It was an unusually cold summer night in Westlake, California, but Westlake Magazine managed to turn up the heat in a celebration of fashion and fast cars with a petite Filipina and her beautiful dresses at the center of attention.
Underneath the glare of the spotlight and flashing cameras, Pia Gladys Perey was full of energy, giving hardly any hint she had no sleep the past three days. As her models sashayed around her, wearing her latest take on her trademark drape designs, she was still on a high from unveiling this very collection at the 2017 New York Fashion Week.
Juggling a runway show with a fashion shoot all at once, it was plain to see how this Filipina designer’s label has penetrated the highbrow markets of the United States, Australia, Singapore, Japan, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. She works to the bone for her success and she is greatly rewarded.
Hands on in every aspect of the PGP brand’s creative process, as well as its business operations, Perey is able to produce pieces of enchanting clothing that make women of every shape and size look and feel like a Greek goddess.
No wonder her designs have attracted the likes of Hollywood goddess idols in Angelina Jolie, Demi Lovato and Petra Nemcova to name a few. For no matter how soft and feminine her silhouettes and fabrics may be, Perey’s line has embodied one principle from the very beginning: women empowerment. She celebrates and enhances curves of every kind in the most beautiful and flattering ways, and surges on as PGP marks its 10th anniversary in fashion.
A decade of strength
Perey first launched PGP in 2007 at the New Generation of shows of IMG’s Mercedes Benz Australian Fashion Week in Sydney. Soon after, the label appeared in the runways of France, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and of course Manila.
Reflecting on the last 10 years of her rise to success, Perey told The Sunday Times Magazine, “It feels surreal. When I think of the things I did, what I sacrificed to reach a decade of pushing for something I believe in, I would say to myself, ‘Wow Pia, you are crazy!’”
Settling down from a delighted laugh, she thoughtfully added, “But I know this is the path I am meant to tread and that makes me very happy and grateful.”
Asked if she feels “she made it” in just a short 10 years in the international fashion scene, Perey honestly replied, “I don’t think that at all. A lot of things may have happened in 10 years but I always say I’m not even halfway where I want to be and that’s the truth. I still have so many things to accomplish.”
Clearly a go-getter, she acknowledges her milestones just the same, saying, “They validate me and my work as a designer, but I don’t like to limit myself because when you think you’ve made it, that’s when you stop growing. There will always be more things to achieve and things to accomplish.”
Grateful for the last 10 years, Perey declared, “My brand is my baby and as kids say reaching the double digits is special. Not a lot of self-owned brands make it to 10 so this year also reminds me of all the work that happened behind the scenes that nobody sees.
“The first three years represented the struggle to start, get the brand out there, and make it known, while the next two represented the challenges of staying in the game. It was only after the fifth year that I finally got to enjoy the ‘perks’ of being a designer, and of course now, more than ever, I have the chance to enjoy the fruits of my labor and concentrate on expanding to new markets.”
Sharing her secret to success, she simply stated, “I never do things half baked and I always give my 100 percent. I am in the limited ready-to-wear business and not couture—retail does not get as much attention and praise as couture but I saw the gap and I saw the need for comfort without sacrificing style. It was then I identified with the everyday woman with real needs and duties. She’s what made me keep going through the years. Whenever I see I can make real women feel good about themselves through my work, I keep on going all the more.”
At the core of PGP is its designer’s belief that every woman deserves to feel beautiful and confident. It is this conviction that literally shaped her brand and designs, all leading up to a special project Perey unveiled to mark her 10th anniversary.
Dubbed the “Shape Campaign,” she recalled its inspiration to The Sunday Times Magazine: “The Shape Campaign actually just fell on my lap. I just saw more and more women from petite to plus-sized wearing my dresses from all over the world and I realized, women, regardless of where they are from, share the same fears about their body.”
Through her label, women have reached out to Perey thanking her for making them look and feel good about themselves.
“To hear how your dress made someone feel empowered is very rewarding, especially with curvy women. They rave about how my designs offer coverage yet still emphasize their curves and I feel validated. I feel like I’m doing something right whenever that happens.
The Shape Campaign therefore encourages women to appreciate their bodies.
“I want women to embrace who they really are because a dress size doesn’t define who she is and doesn’t dictate what she can or cannot do. It is important to accept who you really are.”
Speaking on a personal note, Perey continued, “I grew up with a disability that was only corrected a year ago and it caused me a lot of distress growing up, until I decided I cannot let it get in the way of what life has to offer me.”
The designer, who is also a mother to three girls shared, “I feel like if I help women understand that it’s OK to be themselves, then they will influence their children to be respectful and loving so that there will be less conflicts and more acceptance in the world. Not just in weight or shape but a things in general.
“It is important for children to see beauty in others even if it is different from what they are used to or saw growing up. I always tell my daughters that they do not always have to fit in because each of us is different. I see so many children suffering from bullying, eating disorders or being discriminated just because they don’t fit in. This can all change if women are not so confined to one particular standard of beauty. After all, women play a great part in shaping the youth.”
Besides being one of the country’s top international designers, Perey is a proud mother of four children. Citing them as her source of courage, she is proof that one can raise a happy family and become successful at work.
Asked how she manages all her responsibilities, she replied, “The most honest answer I can give you is I don’t know. But with everything I do, I make sure to do it out of love and passion—that’s what makes things easier.”
Perey further noted how “compartmentalization” has helped her get through the day.
“I go out to work and I am Pia Gladys Perey, I am a designer and a businesswoman. I go home and I am just mama to my children and just Pia to family and friends. I do not carry my media features, my fashion weeks, or the celebrities who wore my dresses with me. To me, those are just part of the job and they don’t make me entitled or better than everyone else.”
Fashion week pride
As Pia Gladys Perey, the designer excitedly recalled her latest New York Fashion Week Experience, humbly saying, “It was daunting. I felt exactly how I felt 10 years ago when I launched my brand in Australia. Fashion shows keep me grounded because you never know how people will respond. After all, you are only as good as your last collection.”
However she admits that this particular outing was special. “It was my first listed in the CFDA’s calendar. CFDA is the authority in fashion. They only open a few slots to up and coming designers.”
Perey further related how she felt proud to be Filipino on the New York Fashion Week stage.
“I will never get tired of carrying the Philippine flag so I was very proud. My company is 100 percent Filipino-owned and everything we sell is made in the Philippines. It was such a special experience too because we had great support from the Philippine Trade Office in New York as well as the Philippine consulate.”
Asked how she plans to go on for the next 10 years, Perey said she will move forward recalling the disappointments of the past.
“It’s my conviction and belief that when you are on a mission to share something good—and for me that’s empowering women through fashion and embracing their true selves—you have to keep going even if there are bumps along the way. I had the closest people to me saying my dreams were unreachable and unrealistic and that was very disappointing. But then I thought, it’s free to dream and I can work for my goals, so if anyone says no to you, just keep going. You’re probably just knocking at the wrong door. Keep knocking until you get a yes.”