Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Auction calls to mind sterling career of Pepito Albert

Geraldine Javier, Leeroy New were among the artists he collected—reflecting a taste and passion for art as fine as his designs

Pepito Albert
A photo of a young Pepito Albert, who was known to be an animal-lover

On October 21, Gavel&Block, in in a rare celebrity sale, will auction lots from the estates of fashion designer Pepito Albert and Manila’s beloved society columnist Maurice Arcache, both of whom passed away this year. While Maurice led a highly visible life covering A-list parties and events, Pepito kept a low profile even throughout a highly prolific and successful career. Apart from a tight circle of friends and his family, few knew of and witnessed Pepito’s taste and passion for art. He collected art and fine objects even as he designed clothes that stood out in the industry for their impeccable construction, distinctive silhouette, and elegant minimalism.

Pepito Albert

A portrait of the designer by Joseph Tecson (Image courtesy of Salcedo Auctions)

Pepito’s muse, the photographer, designer, and model Jo Ann Bitagcol, describes Pepito as “mataray-sweet.” She remembers feeling scared meeting Pepito for the first time in the fashion series Fashion Watch in 1996. “Kasi he was always wearing all black, and didn’t smile,” Jo Ann recalls.

Stylist and chef Jude Mancuyas felt intimidated in the presence of the fashion designer. “But deep inside, I realized later on, he is a darling,” Jude says.

Pepito Albert

Jason Oliveria’s “Super Moon” (below) and Jason Montinola’s sculpture from The Sensation Painter Series (above) are part of the lots from Pepito’s estate that will go on the block October 21. (Images courtesy of Salcedo Auctions)

Pepito Albert

“He’s a Class A donya with a soft heart,” says stylist Michael Salientes. And as Jude found out when he accompanied Pepito for what he thought was a stroll through Bangkal in Makati, Pepito also thrift-shopped like a donya. The two visitied Bangkal’s shops in Pepito’s Mercedes Benz, as Jude, in mock horror, bewailed the lost opportunity to haggle, given the way they announced their arrival and how Pepito would inquire from the comfort of his car. Pepito’s only reply: “Mainit, eh!”

Pepito Albert

A KAWS, BAPE Dissected Milo toy

Pepito Albert

A limited edition Swatch collaboration with BenCab

Pepito Albert

A Popeye framed animation cell

Pepito Albert

Andres Barrioquinto’s sculpture titled “#Traveller”

Michael vividly recalled the first time he met Pepito in New York, when Michael was fashion editor of Details Magazine in the ’80s. The encounter had, to use the term, audience impact.

“I met Pepito in 1989 in a restaurant in Soho. He had super long hair and was in a robe, like a loose top, probably Yohji Yamamoto, with chunky Lisa Jenks silver rings in every finger, Madonna-like bracelets on each arm.”

He looked like a gypsy, he remembered. Or Latin American. But Pepito was Pinoy through and through. He just happened to hang out with fashion and celebrity photographer Herb Ritts, dressed up models like Naomi Campbell and Helena Christensen for Chris Isaak’s music video, and counted clients like Uma Thurman, Gloria Estefan, Paula Abdul, and Madonna.

Pepito Albert

Leeroy New’s “Flame Chair II”

Two years earlier, Pepito had his audience-impact moment in Los Angeles, where he won a Rising Star Award from California Mart, an honor he had since shared with the likes of Jason Wu, Thom Browne, Tory Burch, Phillip Lim, Brandon Maxwell, and so on.

Back then, Pepito had been recognized largely for a design collection noted for fringe and bodycon dresses. California girls went mad, scarfing down inventory like bags of Cool Ranch Doritos. Pepito’s sensational collection was pricey, but retailed for around $180 a dress.

A Los Angeles Times writer described the first time he met Pepito: “One look at Pepito Albert—’just Pepito, puh-lease,’ the designer requests—is a quick study in fashion trends. His shiny black hair drapes carelessly down to the middle of his back. His outfit—a brilliant green knee-length blouse, palazzo pants, and black bedroom slippers—is shocking, to say the least, by most standards. Especially because he wears it to work.”

Pepito Albert

Indonesian artist and international auction rising star Arkiv Villmansa’s “Dreamed Of”

While the way Pepito looked reflected his early aesthetic (a later collection included stretch knits in jewel tones), his eventual return to Manila after 15 years in America and Paris was a turnaround from that flamboyance. He piped down the noise to masterful construction and simplicity—and judicious detailing.

His clients, including his former classmate at Ateneo, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, chef Margarita Fores, and former Miss Universe Margie Moran Floirendo loved how Pepito made them feel beautiful. They wore his clothes, bespoke and mostly formal, and shone—no, glimmered.

Pepito Albert

Charlie Co’s untitled painting

Pepito Albert

A book on Rodel Tapaya with a drawing and dedication for Pepito Albert

They glimmered in Pepito’s impeccable fit and construction, in such whispered details as a discreet pouf, intricate drapery, or a deceivingly simple bustier. If these clothes were shown on the runway, they would have deserved a standing ovation each time.

In February 2023, in the fashion show Algodon at Pinto Museum, which showcased the Ilocano fabric inabel, Albert, who was ailing by then, showed a solitary ensemble, which would turn out to be his final piece—a muted grey jacket opened fully up front and with flared sleeves, paired with floor-length ballooning black skirt—again a triumph of masterful construction and minimalism, its silhouette a design statement in itself. It was worn by Jo Ann. (“She’s the only one who can wear that,” Pepito said before the show.)

Pepito Albert

A work by Yeo Kaa

Pepito Albert

An untitled painting by Geraldine Javier from the “Oh Dolly!” series

It was Pepito’s last contribution to the runway of Philippine fashion—an exit of a designer that the industry would honor with a standing ovation for a long, long time.

Collections from the estates of Pepito Albert and Maurice Arcache, along with other lots from Gavel&Block: Art+Design edition’s extraordinary room, list will be up for bidding Oct. 21, Saturday, starting 11 a.m.. For inquiries, call tel. nos. +63 917 825 7449 | +63 917 591 2191 | +63 917 107 5581 or email [email protected] updates, follow @salcedoauctions on Facebook and Instagram

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