By Rey Robes Ilagan
With the launch of Bench Design Awards (BDA) back in 2017, Bench, the homegrown retail giant synonymous with the #LoveLocal initiative, recognizes the importance of putting Philippine fashion on the global arena. In its mission, BDA creates opportunities for local design and craftsmanship to flourish globally alongside the best international commune of fashion creatives and forces.
Now on its third year, BDA once again puts the highlight on undiscovered fashion talents with its open call for emerging creatives nationwide. The biannual Bench Fashion Week, which houses the the design awards, has provided an avenue for the competition’s finalists to showcase their collections where it has amassed public interest and foreign publicity for two years now. Three hailed winners per year have been sent to present their designs at the Asian Fashion Meets Tokyo show at the famed Amazon Fashion Week Tokyo.
Past BDA winners include RJ Santos of Randolf, Jennifer Contreras of Problem Studios, Jaggy Glarino, Christian Edward Dalogaog from Ched Studio, Renz Reyes, and Sherwin Sacramento of Ottomondi.
For this year’s finalists, BDA has announced the inclusion of Antonina Amoncio, Benj Rogando, Bon Reyes, Candle Torreverde, Jeasar Quiambao, Marc Blanco, Michael Bawar, Robert Hiyas, and Russell Villafuerte.
The key difference in this year’s competition is the introduction of renowned international jurors: fashion designers Mihara Yasuhiro and Willy Chavarria, Japan Fashion Week’s organization director Kaori Imajo, Tokyo Fashion Week’s Philippine consultant Tetta Matera, and Japanese fashion show director Shige Kaneko.
In its mission, BDA creates opportunities for local design and craftsmanship to flourish globally alongside the best international commune of fashion creatives and forces.
Here, the panel of jurors shares with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle their selection and thought processes, fashion insights, and global design views as we gear up for the upcoming Bench Design Awards jury night on Sept. 1 at The Playground, Bench Tower in Taguig City.
What qualities do you look for in a young designer?
Willy: Passion and commitment. With enough passion, a designer can carve out a vision and learn all facets of the business to make it happen.
Kaori: Everything from the design of each of the items, the lookbooks, Instagram posts, and the quality. But right now, Instagram’s weight is bigger.
Shige: Craftsmanship and originality.
Tetta: First thing I look for is a strong, cohesive concept, especially when you have to select from sketches or mood boards. Then when I have the chance to view the collection up close, I always look first at the workmanship from inside out. The details of the finish are very important for me. Depending on the type of designer or the mix of the winners, we select based on shock and awe factors as well as appeal, wearability, and practicality of the clothes.
Mihara: Philosophy and faith.
What kind or level of fashion creativity do you expect from Filipino designers?
Willy: I expect the highest level of creativity. A great designer will find inspiration in his surroundings wherever they might be. I grew up in a small town without a morsel of fashion and it led me to create my vision.
Tetta: High because we are selecting for a global audience with Tokyo Fashion Week attended by international and local fashion press, enthusiasts, and industry insiders. Also, the Japanese market is known for their superb craftsmanship and innovative design. There are so many designers from all over the world now and competition is tougher than ever, so the expectation in all aspects is also higher.
Shige: I expect modern designs based on local and historical technique.
Is intelligence in fashion or creation a prerequisite in building a collection for today’s market?
Mihara: No new matter is born from ordinary problem proposals. Innovative creativity is born only when it deviates from common sense.
Willy: One must be thoughtful about how they approach the market. It is important to listen to other leaders in the industry and seek insight from those with more experience.
Kaori: Not necessary, since some designers just make clothes with feelings and they are beautiful.
Tetta: I do not know if I would categorize it as intelligence but more a pulse: the ability to understand and adapt to the ebb and flow of the fashion industry. The business model has changed and it continues to change at a faster pace, so it is critical to be current and relevant to the fashion consumer.
How do emerging Filipino designers make it big or compete in the global arena?
Willy: The world is very small today. A new concept can be nurtured and presented to the world digitally. It is important to contact fashion organizations outside one’s own country as well for competitions or opportunities to show. CFDA, for example, is always interested in new global talent.
Tetta: Quite honestly, talent alone which Filipino designers have plenty of, no longer guarantees success these days. You need money to have the right fashion publicity to represent your brand, to set up showrooms in cities like Paris, and turn out new collections each season for an extended period of time. Of course, Bench Design Awards (BDA) provides a viable platform for going global, but it is just the first of many steps. I hope we can have more projects like BDA as well as other legitimate and reputable international talent searches held locally. We need local fashion patrons to support projects like these financially, so our emerging designers get the opportunity to showcase and, with hope, sell their designs overseas.
Mihara: It is not about competition. The most important thing is about “What are you creating?” before you think about success.
For this year’s Bench Design Awards, is sustainability in fashion a major touchpoint? Are there other global initiatives or ecological solutions presented via fashion you’re hoping to see?
Willy: I love ideas which are intended to give back to the world or enhance the world in ways that are beyond selling clothing.
Kaori: Not only sustainability but also technology and other aspects that can be a spice to the brand.
Tetta: I have seen sustainability as a big part of the design ethos of many Bench Design Awards applicants. I believe most of the judges appreciate the use of local fabrics, upcycling of old or used fabrics, and coupled with a strong concept, this makes for a compelling, winnable collection.
Shige: Yes, sustainability in fashion is a kind of touchpoint, but not a major issue from my personal point of view.
How can new designers navigate the mindset of modern consumers?
Kaori: Fast fashion culture is changing and I think that more valuable things will last longer so designers should design what they believe is cool, beautiful, and strong.
Willy: Intuition is one of the most valuable characteristics a designer can nurture. To trust one’s self with what one feels will be the desired by others. Paying attention to the elements in pop culture or world issues is also hugely influential in what the public will want.
Tetta: Fast fashion is not as dominant as it used to be. Designers today must service the growing demand for responsible designing, especially among the Millennials and Generation Z shoppers. Quality is making a comeback, carbon footprint awareness is making an impact, and less is now more, so they must build their brands with these in mind.
Mihara: Don’t live under others rules. Live the rules that you create yourself.