Interview by John Legaspi
After winning the Bench Design Awards (BDA) this year, designers Bon Reyes, Jace Quiambao, and Antonina Amoncio flew to Japan to present their winning collections, displaying the rich talent of young Philippines designers on the international runway.
The BDA is a gathering of the industry’s rising young talents, backed by retail giant Bench’s vision of forwarding Philippine fashion to the global arena. This year’s competition was judged by international fashion designers Willy Chavarria, Mihara Yasuhiro, Japan Fashion Week organization director Kaoru Imajo, Japanese fashion show director Shige Kaneko, and Tokyo Fashion Week’s Philippine consultant Tetta Matera. Heading the judges’ table was the executive creative director of Bench and founder and chairman of Suyen Corporation Ben Chan. Among nine finalists, the three designers emerged on top with their eight-piece collections: Quiambao’s “A Lepidopterist’s Summer,” Amoncio’s “Gunita,” and Reyes’ “Pagkahari.”
It has been a long journey for these designers to get from The Playground at Bench Tower in BGC to the animated and streetwear fashion city of Tokyo. Raising Filipino pride, the three designers shared their journey with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle and their experience showcasing their collections in Rakuten Fashion Week.
What were the changes you did to your collection?
JACE: One of the changes made was to switch some of my pieces to the opposite gender. There were clothes worn by male models in BDA 2019 but were then worn by female models in Rakuten Fashion Week. It looked good both ways. There were additional looks as well that made the collection more cohesive.
BON: For my collection, I added more suits. The Japanese judges during the BDA 2019 finals told me that they wanted to see more suits since most of my looks showed more skin. The idea is to show casual to formal styles in my collection.
ANTONINA: Apart from the eight looks I presented for BDA 2019, we were tasked to add four more complete looks for the Rakuten Fashion Week show. I also had to edit some styling, sequences, and elements including music and visuals.
How was the experience presenting your collection to the Japanese audience? How do you think they responded to Filipino designs?
JACE: It was a very life-changing experience for me, presenting my creations to a foreign audience. I was nervous at first knowing that Japanese people are very detail-oriented.
BON: It was an amazing experience! In a live interview in Japan, the interviewer told me that he didn’t expect the kind of collection I presented. He said that most Filipinos are known for details, colors, prints, etc. On the other hand, I presented something minimal which they didn’t expect from a Filipino designer. But they all liked the collection and they are looking forward to what young Filipino designers can offer next year.
ANTONINA: The experience was surreal and quite unexplainable. When I arrived at the venue, I felt it was happening and that I made it this far. Presenting my collection to the Japanese audience was a first for me and the two other winners. It was something I was excited and nervous about prior to the show. I felt that we gave a good show. Each of us had our own persona when it comes to design.
What was the advice you cherished most from the BDA jury?
JACE: The best advice I cherished the most from my BDA jury is to take the experts’ advice seriously and be confident with your work.
BON: Embraced minimalism. This is one of the many pieces of advice given to me by Joey Samson and Ivarluski Aseron. It was during our fitting that I felt most lost during the development of my collection. I was holding back. There was this feeling that my collection is boring and plain. But Joey and Ivarluski, together with the rest of the panel, were the ones who pushed me to elevate minimalism. And what I can’t forget is when they said, “Maraming yumayaman na mga minimalist designers. (Many minimalist designers get rich.)”
ANTONINA: In my two years of joining BDA, there was one advice coming from a key person from Bench and a member of the Japanese jury that I cherished—it was to join again. I joined again with so much motivation and push that I needed for myself. I thought about what I needed, what were my weaknesses and strengths as a designer. I assessed my previous collection and asked help from people who I thought would help me progress.
What was your most unforgettable part of your journey from BDA to Rakuten Fashion Week?
JACE: My most unforgettable experience from BDA 2019 was meeting notable personalities in fashion, who I only see in social media and magazines before like Andre Chang, Joey Samson, and Mr. Ben Chan. Also, I got advice from them on how to present our works and how to improve our designs.
From Rakuten Fashion Week, I witnessed how they work backstage, like all the models have their own rack and dresser. Everything was organized and started on time.
BON: Too many to mention. I was amazed by how the Japanese put on a show. From the fittings up to the final runway production, they were very organized and advance. The models were also professionals. They all listened to the designer’s vision. The lightings and the runway were commendable. It was very different from our country. Most importantly, we were thrilled by the amount of features and interviews we get after the show.
ANTONINA: In the Bench Design Awards, it was probably when they announced at last that I was a winner. In my head, I already accepted my defeat. I was already in a peaceful mental state. So when they announced that I was the winner, I literally held onto my knees and screamed.
In the Rakuten Fashion Week, I thought the sweetest and most unforgettable experience was when I went out to bow in front of the Japanese audience. All the hard work ends there as I bowed. I remember the people who’ve helped and supported.
Here are all the looks the BDA 2019 winners showed at this year’s Rakuten Fashion Week in Tokyo:
“A Lepidopterist’s Summer” by Jace Quiambao
“Gunita” by Antonina Amoncio
“Pagkahari” by Bon Reyes