Michael Leyva
Michael Leyva

MICHAEL Leyva is one of the most sought-after names in Philippine fashion. Only 33 years old, the renowned fashion designer has already reached great heights in his young career — creating wearable art for famous personalities in the country and heading international shows in Dubai and Los Angeles, just to name a few.

While others have dreamed of making a name for themselves in the fashion industry early in their life, Leyva had a different career path in mind and designing was never in his plan.

Michael Leyva’s holds his ‘Hiraya: Isang Dekada ng Aming Pagmamahal at Pangarap’ runway show at the the National Museum of the Philippines of Natural History.
Michael Leyva’s holds his ‘Hiraya: Isang Dekada ng Aming Pagmamahal at Pangarap’ runway show at the the National Museum of the Philippines of Natural History. COVER AND INSIDE PHOTOS COURTESY OF NICE PRINT PHOTO

He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a Bachelor of Science in Tourism Management degree and was already preparing himself to be a flight attendant.

It was his older brother, Brian, who had started the journey in fashion — a runner-up in the Philippine Fashion Design Competition in 2004 and an active member of the Young Designers Guild who created pieces for Philippine Fashion Week in 2007 and Bench Fashion Week show in 2009.

"My brother was the one who influenced me. His dream was to really become a fashion designer, but my parents could not afford to send him to fashion school at that time. So what he did was he applied for an academic scholarship. He was also a student-athlete as part of the Men's Volleyball team. Because of that, he was able to graduate Fashion Design at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde," Leyva shared during his lecture dubbed "Artist Talk | Culture through Fashion, Arts, and Design" organized by the National Museum in October.

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However, the promising young talent was robbed early of his dreams as Brian suffered a tragic death in 2010. This turning point led him to follow his late brother's footsteps.

A truly emotional show, ‘Hiraya’ fittingly looks back at the past ten years of Leyva’s life as a designer.
A truly emotional show, ‘Hiraya’ fittingly looks back at the past ten years of Leyva’s life as a designer.

Despite the grief, he took the challenge of finishing the pending projects Brian left before his demise, even without any background in design.

"At first, I was hesitant to do it because I had no idea what fashion is all about. I didn't know how to draw, talk to clients, or choose fabrics. The only thing that I had that time was the courage that I can do it with the guidance of my brother," Leyva said, adding that Brian visited him in his dreams which propelled him even more to be a full-fledged designer.

"He was the one that inspired me to do anything until today. I know, behind everything that's happening to me right now, there's one angel up above guiding me all throughout," he continued.

Later on, Leyva took up fashion courses and was able to gain numerous clients. From wedding gowns, he was also able to design work uniforms for hotels, hospitals and airlines.

"What I did was make wedding gowns. That was one opportunity that helped me to really make money when I was just starting in 2012, [it] was through the wedding industry because it's a continuous business," he shared.

He also attended certain fashion programs in London which made him more eager to continue a career in the fashion industry.

"I said, even though I have clients now, I still want to study in London to gain more background in fashion. I took it as a challenge to save up and study there. So that's what I did. Going back home, I felt so proud because I can now say I have a certificate in fashion. God is good because in 2015, I started to make a name," he pointed out.

Anne Curtis, Kris Aquino

Bigger opportunities came in as top celebrities began to contact Leyva with the likes of Anne Curtis and Kris Aquino.

"Dati pangarap kong damitan si Anne Curtis. She's my muse — as in dream ko siyang magawan ng damit. She asked people around to look for me — that was in 2015. When I learned about that, I cried. Sabi ko, 'ako ba talaga?' She, Anne Curtis — she's on top of the industry. She's one of the nicest people I know."

Leyva's name became even more prominent when he was able to design Kris Aquino's Filipiñana gown during late former President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino 3rd's last State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2015.

"Hinahanap din ako, sino daw ba si Michael Leyva. The first day na pinatawag ako, dumaan muna ako ng simbahan sabi ko 'Lord, sana hindi naman ako ma-first and last kay Ms. Kris Aquino. Kasi baka mamaya hindi niya magustuhan tapos yun na ang last day ko sa kanya. She is known as very fashionable, and to wear my creation for the SONA is a big deal since she's considered the first lady at that time, so all eyes would be on her," Leyva recalled.

"So I presented sketches, and she chose one. She wants it to be made of piña and a certain kind of color. But piña is only natural color. But as a type of person who won't stop until I know it's perfect, I dyed that piña cloth. She loved it and thanked me. That became history for me because she opened more opportunities. She was named best dressed for that SONA and I was all over the news. Since then, she became very close to me, she became my ate," he proudly noted.

Apart from the SONA, another gown that he made which Aquino strutted was during the August 2018 premiere of "Crazy Rich Asians" in Hollywood.

Hiraya show

The achievements he gained throughout his young but impressive career were beyond imaginable and all these, he has attributed to his late brother. Reason why he gave a fitting tribute to Brian during his 10th year anniversary grand runway presentation on October 10.

Dubbed "Hiraya: Isang Dekada ng Aming Pagmamahal at Pangarap," the show took place at Manila City's iconic landmark, the National Museum of the Philippines, a perfect venue for his showcased pieces that truly are works of art.

A truly emotional show, "Hiraya" — a Filipino term meaning the "fruit of one's hopes, dreams, and aspirations — started off with Leyva looking back at the past 10 years of his life as a designer. He reminisced the challenges he faced throughout the process, from his early struggles as a novice designer to the times when inspiration was scarce.

He also recalled the many achievements in his life – all of which he owed to his lovely family, supportive friends and clients, and, of course, to his late brother.

Marking the beginning of the show was singer Erik Santos who performed "This Is The Moment." Leading the style fest that's about to be revealed on the runway was Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach who looked like a goddess in Leyva's gilded garb.

What followed was an array of white couture pieces with elaborate boning details and sculptural suits. Soon after, his jewel-toned creations with fringe details, delicate floral embellishments, and brushstroke design elements paraded on the runway.

In one of the top moments of the night, TV host Vice Ganda emerged from the elevator of the museum's Tree of Life wearing a breathtaking white wedding dress complete with a chapel-length train and a romantic veil. The style fantasy continued with a series of pastel ball gowns, glimmering ensembles, and dramatic garbs so immaculate everyone was moved and gave the pieces rounds of applause.

For the finale look, actress Anne Curtis wore Brian's Filipiñana design made of five centavo coins, the piece he presented at the Young Designer's Competition in 2006.

The stunning show ended with singer Regine Velasquez-Alcasid giving an empowering performance of "I Believe."

For Leyva, the show was not just about what he achieved in the past decade, but also about honoring the legacy his late brother left in the local fashion landscape.

"I was very emotional kasi sobrang dream-come-true ang nangyari. My brother was in the LED screen and I'm the one in person. Parang dalawa kaming nag-end ng show," Leyva shared.

The journey to get where he is now was not a stroll in the park.

When asked what his most memorable moment in those 10 years was, he shared, "I remember when I could not afford to buy a car. And I must deliver a gown to an executive village in Makati. Hindi pwedeng makapasok ang mga taxi. So I have to walk from the gate to the house of that big-time client. Pagbalik ganun pa rin lalakarin ko ulit. Walang mga jeep or bus stations near it. So those experiences were tiring but I am grateful for those experiences. If not for those experiences, I won't be here today. That's why I loved my work to be valued so much. It made me stronger."

In the end, he was able to showcase not just here, but around the world, his natural design skills, tenacious spirit, with his brother as his all-time inspiration.

Leyva's career is a true testament to the saying, "If you can dream it, you can do it."

"Hard work is the key. It is very important that you love what you're doing because you'll never get tired of it.

"In the past 10 years, there was never a day in my life na nagsisisi ako na ituloy what my Kuya Brian started. I know that there will not be a Michael Leyva if it wasn't because of Brian Leyva. I hope I made him proud," he concluded.