There were tears of joy at Ivarluski Aseron’s curtain call at the Red Charity Gala (RCG), not just from the designer and the organizers, Tessa Prieto and Kaye Tinga, but from friends and fashion fans who marveled at a superb collection that was a fitting comeback for the most awaited fashion and charity event after a three-year pause.
Ben Chan of Bench, who has been supporting the cause from its inception, was ecstatic at how Ivar “ushered another chapter to showcase such passion for creativity.”
With a sharp eye for talent and artisanship, Ben had already invited Ivar to show his pieces for Bench Fashion Week in 2018 and for Ternocon 2020. It was no surprise that he would be chosen for RCG. The show is particularly meaningful because it’s Ivar’s very first solo, a fact that may have made him nostalgic by choosing to revisit his journey as a designer, a sentiment that is evident in the show’s title, A Memoir in Motion.
Posts on IG leading to the event featured earlier works, showing his design development. “I wanted to reexamine my old details and techniques to be able to explore new ideas, linking the past with the future. It goes back then goes forward,” Ivar shared with us the day after the show, when he was still in his room at The Peninsula but could hardly sleep because of the high from the night before.
He recalled his beginnings in grade school when he drew a princess in a draped gown, but his mother discouraged him. In high school, however, when she found a sheet of dress sketches that he had hidden, “she did not scold me and instead showed it to her friends… so proud na siya (Lol).” While studying for the nursing board exams in college, she suddenly took him on a holiday to the US, instinctively steering him away from a wrong career choice. Upon their return, she surprised him by furnishing one of their apartment rentals with sewing machines so he could get started with his own atelier. “Shocked, I said no, I’m not ready yet, I need more experience,” he told her and set off to look for a job in the classified ads.
Little did he know that the person he was to meet was Bobby Novenario, whose shops in the malls he would always see. “It was good training. I had to sketch in front of clients,” Ivar remembers, as he compares it to the present when designs are sent to clients after meetings so he can have more time to think about it. “I wasn’t a businessperson, so Bobby taught me a lot in terms of different markets, so I learned to design for plus-size women and what works for which body type.”
A turning point was when Bobby gave him tickets in 1998 to watch a Young Designers Competition where Jojie Lloren won, inspiring Ivar to join the following year. “It was at that competition when the Young Designers Guild noticed me and invited me to be a member, and the rest is history.”
Putting up his own shop, he experimented a lot: “I was doing a lot of weird stuff so 'pag nabili, wow, okay!” Party girls who were not afraid to be different were attracted to his designs which were perfect for the Malate night scene and artsy crowd. He never partied with his clients, however, keeping things professional, a dictum he practices to this day.
His designs have evolved significantly since then, with more careful consideration of fabric, cut, technique, and construction—all done with impeccable craftsmanship and refinement, which was evident at the RCG show. Gone are the party girls of yore—the looks shown were for sophisticated women, never overly feminine or froufrou, and done with a fresh approach.
The first suite was what he calls his “Venetian Blinds,” using the book-leaf technique that he started in 2010 “but I always try to push the boundaries and challenge my workers,” Ivar clarifies, so he did some wondrous iterations. Small strips of silk gazar formed a mini black kimono and an ivory caftan (“I want it to be more relatable,” he says). Bigger ones twisted around the body of a one-sided dress. In another, it came as a skirt in waves set off by a chiffon top with interesting strap details. Using stretch tulle, he did his version of a flamenco gown that kept the flounce subdued for a less costume-y look.
The second suite was his “Sewing Tools” exemplified by a giant needle that pierced the ruched neckline of a gown, with white thread from the needle’s hole trailing behind in abandon. Sewing needles were blunted and used as adornment, adding both visual and aural delight as they tinkled in a stunning black capelet and lined hems and lapels on other pieces like fringes with a punk edge. Zipper pulls shaped like razor blades added a bit of danger to otherwise innocent-looking dresses and coats.
A third suite had pleated pieces, which Ivar made unusual through graphic cutouts that formed designs, one of his signatures of adding patterns on plain fabrics instead of using printed textiles. In a sack dress without cutouts, the pleating was bigger and the focus of interest was on the tulip silhouette.
The “Jigsaw Puzzle” suite looked back at Ivar’s favorite childhood toy through cutouts, which had many amazing applications. The gown worn by Ria Bolivar revisited the designer’s leaf cutout dress made of small pieces that were individually handstitched together.
With beading, Ivar pushed the boundaries yet again, this time using beads that were threaded without fabric underneath. They came hanging as bibs on dresses and as men’s tops but the finale, reserved for his muse, Jo Ann Bitagcol, was the piece de resistance—a full-length gown with graphic Bauhaus patterns, matched with a sculptural coiffure. It was one of the first gowns he fitted because it was probably the most labor-intensive, taking about 1,500 hours. Not that the others were any less painstaking to make, showing how much time, thought, and care he devotes to crafting each unique couture creation—something his longtime clients know for a fact and the audience that evening acknowledged with rousing, well-deserved applause.