The Designer of the Week at Fashion Week El Paseo is always one who makes a splash. In 2009, the artistic sartorial creations of Juan Carlos Obando left guests eager to attend a charity function wearing one of his gowns. Last year, Colleen Quen’s floral, ballet-inspired pieces got multiple rounds of applause, and, surely, multiple new fans of the San Francisco-based designer’s atelier. This year, Filipino designer Oliver Tolentino held the headlining distinction and earned some standing ovations with his eco-friendly collection of origami-like cocktail dresses, evening gowns, and even bridal wear.
Tolentino, who expanded his Manila-based empire with an Los Angeles storefront in 2009, skipped the Los Angeles runway circuit this year in favor of Islands of the World Fashion Week in the Bahamas in November of 2010 and last week’s Fashion Week El Paseo.
“It’s like I’m in the Philippines,” the designer says of Palm Springs. “The weather is the same, the colors are the same. It’s like, lets have fun. Lets party!”
By the end of Saturday night’s showcase, fans were partying in the aisles in praise of Tolentino’s elaborate, structured feminine designs.
In lieu of patterns, Tolentino stuck to sheer, simple fabrics hand-dyed in rich jades, scarletts, and cobalts that were expertly twisted and turned to reveal strong, sculptural waistlines, layered bodices and 3-D quality textured skirts.
Skirts were a constant throughout the collection, most notably those with a full, flirty, 1950s silhouette and calf length hem. One at-the-calf pencil number featured a rich, square texture that matched an equally as rich yellow hue.
Because of his lack of pre-fab patterns, Tolentino also expertly played with the concept of movement and contrasting opacities in his fabrics. One teal evening gown featured a swooshing, textured teal skirt with a sheer asymmetrical hemline and a teal and white beaded bodice, one sleeve missing and the other capped. A cropped, puffy-sleeve jacket was both metallic and sheer.
While his more casual high-waited floral embroidered swing pants could double as a skirt, it was Tolentino’s dressiest pieces that made the most dramatic entrance in front of the fans on El Paseo.
A bright red ball gown featured a satin and beaded bodice and a full, princess-style skirt that appeared to be made of dyed fur. But upon further inspection, the skirt was actually comprised of hundreds of tiny, folded pieces of sheer fabric that fit next each other like a laser-cut puzzle. It’s a bit hard to believe that these play on textures come courtesy of eco-friendly pineapple fibers.
“They say that eco is for upholstery,” Tolentino says. “That isn’t true. My goal is to modernize the fabrics of my country.”
Judging by his well-rounded, cohesive collection of lady-who-lunch worthy goods, he clearly succeeded. It’s safe to say the next major desert social function will get a bit of Tolentino’s modernized touch, too.