WITH creativity of the highest quality, Francis Libiran is emerging as one of the most important Filipino designers practicing his craft today.
On November 24, the Grand Ballroom at the City of Dreams Manila witnessed 25 years of passion and persistence as Libiran unleashed “Sterling,” a lustrous fashion-forward collection inspired by the mythical phoenix.
Libiran’s momentum went full throttle in 2018 when he was invited to be part of a stellar lineup of internationally celebrated designers such as Cinco, Michael; Libiran himself; Amato Couture of Furne One; Santos, Ezra; and Santiago, Cary. Together, the Fab Five mounted the epic World Class show in Cebu City.
“I had to say a big yes to Cary, the organizer of the show. It was such an honor to be part of the fashion show with some of the greatest geniuses of the fashion world. I was motivated to be more creative, innovative, and to think out-of-the box and create a collection that was different from any I’d designed before. It was also a platform to show the country and the world the artistry and talent of the Filipino and our dedication to our craft,” Libiran said at the time.
And what makes a world-class Filipino fashion designer?
“I think that one of the things that make Filipino designers different is the amount of culture and history we have. Combine that with the immense talent of craftsmanship and our dedication to make quality pieces, and what you get is nothing short of world class. What we lack most is probably exposure and that’s why it’s always been my goal to make Philippine fashion globally recognized,” replied Libiran.
‘ARCHITECT OF FASHION’
Libiran’s eye-catching creations, favored by celebrities, beauty queens and high-society, are characterized by their lightness and airiness, their opulence and lavishness, and their structured and architectural silhouettes.
He belongs to the school of fashion steeped in architecture, in the kindred company of Tom Ford, who studied Interior Architecture at the Parsons School of Design in New York; Pierre Balmain, who studied Architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris; Thierry Mugler, who had interior design training at the Strasbourg School of Decorative Arts; Virgil Abloh, who initially held a Masters degree in Civil Engineering and Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology; Christian Espiritu, who went to the University of Santo Tomas; and Gianfranco Ferré, the “architect of fashion” who studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan.
“I earned my college degree at the College of Architecture at the University of Santo Tomas. Designing clothes has a direct connection to the discipline and skill I learned from my architectural studies. I can totally relate to Tom Ford as an architect and a designer. He is very detail-oriented and has very high standards in terms of design and quality. I am that way, too,” said Libiran, who, like Ford, is that rare unicorn—a heartthrob designer.
FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX
Helmed by the trailblazing Ariel Lozada, the stage was devoid of any decor. He didn’t want a convoluted message a distracting backdrop may convey. With his haunting music, the director made “Sterling” put the spotlight on the fantastical creations of Libiran.
A truss of lights, like a Ring of Fire, illuminated the models, whose mesmerizing movements were reminiscent of the muses of Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton.
Their alien-ish hair and makeup, inspired by the theatrical works of Guido Palau, were styled by the tirelessly talented Eric Maningat with help from the legendary Henri Calayag.
The men’s hats were created by the highly creative Ricky Vicencio: “Basically, Ariel’s concept is height. Elongated versions of a typical hat. Material is felt cloth and taffeta. Incorporated with the fabrics used by Francis for the menswear.”
“We were so blessed. All the elements we’ve put together all gelled well,” Lozada rhapsodized after the acclaimed showcase.
As per his notes, “The Francis Libiran Phoenix Collection is inspired by 25 years in the craft of designing works of wearable art. It narrates a journey of rising from the ashes reflected by the transitioning from gold to gray to black, and finally to a fiery red gown—The Phoenix.”
The collection, meticulously and painstakingly made in Mumbai, India, is like a mix of techniques and use of fabrics. The 25 pieces started with gold, signifying the gold standard which every designer aspires for. Then silver, for his years in the business. The pewter color he combined with silver and gold as the colors transitioned. Then black to red. Then pure red to ombre.
“Rebirth of the Phoenix” was the first piece that tells the journey of Francis Libiran rising from the ashes. The piece, made of wired crushed silk, embodied beginnings and the start of rising toward a victory reflecting the splendor of the mythical Phoenix. It was modeled by the majestic Justine Gabionza.
The gorgeous Jasmine Maierhofer served as the Final Girl, sauntering in a gown that was “a sultry depiction of Francis Libiran rising from adversities and moving toward a sterling triumph like a phoenix rising from the ashes at rebirth.”
Also a huge help to Libiran on this milestone undertaking is his best friend and fellow designer Nat Manilag, who gushed: “He exemplifies traits that we often admire in many fashion designers/entrepreneurs such as being resilient, dedicated, and always on the go. He has this very special quality that a lot of designers don’t have, in that he really cares about how his clients feel in his clothes. He wants to make sure that you feel really strong and empowered—this is something that I really resonate with. He always sets the bar high and often leaves his comfort zone to experiment on new designs.”
What else would Francis Libiran like to achieve?
“2024 is really all about doing a lot of things in terms of retail. We’re not getting any younger, so we want sustainability. What my business partner Arsi Baltazar and I aim for is we really want to retain the name Francis Libiran even if I’m not around anymore,”Libiran said. “That’s my legacy. Another designer would be the one doing it for me. That’s what’s lacking in the Philippines. We have brilliant designers but all of them, when they die, their name goes with them. And we want to change that type of setup.”
Image credits: Francis Libiran Facebook/Nice Print Photography