After years in ladies RTW fashion, Pat Santos is ready for haute couture
The irony of being Pat Santos is that while his clothes are worn by women from all walks of life—from average office employees and their female managers to lady news anchors and actresses on screen—not one of them knows him as the creator of such wearable fashion.
But that will change very soon. Seventeen years after supplying the SM chain of stores with ready-to-wear (RTW) apparel for its popular ladies’ brands Blanc et Noir, Philosophy, Studio S, Folio and Jus Ur Size, the designer is raring to redirect his attention to his first true love, haute couture.
Since the beginning, Santos is the first to dispel the notion that couture is avant garde, unwearable and expensive. Tempered perhaps by RTW’s uncomplicated and universally appealing designs, his own couture creations lean towards a sensual serpentine silhouette, simple details and stretchy materials. Himself keeping it basic in a black turtleneck and white jeans attire for this interview, the designer declares, “more Roberto Cavalli and Prada than Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano.”
Despite his less-is-more design philosophy, Santos seemed destined to design outfits that are anything than ordinary. The son of a seamstress, he grew up watching his mom sew clothes in their home as a hobby. At 5, he was already draping himself with retaso, curtains and towels, as well as drawing clothes he copied in fashion magazines.
“I was more into beauty pageants than cartoons,” shares Santos, who adds with a laugh, “except maybe Wonder Woman!”
Trained at the Madonna School of Fashion and Costume Design, Slim’s Fashion and Arts School, and Golden Hands Fashion and Arts School, he opened his own boutique and accepted orders for weddings and debuts—a challeng-ing time, he discovered, for such a promising venture. “It was the early ‘90s and people were both cons-cious and cautious about how they spent their money,” recalls Santos, who watched as the businesses of big-name Filipino designers flound-ered with the shaky economy.
It was friend and fellow designer Caloy Badidoy who paved Santos’ way into the world of ready-to-wear apparel. Growing up exposed only to gowns, Santos didn’t realize that there were designers for RTW fashion. Nevertheless, he thrived in creating wearable, saleable staples for women of all ages, sizes and backgrounds.
“It’s hard and challenging. Imagine, being told to create a style that women from their 20s to 40s would like,” he says. “When you style for 1,000 women, whatever you create is make or break.”
Through RTW, the designer doubled as a businessman, too. Among other things, he learned how to haggle costs, hire people and put a cap on his overhead. Competing against dozens of other in-house designers eager to flesh out their own fashion ideas further added to RTW’s degree of difficulty.
Each week, Santos churned out prototypes of dresses, tops and bottoms, in the hopes of catching the eye—and budget—of big bosses. “The more samples you make, the more chances you have of getting picked. But that doesn’t always guarantee your samples will be accepted,” he says.
“Luckily mine have always been accepted!” the designer enthuses.
For sure, RTW has its share of rewards. Besides the financial stability it brought Santos and his family, it was satisfying seeing his apparel being sported by everyone, from strangers walking down the street to the biggest names in TV and film.
“The number of people wearing my RTW designs is definitely more than the number of people who wear my couture!” he exclaims. “But whether I’m known or not, I consider myself a success because I’ve been working so hard.”
Still, the thought of focusing finally on his passion for couture excites him. “This is a gift for myself,” says the designer who recently presented a collection of his gowns in his atelier and workshop in Las Piñas. “I want to do something good for myself. It feels good when people say ‘thank you’ and how much they love your designs. It’s priceless.”
In time, the designer whose identity remains anonymous in the world of women’s RTW doesn’t just want to be a household name; rather, he’d like the name Pat Santos to be synonymous with good taste, polish and timeless fashion.
To describe his brand of couture, Santos ends: “Simpli-city and elegance; Minimalism and class.”