Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Knitwear pioneer Lulu Tan Gan brings pina to global level—Bench surprise

Bench Fashion Week also presents Lucy Torres-Gomez's design for everyday woman, Renz Reyes' 'hortitorture'

Jo Ann Bitagcol wears Lulu Tan Gan's long-sleeved, fitted pina coat, that blends textures. 'I widened, removed the long sleeves, the collar, and cut the armhole lower,' Tan Gan tells

Lulu Tan Gan uses colors and accents to show the possibilities of pina.

Ben Chan, the vision behind Bench, congratulates Lucy Torres-Gomez at curtain call.

A well-attended Bench Fashion Week, which ran Sept. 22-24, had a robust line-up of collections of both veteran and emerging designers, of innovative and cutting-edge designs, of popular and edgy brands. In the Friday line-up were Urban Revivo, Kashieca x Lucy Torres-Gomez, and Lulu Tan Gan. Saturday’s show featured MLB, American Eagle Outfitters, Secret Fresh, Renz Reyes, Abdul Gaffar, and Raf Galang. The next night, Sunday, we saw Mich Dulce, Chris Nick, Human and Bench x Bitto’s creations (more on them next time).

Irene Marcos-Araneta wears her signature Filipiniana in modern chic style, with leading stylist Michael Salientes.

Miss World CEO and chairperson Julia Morley

Miss World 2022 Karolina Bielawska of Poland

Guests AC Legarda, Mitch Suarez, Sofia Elizalde, Mia Borromeo

Lucy Torres-Gomez

Lucy Torres-Gomez always looks great—not just because she is gorgeous, but because her taste in clothing is simple and wearable. Her collection for Bench Fashion Week reflected her personal style of everyday wearable pieces.

Lucy Torres-Gomez at curtain call

The runway looks were effortless, and we couldn’t help but think of her career in government—appropriate fashion with the skirts falling right below the knee and the blouses adequately covering up the upper body. These were clothes that would work well in the corporate world and in government events—indeed for real women.

Lucy Torres-Gomez designs for real women on the go—effortless dressing.

Many of the outfits could go from day to evening, with the right change of accessories. The black dresses were on point, and we especially liked the white lace blouses for their easy elegance. The black sailor pants looked well-crafted. All pieces were made to mix and match each other.

It was a collection for a savvy woman who gets things done, much like Torres-Gomez herself.

Lulu Tan Gan

There was an array of gorgeous pieces in Lulu Tan Gan’s collection, entitled Harmonious Identities and Possibilities. Tan Gan, whose brand DNA was always rooted in creating her own fabrics, such as handloomed knitwear, wanted to show the possibilities of piña as lifestyle wear. “When I was into knitwear, it was travel-friendly. And piña, no matter what perception we have, has to be travel-friendly too: easy to wear and easy to handle,” she said.

Lulu Tan Gan explores the pina as outerwear—with designs and accents inspired by nature and Filipino culture.

Xandra Rocha Araneta, Audrey Zubiri and daughter Adriana do the runway for Lulu Tan Gan

She sent out a collection with innovation and sustainability at its core, supporting local weavers, with the piña clothes wearable as outerwear, like a jacket or an accessory like a body hugger. In her personal notes, Tan Gan wrote: “(I want to showcase) how piña can possibly mix with other materials to be skin-friendly, with knit and lace, to globalize it, reimagining the fabric as fluid and not rigid, and not dependent on dry-cleaning. The majority of the clothes in the collection are engineered to fold and travel with.”

How piña can possibly mix with other materials to be skin-friendly…. reimagining the fabric as fluid and not rigid

Tan Gan’s collection was also luxury designer clothing at its peak. “I wanted to focus on culture and nature motifs, with coconut and tuko (gecko) designs in colors that represent nature, such as seashell pink, white sunlight yellow, the deep blue sea, abundant green foliage and gold for luxury,” she said. She explained that the fabric designs of the tuko and the coconut plantation were based on the inspirations of culture and nature.

The first part of the collection was soft and dyed in sapang, blended with neon yellow silk chiffon. The next group used piña abaca with large coconut tree designs. “I thought to keep it neutral as my eyes grew tired of colors. Piña abaca is rather stiff and I used it in long vests. Some pieces had mixed textures, like the Ao Dai-like dresses.” In the last part, she said she “needed” the colors to complete the possibilities of dyeing the fabric.

Tan Gan, who championed knitwear in Philippine fashion for decades, explained how she struggled to unify the contrasts of piña and knits in her vision. “Back in 2007, I decided to support local using piña simply because I love it. But it was complex to use the materials in my brand identity. The knit is heavy, piña is featherweight. The knit is stretchable, piña is stiff. The knit is heavy and coarse, piña is fine and delicate.”

Amalgamation was the mission when she had to shift from knits to a lighter and finer gauge. She had to change her perception of piña as being stiff and find ways to handle it. “I handwashed it, closed my eyes, then machine-washed it. I needed to experience it. I realized that the knitwear could be the innerwear instead of putting a lining, which stiffens the flow of the piña.”

Her show on Friday was a local collection made for the global stage and showcased a decades-long outlook that has been carefully honed and practically perfected. Well-seasoned, exceptionally edited, and with a starkly clear identity, it showed why she is one of Manila’s most talented and foremost designers.

Tan Gan, who officially retired in 2020, emphasized that any designer “has to love making fashion. You can design by illustration and pass it on to the patternmaker and sewer, creating a garment successfully. But after some time, there must be some innovation and newness. You must feel, manipulate and see the possibilities of the material you are working with.”

Even in her retirement, she still gets excited about making fashion. “I usually just do pop-ups now, but joining Bench is so marketable with a mix of younger designers. But when I traveled to Belgium recently to visit my other two grandchildren, I discovered there was this shop in Brugges that does hand-lacing! So exciting!”

‘You must feel, manipulate and see the possibilities of the material that you are working with,’ said Tan Gan

Renz Reyes

Hortitorture was the title of Renz Reyes’ show on Saturday, which confounded us a bit. In the beautiful melange of floral appliqués and craft techniques, we couldn’t find the relevance to torture, even in the all-black looks he sent down the runway. “There are some fetishistic elements in the collection, mostly speaking about pleasure and hedonism. There are subtle tropes in the tailoring, like harnesses and bondage. For example, there’s a denim jacket that has harness-like straps built into the construction. The waist bands of the skirts and pants mimic low slung jeans with the underwear peeking out,” he explained.

Still, he describes the overall collection as contemporary, borrowing from classical elements. “There’s a certain familiarity to the pieces in my collection, with shapes that are wearable and can easily be integrated in any wardrobe, but put through my own lens, which is a celebration of material and techniques.”

The techniques he mentioned were seen in the use of appliqué embroidery and cut-outs. There were a lot of patchwork flowers and patches “and some were manipulated in a way that that they are 3-D and sculpture-like. In the past I’ve focused on the graphic element in my embellishments, making it more visual from afar. But for this collection, I wanted my designs to be more tactile.”

Renz Reyes tests the limits of materials and techniques.

Reyes’ appreciation for artisanal techniques is evident in his work. Embroidery is a common theme, and he explores how he can make it even more modern each time he creates. Our favorite pieces in the collection included a flowy coat-dress made of hanging petal-like pieces and a skirt with a geometrically-cut hem, requiring skills he must have learned as a designer for The Natori Company. In 2020, he was a Ternocon finalist, attesting to his know-how in craftsmanship.

He said, “The person who wears my clothes appreciates craft, is bold, has an interesting point of view, and doesn’t take herself too seriously.”

About author


She was fashion editor of Mega and Metro magazines, in different stints, and former editor in chief of Metro style. She also wrote for Philippine Daily Inquirer for a decade. She lived and worked in Paris for eight years, writing for international publications, and worked as copywriter for Louis Vuitton Paris. Now based in Manila, she has a content marketing and copywriting firm. She continues to write about luxury and fashion.

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