Interview by JOHN LEGASPI
If Venus Raj ended the long drought of Filipinas earning a spot in the prestigious Miss Universe pageant, it is designer Albert Andrada who paved the way for many local designers to shine on the international beauty pageant stage. “I was shocked one morning when Madam Stella Araneta called and said that she wanted me to create a dress for Pia Wurtzbach,” he recalls. “I knew that I was in charge of her wardrobe for the pageant, but designing a long gown for her was quite an unusual step since the organization usually opted for international designers to dress our candidates.”
With nine days left before the pageant, Andrada rallied to create a dress that would make the Philippines proud, and would help Wurtzbach bag the crown.
Inspired by the Manila Bay, Andrada wrapped Wurtzbach in a fitted silhouette royal blue gown with folds of fabric flowing at the bottom of the skirt, which mimicked fins and the calm waves of the bay. At the back were glimmering lines based on the beautiful sunset that can be seen along Roxas Blvd.
Propelled by the debacle about the winner’s announcement, Andrada’s name became a household name due to that iconic blue dress. However, before attaining the fashion design fame brought by the Miss Universe crown, Andrada has already been dressing royals for quite some time. He has traveled the Middle East, and breathed in culture and knowledge from all over the world.
With more than two decades worth of insight on the fashion industry, the famed designer sits down with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle as he looks back on his life as a designer, his clientele, and his envisioned legacy.
How did you start your journey in fashion?
I was in high school when I knew I wanted to become a designer, I was 17 then. My mom knew that I was really in love with fashion—she was my muse. My mother was so vain, especially when it came to dressing. From head to toe, she was always beautiful. She pushed me to pursue my passion.
One day, she woke me up, telling me to accompany her somewhere. We drove and surprisingly stopped at a vacant space. She handed me the key to the place and said, “This will be your shop.” I was excited, but I feared the responsibilities of being a designer then.
I studied at Slim’s as an interior designer, but then I shifted to fashion design. My father and other relatives wanted me to become an engineer, to become a doctor: those were their standards of success. They thought that there was no money in fashion. My dad even talked to me to take up dentistry, if not medicine or something related to the field. In my mind, I was thinking, why not be a veterinarian [laughs]?
What was the greatest challenge you’ve encountered as a designer?
My greatest challenge was becoming a royal designer in the Middle East. I was there for about 20 years, and you have to be a seasoned designer to be considered. You have to be flexible if you’re going to dress the royals, especially the queen. They are the most lavish people I have ever met. In a day we produced 10 pieces, and the queen never got tired of fitting everything. It’s also the place where I got to hold a fabric costing $15,000 per yard, use real jewels on dresses, and have 35 staff members working under me. I treasure the time I spent there. My experience there really honed me as a designer.
What’s nice with Pinoys working overseas is that they have no choice but to take on many challenges, and to accomplish them. In my case, they gave me many couture pegs, and requested all sorts of stuff in one garment saying, “You’re a Filipino, you can do it.”
Where do you source your inspiration?
I get inspiration when I travel. I go to train stations and coffee shops and just look at people passing by. I like seeing different characters, I just love watching them. When you travel, you get inspired by the colors, the food, and the surroundings. I keep all these on my phone. I take notes and photos of what I see and feel being there, and translate these into my design.
How would you describe an Albert Andrada woman?
An Albert Andrada woman is someone who is adventurous, someone who has a taste for unconventional fashion, but still has a sense of opulence. Women like Ching Cruz and Salome Uy love to break rules when it comes to dressing. These women know how to wear clothes that complement their personality. They shine along with my designs.
I don’t think I’ll ever give up designing. As long as people still want me, as long as I’m a help to the country as a designer, nothing can stop me.
What do you look forward to in the first run of Miss Universe Philippines with you as its design council head?
I look forward to a pageant in which fashion will be one of the things given importance—not only the creations, but the creators themselves. The pageant will serve as a platform wherein Filipinos can showcase their creativity in the international scene. This will open doors for our Filipino designers to be recognized not only here in our country but also abroad.
For you, what does it take for a Filipina to conquer the Universe?
Firstly, what it takes to conquer the Universe is to be a genuine Filipina. A Filipina who is and will always be proud of her roots, and her reflection of the important values of being a Filipina. She is someone who is true to herself and true to her country, who will always remain true when she wears the crown of the Universe!
What will make you give up designing clothes?
I don’t think that I’ll ever give up designing. As long as people still want me, as long as I’m a help to the country as a designer, nothing can stop me.
What would you advice to the new generation of designers?
I think kids of this generation give up easily. They’re so passionate, but then in the midst of everything, they let go easily. My advice is when you stumble, you have to learn to rise again. That’s how you learn not to fall again the next time. That will make you more adventurous, and it will open the door to many opportunities.
Also, you must love yourself before giving your love to another thing. Share that love with others, especially with the ones who deserve it. This fashion industry shouldn’t die or just end here in the Philippines. We have to endure, and one way of ensuring this is by passing on what we know.
Lastly, I told this to my students before when I was still teaching in Raffles: learn to honor your parents. That’s one of the commandments God gave us. Through our craft, let’s be a blessing to our parents, our friends, and our country.