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Fashion Strong

ICanServe Foundation teamed up with some of the country’s top designers to create collections with a force that is impossible to ignore


By Alex Y. Vergara

No one, it seems, is immune or out of reach from the clutches of cancer these days. Even some of the country’s top fashion designers have seen for themselves how friends, loved ones, and even employees battled, triumphed over, and sometimes succumbed to the Big C.

The “third in a trilogy” of fashion shows for a cause, as project insiders love to describe it, is about to unfold at the Raffles Hotel in Makati, as members of ICanServe Foundation stage Fashion Can Serve on October 8. Now on its third year, this edition will feature creations by designers JC Buendia, Ito Curata, Cary Santiago, Vania Romoff, Mia Arcenas, and Rosenthal Tee.

Led by Libet Virata and Tang Singson, the foundation’s chair and president, respectively, ICanServe is at the forefront of spreading breast cancer awareness among Filipinos, as well as providing those already afflicted with the disease with a support group, as they wage what could be the biggest battle of their lives.

  • Amanda Florentino wearing Vania Romoff

  • Mariel De Leon wearing Ito Curata

  • Katarina Rodriguez wearing Rosenthal Tee

  • Lia Andres Ramos-Moss wearing JC Buendia

  • Jasmine Maierhofer wearing Cary Santiago

  • Fatima Rabago wearing wearing Mia Arcenas

  • JC Buendia, Rosenthal Tee, Vania Romoff, Mia Arcenas, and Ito Curata

  • ICanServe Foundation’s Fundraising committee head Bettina Osmena, founder Crisann Celdran, and president Tang Singson with survivors Mila Camus and Techie Velasquez together with ICanServe Foundation’s fundraising committee member Sabrina Panlilio, chairwoman Libet Virata, fundraising committee member Sandy Lamb Moran, and longtime supporter WynWyn Ong

    As in previous years, the show will feature a mix of professional models and real-life muses, some of whom triumphed over breast cancer themselves. Last year, for instance, saw cancer survivors Margarita Fores and Malou Fores do the ramp. In support of her sister Frances Yu, a breast cancer survivor, Crickette Tantoco also modeled with her.

    Proceeds, both from ticket sales and sponsorships, will go directly in funding ICanServe’s programs.

    “This year’s theme is ‘Why We Fight,’” said Singson. “It’s also our hashtag. A number of muses will walk with a child or grandchild. Some of them are cancer survivors. Those who are not have a family member who got sick or died of cancer.”

    The show will feature, among others, two former Miss Universe winners: Gloria Diaz, Miss Universe 1969, will walk to honor the memory of her late sister Rio Diaz, who died of colon cancer, while Miss Universe 1973 Margie Moran, who helped ICanServe set up its program in Davao several years ago, has also agreed to model for Ito Curata. As an added treat, her granddaughter Cosima Ugarte will walk with her.

    Maureen Wroblewitz, the first Filipino to win Asia’s Next Top Model will also walk in honor of her late mother, a former member of ICanServe who lost her battle with breast cancer.

    “I’ve seen their previous shows,” said Curata, referring to those staged in 2015 and 2016. “I have quite a number of friends who went through and survived breast cancer. I also like the fact that this foundation, through Ating Dibdibin, helps women undergo testing and follow-up treatments.”

    Curata, who plans to use lace and silk gazar in “happy colors,” appreciates the fact that the foundation not only promotes breast cancer awareness, but also helps women on how to best deal with the disease. Even men aren’t immune from getting breast cancer. The few who get it are also welcome to seek help from ICanServe.

    The featured designers are free to choose their respective color palettes. But each is required to create one look in shades of pink, the color associated with the fight against breast cancer.

    A number of designers like Buendia, who plans to do an all-black collection save for one pink look inspired by the 50s, have also dealt with clients who have undergone mastectomies. As a designer, it has broadened his knowledge and understanding of their special needs, including their requests for padding and various other subtle details to camouflage their battle-scarred figures.

    Having lost one of his longest-serving employees to the disease, Buendia immediately said yes to ICanServe’s invitation. The employee, a finisher and beader, had been with the designer since those lean years “when I did all sorts of sidelines for various companies,” Buendia said. She worked for him until the very end.

    “In her case, it was more of fear and lack of awareness,” he continued. “I already referred her to an oncologist at PGH [Philippine General Hospital], but she still went to a manghihilot instead. When she finally decided to seek medical help, it was already too late.”

    Buendia will be dressing up Lia Andrea Ramos, a former Miss Universe Philippines, who’s also very active in a number of causes.

    One of Tee’s employees, who also acquired breast cancer, is luckier. After undergoing a mastectomy paid for by another foundation a few months ago, she is now going through one-hour sessions of daily radiation treatments for 30 days. Tee’s assistant sometimes feels too drained to go to work, but thanks to her decision to seek medical help, she now has a fighting chance to triumph over the disease.

    “As much as we would want to maintain a sunny outlook in the workplace all the time, we couldn’t,” said Tee, who plans to venture out of her comfort zone by using red, celadon green, and the mandatory pink look made of Mikado silk and tulle. “It’s a reality that we could all get sick in the future. Hopefully, this is just temporary. All our problems are nothing compared to people suffering from cancer.”

    Arcenas, who now shuttles between Manila and her native Cebu after her marriage to Manila-based Jacques Branellec of Jewelmer (one of the event’s major sponsors), also experienced seeing a number of aunts wage their respective battles with breast cancer. Fortunately, all of them survived the experience. Some of her other relatives who have had other forms of cancer weren’t as lucky.

    “It’s a very empowering feeling to be part of this show,” she said. “A lot of my relatives who got sick are close to me. I lend my support to every opportunity I get to spread cancer awareness and support cancer foundations.”

    It’s not a selling show, but designers like Arcenas welcome interested ladies in the audience to buy their creations or to order something from them inspired by dresses they’ve seen on the ramp. All the featured designers are doing the show pro bono.


    For ticket sales on Fashion Can Serve, call (+63917) 586-3308. Like FashionCanServe on Facebook, follow @icanserve on Twitter. For more info on how you can support ICanServe projects and programs, go to

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