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Luxury lived loud

By LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 15, 2023 5:00 am

Septieme Rebelle, or “Seventh Rebel,” as designer Robbie Santos’ fashion label is called, is not for the faint of heart. Move over, “Quiet Luxury,” this is luxury lived loud.

Santos, with his “seventh” sense, has tapped into the zeitgeist that inhabits European capitals this season. The spirit is not so much about classic dressing designed to make billionaires look invisible unless you peer closely enough; neither is it about cookie-cutter dressing dictated by behemoth fast-fashion labels. Today’s style totems are highly individualistic, propelled by a desire to look completely like nobody else.

Wearing the pants in the family: Septieme Rebelle black floor-length coat with green silk pants and plaid bow designed by Robbie Santos

Paris’ chicest department store Le Bon Marché, for starters, is overrun by hundreds of new fashion labels, offering only a dozen or so garments each, offered up in limited quantities, all idiosyncratic, and running the gamut of fashion artistry, embellished or plain, structured or flowy, body-con or as wide as balloons. The trend is quite simply that there is no trend.

Pretty in pink: Pink pinstriped and yoked shirt worn with shocking-pink pants with indigo stripe on the inseam

Septieme Rebelle would fit right in in that hallowed hall of French fashionistas, recreating microcosms of couture for the modern nomad, who likes to live (and therefore dress) as if there were no borders in a hybrid, private-plane-flying culture. Septieme Rebelle is about the recreation of this exclusive, bespoke mentality since Robbie turns out one-of-a-kind designs for his clientele, followed by one or two grueling fittings to get everything just right. The minutiae of details—buttonholes, linings, embroidery—are discussed with his all-consuming interest. It’s both demanding and relaxing all at the same time, a kind of Pilates for fashion plates.

Fan dance: Amethyst pleated shrug with jewel-toned evening gown
Forty-two models wearing 84 looks streamed out to a soundtrack of disco-fied opera music. Septieme Rebelle is also, after all, life lived large. Most striking was the tailoring in a kaleidoscope of fine fabrics, ruffled, tasseled, and covered with lace.

At the label’s seventh anniversary show recently at the Marriott Ballroom, presented in the same style as the grand fashion houses of yore, the crowd could select from numbered ensembles as they perched on rows of gilt chairs on terraced platforms. The looks are then made to measure and carefully tweaked to suit one’s physique. Of course, each design is unique and no amount of wheedling will get you the exact same thing as someone else. 

Purple and black satin blazer with gray trousers

The show was Fashion Week-style ala Paris or Milan, with seating strictly organized and what’s more, with limited access. The audience was ready for an over-the-top spectacle, primed by giant LED screens flashing photographs of what looked like the ruins of a French chateau. Cocktails were served in a cathedral-like space, fueled with wine, lechon crepes, and dark chocolates. Faux brick arches were constructed as backdrops for the occasion, rising above a runway in the shape of a number “7.”

Purple prose: Chiffon evening gown with pleated off-shoulder sleeves and silver beading

“I drew inspiration from travel,” confided Robbie, hence the fleets of brocade and appliqued overcoats. “But,” he said, “I also drew inspiration from World War II documentaries.” The ruins, he explained, served to symbolize something that has withstood the rest of time. “Maybe,” he suggests sheepishly, “I subconsciously wish to withstand the test of time myself. It’s also my take on something ‘old,’ be it in age or taste, that can still be beautiful.”

Turquoise totem: Sheer net top for a formal coat worn with matching trousers

Forty-two models wearing 84 looks streamed out to a soundtrack of disco-fied opera music. Septieme Rebelle is also, after all, life lived large. Most striking was the tailoring in a kaleidoscope of fine fabrics, ruffled, tasseled, and covered with lace. The collection was designed over the greater part of the year, as Santos worked feverishly even while traveling. (“I never left home without the volumes of my fabric catalogues!” he exclaimed.)

Get it down in black and white: Jagged appliqué on asymmetric ruffled hemline worn with black greatcoat

Ravishing embroidery was on show, reflecting what Robbie said, was “the total craftsmanship of the team.”

“Personally,” he muses, “I don’t believe in anything being wholly original. I believe in studying my fashion history really well and synthesizing it according to my taste and to apply it to the fabrics I have at hand.”

Shades of gray: Gray checked overcoat with asymmetric red accents

Santos has always had a penchant for the asymmetrical and the unexpected. Despite his protests, for example, there can be spied new cuts for trousers and pants. He admits that he planned to make the models somewhat hobble, like war heroes returning from the war. That element of surprise, of irony amid the luxury, is the DNA of the brand.