They traverse the globe seeking inspiration and bring epiphanies back home to Cebu. They are increasingly in-demand with a growing number of celebrity and society clients from all parts of the world. Their diligence at their craft, and undying passion to improve it, has earned them the name fashion designer. Banded together, they are the Fashion Council of Cebu.
For some time now, Cebu has been producing world-class designers. Los Angeles-based Monique Lhuillier leads the pack and serves as inspiration. There are more Cebuano designers wowing the crowds at fashion shows like Philippine Fashion Week, Metro Wear, and Fashion Watch and getting standing ovations; more fashion editorials from magazines and national papers, and a vibrant clientele from all over the globe. As Oj Hofer, who also happens to be this magazine’s fashion editor for the last 15 years says, “Cebu is a hub. We can fly up to Manila or down to Davao for clients easily. We can also source out fabrics and seek out inspiration in Hong Kong or Shanghai through direct international flights”. Add to that is the background of the local furniture industry’s active involvement in international markets like Milan, Paris and New York, and one can easily get a glimpse of a truly global perspective in the design scene.
Of course, it is not all parties and champagne, or celebrity clients and jet-setting, there is a lot of hard work involved, and an extremely meticulous eye, an unyielding talent and an ability to be constantly inspired because being in a cut-throat industry such as fashion can only make or break you. That is why this group of Cebuano fashion designers got together, to be there for one another as a support system, to have each other’s back, and to prosper together. They call each other regularly to compare notes, share shows, and discuss projects.
The Fashion Council of Cebu, or FCC, first got together in 2007, initially calling themselves the Cebu Designers Guild–now, with ten members: Cary Santiago, Arcy Gayatin, Oj Hofer, Yvonne Quisumbing, Jun Escario, Philipp Tampus, Jojo Romoff, Vania Romoff, Albert Arriba, and council president Philip Rodriguez. Just because one can sketch and sew does not guarantee admission. It is by invitation only, through standards that may include talent and dedication to craft, coupled with a growing clientele.
The Fashion Council of Cebu has come up with a foundation that supports women who want to work in the fashion industry as cutters or embroiderers with general dressmaking skills. Unlike robotized factory workers, the designers want to produce a new breed of artisans, and the FCC are eager and willing to share their time, resources, and expertise to help support the industry this way.
It is also a pleasure to be in a room with these designers when they band together. Each one has their own character that is reflected in their creations from time to time, no matter what their current inspiration. Arcy Gayatin, for instance, injects her ironic wit into conversation and keeps it going; Cary Santiago’s flamboyant candor magnifies his forthright nature; and Oj Hofer and Jun Escario are catty with a cheeky sense of humor that never fails to get people into bawls of laughter.
But there are more facets to being a designer aside from character. For one, there’s the designer’s muse. Cary Santiago’s muses are women who are strong, confident, successful in their field, and well-respected in society for her contributions. “And she must have the body,” he quips, referring to Charo Santos, Christina Ponce-Enrile and perennial favorite Mariquita Yeung. Cary’s sparse atelier is a contrast to his passionate nature which he spreads to a group of acolytes that count a number of make-up artists and models seen lounging around at any given afternoon at his shop while well-heeled ladies in their chauffeur-driven cars come in for their fittings.
“My muses are the ladies who inspire me to create clothes, paintings, or floral arrangements,” says Oj Hofer, rattling off a bevy of society ladies such as Dorla Villalon, Jojo Ongsiako, Gretchen Baretto, Joy Onglatco, Bernie Aboitiz, Rosebud Sala, Amparito Lhuillier, Carla Yeung-McKowen, Jackee Gullas-Weckman and Ball Dominguez, to name a few. But it wasn’t always so, for Oj. “When I was eight, I went to painting lessons regularly on Saturdays. I always wanted to become a painter who would be internationally recognized,” he said. But on his way back home to Davao after finishing a degree in Fine Arts from UP Diliman, Oj was invited by his Cebu-based cousin Ann Hofer, to be the designer for her small atelier, Chiaroscuro. “I decided to stay for a couple of years to get into fashion design,” but he has never left Cebu since.
If seniority was a crown, then this can only be worn by council president Philip Rodriguez, who counts Rey Santos and Felix Jacinto as associates and whose shop at Ramos Street has seen a large number of people since the late 70’s. Every fashionable lady in this city, and a number from out of town, has visited that shop filled with exotic fabric, at one time or another. Appropriately, Philip envisions Audrey Hepburn as his muse. He is a master when it comes to making clothes that are timeless, clothes that can be handed down through generations. Just ask his multitude of clients.
In contrast, there’s the playful nature of Jun Escario whose creations can go from flimsy chiffon to solid tweeds. Always au courant, Jun spots trends like no one else and before it hits the runways of Milan, it is already at his shop in Greenbelt 5. Asked for inspiration, his quick reply is the blushing bride, and this about sums up the excitement he conjures—that of a lady about to enter a new chapter of her life: the idea of fresh and endless possibilities.
Anthony Romoff, or more fondly known as Jojo, as a young boy, was always around his grandmother Viring Romoff’s shop. The legendary dressmaker Viring was the go-to designer for weddings and big parties in the 70’s, and her busy shop was a hub of activity that was Jojo’s classroom. On his most prolific days, Jojo’s sketches evoke Valentino’s lines, clothes that make women feel sexy, and just like the late Gianni Versace, his muse is his sister, Vania, now a budding fashion designer as well. She is the youngest member of FCC and has made a name for herself in Manila very early on in her career. Proof positive that in this family’s case, lightning can strike twice.
Arcy Gayatin admits she is a big fan of Lanvin’s creative director, Alber Elbaz, for his artistic genius and humility. She says, “he understands that fashion is not only about the clothes, but it’s about giving the wearer the power to feel like they own the clothes, rather than the clothes owning them.” Perhaps it is also this philosophy that has gained Arcy a loyal following of women who appreciate her ability to create easy pieces that flatter one’s assets while concealing the undesirable, effortlessly. Arcy credits her predisposition to fashion to her mother, Remy Ancajas, who taught her an appreciation for tailored and custom-made clothes at a very young age, often taking her to the atelier of Jutie Borromeo, a local designer back in the day. With this exposure, it was only a matter of time before she started designing clothes herself. What started out as a small business in her own home has since grown into an atelier with a highly skilled workforce. Without her knowing it, twenty-five years in the industry had already passed, a seeming acceleration of time, which is actually “very typical of fashion,” she laughs. Arcy’s atelier today along A.S. Fortuna Street is a true reflection of her: elegant, put together, no fuss, but with a stylish bang.
Taking inspiration from the movement of water against the wind, “soft, feminine, effortless and light,” is how Yvonne Quisumbing’s silhouettes can be described. Yvonne took Interior Design in La Salle Benilde and took fashion design classes as electives. But with Inno Sotto as mentor, she enjoyed it and decided to shift to Fashion Design and Merchandising. After consistently winning shows with her intricate art pieces-cum-dresses and fashion accessories, Yvonne’s name was soon on the Manila it-crowd’s lips. She is also currently working on a new space in her Prince Plaza 1 atelier, in Legazpi Village in Makati City. As the newest member of the group, Yvonne feels fortunate to be nurtured by her more senior peers.
Albert Arriba pursued a make-up artistry and hairdressing career after a business course in college, but eventually fell in love with fashion. His desire to create beauty went beyond making faces and it has been so for 30 years, and counting. Albert adores Paco Rabanne, who he says has influenced the way he designs. It led him to then put up shop, first along Archbishop Bishop Reyes Avenue, then along Acacia Street, but today Albert has moved his house of beauty: a salon and atelier to the busy Mango Avenue. He says the “endless possibilities of the future” inspire his creations, which is why his dresses are more avant garde, but with a touch of nostalgia.
Philipp Tampus taught himself how to sketch while in college studying computer science. His father originally disapproved of his interest in fashion, especially after finding out he was secretly working in a local boutique along Fuente Osmeña on the side. This led Philipp to be exiled to Ilocos, to focus on his studies. There, he decided to set up shop with his sister and when it became successful, his family finally saw it was more than a passing phase, and that it was his calling. Philipp moved to the Middle East to design for big fashion houses, where he also sharpened his craft and after almost 12 years, came back home to Cebu and in 2007 joined Project Runway Philippines, which served as his introduction to the national fashion industry.
A STYLISH PARTNERSHIP
Through its fifteen years of existence, this magazine has always worked closely with the local fashion industry. A lifestyle magazine cannot exist without this component, and so for this milestone year, Zee publisher Eva Gullas called up Philip Rodriguez to partner for a grand event on December 15 with a fashion gala to benefit the advocacy program of FCC.
That’s what’s great about being in a club. Aside from having each other’s backs, when a member believes in something, the whole group can seek out the resources they need to help materialize their cause. Zee Lifestyle is proud to have grown and flourished with many of them, also while providing an additional outlet for this overwhelming creativity. Let’s drink to that.
THROWBACK THURSDAY: Thanksgiving with the Woolbrights
THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
The holiday season kicks off officially with Thanksgiving. A time to be grateful for family, friends and blessings. Although this is not usually practiced in our tropical country, there are, however, families like the Woolbrights for whom this is a time-honored tradition.
by Janine Taylor sittings editor Katsy Borromeo fashion stylist Mikey Sanchez food stylist Nicolette Gaw-Yu production manager David Jones Cua intern Danica Ronquillo hair and make-up Jessie Glova assistant Jojo Embalzado photography Joseph Ong locale Woolbright Residence
Eddie Woolbright was among the thousands of G.I.’s that landed on the shores of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. After the war, a few enterprising American soldiers came back, including the 24-year old Eddie who made Tacloban his home, before settling down in Cebu in the 1950s and opened a restaurant and a hardware store downtown—Eddie’s Log Cabin and Eddie’s Hardware and Auto Supply, respectively.
Eddie’s Log Cabin quickly became the hub of social, political and even military scene. It was the first air-conditioned café in town, and more importantly, it offered American diner food including a soda fountain and an ice cream parlor. It was patronized by one and all for its reputation for good food and service.
It also didn’t take long for the fearless Eddie Woolbright to realize that the real estate in the sleepy hillside suburbs was ripe for development. “I will show Cebu what a good planned subdivision is,” Eddie had said, when the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, then a young legal counselor for Columbian Rope Co., took Eddie to see the property. Pretty soon, Eddie had purchased over thirty-three hectares of otherwise undeveloped land from the heirs of the late Arlington Pond.
“Buy land,” Eddie Woolbright was known to quote the late humorist Will Rogers, “because they ain’t gonna make more.”
With his added access to army surplus, he bulldozed tracts of land, and a decade later, Beverly Hills, the first major subdivision in Cebu City, was created, and marketed to the city’s growing well-to-do locals, with the subdivision’s connotations of Hollywood and colonial American aesthetic. Eddie’s belief in the business potentials of central Cebu city enabled him to see much growth in his investments in land development, water drilling, construction, and general trading.
Eddie had nine children: Rick, Anita, Marc, Gilbert, Alice, Kathy, Kristy, Karen and Joy. All recall that each holiday was as important to them as Christmas. Turkey Thanksgiving dinners, for example, as it was known in the Woolbright household, began when Eddie’s mom, Nell, came to visit sometimes in the 1960s. Eddie would buy a butterball turkey from the American base in Clark and she whipped up a traditional feast complete with cornbread stuffing, cranberry jelly, candied yams, garlic mashed potatoes and her famous giblet gravy which was poured literally all over the bird, as they do back in her home in Oklahoma. Grandma Nell also taught the cooks at Eddie’s Log Cabin to make the famous Coconut Cream Pie, another Eddie’s Log Cabin standard. Kathy also recollects, “It was also dad’s idea that the restaurant and the hotel should serve breakfast 24 hours, and since I loved my Mexican omelet, sliced ham, buttered toast I enjoyed being able to eat breakfast any time of the day.”
My dad taught me how to be humble. He told us stories about his younger days jumping trains, eating nothing but grapes for days just to go pick cotton. He had a hard life growing up and I guess he wanted us, his children, to know the meaning of hard work. He would say, “Nobody owes you a life in this world”. I didn’t understand it then but I do now. -Alice Woolbright
Shortly after, turkey was introduced in the menu of Eddie’s Log Cabin, both Americans and Cebuanos, with a penchant for this wholesome meal, look for it when November came, and more especially on Thanksgiving Day. “Dad loved quality meat, and passed on this fondness to us, his children,” noted Karen, “So special meals always consisted of a good steak or the tender Prime Rib Roast. Of course, the year was never complete without a Turkey once or twice.”
As the sisters change into various outfits for the photo shoot in their childhood home, each one recalled the happy memories this holiday brings.
Alice, recalls disliking the giblet gravy as a child but since her dad would serve her at the dinner table she had no choice but to eat it. She adds, “He would get upset if we did not try everything.” Funnily enough, she now looks forward to the giblet gravy and can’t imagine turkey without it. Her dad, she said, employed the same tactic with his customers at the restaurant so after a while, they ended up getting used to it, and will not have their turkey any other way.
Between brothers and sisters coming home from out of town and family members in the States, there was always some degree of traveling or entertaining company. Dad valued the family bond and holidays were the best time to reinforce that. –Karen Woolbright
Joy Woolbright-Sotto fondly remembers watching her dad carve the bird. “He made sure that each one of the kids learned how to do it properly, with the white meat sliced thinly enough, and followed last by the dark meat,” she says. A feat she now does with ease. Future doctor Karen says that her dad would always carve the wings and serve it to her, which is still her favorite part of the fowl. Kathy though, considers turkey her comfort food. But she says that she loves the Coconut Cream Pie, which is also served on the restaurant’s menu, and that as a child she could eat half a pie in bed.
Cebu in the 60s and 70s was a very small town, if you wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, you went to Eddie’s. Eddie’s Log Cabin, like its owner was a trailblazer, the balut dice game originated there, many singers’ careers such as Elizabeth Ramsey’s were given their first break there.
The torch has been passed on to his children, and they too celebrate it with turkey dinners and all the trimmings, ensuring that the restaurant still serves the traditional menu, down to the Coconut Cream Pie. Thanksgiving will always be celebrated at their homes, and the Beverly Hotel, the last legacy that Eddie Woolbright gave his children to run.
Another legacy that Eddie left to his children was a love for food and Alice was quick share that she got it too, “I’m usually home during the day and I find myself in the kitchen trying to cook up new dishes to serve.”
Back at the Woolbright ancestral home, which is also now Alice’s home, the dining table has been set, evoking autumn and harvest, the candles are lit, the wine is being poured, the buffet table is groaning under the weight of the Thanksgiving repast. The sisters are seated at the table, each with a glass of wine discussing whose turn it is to carve. The annual Woolbright turkey dinner is about to start and I am glad to be invited to join them at their family home. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s November 2011 Entertaining Issue, “The Gift that Keeps on Giving” on pages 72-77.)
LADY CYCLISTS HIT THE ROADS AND SLOPES OF CEBU.
Cycling has been a growing sport and hobby for many years but it’s popularity has erupted since the Covid pandemic. People biking to work and for recreation is an everyday sight in Cebu. More and more are joining the ride. Many are quite serious about cycling. I know three ladies who are among those who’ve gone long distances across Cebu.
How did you get into serious cycling? What was your motivation?
Blinky de Leon. Event Host, Product Endorser & Influencer
“ I’ve been into cycling since I was a kid. A little backstory, I was around 10 years old when my dad surprised me with my first custom-made mountain bike. I still keep it until now, in fact I had it refurbished. It’s the most sentimental thing I ever received since it was his way/gesture to catch up with me after not seeing each other for almost 6 yrs. My dad is based in Germany and he also loves cycling and makes his own bamboo bike.”
“Just a year ago though, my friend Gazini randomly, out of nowhere, picked me up from home to bike with her to the South of Cebu. I felt really excited and motivated to get back on track because it’s very nostalgic and brings back so many great memories. And since then, the rest was history. We’ve been joining different groups, tried different routes and conquered different heights. I’ve met so many cyclists with very inspiring stories in the bike community who kept me feeling motivated too. I also look forward to the sights and the adventure that comes along with it.”
Yumz Mariot. Branding & Marketing Consultant
“I used to bike along with rock and wall climbing. I am lousy with ballgames which is why. Our usual route were Talamban and Mactan but one time, managed to ship gears all the way to Dumaguete for a quick ride to Valencia, the next town located at a higher elevation. Those were days when I did it for fun and what bike I was using did not matter.”
“Fast forward to 2021, a year after the pandemic lockdown began, I realized I have been lazy to do any fitness routine. Too caught up on juggling between house chores and Work from Home deliverables (I work as a Branding and Marketing Consultant), I started to feel my body needs to move as much as my brain does. A hysical fitness routine is as important as what I eat, or what I read or watch. So I decided to invest on a decent MTB, just very recently and got myself a much necessary restart. What motivates me even more is the area where I currently reside at. It is vast, fresh, green and safe for solo bikers like me.”
Prime Sarino. Digital Media Creative
“I started biking as a young teenager and I got the idea to start it as an adult hobby 3 years ago. I was already into running and I thought it would be great to venture into another outdoor activity to keep me occupied after work hours and weekends. I was set to travel for a year so I had to put aside the idea first but came pandemic. We were all forced to stay put and everything was put on hold. Cycling became my diversion. My cyclists friends invited me to quick and short rides. I enjoyed my first 50km ride and the sceneries and routes most of all. It also helped channel a positive mindset during the hard hit season of the pandemic. Not to mention it’s also another way to stay fit when we were forced into inactivity during the quarantine.”
Next in Part 2, we ask the ladies about their cycling experiences and memorable moments…
#CebuPride: Cebuanos in Multi-awarded Pride-Themed Films
Multi-awarded International Gay Movies with Cebuano Lead Casts
By: Allain Dumon Fonte
Pride-themed movies are starting to invade the film industry as people become more accepting and are more intrigued on the stories about LGBTIQ. Many have shared the intensity of emotions and laughed with the craziest jokes on gay-themed movies. In the Philippines, these kinds of movies were questioned as to their morality and their message to the society. The strong influence of the country’s religious standards had branded gay-themed movies as sex-oriented and nothing more. Yet, with Thailand’s more tolerant culture, Thai BL (Boy’s Love) movies and television series have created a new perception to the viewers; and that is gay-themed movies are remarkably alike to all other movies – there is romance, comedy, drama, and the continuing struggle of living like normal people. Hence, Thai BL TV series have a massive following all over Asia. At the end of 2019, they became available in Netflix and are being watched by millions of viewers all over the world.
The Philippine film industry is not that far from Thailand’s. Some of the LGBTIQ-themed movies and television series are slowly getting a following in Asia and are now accessible to viewers worldwide. A few of these pride-themed movies that casted or directed by a Filipino have already been receiving nominations and awards from Golden Globe, The Berlin Film Festival, the Venezia Film Awards, and even the Emmy’s…and the Filipinos in these films hail their roots from Cebu!
1. Lingua Franca
Lingua Franca is a film directed by a Cebuana, Isabel Sandoval. Sandoval also plays the main character of the movie, and she even wrote the screenplay. Lingua Franca tells the story of Olivia, an undocumented transgender woman in New York who works as a caregiver to a senile old-lady of Russian-decent. When Olivia is challenged to attain legal status in the US, she is left with a “marriage-based green card”. While in search for her groom-to-be, she becomes romantically involved with Alex, Olga’s grandson.
The film is now available on Netflix and has received positive reviews from the media. Stephen Dalton of the Hollywood Reporter wrote Lingua Franca is a “heartfelt personal statement rooted in timely, gripping issues that obviously resonate deeply with its author, notably trans rights and Trump-era immigration anxieties”.
Isabel Sandoval graduated summa cum laude with the degree in psychology from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines. In New York, she pursued graduate studies in Film at NYU. She is now currently residing in NYC, and already has award-winning films under her belt like Apparition, Lingua Franca, Senorita, Ritwal, The Unstoppable, and Judgement.
2. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
This television series was aired in Netflix and has gained so much popularity because it showed the murder of world-renowned fashion designer, Gianni Versace, by a serial killer, Andrew Cunanan. Based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, this television series has 9 episodes of suspenseful scenes, and is star-studded with casts like Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz. However, the main actor who played Andrew Cunanan is Darren Criss who gained his popularity after being a regular on the top rating TV show, Glee. Darren Criss hails his roots from Cebu, Philippines.
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story received positive reviews from critics. At the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, it received 9 nominations, and won 3 awards, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Darren Criss.
Criss was born and raised in San Francisco, California, USA. Criss was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended roman catholic schools. He later moved to Michigan where he studied Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Theatre Performance and minor in music at the University of Michigan. Criss’s father, Charles William Criss, is a banker and served as CEO of the East West bank in Honolulu, Hawaii. Criss’s mom, Cerina, is a native of Talisay, Cebu, Philippines. When he was younger, he visited Cebu a couple of times with his mother. Darren Criss is very proud of his Cebuano roots and wants to portray Filipino characters in films and in theatres to promote visibility of the Filipinos in the American films.
3. The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela
The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival where it grabbed the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film. It was also awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the 10th 2008 Cinemanila International Film Festival at Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall. It starred Raquela Rios also known as Minerva to her Cebuano friends. Raquela is a local of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines. The film is directed by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.
Raquella Rios is a native of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines, and she went to the University of San Carlos in Cebu, studying sociology and anthropology. Before finishing her studies, Raquella left the Cebu and went to Iceland after being casted by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson for the movie The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela. She is now based in Bangkok, Thailand as a fashion stylist and wardrobe assistant to some local Thai movies. Raquella is also an activist for sex workers rights and trans rights in Southeast Asia; pushing for the recognition on the choice of their gender and the right to change their birth names.
There are still plenty of pride-themed films in the Philippines that gained recognition all over the world; yet these movies mentioned are special because of the talented Cebuanos that have brought Cebu to world. They truly are #CebuPride.
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