After staying in the countryside during the intermittent lockdowns, media-shy fashion designer Pepito Albert is emerging from his cocoon. His post-pandemic collection highlights dressy separates which signify the return of special occasions.
“It’s just an RTW designer line—very colorful,” Pepito says nonchalantly. From May 20 to 22, Bench Katutubo, a showcase of crafts and designs by Filipino creatives and artisans at the Bench Tower in BGC, will mark his first-ever participation.
The designs highlight his distinctive style—the clean silhouette that flatters all figure types, precise construction, perfect proportions, subtle drapery, and rich fabrics. For the Pinoy touch, Pepito favors taffeta, crepe, chiffon, georgette and inabel, indigenous, handwoven, patterned cotton. The menswear consists of loose inabel shirts and slacks. He chose his favorite bold colors—blue, yellow, pink, green, and maroon—that are balanced with neutralizing gray and taupe.
For Katutubo, the tops and bottoms come in unique pairings. A pink taffeta blouse with extended sleeves is dramatized by a gathered neckline. Pepito explains that it’s a funnel neck, a collar with pleats that produce a lopsided shape that flatters the face. A recurring detail in his earlier designs, the funnel neckline reflects his penchant for geometrical shapes. The top is paired with loose crepe pants in maroon.
Pepito plays with proportions in a bottle-green crepe blouse with three-quarter sleeves embellished with long, cascading ties. It contrasts with the dove gray, taffeta tulip skirt with an asymmetrical gathered waist. The royal blue, high-collar blouse with ruffled sleeves is matched with taupe pants, both in crepe.
Pepito recalls that when he first visited the Bench Katutubo pop-market last April, he was impressed with the collections of designer friends. The experience sparked his creative urge to make clothes yet again. He notes how orders for clothes came back this year as restrictions eased and more people were more confident to go out.
Pepito’s training at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles gave him the solid foundation for his career. He returned to the Philippines in the mid-’90s to establish himself. Pepito rose to prominence when he presented his unique designs that attracted prominent clientele.
‘Proportion and silhouette must be correct. Details come in later’
Pepito has been known in the fashion world for his impeccable proportions. “Proportion and silhouette must be correct. Details come in later,” he says.
The women who wear Pepito’s clothes are well traveled, discriminating, and oozing with class. His designs for Irene Araneta, Young Musicians Development Organization chair, bear his hallmarks of understated elegance. “Simple, clean lines, and nothing attention-grabbing are what I like to do; I don’t put too much embellishment,” he says.
On the other hand, his designs for Rica Lorenzo, chair and CEO of La Panday Foods Corporation, are edgy, evocative of her authoritative personality. Pepito collaborated with her in putting up Idée, a line of tailored clothes that plays with proportions to produce unusual designs. “She likes those types of clothes without being too crazy,” he says.
Maricris Zobel proudly wore Pepito’s terno at the Le Bals de Débutantes in 2009. Held in Paris, this annual ball is participated in by young women from prominent families. While her daughter Natalia and the other debutantes wore French haute couture, Maricris stood out for the regal sophistication of the Philippine formal.
The likes of photographer Monique Villonco and entrepreneurs Kaye Tinga and Fe Rodriguez have collected Pepito’s evening wear that best represent his aesthetics. “When you dress up somebody, you need to have a good relationship with them,” he says.
His designs were last seen in January 2020 at the Ternocon, the design competition for the terno at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. His gowns were worn by Monique Villonco and daughter Cris Valderrama, Nina Halley, Kaye Tinga, and Fe Rodriguez.
Pepito was also involved in designing fashion accessories for export for several years, until the pandemic upended everybody’s lives. Before the lockdown, he sent sewing machines, fabrics, and accessories to his seamstresses so that they could continue working. Pepito donated their output of PPE and masks to clinics and hospitals.
He then sought solace in the province to escape the rising COVID cases and the pandemic restrictions. “It was a breath of fresh air, being far away from it all,” he says.
His lifestyle has been characterized by slowly letting go of many things. For over 12 years, he practiced ashtanga yoga and ate vegetarian food. His longtime yogi groupmates—wellness advocate Marilen Elizalde, publisher Liana Romulo, socialite Maripi Muscat, businessman Johnny Velasquez, and celebrity hairdresser Henri Calayag—went their separate ways before the pandemic.
He sought solace in the province to escape COVID. ‘It was a breath of fresh air, being far away from it all’
Then his doctor advised him to start including animal protein. Pepito recalls that in the beginning, his body rejected the meat, until he was slowly able to digest it. “I feel a bit heavy after eating it,” he says. He hopes to return to a plant-based diet when his doctor allows him.
Pepito still wear his Japanese-style black clothing and occasionally flutters his fan. “I tried to experiment with colors, but I have a hard time wearing them,” he says. His signature ponytail has been chopped off into a shorter length for a younger look.
Like many people who turned to prayer during the pandemic, Pepito has been attending daily virtual Mass before going to work and the Holy Rosary brigade via Zoom after lunch. He still socializes at night, but prefers to sleep early.
“It’s not old age—just a sign of growing older. You get lazy,” he says.
His biggest learning in this pandemic was to go back to basics. “I discarded many things such as clothes and objects that you no longer need at home. I gave to the less fortunate. In the province, you appreciate simple things like the fresh catch from the fishermen. You don’t need much to be content.”