Francis Libiran on the one accessory he always wears.
INTERVIEW MICHELLE ANNE P. SOLIMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY KAI HUANG
When he was eight years old, fashion designer Francis Libiran would accompany his mother on her visits to the dressmaker. He felt that his young opinion was valued as he was always asked if a certain design or detail suited her. It was also at that age that Mr. Libiran began drawing: armed with a flashlight, he would hide in a closet and sketch on the back of his notebook. He imagined a parade of glamorous women, dressed to the nines in his designs, strutting down the red carpet—the swishing fabric magnified in his mind’s eye. And when the fantasy ended, he would come out of the closet and shove the notebook under his bed.
“It’s as if I was hiding my talent at that time,” he said. “Every time I sketch, I remember that time when I was in my own little world where I would daydream.”
Despite pressure from his father to pursue medicine, Mr. Libiran took up architecture at the University of Santo Tomas and later pursued fashion design at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines.
Since entering the fashion industry, his designs have been featured in America’s Next Top Model, Philippine Canada Fashion Week in Toronto, and the Sakura Collection in Tokyo. Mr. Libiran also dressed Miss World 2013 Megan Young in a serpentine-cut evening gown the color of blushing coral, decorated with sea plumes.
At work in his atelier, Mr. Libiran refers to his constantly shifting mood board. His design process still involves a lot of daydreaming, the same as when he was a little boy, but informed by conversations with his team and his clients. “I always imagine and visualize how each person will look,” he said. “My mind is ahead before it happens.”
Walk us through your design process.
It’s geared toward lines. Lines can make the figure of a woman shapely.
Talking to your clients is part of your process. What do you talk about?
My first question to my clients is: What are your body insecurities? I want to target [those insecurities] then explain to them their best assets. It’s really explaining to the client what looks best on them. As a designer, I always want to make women feel the most beautiful. Fashion is about feeling good in what you’re wearing — that’s its function.
How is designing a gown unique from other apparel?
With a gown you can be very creative. The hardest thing for me is designing a T-shirt. How can you design a T-shirt and make it stand out? You really have to sit down and give a lot of thought on how to make it different from the usual. Gowns are easy. For couture, it’s everything excessive. It’s hard to design something very simple.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
You need to be very disciplined with your work. It’s easy to get distracted by the works of others. You need to be very disciplined about your vision as a designer and that’s where your design DNA comes in.
Do you agree that designers should not fall in love with their first designs?
Yes, because you have to develop. Being creative, we are never satisfied. We always try to surpass what we’ve done yesterday.
Do you remember your first fashion gala?
My first major show was in 2012. It was the 100th anniversary of The Manila Hotel. They closed the lobby for the first time in history. I was wearing all black, red Prada shoes, and the Philippine flag pin.
How did you acquire the Philippine flag pin?
It was given to me by my best friend and business partner Arsi Baltazar. Every time I use it, he gets it from me afterward so that I won’t lose it. He’s the keeper of my flag. He is the one who pins it on me before walking down the runway.
How many pins do you own?
I have three, but Arsi kept the one he gave me in 2012.
Was there an event where you forgot to wear it?
Yes, but I forget which country. We had to go to the Philippine consulate to ask for a pin.
What sentimental value does it have?
Wearing the Philippine flag wherever I go is a reminder that Filipinos are excellent.