Designer Randy Ortiz turned the pandemic crisis into an opportunity—to reset his fashion direction and build a collection for a fashion show.
Cooped up in his condominium during the intermittent lockdowns, Randy felt drained coping with family concerns.
When he turned 60 in 2021, he felt no need to celebrate the milestone. Earlier that year, his eldest brother, Rodolfo Ortiz Jr, grappling with uncertainty about the future, suffered depression. Eventually he had to be confined due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But while in the hospital, he contracted COVID, refused treatment, and passed away.
A younger brother, Rodelito Saturnino, nicknamed Ninoy (after his godfather, the political martyr Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr.), also had to be hospitalized for complications from kidney stones, and fortunately, eventually recovered from them. Since his other siblings (Nanette, Leslie and Rey) have been based in the US, it was only Randy, Ninoy and younger sister Lourdelita (Baby Love) who are left in the country.
“I became the ate. I realized that I was the strongest in the family,” recalls Randy, the fourth of seven children.
However, the hard lockdowns left Randy grief-stricken. Although his parents died more than a decade ago, their absence finally caught up with him. “It struck me that I forgot to mourn. Back then, I was extremely busy doing weddings. Then I traveled a lot,” he says of the hectic life.
His atelier in Quezon City was close to his parents’ home. His father, Rodolfo Ortiz, Sr., respected Randy’s choices in life, including his gender preference. When the world hit the pause button in 2020, Randy had to come to terms with his grief. In solitude, he found meaning and purpose in life, recalls Randy.
When restrictions eased, he left the comfort of his condo and stayed with his siblings, Ninoy and Baby Love, for six months. It became an opportunity to bond with them and appreciate his blessings in life. The siblings have been running Randy’s online business and his merchandise at the Katutubo Pop-up.
“The first year of the pandemic was terrible. I wasn’t going out. I was so scared because there were no vaccines yet,” he recalls.
To cope with stress, he gathered fabric scraps, such as silk ‘inaul’ from Maranao and ‘t’nalak’ from Lake Sebu
To cope with stress, he gathered fabric scraps, such as silk inaul from Maranao and t’nalak from Lake Sebu in his home province of South Cotabato. The sewers made masks and patchwork apparel from indigenous material, in line with Randy’s objective of presenting them in a fashion show in the future.
As luck would have it, Randy was tapped by a manufacturer to produce PPE (personal protective equipment).
When Randy marks his 35th anniversary in fashion design on Nov. 16 at The Gallery of Greenbelt 5, Makati, he will tell the story of resilience through his collection in a show directed by his bosom friend, Jackie Aquino, and longtime colleague Robbie Carmona.
The theme will convey Randy’s new direction, which augurs well with Ayala Malls’ Bravo! Filipino, a celebration of local culture and heritage.
“All the clothes are contemporary with Filipino inspirations, such as the way I drape the piña on brocade, the modern version of the panuelo, showcasing different embroidery techniques from Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Aklan, pleating and draping, but no chiffon. There will be tailored clothes, jackets, and corsets mixing local weaves with other fabrics,” he says.
“There are no casual clothes in the show, mostly cocktail attire, but no formal gowns. One emerald dress will symbolize my 35th year in the business.”
His 70-piece collection will kick off with indigenous patchwork separates, created during the pandemic, a homage to his Mindanao roots. It was common for Randy, growing up in South Cotabato, to see the town folk mixing indigenous patterns in their attire.
In his signature designs, Randy either layers patterns in two different scales, or mixes them in neutral tones to offset the patterns with bolder colors.
The second collection references the Visayas where his parents were born. His father and his mother, Lourdes, were Ilonggos who migrated to South Cotabato. The panache of his parents left an imprint on him. His father would wear barong and sharkskin suits from a trusted tailor. As a politician’s wife, Lourdes would dress in stunning style, in balintawak and terno with detachable sleeves. She favored taffeta and brocade sewn by a seamstress whose artisans also did seamless beadwork.
In the ‘60s, hablon, a native silk, was widely promoted in Panay Island. His parents wore hablon. Lourdes would have them made into A-line dresses and gowns.
In the ‘80s, Lourdes had her evening wear done by emerging designer Sammy Tiongson, who had apprenticed with Auggie Cordero and Ching Santos.
Channeling his fashion-savvy parents, Randy will present evening clothes embellished with indigenous fabrics; his signature modernized piña T-shirts that work well with pouf skirts and wide-legged pants, and his version of the modern balintawak. Sen. Nancy Binay helped source silk from Miag-ao, Iloilo.
When his father became a Constitutional Convention delegate in the ‘70s, Randy and the family moved to Luzon. A segment in the show reflects his exposure to weavers and embroiderers in the southern Tagalog region and in the north. Randy had been working with inabel when Liza Araneta-Marcos, in support of her husband, then governor Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., was promoting local weaves in Ilocos Norte. Early this year, Randy presented his inabel designs in Algodon at Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, a trailblazing fashion show featuring the inabel mini collections of Pepito Albert (his last), Randy, Vic Barba, JC Buendia, and Anthony Nocom.
For his show this week, his BFF Katrina Ponce Enrile, CEO of Cagayan Export Zone Authority, helped source inabel from Cagayan. Randy also tapped inabel from Abra and Kalinga Apayao.
The final section, Manila Wear, will feature Philippine styles for city living. More than 20 years ago, the Fashion and Design Council of the Philippines presented Manila Wear featuring Pinoy-inspired clothes that were wearable and commercially viable.
The top models of the ‘90s—all close colleagues of Randy—such as Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez, Wilma Doesnt, Phoemela Baranda, Raffy Ladao, Jack de Mesa, et al. will walk the runway.
‘I want to tell my story—where I was born, how I ended up in Manila, and what I went through during the pandemic’
“We are slowly recovering our finances after the slump. I want to tell my story—where I was born, how I ended up in Manila, and what I went through during the pandemic,” Randy says.
Back in the early ‘80s, Randy was unsure about his career direction; he went instead into Hotel and Restaurant Management at De La Salle University. After graduation, he managed Katrina’s Pan de Sal Magic, pan de sal hot from the oven with fillings, sold at the University Belt in Manila. When Katrina ventured into retail of party clothes under the Options brand, Randy oversaw production and sourcing of materials.
Ultimately, he decided to follow his passion for design. Borrowing for capital, Randy bought two sewing machines and set up his first shop in his father’s lanai. He tried to convince his father that fashion was his true calling, and that it would make good business.
“My father saw how my enthusiasm didn’t wane even through the long work hours,” he says.
In a few months, Randy was able to pay back his loan.
In 1988, another BFF, Jackie Aquino, directed Randy’s first fashion show with Vic Barba at Fort Santiago, Intramuros. Then upcoming singer Ogie Alcasid performed. “He started his career there. Now, to celebrate my emerald year, he will present my narrative,” says Randy.
After his first fashion show, he created a capsule collection for Bobby Novenario and presented his menswear at the Moda Maynila fashion show series produced by fashion industry stalwart Ben Farrales. Randy introduced the Pinoy dandy look—menswear in bold colors, mixed patterns, and slimmer silhouettes.
Impressed with his fresh viewpoint, style arbiter and entrepreneur couple Tina Maristela and Ricco Ocampo, part-owners of the then trail-blazing boutique Sari-Sari Store, invited Randy to sell his collection in the retail chain. This was in the ‘90s, and the label, Randy Ortiz for Sari-Sari Panlalaki, became a hit.
“People asked if men would wear patchwork shirts with mixed prints. I loved working with scraps. The shirts were always sold out. Then I did the waistcoats. Everybody wore the Randy O vests,” he recalls the innovation.
“I polished my craft without formal study. It was the homework of a lifetime. Tastas dito at tastas doon (Unstitch here and there),” says Randy.
In interviews, Randy gives credit to talent scout and manager Douglas Quijano for having given him his network of Filipino stars and celebrities. “He asked me to dress up his artists, who then paid for their wardrobes,” he says.
Heartthrob actor-turned-politician Richard Gomez, one of Quijano’s wards, became a mainstay of Randy’s projects, even joining his fashion shows abroad, and Richard and later his wife Lucy would become Randy’s life-long friends.
As the go-to designer of the stars, Randy made his first celebrity wedding in 1997 for singer Ariel Rivera and actress Gelli de Belen. Then came the wedding of Richard Gomez and Lucy Torres in 1998, which received national coverage. In 2006, he did the wedding of Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto.
Randy says the turn of the millennium were his most hectic years. “I would handle 15 to 20 weddings a month. I’ve had my grand days. I don’t want to go back to that. I invested my earnings in properties when I was younger,” he talks candidly about his status in life.
Four years ago, Bench set up Katutubo Pop-Up Market at Bench Tower. As part of its advocacy for promoting local designs and crafts, it offered the space to Filipino designers and brands.
Since the pandemic, Randy’s pop-ups at Katutubo have been flourishing. “I call it pop-up couture. I want to take this direction. My clothes present Pinoy sensibility balanced with wearability and saleability. This is the direction that I am taking. I refrain from referencing archives. It’s part of reinventing yourself after the pandemic. I want to make Pinoy chic global,” says the 62-year-old designer.
For his collection, Randy is supported by Arnel Papa for accessories, Joey Enriquez of Figlia, Henri Calayag and Eric Maningat for hair and makeup.