As another lockdown stretches ahead and we teeter on the verge of another nervous breakdown, there are any number of rescue plans available.
One of them, of course, is shopping. There’s something about seeking solace in a bit of luxury, the feel of a silky nightdress or the fragrance of French hand soap. Because of its wide variety and accessible price points, SM is the addiction of choice.
Chief fashion therapist is Anthony “Tonichi” Nocom, who, ironically enough, carries the title of being the single most well-known ready-to-wear designer for menswear. His career spans several decades, all of them at SM, where he was a designer for its house labels “Newsmakers” and “Men’s Club,” moved on to Boutique Square jousting with imported brands before finally having his own label under his own name.
He had established his name so definitively that certain young designers would buy his suits from the malls, rip off his labels and replace them with their own to pass them off to unsuspecting bespoke clients.
He points out “Aspirational dressing is what SM provides to the market. A customer may aspire to wear something on-trend, have the means to pay, and SM steps in by offering a very similar look at a lower price but at good quality. In these times, buying power is different from decades ago. It’s grown by leaps and bounds and there are a lot of choices to fill that need for the consumer in terms of fast fashion or disposable fashion.”
In late 2015, Nocom says he took a break from menswear, “but SM big boss Tessie Sy-Coson reeled me back in to look into the product development of the SM Woman Sleepwear line. She saw a great potential market.”
Lounge dressing became beloved to women during the lockdown period as an alternative way of dressing at home. It appealed to a certain kind of woman ‘who still loves dressing up even when they are literally trapped in their houses.’
He recalls, “Since it was in the entirely new field of womenswear, I had to familiarize myself with repeated visits to their store, interviewing sales associates, and listening to what their customers had to say or suggest. I finally began to get a clearer picture of the market — and vanquished any lingering self-doubts — although at that point, I would have to say that in all my years there, I had not seen a single caftan sold in the store!
“When I thought of starting with a sort of dressing robe — really a dress with buttons down the front — there was almost an uproar,” he continues. “‘This is for ‘senyoras,’ this is for resort wear, and this will not sell to our market,’ some of the merchandisers ranted. But I was insistent: I said right back, ‘This isn’t for poolside since it’s in satin; it’s not intended as a cover-up after swimming; it’s an outfit to wear at home to entertain guests. For those occasions, it’s more suitable, more appealing to be in a comfortable, feminine dress than in a tailored blouse and slacks, or a T-shirt and jeans.’ I stuck to my guns that the market these days is definitely changing and with all the foreign brands coming in, we must be at par with their collections. It paid off!”
Perhaps it needed menswear, practical point of view to create the most sensible at-home wear for women? With precision, Anthony says, “Loungewear, by definition from Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion, are ‘clothes designed to be worn primarily at home when relaxing or entertaining.’ The caftan — beloved of queens from Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra to any number of fashionistas from the South of France, is based on oriental robes in billowing shapes that blew into the United States with Halston in the 1960s.”
Lounge dressing, he says, became beloved to women during the lockdown period as an alternative way of dressing at home. It appealed to a certain kind of woman “who still loves dressing up even when they are literally trapped in their houses. It’s relaxed but there are no frills that can catch on the furniture or the pets. It’s loose, comfortable dressing in fabric that’s kind to the skin, such as charmeuse satin.”
In between lockdowns, Anthony says, the clothes can transition easily from home to the outside world. “These dresses can be worn to the grocery, beauty salon, a small get-together with friends and entertainment at home due to the fabric and styling. For WFH women at Zoom meetings, for instance, try putting on a blazer and still look professional. With the right accessories and the right attitude, these will be appropriate anywhere.”
How are these chameleon looks achieved? He replies, “Fabric is always important to my design process as it triggers in my mind the kind of clothes that I will be designing. In ready-to-wear (RTW), I do not know exactly who buys the clothes, unlike with couture. The role of the designer is to provide what the customer needs and sometimes, even to introduce new fashions they haven’t realized that they need. It’s also important for me to think of myself as the customer and how I want the clothes to be. The market of SM Woman Sleepwear ranges from the young (which is 17 to 22 years old), all the way to the mature (which goes from early 30s to 60s and above).
“I make sure the caftans are generously cut and the lounge dresses come in different silhouettes. And none are close to the body — I find women love to wear loose clothes and move freely in them. Of course, I am often asked, ‘What makes your clothing different from others?’ And I always answer, ‘The price!’”
He continues, “I also like to target the so-called ‘forgotten woman’ who I like to call the ‘Diva Plus.’ These are women whose body shape is different from the usual types. As a designer in retail, it is difficult to create a design to suit full-figured women. However, with sleepwear, there are styles we order — apart from the regular sizes — in 1XL all the way up to 3XL. Diva Plus is a market that we found we should not neglect at all. And the caftans are always all sold out thanks to them — in all colors and in all the prints.”
Indeed, whether you’re a diva, diva plus, debutante or a Zoom darling, living la vida lockdown is made all that much more bearable with the right loungewear.
Illustrations by Anthony Nocom