As he begins to set his 20th year milestone celebration in motion, Francis Libiran challenges the overruling norms, making sure a legacy is built and ensured for many, many years to come
“What happens to the designer’s name or brand after his passing?” Francis Libiran asks during a heaping lunchtime feast of Chinese gustatory delights. The thought drapes over the round table and everyone in it sat silent, the stillness only punctured by the almost audible sound of the lazy Susan circumnavigating the spread pointing offerings such as fist-sized dumplings, rolls of delicious duck and glazed fish. He picks up his glass of wine and interrupts the quiet, “There seems to be no such thing here, right?” After some time, their creations are just archived or eventually exhibited. The brand dies with the designer.”
And then more silence.
In the landscape of Philippine fashion design, the process is very personal and perhaps even more possessive. During earlier times, people, usually very specific women, would seek local dressmakers (or modistas) for one-of-a-kind pieces specific to their wants and whims. Over the years, the modista would dream bigger, graduating from being a mananahi to being a designer that everyone elevates to celebrated plane. While there is a reverence for the Filipino designer, the trend still remained-women will only go to this specific designer and no one else, even with deference for an apprentice. It is a strong relationship, no doubt. But it does no favors for the designer in the grander scheme of things, especially if we liken it to the greats such as Chanel, De La Renta, Givenchy, Balenciaga-all of which have stood the test of time, even long after the twilight of their lives.
It is no scrape of vanity, but needless to say, their legacies live on-not only being sought after to this day, but held at a very high standard. This is the very same blueprint that Francis Libiran wants to lay-out. “I want my brand to continue-and thrive-even when I’m gone,” he says matter-of-factly.
Prophetic as it will sound, this way of thinking is timely, especially since Francis Libiran is celebrating his 20th year in the business next year. “[This milestone] inspires me to know that bigger, better, and more exciting times are ahead of us. Showcasing the excellence of Filipino artistry across the globe is the core of everything I do.”
While his efforts for celebrating the milestone are tightly under wraps, he doesn’t let it get in the way of his raison d’être, which is to create beautiful and memorable fashion-veritable works of art, really-for the woman. “I don’t think there are will be an end to the list of goals I want to achieve, every step forward just adds another rung to the ladder,” he begins. “Starting a RTW line is actually in the pipeline. Another goal is to make the world appreciate the value and deeply rooted culture of Filipino craftsmanship and spread awareness of the arts and culture of the Philippines by representing our country in the global arena in every way I can.”
Over the course of the past few years, the delicate and daring designs of Francis Libiran have not only swathed the biggest, boldest and brightest here and the world over, but he has also struck successful collaborations with brand such as Havaianas and Bayo, a tell-tale sign that his works are not only beautiful, but highly economical as well. He has even taken his bridal business a step further with a Francis Libiran Bridal boutique that offers both bespoke and off-the-rack services.
If it isn’t crystal at this point, obviously, Francis Libiran knows what he’s doing.
“Timeless elegance and great craftsmanship have always been essential to every Francis Libiran piece,” he says of his aesthetic, a jumping point we wade through when talking about the great and grand plans he has for his brand. “I think my fashion aesthetic has stayed the same throughout the years. My team and I always strive for excellence in design and great quality. What’s changed the most would probably be the presentation of our aesthetic. Every year, as my team and I grow, we never stop innovating and developing newer methods and become more ingenious in creating the details for each piece and experiment with with brand-new silhouettes and construction techniques.”
Much can be said about Francis Libiran as a designer and a person, but what strikes us so much is how he always includes his team in his spotlight. It is never just him, he says. The success, accolades and milestones are very much theirs as it is his.
True enough, he has been grooming four apprentices, taking them under his wing and giving them a platform to learn the ins and outs of the business, aside from of course, building their design arsenal. These young guns, he says are the ones who will take his brand to the future.
“As a designer and as an artist, my advice to young designers is that it’s important to always stay true to yourself,” he says when talking to the eventual future of Philippine fashion. “Also, experience is priceless in the fashion industry. Work hard, keep travelling, experiment, love what you do and absorb all that you can, because everything you learn will be very useful.”
This isn’t to say that we have already seen much or the last of Francis Libiran. In fact, he is just getting started. “Exciting times are ahead,” he mentions again, except now a knowing grin is growing on his face. For him, the work never stops, it just keeps going, because creating is what he enjoys and loves the most. This time, however, things are going to start getting bigger and dare we say it, stratospheric for the famed Filipino designer. After all, he recently showcased his 10-piece collection in Cebu along with esteemed global designers Michael Cinco, Furne One, Ezra Santos and Cary Santiago.
The future is his, obviously and his legacy, well, it is already set in motion.
Photography PEEJAY JOSOL