystals to pageant crowns can be found here. "It's like I have my own store!" Mak laughs.
Ever since Catriona Gray bagged the Miss Universe 2018 title, Mak has received more inquiries, eventually booking even more clients—a blessing the designer is truly grateful for. "It was never my dream to dress the next Miss Universe—but it was destiny. Working with a passionate queen is very challenging—you need to understand and immerse yourself in her vision. But the challenge brings out the creativity and artistry [in you] as a designer."
Today, the Kapampangan designer's skills and talents are recognized—from Pampanga to Manila, and even across the Universe.
ONE WEEK AGO TODAY ??? Philippines, what an honour it was to carry your name across my heart. ???? @missuniverse I am grateful for so, so much. This year all my prayers were answered. ?? More so, I am so thankful I get to be with my loving parents and through Ms Universe, be able to bring joy to 104 million Filipinos this Christmas. Maligayang Pasko Philippines! Mahal ko kayo ????? #MissUniverse
Produced by Grace Libero-Cruz and Hershey Neri
Photographs by Jar Concengco