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Fashion comes full circle: My fashion-designing daughter

By VICKY VELOSO-BARRERA, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 26, 2023 5:00 am

Since I sleep early at night, I also wake up rather early. But just as I’m beginning to stir awake, that’s often the time my elder daughter Hannah is about to go to bed.

What keep her up are her sewing projects as a fashion-design scholar at the College of St. Benilde. Apart from other design classes, she has begun the painstaking process of creating the toiles for the fashion design “thesis,” the annual Sinulid fashion show.

Watching her make patterns, cut materials, create fabric manipulations, and stitch the whole thing together brings me back once again to my own fashion-designing days. But this started even before she entered college.

When Hannah announced in late 2017 that she wanted a debut for her birthday in November 2018, I had no idea where that desire would take her—or me.

We quickly booked Fernwood Gardens in Quezon City, because Hannah was dreaming of a garden setting. The venue, enclosed in a dome that kept out the rain but allowed indirect sunlight to keep giant hanging dapo (bird’s-nest ferns) lush and verdant, also featured a pond with a real swan and a bridge perfect for those Instagram moments.

Hannah in her opening white gown

By the first quarter of 2018, Hannah had conceptualized a debut with a color scheme of pastels, and two gowns for herself (later it turned out she had four changes total). One of the gowns, in monochromatic pink and magenta, was to be beaded with a pattern based on the veins on a butterfly’s wings. The second was in off-white gazar with insets of lace on the sides and glittering tulle streaming from her shoulders. Both gowns had serpentine silhouettes, as she wanted to avoid the ubiquitous “ball gown with bouffant skirt” look of all her friends who were also having debuts.

Actually, her first design project for herself was her 2018 prom gown for DLSU Senior High. It, too, was serpentine, an icy blue bustier with a detachable train. Flecked with small, white flowers, lace appliqués, and tiny rhinestones, the design was delicate yet sophisticated. To complete the look she made her own accessories: a choker, earrings, and hairpieces of the same lace used for her gown.

As for me, the rush of familiarity and the joy in rekindling old relationships and forging new ones in the fashion industry shows that it has never really left my veins.

For her debut, Hannah also designed my gown, a lilac bustier with two panels emanating from the back to form a split train. The panels were embellished not with lace or embroidery but with silk flowers that she cut up, mixed, and matched.

For her younger sister Tatin she designed a monochromatic light-blue bustier and full skirt (but omitted a petticoat), the beadwork of small silk flowers and blue beads were just right for a then 15-year-old girl.

One of Hannah’s fittings

For her dad Roberto and brother Joshua, she sourced a navy blue and a lavender blazer, respectively, from Van Heusen, both on sale. On Roberto’s jacket, she stitched on appliqués of white lace, while Joshua’s had a more flamboyant twist with flat, embroidered flowers. They were inspired by Michael Cinco’s pastel men’s suits with embroidery—Cinco being just one of her many fashion idols.

Hannah’s prom gown and the gowns for her debut brought me back to a world I little thought I would enter again. After leaving a 17-year fashion career to focus on writing and teaching, it was surreal to revisit my old stomping grounds, Carolina’s and Divisoria. 

My daughters were amazed that I knew how to calculate how much fabric was needed for any style, and that I even knew so much about fabrics, to begin with. Longtime sales ladies recognized me and many times I heard myself referred to using my maiden name! I was the “famous designer” (their words) Vicky Veloso all over again. Except that while I did know a lot, I had a lot to learn, all over again.

Divisoria proved a pleasant surprise, with many of the fabric stores now in air-conditioned malls rather than musty corridors where my eyes teared up continuously from the fumes of chemicals and pesticides. (Somehow Letlet and I have a fondness for musty and crowded Ilaya over swanky 999). 

There were new fabrics for me to learn about, with the prevailing trends in fashion, shoes, accessories, makeup, and hair just a tap away on Pinterest. Today’s young people view tutorials on their gadgets; they can instantly access the collections of the most obscure (to me) designers making their mark anywhere in the world. 

It was a good thing that we planned Hannah’s debut a year ahead of time because it was the beading, and not the sewing, of her principal debut gown that took months to finish.

We set ourselves to work on beading beginning in August 2018 with the debut four months away.

It quickly became apparent that among Hannah, our longtime faithful Gloria and I, we would not complete Hannah’s intricate design, made of tiny bugle beads, in time. I measured 33 meters of a pattern that took me an hour to complete an inch! 

So, while Hannah spent all her free time at the DLSU library beading the inner gown of her magenta number (where, to her dismay, her classmates could see her work), I spent days and nights at home beading her long, detachable train, even at Starbucks while waiting for her and Joshua to come out of school. The wife and cousin of my Tiny Kitchen dishwasher had to be called in for help.

The house, beginning August 2018, was transformed into Hannah’s atelier until the day of the debut itself. Our dining table being the widest was where we worked on her skirt, while other tables and body forms were brought in for the other gowns and outfits. There were beads and sequins, flowers and appliqués everywhere. 

We ate dinner in cramped fashion on one section of a worktable. The living and dining room became a place for the whole family to hang out in, doing homework and other projects at that time, and it was a lot of fun. It was perfect, if not for our aching backs and the lingering anxiety that we would not finish on time. We worked through the All Saints Day long weekend. We had very little sleep!

But finish on time we did, and not just the four gowns and jackets but also the photo booth of Hannah’s design, which her father built for her. As for me, I made her layered birthday cake, which was decked with macarons, truffles, and royal icing flowers, plus the cupcake giveaways.

On the night itself, the debut opened with Hannah and two high school friends Reine and Moriah dramatically descending the venue’s long, curving staircase in plain black gowns while they sang the song Burn a capella. Fireworks from Dragonworks concealed Hannah’s dramatic change onstage from a black gown to her first “real” debut gown of the night, the off-white one.

During dinner, our family—Roberto, myself, Joshua, and Tatin—modeled our outfits in a little fashion show, and Hannah once more descended the staircase, this time in her second gown, the magenta one with the painstaking beadwork that had cost us so many nights’ lost sleep. But it was gorgeous, perfect, and worth it.

After a hilarious take on the traditional 18 roses where the boys (and girls) had to do a “vogue-ing” portion a la Channing Tatum when the waltz music abruptly ended, Hannah changed into yet another outfit she for ease as she and friends segued into Abba dance numbers.

Shortly after the debut, Hannah’s classmate Reine asked her to design a Broadway-inspired gown for her upcoming debut in May of the following year. Hannah also prepared two DLSU Senior High grad ball gowns for April 2019, one for herself and another for her classmate Jill.

So, in effect, Hannah’s debut truly launched her fashion career. Her prom dress, her debut creations, Reine’s gown and the two grad-ball dresses were part of the requirements she presented to clinch her scholarship status at Benilde. 

What has this meant for me?

Today the house is once again like an atelier with fabric, pattern paper, sewing machines, and body forms everywhere.

After more than two decades away from the fashion scene, it seems my life has come full circle, and Hannah continues on the Antonio fashion tradition, being the fourth after her great-grandmother Marina, her Mommy Malu, myself, and her Tita Letlet. 

And it’s not only design, but also a work ethic that was passed down. Practically all of us, from my mom’s Antonio brothers to myself and siblings, began working even while still in school. My son Joshua began his Vibrant Art Studio in senior high, Hannah now has two gown orders and both she and Tatin have spent summers teaching (at their request, not mine) at Tiny Kitchen.

As for me, the rush of familiarity and the joy in rekindling old relationships and forging new ones in the fashion industry shows that it has never really left my veins. Not to mention, I have never really lost the joy of dressing up—even more so now, with my two girls raiding my closet full of pieces that I was wise to never give away.

A friend once commented to me that with the artworks produced by my three kids, Joshua, Hannah, and Tatin, I would never need to buy art.

With Hannah now in fashion, I will never need to wonder about what to wear on the big nights out.