fashion designers

[Only IN Hollywood] Mannequins on the roof, models above the pool: Not your typical book launch

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Mannequins on the roof, models above the pool: Not your typical book launch
'The resulting night saw several Filipino designers together, in one place, in a rare gathering'

LOS ANGELES, USA – Elegantly dressed mannequins seated on the roof. Models strutting above the pool. It was all happening in the former home of Guns N’ Roses’ Slash, now owned by a Filipina beauty queen-turned-Emmy Award-winning producer and her husband.

The recent launch of FASHION. Filipino. Hollywood. The World., the first tome of my wife, Janet Susan R. Nepales, was definitely not your staid book launch.

PRESENTING. Janet R. Nepales with a copy of her book. Photo courtesy of the author.

I guess when two highly creative Pinoys – Lisa Lew (née Manibog), the former Binibining Pilipinas International who has won several Daytime Emmys for such shows as Judge JudyCristina’s Court, and Last Shot with Judge Gunn, and David Tupaz, the trailblazing designer who plans to open a fashion museum in the Philippines – volunteered to organize the book launch, it was absolutely not going to be the speeches-then-signing variety.

Lisa and David felt Janet’s 12” x 14” coffee table book, the first of its kind, showcasing Filipino fashion on the world’s red carpets, deserved an exciting event.

After all, FASHION. Filipino. Hollywood. The World. celebrates Pinoy talent and artistry, featuring homegrown designers including Furne One Amato, Kenneth Barlis, RC Caylan, Michael Cinco, Alan del Rosario, the late Rocky Gathercole (Janet’s interview with him for the book was his last one), Rajo Laurel, Francis Libiran, Alexis “Bong” Monsanto, Josie Natori, Puey Quinones, Ezra Santos, Oliver Tolentino, and David.

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Bessie Badilla, the book’s publisher, who has been sitting out the pandemic with her family in the Philippines instead of her usual base in the East Coast, had a hunch that Lisa and David’s launch event would be fun and extra special.

After almost two years back home, the actress, indie film producer, and former Balenciaga house model booked her first international flight since the pandemic to attend the Los Angeles launch.

And Bessie’s instincts were on target. Held in the beautiful home of Lisa and her husband, Peter Brennan, above famed Sunset Boulevard, the book launch truly paid homage to Filipino genius.

HANGING OUT. A gown by Alan del Rosario (foreground) and a dress by Francis Libiran grace the roof of Lisa Lew and Peter Brennan’s home above famed Sunset Boulevard. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales.

Lisa and David asked Janet to lend all the elegant gowns by Pinoy couturiers that she proudly wore over the years to the Golden Globes, Oscars, prestigious film festivals all over the world, and movie premieres. It was a dream come true, at least for a night, for the woman many friends know as my “Tweet.”

Janet, who had two wardrobe changes (first in a top by David and then a dress by Oliver), was thrilled to see her memorable gowns worn by mannequins all over the house, even outside the magnificent, terraced gardens, and yes, even up on the roof. She had always wanted to showcase these gowns as her tribute to Filipino fashion excellence.

PROUD. Janet R. Nepales and gowns by Rajo Laurel. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales

David, maybe these exquisite gowns will find a permanent home in your planned fashion museum in Makati?

In addition, the featured designers sent their gowns and dresses, some from as far as Dubai, Manila, and New York, which were then displayed in the multi-level home.

Most of the highlighted couturiers also lent gowns for the mini fashion show out by the pool. Many of these designers also made it a point to attend.

POSE. Model shows off dress by designer Francis Libiran. Photo by Joe Cobilla.

The resulting night saw several Filipino designers together, in one place, in a rare gathering. And I was very glad to see so many friends for the first time since the pandemic began.

Everywhere I turned, I bumped into familiar faces. Show emcee Winston Emano, in a fond reference to Yamashiro, which has become a popular hangout of Filipino-Americans ever since Vallerie Castillo Archer took over as executive chef, quipped, “If everybody is here, who is at Yamashiro tonight?”

Friends in media, led by Tim Gray, Variety’s awards editor and senior vice president, our journalist colleagues, Margaret Gardiner and Mario Amaya, honored us with their presence.

RUBEN, TIM, AND BESSIE. Ruben V. Nepales, Variety editor Tim Gray, and Bessie Badilla. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales.

I introduced Tim to the guests as just having celebrated his 40 years with Variety. Four decades and Tim is still one of the nicest, kindest persons I’ve met in Hollywood.

Margaret, the first Miss Universe from South Africa, has proudly worn gowns and dresses by Filipinos, including Oliver Tolentino and Alan del Rosario, at special events. The statuesque beauty queen-turned-journalist modeled in Oliver’s recent show for Kornit Fashion Week Los Angeles.

Seeing singers, actors, and models from both the States and the Philippines – from Reggie Lee, star of “Grimm” and now, “All Rise,” to Matt Ranillo – in animated conversations throughout the home and garden, made my Pinoy heart pulse with pride and joy.

ACTORS. Actors Reggie Lee and Matt Ranillo. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales.

It felt like a very early Christmas soirée, especially with my family turning out in full support of Janet.

The excellent musical performances of dear friends Mon David and Giji Kocher, also known as Djhoanna Garcia, before the mini fashion show added to the magic of the night.

Lisa, the experienced TV producer that she is, showed an impressive short video of her interviews with Janet, Bessie, and the featured designers (a full version of the video is, as they say in Hollywood, coming soon!).

Supermodel Tutay Maristela, even in Oliver Tolentino’s voluminous red ball gown, glided on the ramp built over the pool and struck her trademark Pilita Corrales-esque back bend pose.

PROFESSIONAL. Even in Oliver Tolentino’s gown, Tutay Maristela does not let the pool underneath cramp her signature Pilita Corrales-esque poses. Photo by Joe Cobilla.

Miss Universe Philippines 2019 Gazini Ganados, who modeled for Alan, added to the glamor of the show also participated in by Josie, RC, Francis, Kenneth, Rajo, Puey, Alexis, and David.

After the mini fashion show, Janet sat on a gold throne (I was afraid that she would demand a similar throne at home) to sign copies of the book, but even that moment was anything but muted.

SMILES. Gazini Ganados, Janet R. Nepales and Bianca Nicole Nepales. Photo by Joe Cobilla.

Designers asked each other to sign their book copies. I saw Bessie happily signing the copy of Sthanlee B. Mirador, whose Hollywood red carpet photos figure prominently in the book of 200-plus glossy pages.

Guests posed with the savory cookies emblazoned with either Janet’s photo from the book, taken by fashion photographer du jour Filbert Diego Kung, or an image of the book’s cover page.

COOKIES. A night of beauty, fashion and Filipino talent: Janet R. Nepales, Gazini Ganados, Lisa Lew, and designer Alan del Rosario. Photo by Ruben V. Nepales.

Many lingered to enjoy the good cheer and camaraderie inspired by the evening’s spirit of uplifting each other and the belief in Filipino talent. That mood was set by the kindness and generosity of the hosts, Lisa and Peter.

I sat down, tired but happy, to finally enjoy with Janet and Bessie a midnight “snack” of delicious Cebuchon by Nino Lim’s Island Pacific, and tasty treats by Raymond and Anna Mangune’s of Gerry’s Grill and Jun and Minda Valdecantos of Chin’s Fiesta Fast Food.

Ever the gracious host, Lisa then dimmed the lights and lit candles. What could be a more perfect way to end an evening of people nurturing each other? – Rappler.com

Ruben V. Nepales

Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Entertainment Journalism Awards, a U.S.-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.