Harbin was freezing but it was set ablaze, so to speak, by the gold, silver, black and red creations of Francis Libiran when the Filipino fashion designer presented his artistry, for the fourth time, at the finale of the recently concluded Harbin International Fashion Week.
Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province, has that European feel and sensibility, observed Francis, owing to its proximity to Russia. The fashion show was held from Jan. 11 to 16.
Francis, who participated at the show in 2017, 2018 and 2019, was the only Filipino delegate this year. Forty globally accomplished designers from 26 countries and regions participated in the fair. The Harbin International Fashion Week is in its 10th year and has showcased global releases from more than 1,300 international designers from over 70 countries.
“The purpose of the Harbin show is to position the city as the fashion hub of China,” Francis told The STAR. He flew in to this winter wonderland in China right after he showcased his other designs at the San Francisco Fashion Festival.
With grace and aplomb, Francis, concluded the event with the highly anticipated 25-piece Phoenix collection, an array of gowns in glorious shades of gold, silver, black and red. His finale fashion show in Harbin was skillfully directed by Ariel Lozada.
“I named the collection Phoenix because I just love the meaning of it. From ashes to full bloom. It’s the story of my journey, a story of ups and downs,” said Francis, who goes to Boracay, as a matter of tradition, every time he conceptualizes a collection for a show “because of the island’s peace and quiet.” His Phoenix collection symbolizes his struggles, his wins, and in-between is the story of his passion.
“At the Harbin show, I started with the gold ensembles. Gold because I really stumbled on gold when I decided to pursue design as my career. It’s always a golden moment when you follow your heart’s desires,” he said, referring to the golden opportunity when he broke free from the rigors of being an architect, the course he pursued in college, a predilection that was not his choice. He was sketching gowns at the back of his notebooks and secretly hid them from his parents’ eyes when he was in grade school. He ran away from home because his father did not approve of his career choice. He started a fashion business. He eventually flourished in it. And made amends with his father — the stitches of reconciliation are still evident in the first-ever suit Francis made for him. “That’s golden. The love I have for my father, and my mom, of course, and my entire family, is more than gold,” he said.
The silver collection followed suit. “I transitioned into my silver collection because it embodies the years I have been in the business — 25 years.” In fact, the Phoenix collection was first presented at Francis’ “Sterling” show at the grand ballroom of the City of Dreams last November.
(His US-based family was not able to grace his 25th anniversary show in Manila. On his golden birthday last December, however, Francis got a surprise when they mounted a fashion show in the spacious house of his brother in San Francisco, California. One by one, his parents and siblings with their spouses and children walked down the makeshift ramp wearing the suits, gowns and baptismal dresses Francis made for them through the years, with some designs that did not fit the wearer anymore. Some buttons were flying while they did the catwalk. Others sashayed down the makeshift ramp with half-zipped gowns. There was laughter in the air that accompanied the candle-lit, smoke machine-aided revelry. The finale, Francis said, was his dad parading in his wheelchair, carrying a birthday cake, wearing the first-ever suit his loving son made for him. “It was the show to end all shows; the perfect, priceless birthday gift!” Francis recalled.)
“Then my black collection took centerstage in Harbin. The black collection symbolizes the struggles I won,” he said. Black is the color of defeat at the surface but on closer scrutiny, it is also the color of power and triumph. “(I used) black, also, to denote my presence in the industry.” Francis is not only a force to reckon with. He is a trusted name; a reliable, celebrated brand.
“The finale is my red collection, the rebirth of the Phoenix…flowing…‘flying.’ That signifies my undying passion for my craft,” he said.
Passion—that might as well be the other name of Francis Libiran. He breathes it. He lives it. And the Harbin International Fashion Week has been conquered four times so far by Francis’ passion.