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Filipina fashion designer Chona Bacaoco didn’t have just one, but four dresses on the red carpet at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
The Milan-based designer dressed socialite Drusilla Gucci, TV personality Sofia Giaele de Dona, blogger Mila Suarez, and artist Selvaggia Roma. This is a significant milestone for Chona, who launched her fashion house MM Milano the Brand only five years ago.
“I really didn’t expect this. Usually, Italian stylists choose big fashion names for the festival. I’m happy that today it seems to be changing and they’re open to giving opportunities to new designers,” Bacaoco told Rappler in an interview.
Chona shared what it was like working with the great-granddaughter of Guccio Gucci, the founder of one of Italy’s most iconic fashion houses. Chona submitted several designs to Drusilla but didn’t hear back from her team until just five days before the event. “I was so happy and excited, but also nervous about delivering great work. Aside from the fact that Drusilla is a Gucci descendant, her mother is also a fashion critic and a front-row fixture at all the top fashion week shows. I had to make sure everything was perfect.”
The Ilongga designer saw this as a great opportunity knocking on her door and she did her best to make it happen. “Drusilla’s team told me at first that I was going to have very little contact with her. They instructed me to just mail the dress and they’ll take care of the alterations. I said no and I insisted on doing the fittings myself.” Chona knew that when working with celebrities, anything could happen. “If I just mailed it, there could be a chance that she would change her mind. But by being there we were able to establish a connection and that personal aspect helped seal the deal.”
Making waves in Europe
Dressing prominent figures for the Cannes Film Festival is the latest on Chona’s list of big accomplishments for 2023. Earlier this year, she showed collections at Milan Fashion Week in February and Paris Fashion Week in March. She also produced Dubai-based Michael Cinco’s first-ever Milan Fashion Week show. Thanks to her successful run at the Milan show, she was able to get the attention of Italian celebrity stylists. “I had really great exposure in Italy after my show. Stylists were reaching out to me asking if I could dress their clients for Cannes,” she said.
The MM Milano red carpet creations for Cannes are a testament to her talent and range as a designer. She’s capable of making delicate, glamorous dresses, as well as dramatic gowns in voluminous shapes and bold colors. “I always make sure that the dress matches the wearer’s personality, but at the same time, have that Chona touch.”
Chona may not have a fashion degree, but she grew up surrounded by clothes, thanks to her seamstress mother. As early as age eight, she was already helping put beads on dresses and cut clothing patterns. She spent her childhood in a small town in Guimaras before moving abroad first to Hong Kong and then to Italy. “I didn’t even know about fashion designers or clothing brands. I thought everyone’s clothes were made by my mom!” she said, laughing.
A champion for inclusivity and sustainability
Her humble beginnings have a big influence on MM Milano the Brand. She and her two business partners, brothers Andreas and Martin Volkmar, strive to make positive changes in the fashion industry. Diversity and inclusion are top priorities for them. It’s not unusual to see people of all shapes, sizes, and abilities in Chona’s runway shows and photoshoots.
“The public is used to seeing tall, thin models, or younger people on the runway and in photos. But I’ve hired an 83-year-old man, short models, and plus-sized models. And they look great! We want the fashion industry to be less superficial and be more inclusive,” she says.
Sustainability is another important value for the company. For her designs, Chona uses a lot of deadstock fabric, natural Philippine fibers like hablon, upcycled materials, and certified organic cotton. “For Drusilla’s gown, I used buttons that were from an antique dress owned by the grandmother of my business partners.”
Dressing a celebrity for the glamorous and highly publicized Cannes Film Festival is a dream for many emerging fashion designers. Chona is thankful that she didn’t have to wait a long time to achieve this dream. She’s proud to represent Filipino talent on the world stage as well.
When asked what her secrets were to success, Chona says: “Hard work, right timing, and luck. Sometimes, you can work very hard but if it isn’t your time, success won’t happen right away. It will come, but it might take more time. So I’d say success comes from determination, hard work, and a little bit of luck.” – Rappler.com