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Pepito Albert leaves behind a legacy consisting of timeless, impeccable clothes

By ALEX Y. VERGARA Published May 30, 2023 5:55 pm

Philippine fashion is mourning the death of fashion designer Pepito Albert, who died on Saturday, May 27, after losing his battle with colon cancer. He was 63.

Considered as one of the best contemporary local designers by both his peers and many of Manila’s most fashionable women, Pepito rocked the local fashion scene in the early 1990s upon his return to Manila after living and working abroad, mostly in the United States, for 15 years, where his clothes graced the pages of such influential US glossies as Details, Vogue, W and Harper’s Bazaar. While there, Pepito also dressed up socialites, industry leaders, A-list celebrities, and supermodels, including Madonna, Naomi Campbell, and Paula Abdul.

Suddenly, everyone, from “Concert Queen” Pops Fernandez to socialite-philanthropist Kaye Tinga, wanted to wear his clothes. His less-is-more aesthetics, with emphasis instead on impeccable construction, flattering silhouettes and flawless proportions, looked fresh in a local fashion scene often awash in frou-frou as well as shimmery and fully beaded numbers.

A tribute to Pepito by fashion director Jackie Aquino on the latter’s Facebook account

He was also the go-to designer of the Marcoses, particularly Irene Marcos-Araneta. One of his last works, in fact, was the barong worn by then President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to his inauguration last year.

Other famous clients included Dawn Zulueta, Maricris Zobel, Bea Zobel Jr., Maripi Muscat, Monique Villonco and veteran broadcaster Korina Sanchez, who wore an off-shoulder and embroidered Filipiniana bridal gown during her altar date with former Sen. Mar Roxas.

“Aside from the corset, he brought back the allure of the camisa, which you often see worn by Irene, Monique and Kaye,” says designer JC Buendia.

“Good night dearest friend,” wrote Kaye Tinga in her tribute / Photo from @kayetinga on Instagram
Korina Sanchez, with husband Mar Roxas, wears a Pepito Albert bridal gown on her wedding day / Photo from Korina Sanchez’ Facebook account

“He was already a big name in the US before coming home,” adds veteran fashion show director Jackie Aquino. “He made architectural designs fashionable and revolutionized the bustier and the camisa. His taste is simply impeccable and his designs classic.”

Magaling siya (he’s great), period,” says stylist Jude Mancuyas. “His designs were simply off-kilter, yet it fits his clients well. He was never into excessive ornamentation.”

Kaye, who was then pregnant with her second child in 1997, was due to attend her sister-in-law’s wedding. Consequently, she was looking for a designer who could still make her “look chic as I got bigger by the day,” she says. Her search ended when she met Pepito, who later also ended up doing the bride’s dress. 

“I first saw photos of his work and instantly fell in love with his aesthetics,” Kaye says. “He’s one designer who makes the most beautiful clothes, but it’s still the woman who wears them who stands out, not the dresses.”

Kaye adds that Pepito’s attention to fit and the minutest details was legendary, which was why she and not a few of the designer’s other clients felt and looked their best while wearing his clothes.

“The devil is always in the details and his details, although far from obvious, were always tasteful,” says Kaye, who considers the Maria Clara-inspired ensemble Pepito did for her, which she wore to the 2011 State of the Nation Address of then President Benigno Aquino III, as the best. “That’s why, to me, he’s one of the greatest designers the country has produced.”

The author, with model-photographer Jo Ann Bitagcol, one of Pepito’s favorite models, wearing the master designer’s lone look during “Algodon,” the last group show Pepito participated in at the Pinto Gallery last February

To not a few journalists though, the tall, fair and pony-tailed Pepito, who never seemed to leave home without his Spanish fan, was an enigma. He wasn’t too keen on granting interviews and befriending the media. He appeared aloof, which, in hindsight, was probably a facade he deliberately put on to protect himself. Instead, he simply allowed his clothes to do the talking. 

But as a mentor to people within the fashion business, as attested by Jackie, Pepito was “fabulous.” “For me, what makes him great was his enthusiasm in teaching anyone who asked him anything about design. He’s one of a handful of Filipino designers who defined an era,” Jackie adds.

Oddly enough, Pepito, during all those years, never had a gala or solo show usually consisting of 50 looks or more. He seemed content in joining group shows with other designers. As Jude remembers it, the most Pepito did were 25 looks in a regular group show then dubbed as “Fashion Watch.”

One of the last shows he participated in was “Algodon,” held at the Pinto Gallery last February, which also featured the collections of JC, Randy Ortiz, Vic Barba and Anthony Nocom. By then, Pepito was already ailing and also mourning the recent death of his mother. Yet, he still managed to produce a lone look, an Orientalia-inspired jacket-and-skirt ensemble worn by seasoned model Jo Ann Bitagcol, one of Pepito’s favorite muses on the ramp.

“That singular look had an open jacket,” says JC. “But it managed to stay in place, never once revealing sensitive areas on Jo Ann’s chest. It was as if the jacket was molded on her torso.” 

Even during the worst of times, Pepito, through sheer brilliance and determination, had managed to produce something timeless and nearly perfect.


This article was first published in People Asia. Minor edits have been made by PhilSTAR L!fe editors.