Three decades ago, there was a small, discreet little dress shop along Kamias Street in Quezon City. Actually, it was more of an apartment which had been converted into a shop. A small salon on the ground floor was where then budding men’s designer Randy Ortiz met with clients. It had a desk and small sitting area where the latest fashion magazines were laid out. Behind it was the workshop. From the client’s chair, the door joining these two areas revealed behind-the-scenes on-goings that would later revolutionize men’s fashion.
This was in the early 90s. Back then, men followed a very contrived style philosophy and color palette. Black was almost the only color they would ever choose for a suit. When it came to designs for shirts, prints and bright colors were elements seen only on the runway shows abroad. Where men’s fashion was concerned in Manila circa 1990, men only wore neutrals and solids. Even women’s fashion lacked the sense of individuality and spirit of adventure it now possesses. I remember this to be a time when the only color for shoes were either brown or black.
When I first sat down with Randy to have my junior prom dress made he said, “Wear it with a pair of strappy silver stilettos.” He held up a pink crepe A-line mini dress fresh off the backroom and gave it one last inspection before sending me off. I thought he had lost his mind. I insisted on a pair of black chunky heels. Photos from prom and those horrific pair of shoes have ceased to exist. This extremely safe and uninteresting style philosophy that dominated throughout Manila changed when Randy decided he would introduce color, print and texture to a man’s—and later women’s—otherwise bland wardrobes. And it has since been an exciting journey since then.
“My collection for this show will be a culmination of techniques I have developed from beginning to the present,” begins Randy. We were having brunch in a bistro near his other shop in Legaspi Village, Makati. In less than a week, he would be celebrating his 30th year in the fashion industry and while the show to mark this milestone is something everyone in the local fashion scene is buzzing about, he remained calm as a clam. “I’m not nervous about the collection at all. For the show itself, yes—the logistics and technical aspect of it all.” Randy explains that for his 30th anniversary show, he created pieces that were intended to tell his story. “You will see a lot of formal, cocktail dresses, embroidery. And of course, there will be a lot of patterns and color. I tell stories through color so you will go through a wide gamut of emotions when you see the show. The collection was put together so I can share my journey. ”
It took a year for Randy to complete a collection that would narrate 30 illustrious years in fashion. When the fashion innovator began, his focus was mostly on men’s wear. Use of colors and prints became his deign trademark. He later applied knowledge and mastery for tailoring to clothing for women. Randy has since then become the go-to designer for local fashion icons and style savvy individuals. He has even tapped into the bridal market, creating gowns that many brides-to-be aspire to wear on their special day. The work he did for big and well-publicized weddings in Manila’s social circles further boosted his fame. “At one point, I was even doing 10 weddings in a month. That’s bride, groom and entourage,” he remembers and candidly comments. “I don’t think I will put myself through that kind of stress again.”
But what is it that brings clients to Randy’s door time and again? “ I make clothes that make women feel good about themselves. My sensibility is about making the wearer beautiful and not overpowering them with too much,” he details and adds, “there are certain things I cannot do when it comes to creating garments and I know better not to go there.” Pieces for his show are testament to Randy’s ability to bring verve to timeless classic. He takes the opulent and infuses it with his signature ease whether through loose silhouettes or effortless layers. “At the same time, I think that a designer should also do pieces that are relevant without sacrificing identity. That’s how you can survive in this industry.”
Longevity in a business that is fickle and fast paced was also credited by Randy to knowing how to be authentic. “At the end of the day, it’s about finding identity. Develop your own style. Today, most especially, it is easy to drown in all these emerging movements and trends. With social media influencing our lives, there are so many elements that could sway us from being our true selves,” he observes. Admittedly, Randy comes from a more senior batch of fashion designers. “I am not a millennial designer and never will be. But I hope the show will give the younger audience a glimpse of what a designer from my generation can do. It is something I hope they will appreciate for what it is—no hype.”
This is not to say that Randy is averse to connecting with the younger fashion generation. On the contrary, he has opted to work with son’s and daughters of former supermodels who have walked for his shows. “I wanted to see how my clothes would look on these young men and women. They were so inspiring that I also decided to style the show myself. I’ve also created footwear for this collection.” In his three decades in fashion, Randy has also taken on the role of mentor to several up-and-coming designers, among them Pablo Cabahug and Mark Tamayo. Both now enjoy a fruitful career creating pieces for the well-heeled.
“It’s always a good time to share and give back to the industry,” declared the designer. When he was president of the Fashion Design Council of the Philippines (FDCP) for two terms, he advocated the promotion of local weaves. “I would work closely with the weavers and give them direction when it comes to creating more modern patterns or color ways,” he shares. Under his leadership, the council engaged in shows for the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) that were aimed at highlighting local fabrics and weaves. This later saw the conception of Manila Wear, “a branding initiative that advocates for the use of artisanal crafts” which reinforces the local fashion industry’s global marketability.
His 30th year show, which will be held at the Peninsula Manila’s Conservatory this Monday, captures the story and very essence of the well-loved designer referred to by most as RandyO. Come in denim, the invite reads. It is unexpected for a celebration of such scale but Randy explains, “I want to celebrate and I want this moment to be as real and authentic as possible. The show will feature soundtracks from the disco era which I simply love. I want people to be comfortable that’s why the dress code calls for denims. It would be the last big event of ball season in Manila so for sure people would be exhausted from getting glammed up by then.” Of course, Randy predicts, those on his guest list will most likely arrive in creative expressions of denim wear. “It was also important for me that everyone who has been a part of my journey be present,” he declares and ends, “Come, it will be fun.”