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5 Pinoy LGBTQ+ designers slaying the global fashion scene

By JUSTINE PUNZALAN Published Jun 16, 2022 11:39 pm Updated Jun 17, 2022 12:09 pm

Fashion has always played a vital role in self-expression for the LGBTQ+ community.

It comes as no surprise, especially because many of the industry's groundbreaking creations were crafted by queer designers. 

We're not just talking about Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, or Alexander McQueen, but Filipino couteriers that have been cementing their names on the global runway with their rainbow flags.

Many of them continue to impress the world with their innate artistic skills, and here are the five most famous ones:

Michael Cinco

Michael Cinco has been giving pride to the country for his couture gowns worn by global celebrities, from Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez to Britney Spears and Rihanna. But the famous Dubai-based fashion designer wouldn’t have come this far if not for his bravery and determination to show his true colors.

Cinco came from humble beginnings in Catbalogan, Samar, and was eight years old when he first discovered his love for fashion. Many years later, he enrolled in a Fine Arts degree at the University of the Philippines Diliman but transferred after a year to Slim’s Fashion and Arts School driven by his enduring passion for fashion. He later enrolled in supplementary courses at the Central Saint Martins in London.

All that, while his father opposed his enthusiasm for the fashion industry. “My mother was very supportive, but my father was not,” Cinco said in an interview with Tatler Asia. “He was like the typical Filipino father then who could not accept the thought of having a gay son.”

“For my father, fashion is a world that is exclusively for ladies,” he added. 

Cinco migrated to Dubai in 1997, where he also launched his fashion line six years later, in 2003. Today, the designer’s diversified portfolio includes luxe suits for Steve Aoki and Nick Jonas, ball gowns for Dubai’s royalties, wedding gowns for Marian Rivera and Dr. Vicki Belo, Pia Wurtzbach's iconic Miss Universe 2015 midnight blue ballgown, as well as his couture line called Impalpable Dreams.

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This world-class talent has provided him with several awards, including the Presidential Award for Outstanding Filipinos Overseas given to him by the late President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 and EMIGALA Fashion Awards’ Fashion Designer of the Year in 2021.

Rajo Laurel

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Rajo Laurel’s name has always been synonymous with Philippine fashion. His three decades in the industry brims with gorgeous gowns for Manila’s elite, as well as local and international celebrities including Sharon Cuneta, Kris Aquino, Regine Velasquez, Judy Ann Santos, and Tyra Banks.   

Laurel’s journey to success, however, was not smooth as silk. As the first born son of a political family, Laurel had to pave his path toward the fashion industry.

In an interview with CNN, Laurel said he flew to New York to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology, only to be sent back home by his father. He then enrolled in a Human Resource Management course at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, as his father wanted.

But no endeavor is too big for the one who persists.  While studying in college, Laurel volunteered to become the apprentice of the late Louie Mamengo. He has also undergone training in Central Saint Martin’s in London.

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In 1993, Laurel started his fashion line and won his first award — 2nd place in the ASEAN Young Designers’ Competition. He earned many other awards and held various gala shows after that, and in 2000, he launched House of Laurel with his sister Venisse Laurel-Hermano. 

Apart from being a household name in the Philippine fashion industry, Laurel is admired by the LGBTQ+ community for calling out the Philippine National Police (PNP) for their fallacious remark about the community. 

This happened at the heat of the Christine Dacera case wherein Makati PNP Chief Harold Depositar said, “Kahit bakla ‘yan, kapag nakainom ng alak, nagiging lalake ‘yan.”

Laurel responded with a tweet that says, “Ang baklang lasing ay baklang lasing. Ang baklang lasing ay maingay na bakla. Ang baklang lasing ay tahimik na bakla… lagging bakla ang bakla. Mabuhay ang mga bakla.”

Francis Libiran

Francis Libiran has been raising the flag of Filipinos and LGBTQ+ community with his sharp suits for male celebrities like Darren Cris, Alden Richards, and Dennis Trillo, as well as opulent wedding gowns worn by stars like Jodi Sta. Maria, Pauleen Luna, and Maricar Reyes.

The architect-turned-couturier rose to fame internationally when he guested on America's Next Top Model: British Invasion in November 2015, where his "Creatures of the Night" collection was also featured. Since then, the world-renowned designer has represented the country on global runways, from France, the USA, Canada, and UAE to Japan, China, Vietnam, and Malaysia.

Libiran's masterpieces were also showcased at international events by foreign celebrities, including Tyra Banks, Gwen Stefani, Mel B, and Priyanka Chopra, among others. 

Libiran's love for fashion not only endowed him with a globally successful career but more so, a colorful love life. The couturier and his partner Christian Mark Jacobs met when they were still students at the Fashion Institue of the Philippines way back in 2005. 12 years later, on March 17, 2017, Libiran married Jacobs at The Lind resort in Boracay.

Furne One

Further proving that the artistic skills of Pinoys are truly first-rate is Furne One. The Dubai-based designer has become a favorite of celebrities for stage performances and red carpets.

His ever-growing clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Nicki Minaj, among others. One has also become a mainstay in the Fashion Week circuits of London, Dubai, Los Angeles, and Miami.

In an interview with Arab News, One revealed that he had to keep his love affair with fashion a secret in adherence to gender norms. 

"I started sketching dresses at around 10 years and continued it till I went to college. As a boy, I would keep everything to myself and spend most of my time alone with my imagination, sketching away dresses," One recalled. "As I grew older, I became a little rebellious. In time, I grew out of that phase and started focusing on my career and become a successful designer."

His career began to flourish in 1994 when he won a major fashion design competition judged by acclaimed Fil-Am designer Josie Natori. She saw One's potential and eventually brought him to Paris and New York as her apprentice. It was also in that year when One bagged the first prize at Japan’s Women Wear Awards.

He flew to Dubai in 1998 and in 2002, he partnered with textile boutique owner Rashid Ali to launch One's first boutique called "Amato."

His awards include International Fashion Designer of the Year and Fashion Innovator at the EMIGALA Fashion Awards in 2021.

Zaldy

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Zaldy Goco, popularly known by the mononym Zaldy, is a famous Fil-Am costume designer who grew up in Connecticut, USA. He attended the New York Fashion Institute of Technology in 1988 because of his passion for fashion, which he acquired from his grandmother at a young age.

"She'd visit from the Philippines and stay in my room," Zaldy said in an interview with New York Times. "She was a dentist and opened a school called Paris Manila Fashions. We'd watch the Cher show and talk about their outfits."

With his remarkable talent, Zaldy became the concert designer of several music icons, including Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga. He later became the go-to designer of celebrated drag queen RuPaul and won three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Costumes in RuPaul's show.

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Zaldy, however, has not only made a name for himself backstage but on the runway as a model. He used to walk in women's clothes for brands like Mr. Mugler, Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Vivienne Westwood. He did the same for a Paul Smith show in Japan, but this time, as a man.

He was ensnared in controversies in 1995 when he starred in a Levi's commercial where he rode a cab as an attractive woman and later transformed into a man. 

Just last year, Zaldy made it to Variety's Power Pride List along with Fil-Am actor Nico Santos.