EXCLUSIVE: Designers Patty Ang, Edwin Tan, And Rajo Laurel On Stepping Up And Heeding The Call For PPEs
Fashion found a higher purpose at the height of the pandemic as these three designers went above and beyond the call of duty, to protect our medical frontliners, thus making the local fashion industry an indispensable ally in the fight against the virus. Patty, Edwin, and Rajo are part of Metro Society's "Inspiring People" special
While clothing is a basic need, fashion is mainly about dreams. But new problems can turn the world topsy-turvy and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, three designers went above and beyond the call of duty, to protect our medical frontliners. And in so doing, they made the local fashion industry an indispensable ally in the arsenal against time and the virus.
Patty Ang made a big splash as a newbie designer back when the pristine white jumpsuit that she made for Andi Eigenmann for a photo call at the Cannes Film Festival made it to the red carpet instead. Vanity Fair magazine included Andi in their list of Best Dressed at the festival, and Patty then became a fashion media favorite. Her ability to balance minimalist silhouettes with luxe embellishment made her popular with style mavens and she now has both an atelier for customized looks, a ready-to-wear shop, and a new line of elevated basics, Patton Studio.
Edwin Tan and the late Pepsi Herrera diligently and meticulously built up their design partnership, honing both their tailoring expertise and their flair for ball gowns. They became part of the pop culture lexicon when they became favorites of Star Magic talents for their annual ball which evolved into the ABS-CBN Ball. Edwin made waves recently with the PPEs he designed for our national flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and he has also made some bespoke PPEs for his doctor friends.
Rajo Laurel has parlayed his love for fashion into a true fashion mega brand, and he is also a celebrated brand ambassador for cakes, burgers, and appliances. He was a judge on the local version of Project Runway, and is the only designer to be featured three times for the country’s top charity event, The Red Charity Gala.
From pretty party frocks to red carpet showstoppers and the glamorous and feminine separates that she became famous for, Patty Ang evolved her fashion output to unisex PPEs and lounging basics.
“Older. Wiser. Stronger. Better.” This was Patty’s caption for her birthday Instagram post. Her smile is bright and radiant. It comes from knowing that she has come through a storm, still very much with her own aesthetic vision, but with a deeper dimension.
As one of the first fashion designers to heed the call for PPEs for our distressed frontliners, Patty is living proof that change is the real fuel for creativity. With her retail shop in Rockwell’s Power Plant Mall and her own atelier, Patty was busy, busy, busy. In between designing for her shop and meeting clients and doing interviews, she barely had a minute for herself. And then, the COVID-19 quarantine happened.
The first part of isolation was actually a chance for her to reboot her creativity. “At that time, the creative juices were really flowing, and you want to really sit with that, suck out those creative juices. And I would also meet with my team, try and plan for what would come ahead. I couldn’t believe that I could have so much time for my family! And that I could finally exercise after years of saying that I would do it but never getting around to it.”
But reality soon came calling.
“There was a shoutout for fashion designers to help and make PPEs. Mich Dulce shared the basic pattern and I had a team on hand, so we just got to it. We wanted to help in any way we could, and then everything became so busy,” Patty adds.
From those first days under quarantine to several months in lockdown, she has also adapted and adjusted her designs for more everyday wear, to be worn even long after COVID-19 is merely a memory. She has created separates and jackets that are protective wear, yes, but can transition to travel clothes or rain gear.
“I really love my team now, and I want to keep them together.” So from making for frontliners, and now making PPEs for her clients and creating Patton Studio, Patty has seen what the market needs and has added her chic touch, tempered by practicality and everyday functionality. From frou frou and feathers, her new basics have oversized elastics and textured details that are not dramatic but are still polished and stylish. “People will still want to dress up,” she observes.
She admits, “Of course, we hope that things will go back to people wanting to go out again. I used to travel to Paris to see the trends and look for fabrics. Of course, now is not the time to be buying expensive fabrics and talking of travels. But the love and passion for fashion is different. There is always that romance to fashion, of wanting to see and touch the beautiful fabrics.” She sees fashion as part and parcel of identity. “[Your concept of beauty] it comes with who you are. Whether it is simple or extravagant, as long as you are comfortable and confident, it saves you."
Of her hopes and prayers, she says, “I know that I’m blessed. My family is healthy and we have food on the table. My prayer is that everyone will be able to have the same.” And of her biggest lesson, she says with conviction, “To take things day by day. But to also be ten steps ahead."
Edwin Tan and his late partner Pepsi Herrera were known for dressing movie stars and doing showstopping gowns and dashing tuxedos. And then, a global health crisis made him draw on his past as a med school student, and in the course of that, he literally got to design PPEs that fly the flag.
“Oh you should have seen it—some people were jumping, some crying, but there was also lots of laughing!” Edwin recalls the day he showed his workroom seamstresses an Instagram post of the PAL crew on the tarmac, sporting their PPEs that proudly bore the PAL logo, the sun from our flag, shining through, just as the old PAL slogan so aptly captured. “Most of them are now the sole breadwinners. Their husbands have lost their jobs because of COVID, so you can just imagine how happy they are to have jobs. But to see the crew so happy also made them so happy.”
But that proudly PHILIPPINE moment is just one proud moment. There’s more to the story. In fact, Edwin’s COVID story shows that seemingly random moments in life somehow all come together beautifully and, to use a fashion term, seamlessly. The designer may have taken a different path from his old med school friends, but their paths would cross again in a spectacularly meaningful and necessary way.
Though he is now a well-established designer, Edwin was actually on his way to becoming a doctor. But he had always loved fashion, and when his medical school classmates found out, they would accompany him to magazine shops and as they pored over magazines. Edwin would memorize designs and find sewers to execute those looks. His happy classmates would then treat him to lunch or dinner, until a cousin asked Edwin to make her wedding gown. Though he did graduate from med school, he never became a doctor. He did stay friends with his classmates and batch mates. And very early on during quarantine, some friends called him and told him, “Please, please make PPEs! We are running out of them!”
Edwin then says, “I still remember wearing PPEs in med school and I always thought, [even] then, why does it have to be so boring? Of course, we cannot diminish the safety of it, but if you can make it more pleasing to the eye, and the ones wearing it can feel both confident and safe, why not?” Edwin’s streamlined and still very functional PPEs caught the eye of PAL’s management. When they had to resume flying to repatriate Filipinos who were caught in the worldwide grounding of flights, PAL asked Edwin to make the PPEs for their crew.
“They had no requests or anything, but when I thought of adding the detail of the sun, that is on the plane itself and is the logo of PAL, they agreed. And then the other airlines started calling me, too.” And in addition to fulfilling orders for airlines, brides and grooms are still calling. “Of course, with pocket weddings, some of them have only ten people. Before, the goal was the WOW FACTOR. You want that 'ahhh' moment when the doors open and the bride comes into the church. Of course, now, you still want it to be nice, but I have to restrain myself. But it’s more meaningful, imagine, even in the middle of COVID, weddings are still happening.”
Weddings are inherently romantic and Edwin believes that romance and beauty will never be erased by any virus. “Beauty and fashion, they will always make people aspire, and as people are inspired to achieve those aspirations, the fashion industry will still continue to make beautiful things. Either simple or intricate, we have to continue to inspire people, to make them happy."
When asked to look back on the quarantine, Edwin admits, “There was more time to introspect, to philosophize. What I learned is what’s really valuable. I had the time to cook all the old recipes of my family, from all the aunts and grandmas; when I was growing up, we all had to do chores and I got assigned to cook. So even after lockdown, I want to continue that. Before, I barely had time to eat! My love for family and my faith intensified. And even if I always knew it, I really learned that no one is an island. We all really need each other."
From couture creations to PPEs AND POWs (protective outerwear), Rajo Laurel leads the way.
Though he knew at a young age that he would become a fashion designer, starting with his friend's prom dresses, it was not his first childhood dream. He was actually a young theater actor when, in his words, he “fell in love with the power of costume.” From the very beginning of his career, the fashion press took notice and Rajo is one designer who has successfully crossed over from the insular world of fashion to the mainstream world of popular culture; he has even become a brand ambassador for appliances and has fronted reality shows.
From meeting brides-to-be, showbiz stars, and his other clients, fame and fortune come at a price. He works almost constantly, and so when the lockdown began, he chose to head off to his Batangas bolthole, with the lovely moniker, the Mono House (a play on the Spanish word that both means monkey and cute, but in a chic way).
But being away doesn’t mean being unaware. “We were in a war, and we can be the purveyors of modern armor. It broke my heart to see the frontliners literally wearing garbage bags. So I called my sister, and asked, 'Are there still people who can work?' We have a dorm for our workers and some of them couldn’t go home. It was a difficult learning curve; we had to find a way to work things out while I was so far away. As I said, it’s a war and the soldiers were dying. But we figured it out. And I am now proud to say that we have given PPEs to hospitals not just in Metro Manila but all over the Philippines. We’re still in the thick of it, and since they don’t stop, we can’t stop. Because they continue to save lives, we continue to work.”
As he was coordinating with his sister Venise, who handles operation and administration of Rajo Laurel Enterprises, he lived the simple life. He grew vegetables, he had no TV, radio or WiFi. He says, “I needed that, I needed to return to a lifestyle of simplicity, I needed to reset. And now my mindset is, how can I be creative with compassion? We are purveyors of dreams; we literally make fantasies come to life. We deal with joy and hope and we provide that self-love. We have a platform for possibility and positivity. We will always be an example of light, of beauty.”
He will not hide that though his focus has been on the more practical side of design, the more fanciful side of fashion does still have its siren call. “I miss the pageantry, the theater, the energy. But moving forward, I pray that we become more compassionate, more mindful, more aware. Fashion shows will become more intimate and thus, more special. But since they will mostly be online, they will also be less exclusive. Fashion shouldn’t be just for a few. I want to tell young people: I want you to dream. But you can also teach us how to proceed. We’re all in the same place of figuring out what to do next.”
Living in the province, surrounded by nature, strengthened Rajo’s belief in the power of beauty. “When you wake up every day and you see so much beauty around you, and you realize that your work is to marry beauty and functionality, it’s so wonderful to have that gift. The biggest lesson has been really to listen.To decipher. To distill. To understand. Stop and listen. We have the power to change, and we have to be grateful.”
Lead photos from Metro and Metro Society magazines archive and StarStudio