Double Trouble

A POP-UP STORE shared by designers Rik Rasos (of Proudrace) and Randolph Santos (of Randolf) was announced via a poster on Instagram earlier this month. With Leah Navarro’s “Ligaw-Tingin” playing in the background, the poster showed the two designers like wrestlers, with horses and flames framing the both of them. That’s not so easy to ignore, is it?

We caught up with both designers on the first night of their pop-up in Cubao Expo’s Pablo Gallery on Oct. 14. The pop-up will run until Nov. 11.

RANDOLFThe designer has come a long way from his cheeky tote bags and T-shirts in 2013. He got a big push when he was named the winner of the 2017 Bench Design Awards.

Then, last year, he was picked up as one of the new labels of Rustan’s, showing off his playful take on the barong. His barongs are embroidered with childish line drawings, tattoo outlines — anything but the traditional rococo-style embroidery — making the stiff formal Filipino garment more mentally accessible to a younger, more daring audience.

Yet that was not his original intention. Mr. Santos told BusinessWorld that he just really liked see-through fabrics. After making a shirt out of jusi, someone remarked, “You make barongs pala.”

“I guess,” he said.

The barongs first came out in 2019, and his name has since become synonymous with counterculture formal Filipiniana. His clients include LGBTQ+ TV host Vice Ganda, their colleague Anne Curtis-Smith, beauty queen’s daughter Isabelle Daza, and actress Bea Alonzo. Another reason why he started making these barongs was his own conflicted relationship with tattoos: he wants one, but is afraid to commit to one. What was meant to go on his skin is simply embroidered onto translucent fabric, thus for him becoming a second skin.

Poking fun at fashion is rooted in his favorite art movement, Dadaism. The art movement came about after the First World War, with artists responding to the absurdity of death and destruction with their own take of the absurd and the loss of reason. In his case, he learned about it during his studies in Fine Arts at UP Diliman, before shifting to Clothing Technology. “It kind of made fun or destroyed traditional art,” he said about Dada. “Feel ko I found myself there.

“That’s me as a person. I like having fun. I wanted to reflect that in clothing. Part of the reason why I started Randolf was really to poke fun at pop culture,” he said.

Part of his display at Pablo includes crisp white shirts covered in childish scrawls, and bodysuits with puppies. The name of the brand itself is a game: named after his father, he changed the “ph” of his own name to “f” for his brand, to make it truly his.

Still, it’s funny to think that a guy poking fun at well-established tropes in fashion now has a home in what can be considered a decidedly “establishment” store, Rustan’s. “They never really told me to tone it down,” he said, adding that predicted slow movers at his display actually sell faster. “I’m happy that now, it’s accepted. When I was starting, it was really difficult for me to get clients. Now, I feel the appreciation of other people.”

PROUDRACEWhat started out as a joke between drunks is now a brand selling in Tokyo and Canada, and even dressing Korean boyband BTS.

Talking about how the brand’s name came about, Proudrace co-founder and Creative Director Rik Rasos (his fellow co-founder is industrial designer Patrick Bondoc) said that during a night of drinking in the early 2000s, his friend tried to take a picture of him, but he covered his face. His friend said, “Why are you covering your face? We’re a proud race.”

“I ran with it,” he said, and made that the name of his new brand.

When they were starting in the early 2000s, it was all about graphic T-shirts, his cheeky slogans emblazoned across the torsos of the young and wild. In 2012, the brand received a makeover, and now, they’re better known for manipulating what were supposed to be ordinary clothes into something more avant garde. At his display, we saw a trucker jacket with an extra flap in front, forming a sort of wing, and a polo shirt with a print that could only be loved by a lolo, with one shoulder stretched to inhuman proportions. Ads for the Mahal Kita Inn are printed on T-shirts, and another shirt is ripped then flipped to create the illusion of being worn inside out.

These designs are rooted in the more subtle nuances of Filipino pop culture and streetwear. “You see everyone in the streets. That for me is Filipino streetwear. Very casual. What you would wear at home, what you would wear sa pagbili sa tindahan (to go out to buy something at the store). What we did was just twist that… and try to make it more fashionable,” said Mr. Rasos.

His efforts have landed them in Vogue Talents (by Vogue Italia) as well as a listing in Highsnobiety. “From what I see, global audiences resonate if you’re very authentic to your culture and who you are. You’re not masking anything.”

RESURGENCE OF FILIPINIANAWe see now a resurgence of cool in wearing the Filipino identity on one’s sleeve. Filipino formalwear has never been more visible, and wearing local brands has never been a better choice. The two designers talk about how this came about, and, surprisingly, it happened because of what should have been disastrous events.

Mr. Rasos, for example, thinks that the pandemic changed how Filipinos dress. Not only have they begun to appreciate local craftsmanship more, but, “It became more experimental. Because of the pandemic, nobody’s afraid to dress up anymore. They just want to do what they want, what makes them happy.”

For Mr. Santos, it’s the arrival of all the global fast fashion brands in the 2010s, which once threatened to kill off smaller local brands. The sheer saturation in the market of their clothes brought out the opposite effect. “Maraming ayaw nilang may kapareho (nobody wanted to dress the same as everybody else). Naghahanap na sila ng bago (they are looking for something new), something different.”

“That’s where we come in.” — Joseph L. Garcia

Neil Banzuelo

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