Featuring the runways of Mich Dulce, Lulu Tan-Gan and more
“September is the January of fashion,” shares former Vogue editor Candy Pratts Price in the 2009 documentary, The September Issue. And we couldn’t agree more—it’s a time for rebirth; where designers unveil their newest collections, editors and influencers peacock in their carefully styled outfits in front of street-style photographers, design houses can refresh and start off from a clean slate, and old trends come to die in lieu of newer, more au courant styles.
So it was very fitting that Filipino retail giant Bench hosted their biannual Bench Fashion Week right at the tail-end of the January of fashion. While commercial retailers like Urban Revivo, American Eagle, MLB and Human presented their retail offerings for the season, the main draw was to see what the country’s most talented designers cooked up for the holiday season.
Bench, after all, has always been a champion for nurturing local design talent. So, it’s no surprise that they gave select local designers (both established and emerging) a platform to show their boundary-pushing vision and design prowess—proving that Filipino design talent has nowhere to go but up.
Ahead, we go through the most exciting designer collections from Bench Fashion Week’s Holiday 2023 season.
Kashieca by Lucy Torres-Gomez
For her latest collaboration with Kashieca, Lucy Torres-Gomez had one particular woman in mind: one who unabashedly loves Audrey Hepburn movies, who hasn’t met a mid-length skirt she doesn’t love, and who still strongly believes in the allure of soft femininity. The collection featured several closet staples for the ladylike woman, such as wrap dresses in muted tones, blouses that draped softly and several variations on the little black dress, of course.
The mood at Lulu Tan-Gan’s holiday collection was gilded. Gold embroidery glittered and shimmered on the lightest piña sheer garments, making for incredibly festive ensembles fit for the country’s tropical weather. Our favorite pieces include an ombre cocktail dress with a navy piña overlay for a multicolored effect, the chic chartreuse wide-legged trousers and the sequined gold glittering hot pants. With this perfect mix of breezy chic and glam, it’s no wonder Lulu Tan-Gan has become a beloved designer to the Forbes Park set.
Hiphop-inspired prep reigned supreme at local streetwear brand Secret Fresh this season. The vibes felt very Kanye West circa The College Dropout—think oversized rugby shirts with huge contrasting stripes, multiple candy-colored polos layered together like it was 2004, and bright streetwear basics styled together to form eye-popping color-blocked ‘fits. It’s the season to dress like a Nickelodeon cartoon character, and we’re all here for it.
Internationally acclaimed designer Renz Reyes’ holiday collection felt very much like a study in contrasts. The show began with extremely structured denim garments with bold commanding silhouettes, which gave off the effect of urban armor. But the hard soon gave way to the soft—first by the appearance of sheaths with fabric appliqués crafted to look like dying petals, and finally by dreamy confections festooned with multiple diaphanous sheer petals that fluttered with every move.
A homegrown talent hailing from Iligan City, designer Abdul Gaffar sought to showcase the overlooked beauty and quiet strength of his Maranao tribe. These references to his culture are very much seen in his eveningwear collection—a black long-sleeved gown features stunning multi-colored embroidery all over the skirt, and large gold brooches adorned delicate piña pieces for both men and women. The standout piece though is a stunning black gown embellished with tiny tribal bells that tinkled faintly with every step.
All in all, contemporary label RAFGLANG’s presentation felt like an ode to the downtown power woman. Designer Patrick Galang took classic menswear pieces like the suit blazer and military cargo pants, and deconstructed them to create striking pieces imbued with a tough femininity and a goal to take up space. Our favorite looks include asymmetrical cocktail dresses made from deconstructed men’s suiting and a funky pantsuit featuring a graphic urban print.
For her first fashion show after 15 years, renowned fashion designer and milliner Mich Dulce subverted expectations of what a Mich Dulce collection is supposed to look like. Known for her unabashed use of color and vibrance, her return to the runway felt surprisingly restrained and somber. Inspired by the Amish and their stringent rules on dress, she sent down looks in black and white, topped off, of course, by the most stunning custom hats. However, all the Mich Dulce design trademarks remained present—from draped and twisted taffeta dresses, quirky styling, and clothes that moved beautifully with the wearer.
Attention all hot girls and certified baddies: your collection has arrived. The attitude-packed looks at Chris Nick oozed sex and defiance, with a distinct bad-girl edge that would make Maddie Perez proud. But lest you think it was all micro-miniskirts and visible thongs, there were also tongue-in-cheek statement tees and tuxedo pantsuits tailored to razor-sharp perfection. The way Chris Nick redefined the femme fataleIt felt very Tom Ford for Gucci—albeit this time, for the TikTok generation.
Bench x BITTO
For cult-fave artist BITTO’s much-anticipated collaboration with Bench, the theme was cyberpunk streetwear. Models stomped down the runway with hairdos and eyebrows dyed an eye-searing shade of neon green, with casual basic in shocking hues featuring BITTO’s illustrations. The vibe was very youthful and rebellious. In particular, we love the belt bags emblazoned with BITTO’s trademark red-and-blue character.
From subdued regal elegance to eye-popping streetwear, the best collections at Bench Fashion Week Holiday 2023 pushed style boundaries and ventured outside the sartorial box.
Words Jer Capacillo
Art Macky Aquilla