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Swept away… by fashion, Inabel, and all things cotton 

By VICKY VELOSO-BARRERA, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 15, 2023 5:00 am

Swept off our feet was the feeling we experienced when my daughter Hannah and I attended Algodon, a fashion show aimed at reviving our local cotton industry. 

Slightly unsteady on our feet as well, as were other guests who, like us, thought we could tackle the sprawling, uneven stone grounds of Pinto Art Museum in our high-heeled boots, platforms and wedges. Next time, we will leave those behind so we can concentrate on the flowers, fountains, and fine arts all around us!

The very popular Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo makes the most appropriate setting for a fashion show promoting cotton because its founder, Dr. Joven Cuanang, played a big role in this endeavor. 

Clever catwalk at Pinto Museum’s Gallery 7: The show opened with Barba and the models sashayed between rows of seats instead of a ramp.

From buying looms and coordinating with other agencies, working on increasing the acreage devoted to cotton growing, to encouraging designers to make use of pure cotton, reviving this heirloom industry is clearly another passion for him.

He spoke at the beginning of the show and said, “Algodon is a collaboration of the revitalization of cotton farming in Pinili, Ilocos Norte… Algodon is the statement of an idea put into action. Painstakingly over the past six years we nurtured it (from) seed to fiber and then to fashion.

My DLSU batch mates: Jackie Aquino, Randy Ortiz, Dr. Joven Cuanang, Tonichi Nocom and JC Buendia

“Farm-produced cotton has its place in our times. It used to be a major export during colonial times. It should be revised, in fact. It should be revitalized all over the country.”

The possibilities of pure cotton inspired the five designers, who unveiled their collections at Gallery 7. This was a most perfect venue with its wide space and high ceiling, a second-floor balcony that wraps around the space and a ramp for wheelchair access that turned into a clever catwalk. 

Beginning the show was Barba, who played with the material by opening with a short bridal dress and emphasizing Inabel’s versatility in clubwear, streetwear and workwear before ending with a couple of trendy ternos.

JC Buendia modeled by Amanda Zamora

The collection of the second designer, JC Buendia, was eminently wearable, elegant and perfectly tailored. A strapless dress in gray optical illusion weave was my favorite.

Cool ensemble by Tonichi Nocom

Tonichi Nocom may be known for menswear, but his women’s resortwear pieces were a perfect match for his men’s collection, with tops in a light, mustard-hewed print.

Summery chartreuse by Randy Ortiz

Another playful, feminine and wearable collection was that of Randy Ortiz, who has a knack for making you want to buy everything. Light tops with clever collars and sleeves were matched with heavier Inabel separates, and the silhouettes are always flattering.

Jo Ann Bitagcol in Pepito Albert

The final designer, Pepito Albert, showed but one gown and did not make an appearance, but when Jo Ann Bitagcol walked out in an Inabel jacket that seemed molded to her torso over a long black bubble skirt overlaid with tulle, my hair stood. That was the only piece he needed to show that he is a true genius.

After the show, we met a Japanese designer, Satsuki Minowa Aquino, whom Dr. Cuanang encouraged to work with Inabel. Her designs under the label Isami combine the woven cotton with kimono fabric to make kimono-inspired tops and obi sashes. Watch out for her in pop-ups soon!

Now that the cotton industry of Ilocos Norte is off to a good, rousing start, my suggestion is to take the pure cotton weaves to the next generation of very young designers. Ha.Mu of Steph Verano and Hannah Adrias are only a few of those with an avid clientele and following in their age group.

Ultimately, the future of our weaving industries—be it cotton or piña or abaca—lies in the hands of the youth, who are dressing and influencing their own generation.