Newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will be wearing two barongs today, his inauguration, and both are by Filipino designer Pepito Albert. The first is a spare, rayadillo-inspired garment with two stripes in front, and the second one is an embroidered piña barong which he will wear to what one might presume to be the inaugural dinner.
The often media-shy Albert (he declined our request for an interview) is a highly respected figure in Manila’s fashion circle. Always in black with his hair always in a ponytail, his “mataray” but funny persona has long endeared him to the social set. Younger designers, even his contemporaries, look up to him not only for his impeccably tailored clothes but for his always forward-thinking vision that’s rarely influenced by trends. Society women dream of wearing his designs.
Albert is, in fact, really a women’s wear designer—he is a favorite of Korina Sanchez, whose wedding gown he made in 2009, and BBM’s sister, Irene Marcos-Araneta who is wearing a gown of Albert’s design for the inaugural. Other fans include Maricris Zobel, Kaye Tinga, Monique Villongco, and Fe Rodriguez. Albert also designed the gown of Xandra Rocha when she married Irene’s youngest son Luis eight years ago.
The former stylist Jenni Epperson writing about bridal gowns in 2002 remarked about Albert’s signature look: “superb architecture, almost bare ornamentation. A bride who wants just the gown to fall or flow on her body is the Pepito Albert bride. Albert is minimalism at its most elegant level.”
Albert lived abroad for 15 years while studying fashion design. He trained at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles and gained relative fame while in the US, with his clothes getting featured in the big fashion bibles like Harpers Bazaar, Elle, Vogue and W.
He returned to the Philippines in the early 1990s and has since created a reputation for his strikingly constructed gowns with almost no ornamentation. “Proportion and silhouette must be correct. Details come in later,” he told Marge Enriquez recently. “Simple, clean lines, and nothing attention-grabbing are what I like to do; I don’t put too much embellishment.”
He also said it’s important to have a good relationship with people you design clothes for. And when it comes to the new First Couple, it seems he’s been friends with them a long time. According to a recent article by Philippine Star Lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil, Pepito and new First Lady Liza Marcos were classmates in Business Management in Ateneo. While she pursued her law studies in New York, Albert would meet up with her and Marcos Jr. He said about the couple: “Bongbong and Liza are so easy to work with because they know what they like.”
In an interview with Maurice Arcache in 2002, Albert was described by the society columnist as “‘the dahling’ of the social pack, envied and gossiped about by a few, but admired and loved by many. He is very choosy when it comes to friends, and with the few chosen ones, he is definitely true and loyal.”
Asked what his best quality was, Albert told the columnist, “It must be my appreciation of the female form and how great it looks clothed.” And his worst: “Tardiness. But only sometimes.”