monday night, stylebible.ph, preview magazine, and nine west hosted a party for rafé totengco at members only. it was to congratulate him for being appointed as nine west's creative director for handbags and for being awarded a 2010 filipino presidential award (he was awarded by president aquino last night at malacañang). and the fash pack was there! (at members only, not malacañang hehe..) check out the party pix!
and read all about it:
A refreshed look for Nine West by Rafe
BEEN THERE, BEEN THAT
By Myrza C. Sison
(The Philippine Star)
Updated December 15, 2010 12:00 AM
New York-based Filipino accessories designer Rafe Totengco visits the Philippines at least once a year, but his latest homecoming this month will certainly stand out as the most memorable one to date.
Last night, Rafe received a 2010 Filipino Presidential Award in the “Pamana ng Filipino” category for bringing “the country honor and recognition through excellence and distinction in the pursuit of his work.” President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III gave out the awards at the Malacañang Palace to Rafe and 23 other individuals and groups chosen from 110 formal nominations.
The Filipino Presidential Awards honors the achievements of overseas Filipino individuals and groups. Signed into law by the late President Corazon C. Aquino in 1991, the awards were also established to help celebrate the Month of Overseas Filipinos and International Migrants Day in December.
In his speech last night, Rafe said, “Being caught up in my own life and career, until recently I was not aware that there are more than eight million Filipinos overseas in almost country which is more than 10 percent of the population of the Philippines!” He added, “This is truly impressive! Our global kababayans are increasingly skilled and educated, and they contribute to this country’s economy. Obviously we are doing something right!” He said he wanted to share the honor with “the thousands of our less visible kababayans who reflect the diversity and immensity of Filipino talent and compassion.”
The award signifies a culminating milestone of sorts for Rafe’s career in international fashion that spans over 13 years. He launched his successful namesake handbag and accessories line in New York in 1997. In 1998, he was granted membership of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
By 1999, Rafe bags were sold in 60 stores around the world. That same year, he was named finalist for the Perry Ellis Accessories Design Award for Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
In 2000, he got a ”Rising Star” award from Fashion Group International (FGI). The following year, the Accessories Council named him Best Accessories Designer. In 2005, the US mass retailer Target asked Rafe to create a collection for them, the first accessories designer to do so. In 2008, he was voted one of “50 Outstanding Asian Americans in Business” by the Asian American Business Development Center as well as featured in an ad for the 2008 Chevy Malibu, for which he created accessories inspired by the car. In 2009, Rafe was featured in a series of American Express ads and commercials along with other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
In the last decade, Hollywood celebrities the likes of Sex and the City stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Catrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon; Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Jessica Alba, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Katherine Heigl, and Fergie have all been photographed wearing Rafe bags. His creations have also become fashion magazine staples, landing in the pages of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W, In Style, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and the rag trade paper Women’s Wear Daily.
Not too shabby for the then 21-year-old Ilonggo who packed up his life and a thriving fashion design business in Manila in 1989 to move to New York. In pursuit of his wildest dreams, he enrolled in courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology, supporting himself with whatever jobs he could find to get his feet wet in the industry, whether it was selling clothing, styling or designing fabric.
A favorite early career anecdote of Rafe’s that is very telling of just the kind of mixture of fearlessness, audacity and determination that he possesses, essential to the dog-eat-doggedness of the world’s fashion capitals: In 1994, Rafe decided to make a collection of belts and watchbands for a SoHo boutique, which were sold out immediately. The owner was pleased and asked if Rafe had any matching bags. Without flinching, Rafe said “Yes!” despite not having any, nor knowing the first thing about making them.
Sixteen years hence, you could say Rafe has certainly learned a thing or two about bag-making along the way. The latest feather on his cap, or shall we say notch on his belt, or closure on his bag, if you will: In August, Rafe was appointed creative director for handbags for The Jones Group Inc., which sells brands like Nine West, Vintage America, Jones New York, Stuart Weitzman and Robert Rodriguez.
Jones president and CEO of branded business Richard Dickson told Women’s Wear Daily that Rafe, who he says “has a gift for world-class design,” has been tapped to act as a “conductor, who will orchestrate our brands in the design process.”
In this exclusive interview, Rafe talks about his latest career landmarks and in the process reveals snippets from and secrets to what it takes to succeed in a global fashion career — from the struggles and triumphs to paying it forward and spreading the word of hope.
How did your Jones New York appointment as creative director happen? What led up to this?
It was all about timing. I was planning to take a sabbatical to re-think how I wanted to reinvigorate my namesake brand and during that time The Jones Group was looking to bring in new talent. Nine West is a coveted global brand that exemplifies accessible fashion and I’m excited for this wonderful opportunity.
What exactly does the new position entail? What have you been tasked to accomplish?
As creative director I am looking to infuse the line with new materials, modern shapes and detail touches that capture the trends of each season.
What has it been like so far?
I started in the middle of August and it has been a whirlwind. It’s been fun, exciting and energizing! The Nine West brand needed a refreshed point of view. I am lucky to have a great team to work with toward the goal of re-launching Nine West handbags.
What will happen to your Rafe line?
The Rafe brand is currently on hiatus as I work on refreshing the Nine West brand. It will definitely be back, possibly in 2012!
Has it been hard for you to shift from being an entrepreneur to joining an established fashion company?
So far I see or feel no difference between being president of my own company, or being a creative director at Jones. I enjoy passing on and applying the considerable knowledge and skills I have developed over the years.
What is the state of things in the fashion industry today? Has it become more and more difficult for designers to sustain their entrepreneurial ventures without the backing of big companies?
It has been difficult for all levels of the fashion business. It’s essential never to give up and I would encourage new designers to continue to work towards their dream.
What are you working on for Nine West now?
I’m working on my first collection for Nine West Handbags, which will launch in February 2011.
Will the bags have your name on them?
The bags will not have my name on them. Right now my focus is on refreshing the Nine West brand.
Do you have a typical workday?
There’s no such thing as a typical workday. From design and merchandising meetings to production and timeline deadlines, my day is filled with lots of energy and excitement
Jones New York president Richard Dickson said you have a “gift for world-class design.” What is “world-class design” to you? How and why do you think you have excelled in it?
I think what it means is exactly as it sounds. As the world has become smaller via the Internet and blogs, increasingly the taste of the consumer is becoming more and more similar. Oftentimes it’s the same bag that is the best-seller in New York and Hong Kong. My multi-cultural background and constant traveling have totally aided me in being able to see things from a different perspective.
Richard Dickson told Women’s Wear Daily that 2010 was the year of bags, and called bags an affordable luxury and a functional investment that outlasts apparel trends. Where do you predict bags are going in 2011?
I agree with Richard’s opinions and predictions for the reasons he states. Industry sales, margin and sell though data supports these ideas. And traditionally accessories sales movements are seen to be a future indicator of the fashion business health as a whole. To see where bags are going in 2011, keep an eye on what Nine West will be shipping in late Fall 2011.
How did you learn about the Presidential Award?
The Philippine Consulate General in New York approached me and with the recommendations from my professional associates and friends I applied. I’m very excited to be honored with the Presidential Award.
What makes Filipinos succeed overseas?
As I said in my speech last night, besides the fact that we Filipinos are some of the most qualified, highly educated, hard- working and ambitious people on earth, due to our unique history of colonization and ethnic migrations the Philippines is like no other place, it is home to a truly unique people. We know in our genes what “unity in diversity” and being a “world citizen” really mean.
We are a culture of contrasts. We are family oriented; yet we openly welcome strangers. We are fiercely proud of our regional ways and languages, yet we embrace our nation and our place on the world stage. “Live and let live” is our motto. Our strength as Filipinos abroad is that we are ambassadors for the Philippines. This is why we travel well and are warmly welcomed wherever we roam. In my 25 years of travel I have not heard anyone say a bad word about Filipinos. Our reputation precedes us!
You have been bringing pride to our country for over a decade. Did you ever think your career would reach such great heights? To what driving forces or qualities in you do you attribute your success?
When I started getting recognized by the Philippines for my work and the success I experienced in my apparel business in Manila greatly encouraged me. Then, later, the success experiences and validation I received working on Seventh Avenue as a design assistant in New York shortly followed by the incredibly positive reaction to my designs when I started Rafe New York out of my apartment, and the recognition, encouragement and respect I received from fashion retailers and press. At some point I realized I had what it took to be a successful designer “someday.” And with a decade of working 24/7 I am pleased to get a “return on investment” from all the sweat and tears.
What can you say about awards and accolades for artists in general? Are they important? Do they inspire you to do better?
Awards from trade associations are important because they validate and assure one is on the right path, and they inspire the recipient and others to work hard to strive for more.
The last time you were in Malacañang in 2002, it was President Gloria Arroyo who gave you your Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) award. Last night it was President Noynoy Aquino. What did you urge him to do in your speech?
I said, “It is essential that we maintain and expand our excellent educational and vocational systems, because we are preparing the future citizens of the world!” I also said in my speech, “I trust that [you] and our government will do everything in their power to advance the excellence the Philippines has exported to the world” as we saw gathered there last night.
Besides your Tapulanga Foundation and Invisible Sisters craftwork projects, do you have more plans underway to achieve your mission to “give back” to the country?
At the moment I am focused on Tapulanga (a charitable organization that sends underprivileged kids to school in Negros Occidental, from where Rafe hails) because my time and resources are limited. I do what I can but I would certainly like to do more in the future.
You got your Pamana ng Filipino award for your ”consistent exceptional or outstanding performance, innovation, social consciousness, dedication and commitment.” What’s your advice for those who want to achieve even just a fraction of that?
I believe it all begins with passion and focus. I love what I do and that’s what keeps me going no matter what. My dedication and enthusiasm affect my relationships with people I work with and I believe that I get the best out of people because I demand the best from me first. People do their best when they are happy and fulfilled. Giving back is something I find incredibly fulfilling. When I met the kids of St. Francis of Assisi school in Talisay, Iloilo through the Tapulanga Foundation, it made me want to help more. These kids are going to have more opportunities for their future because of the level of education they are receiving. It was very inspiring meeting them.
What else do you want to achieve in this lifetime?
I have such a love for design and fashion and I would like to be able to extend it beyond accessories at some point in the future. The story of my career is best described in the words of the poet Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I think this says it all.
What message do you want to send out to everyone?
When I was young, many people believed that my future was bleak in the fashion world. Fortunately for me, I have great family and friends that believed in me and helped me to persevere. Believe in yourself and dream big — anything is possible.