By Alex Y. Vergara
Images by Jay Ganzon
Who was he to say no last year? But if you ask him today, fashion designer Joey Samson still can’t imagine himself doing a 40-piece collection for an event as “big and as different” as the annual Red Charity Gala.
“For one, I’m not a designer known for bling,” said the soft-spoken Samson, who earned a reputation in the industry for his impeccably cut and tailored clothes that appeal to a younger, edgier clientele. “Besides, people who attend the Red Charity Gala belong to a different market. I’m not saying my clothes won’t work for them, but I think their taste level is different.” Samson’s reluctance is understandable—the Red Charity Gala is considered as one of the biggest fashion events of the year.
Now on its ninth year, the annual fashion charity event, arguably the biggest of its kind in the country, has been organized and spearheaded since its inception by friends and fashion icons Kaye Tinga and Tessa Valdes to benefit a number of charities, such as the Philippine Red Cross and the Assumption High School Batch 1981 Foundation.
Through the years, it has tapped the likes of Furne One, Ezra Santos, Cary Santiago, and Michael Cinco, Filipino designers who made a name for themselves in the Middle East. Although an exceptional lot, these talents aren’t known for their subtle and subdued aesthetics. Their brand of fashion is all about volume, handcrafted details, and bling.
This approach has worked well for the annual fashion ball’s purpose since it needs to draw the attention of a grand ballroom full of guests. Apart from paying for tables, guests are encouraged to bid on donated items to be auctioned off also for charity.
That was why more “conventional” designers, such as Dennis Lustico, Jojie Lloren, and even London-based Lesley Mobo, during their respective star turns, have had to compensate by going out of their comfort zones to produce pieces with more visual impact from afar.
But the real challenge is to do so while staying true to their respective aesthetics. Lloren, another designer known for his clean, immaculate tailoring, drew inspiration, for instance, from the artworks of Filipino masters. In keeping with his chosen theme, Lloren didn’t resort to so-called line design—variations of looks following the same theme—since no two painters are alike.
Chito Vijandre, last year’s featured designer, didn’t have to read the memo. He came out of retirement and showed people, especially those who weren’t born yet during his heyday or were too young to remember, how good he was at mixing colors, embellishments, textures, and materials in one look.
“When they asked me last year, I couldn’t say no to Tessa and Kaye,” said Samson. “But what really convinced me despite all my reservations was their need to present something different. Since 2017 is their ninth year, they said they wanted to give this year’s gala a different twist.”
As they did in the past, the duo reportedly went through a shortlist of possible talents. They deemed one of those being considered as “too close” to Vijandre’s aesthetics. Tinga and Valdes did a 180-degree turn by opting for Samson.
To be fair to the two, Samson didn’t get any directive from them—overtly or otherwise—for him to up the ante due to established factors involved in staging such a big show. Samson, for his part, is no greenhorn when it comes to doing fashion shows, including a few solo shows in big venues. But these shows don’t come anywhere near the scale and impact of a Red Charity Gala.
Rather than bend the market to his aesthetics, Samson came on board with an “open mind.” He can’t afford, he said, to be “hardheaded” because there are certain givens once you agree to join such a huge show.
His main challenge, he continued, was to bridge “the new Joey with the old one.” That he was able to surmount this hurdle was plain to see in the three looks he presented during a recent media presentation at the The Manila Hotel’s Champagne Room.
After going on a series of pilgrimages in Lourdes, Fatima, Montserrat, and Santiago de Compostela earlier this year with his best friend, sister, and 85-year-old mother, Samson drew inspiration from journeys and discoveries of all sorts for his collection.
“It doesn’t have to be a religious inspiration,” he said. “Based on my initial sketches, it could be inspired by a person, place, feeling, or mood. When I started sourcing for materials, that was when the collection started to evolve.”
One of his looks during the sneak preview, for instance, was vintage Samson—a pleated shirtdress made of cotton jersey. This time, however, the material he used was shiny.
He reserved color, volume, and texture for his second look, a two-piece floral-print ensemble made of brocade. The gold skirt was tempered with black and yellow-green blooms, while the black top was also dotted with yellow-green and purple blooms.
His lone male model wore a white cropped tuxedo shirt, one of Samson’s trademark pieces, and skinny matador pants. This time, he reworked the shirt by incorporating it with huge flapping details reminiscent of a capelet.
“I had to merge my old and new selves without veering away from my DNA as a designer,” he said. “The new Joey is more adventurous in terms of texture, shine, and color. I may have been adventurous before, but not with color.”
And for the first time in years, the Red Charity Ball will have a new director in the person of Robby Carmona. Carmona did the first “unofficial” edition of the Red Cross ball featuring Rajo Laurel, who, this early, has agreed to do the event’s 10th edition next year.
Samson will be doing 15 looks for men and 25 looks for women, although Carmona “wants me to do more,” if the director had his way.
The designer consults a number of good friends outside the fashion industry every time he has a big show. His process is so unlike most designers who seek advice from people in fashion. “A non-fashion person sees a collection from a more realistic point of view,” he reasoned. “When you consult an insider, his or her point of view is always what’s in or what works for the market.”
And how is he progressing? “I’m almost halfway done,” said Samson at the time of the press presentation, five weeks before the actual show. “I’ve discovered that I’m now delighted to work with color. It’s important to have a breather after all those neutrals. But it’s still an evolving collection.”
Red Charity Gala will be held on October 14 at Shangri-La At The Fort. For sponsorship and table reservations, go to www.redcharitygala.com or call (+63947) 812-5431. Like www.facebook.com/redcharitygala, follow @redcharitygala on Twitter and Instagram