The Brave World

of Chito Vi­jan­dre

Red Magazine - - Front Page - WORDS PRIS­TINE DE LEON

“I rebel and revel in max­i­mal­ism.”

Chito Vi­jan­dre’s decades-long work as a de­signer al­ways rev­er­ently fol­lows this sim­ple an­them. From his stint in art and fash­ion to his mas­tery of in­te­rior de­sign, Vi­jan­dre al­ways man­ages to dodge much of moder­nity’s min­i­mal­ist kink.

This year’s Red Char­ity Gala, in par­tic­u­lar, will see his re­turn on the run­way. On the agenda is a pa­rade of var­i­ous feath­ers, ki­mono tops turned into cages, and some chain mail linked with lace. This is hardly the im­age one con­jures of a show themed “Filip­ini­ana,” yet Vi­jan­dre is al­ways one to fa­vor a shock­ing bent over cold con­ven­tion.

“[Some] years ago, Slim’s Fash­ion and Art School had a show fea­tur­ing sev­eral of their most cel­e­brated grad­u­ates, and Chito was one of them,” says Kaye Tinga, co-chair of the Red Char­ity Gala. “His seg­ment blew me away: the in­tri­cacy, the orig­i­nal­ity, the thought that went into his work was just un­be­liev­able. Not a sin­gle de­tail was taken for granted. It’s some­thing I have not seen in Manila for a long time.”

In what you could call a sort of fore­shad­ow­ing dur­ing last year’s ball, an in­ter­viewer was ask­ing Tinga whom she’d want the an­nual gala’s next de­signer to be, the ex­act mo­ment when Vi­jan­dre was pass­ing by. “I called him over and told the in­ter­viewer, ‘Chito is our dream de­signer.’ He laughed and said, ‘Sure, why not?’” A year later, Manila’s me­dia was again hum­ming with the news that Vi­jan­dre, fol­low­ing years of ab­sence in the fash­ion cir­cuit, is now to stage a se­cond come­back.

“The Red Cross is an in­sti­tu­tion that has al­ways been there when peo­ple need help most, like dur­ing calami­ties,” says Vi­jan­dre. “It has its roots as far back as the Philip­pine revo­lu­tion, when Mabini en­cour­aged the es­tab­lish­ment of the Red Cross dur­ing the Malo­los Repub­lic—which makes it rel­e­vant to my theme for the col­lec­tion.”

The term “Filip­ini­ana” has, for cen­turies, con­noted ei­ther the flowery flam­boy­ance of the bal­intawak or the sti­fling pi­ous­ness of the clas­sic terno. It evoked por­traits of grand­moth­ers, churches, soli­hiya win­dows, and Maria Claras bent over ter­races, lis­ten­ing, some­what flir­ta­tiously, to ser­e­nades. “I wanted Philip­pine his­tory and cul­ture to set the tone but not in a lit­eral, pre­dictable way,” says Vi­jan­dre, and true enough, in this par­tic­u­lar reimag­in­ing of the na­tional en­sem­ble, his ref­er­ences range from Filipino movies pre­ced­ing World War II to Nick Joaquin’s fic­tional char­ac­ters, and car­ni­val queens.

“They were flam­boy­ant but el­e­gant; it was a whole dif­fer­ent era of gen­til­ity,” says Vi­jan­dre. The de­signer’s col­lec­tion fuses frag­ments of Gabriela Si­lang’s re­bel­lious force, the un­der­stated glamor of ac­tress Car­men Ros­ales, and the clois­tered world of spin­sters Can­dida and Paula, spun in Joaquin’s “A Por­trait of the Artist as Filipino.” It’s no­bil­ity and re­bel­lion in a seam­less dance.

Even the em­bel­lish­ments look culled from eth­nic weaponry. Among the de­tails were “vel­vet with metal em­broi­dery, T’boli pat­terns [made] ki­netic with lay­ers of cov­ered but­tons, rich vel­vets and del­i­cate lace, [as well as] silk

saris, silk chif­fon, wood­block print batiks, and silk ikat from Uzbek­istan, some­times all to­gether in one en­sem­ble.” It’s gen­teel and gen­tle, yet also a touch an­ar­chic; the fa­mil­iar Filip­ina grace with jagged edges.

“It’s quite ex­hil­a­rat­ing to be back in fash­ion,” says Vi­jan­dre. Af­ter decades of helm­ing life­style stores Firma and AC+632 with his part­ner Ricky Toledo, the de­signer’s aes­thetic— on top of its ob­vi­ous max­i­mal­ist bent—has been widely fa­mous for its whim­si­cal­ity and eclec­ti­cism. A trip to AC+632, for in­stance, feels like stum­bling upon the rem­nants of a se­cret car­ni­val, the ob­jects, culled from eras past, still alive and hum­ming.

“Firma and AC+632 have al­ways thrived on sur­pris­ing com­bi­na­tions of ob­jects, eras, and in­flu­ences,” ex­plains Vi­jan­dre. “My col­lec­tion for the gala re­flects this aes­thetic. Ti­betan bro­cade jack­ets have Vic­to­rian lace-ruf­fled blouses paired with a skirt of pleated In­dian

sari and vel­vet ikat. Re­bo­lusy­onaryas wear vel­vet sheaths with silk chif­fon lin­ings and gold ar­mor shoul­ders of metal bead­ing.” To those track­ing the ref­er­ences, it can be down­right con­fus­ing, but the lay­er­ing of thoughts and tech­niques is ar­guably Vi­jan­dre’s most mem­o­rable draw.

His works lend every woman a piece of his­tory made tac­tile. Wear­ing his gowns for the RED shoot, en­tre­pre­neur Mika Lag­dameo, whose body has been buffed by Marie France, puts it sim­ply: “They are so rich in color, tex­ture, and de­tail, that every piece is just as beau­ti­ful afar as it is up close.” Years ago, af­ter Vi­jan­dre had cre­ated a bridal suite of fully beaded gowns, us­ing the tini­est glass beads on tulle to create Arabesque pat­terns, Jane Umali, one of his mod­els, wore one to a party in Mala­cañang. A vis­it­ing ac­tor fell in love with the gown—“and prob­a­bly with her”—as the two danced through­out the night. Whether the dresses are painstak­ingly lay­ered or just en­dear­ingly weird, even strong devo­tees of the now-dated norm­core trend can still be se­duced by his clothes’ imag­i­na­tive sway.

“That’s how it’s al­ways been; it’s in my DNA. I’ve al­ways been drawn to the in­tri­cate and the de­tailed. As a child, in art class, while every­one was do­ing pas­tels and paint­ing in washed aquarelle, I’d do bright fau­vist col­ors and ap­ply paint di­rectly to the pa­per from the tubes,” he says. “My style never changed. I never fol­lowed trends, and I still don’t fol­low them.” This isn’t so much a story of one de­signer’s run­way come­back as it is of a life­long ro­mance with de­sign’s re­bel­lious lure, sim­ply mor­ph­ing into in­fi­nite forms across the decades.

“I rebel and revel in max­i­mal­ism.”

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY PA­TRICK DIO­KNO

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