Although based in the unlikely city of Dubai, Filipino designer Michael Cinco was able to set up his own couture house and reach out to Tinseltown. His face, nearly always obscured by massive shades, may be unfamiliar to many, but it has been basking in the light of an especially good year.
In January, Lady Gaga wore one of his over-the-top dresses to a charity event with the Chicago Bulls. Then in July, Christina Aguilera sported a short and fitted number on The Voice. Between that, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara traipsed down the red carpet in a bustier gown at the Golden Globes Awards, Britney Spears was seen in a front-and-back-revealing dress at the 21st Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Oscar Viewing Party, and Jennifer Lopez sang a duet with Andrea Bocelli in a scorcher of a gown on Dancing with the Stars.
If that wasn’t quite enough, the man was featured in America’s Next Top Model (cycle 16), televised in the US in March. Still insufficient? In the same month, Mr Cinco’s collection closed the LA Fashion Week!
Fashion cognoscenti may scoff at appearing in an unimportant fashion event, but Mr Cinco was all-beaming when interviewed on video, declaring his love for LA. It is understandable why the city appeals to him. Only in Hollywood do you have the clients who want so much sparkle in a dress that even houses in the Valley during Christmas do not dazzle as brightly. A producer excitedly declared at the end of the LA fashion show, “I want him to dress me for the Oscars”.
Mr Cinco’s clothes are not for the faint-hearted. Those idols give us an idea who he usually dresses. If you’ve got the curves and have an unhealthy love for crystal, beading and embroidery, usually all at once, he’s your man. At Fashion Week, gowns after gowns after gowns of dazzling sumptuousness floated past with near sameness: embellished where it matters, and sheer where it shouldn’t be. There, too, was a sense of the theatrical: gowns with tiered skirts so large, the Victorians would have been proud of its designer. This, it would later be ascertained, is a Michael Cinco signature.
At the finale, when all the models stood still on the catwalk, it became apparent that Mr Cinco’s approach to couture was one dimensional. If the mostly black and red dresses were to morph into white, they would easily be wedding gowns for showgirls. This was not surprising because Mr Cinco has always been known for his bridal couture. When he arrived in Dubai 15 years ago, he was geared to give the Arab women, who, according to him, “love bling and opulence”, exactly what they wanted. There are other Filipino gown designers in Dubai such as Ezra Santos and Furne One, and, collectively, they would out-bling each other to ensnare the most important Arab clients.
The quality of Mr Cinco’s labour-intensive embellishment cannot be denied. With a team of 100 craftsmen from various countries, the atelier could churn out dresses that typically take at least 100 hours to complete or, in Lady Gaga’s case, five days to sew up. This season, inspiration was drawn from Andalucía and the flamenco. Mr Cinco used motifs usually found on dance costumes, on which unconventional shapes like rectangles and baguette cuts were hand-stitched unto the garments. They glitter with hedonistic glamour, these dresses, and for the likes of Lady Gaga and her stylists, they could leave a deep impression.
In this respect, although he is based in a city 6,916 kilometres by air from the Philippines, Mr Cinco’s style is quintessentially Filipino as he shares a common love of extravagant garments with designing countrymen such as Francis Libiran and Oliver Tolentino (both, too, have dressed America’s Next Top Model), a love that could be traced to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. What the Spaniards left behind played a social role as well as a cultural one. But with the Philippines GDP not quite catching up with the rest of Asia, the lavishness these designers bestow on their clothes needs a wider audience. It is, thus, not surprising that they would court the Middle East and the American West Coast. As Michael Cinco enthused, “I always design for women who has (sic) money.”
Fashion Week 2013 is staged at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre Hall F from now through 19 October