Balikbayan blues: Rovero photographed by Patrick Camara Ropeta
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Pinoy-Brit designer who impressed Rihanna to show his collection in Manila

London-educated streetwear designer Ralph Rovero has found a way to use fashion to return to the country, making his local runway debut at the Philippine Fashion Gala with a collection aptly called “Homecoming”
ANCX Staff | Nov 18 2018

In a migrant family composed of mostly doctors and nurses, Ralph Rovero threw them all for a loop when he revealed he wanted to get into fashion design. “I think my whole family was really shocked,” the 31-year-old says with a laugh. “For sure, there were some concerns. It was really hard for me to convince them that I could make it work for myself. My mum had a lot to say about it—she either wanted me to be a doctor or be in a boy band!”

Yet he persisted, completing his menswear degree at the University of Westminster, alma mater to the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Bailey of Burberry. “It was really important for me to go into that college because a lot of the designers that I respect studied there. I wanted to get the same education and have the same skills as they did,” he says.

Rovero the day after he arrived in Manila this November, with his collection for Philippine Fashion Gala. Photo by Deiniel Cuvin.

Rovero grew up in Pangasinan, but his family moved to London when he was just 7 years old. The second to the youngest in a brood of six, it was expected that, like all of his siblings, he, too, would eventually join the medical profession. But he was determined to do his own thing. “I’ve never really fit into fashion cliques and fashion circles. I always see everyone sort of wearing the same suits.” His knack for setting himself apart paid off—upon graduating, his work began earning coverage in the press and on fashion blogs, leading to a spot in the UK reality TV show, Styled to Rock. “The executive producers saw my work and my designs on the front cover of the national newspaper in London,” he relates, one of whom happened to be the original bad gal herself: Rihanna. “She really responded well to my aesthetic. She’s such a character—so full of spirit. She was very encouraging to the designers; I think she understands the process of being all up-and-comers. It was really nice to get to know her and to get her approval.”

The reality TV stint forced the designer to push himself and expand his limits—impossible deadlines, cameras in his face before he even got out of bed, creating clothes that fulfilled a variety of requirements at breakneck speed. “It made me a quicker maker, and also it made me a quicker designer in terms of researching and design development.” He got as far as the Top 6 before being eliminated, with his creations worn by girl group Little Mix and the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears. The clothes, which included a colorful printed crotchless jumpsuit, were definitely out there. But the exposure and training allowed him to go freelance, collaborating with friends and artists who approached him to make what he describes as “stage wear.” “They always want something crazy,” he says.

This hoodie and shorts ensemble will be part of the designer's collection to be shown in Manila. “Streetwear is all about variety of references and remixing it," says Rovero. Photo by Deiniel Cuvin.

Lately, his adventurous streak has once again gotten the best of him. He left London to move to Cambodia, a country he chose because it was a place he had no ties at all to and that he never imagined he would end up living in. The freedom of starting from scratch allowed him to return to his roots: streetwear that he himself wants to wear and that he can easily picture other people wearing. “Streetwear is all about variety of references and remixing it, and I think that’s how people dress in this modern day and that’s something that I really respond to,” he says.

As seen in Vogue Hommes Japan, Rovero's yellow shorts and (on model with tattooed head) color-blocked jacket.

Plus, it’s what he’s good at: his color-blocked jackets and sweatshirts have made their way to the pages of Vogue Hommes Japan, handpicked for the magazine by international fashion heavyweight Nicola Formichetti. He notes as well that streetwear is having a moment, as evidenced by the success of Virgil Abloh, the Off-White founder who has taken up residence as the Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton. “The fact that a luxury company like Louis Vuitton decided to make a streetwear designer head of its menswear—you would never have thought of that in the past, but that says a lot about streetwear and its design aesthetic, how the culture is really being embraced by luxury brands,” he observes. “It’s so nice to have Off-White here because it means that obviously there’s business to be made here and that Manila is seen as a fashion capital.”

Upon closer inspection, this jacket is actually pieces of fabric that have been cut out, assembled, and sewn back together. “It took me a while to fully understand how to create those geometrical points. It took a lot of time and practice perfecting them...It was a hard process, but it was a really enjoyable one.” Photo by Deiniel Cuvin.

Rovero is excited, most of all, that his fashion career has led to this triumphant return to our shores. He is one of ten international designers who will be showing a collection at the Philippine Fashion Gala, with a ten-piece set aptly titled “Homecoming.”

A collaboration with Fila is also in the pipeline. “I’ve always wanted to show in the Philippines… it’s so special. I get a bit emotional just thinking about showing my designs here. Ever since I left the Philippines, I’ve always wanted to come back and show my talent and creativity and celebrate it with everyone.”

Click on the image below for slideshow

From the UK show Styled to Rock. 

The reality TV stint forced the designer to push himself and expand his limits. 

“It made me a quicker maker," Rovero says of the Styled to Rock experience, "and also it made me a quicker designer." 

In the UK show, Rovero got as far as the Top 6 eliminations. 

Part of the Vogue Hommes Japan editorial that featured his color-blocked blue sweatshirt. 

Rovero's pieces, including this yellow sweatshirt, were handpicked by Nicola Formichetti 

"I get a bit emotional just thinking about showing my designs here." Deiniel Cuvin for ANCX.ph

Rovero's designs Disorder Magazine UK 2011 

Rovero's designs in Homme Style UK 2011 

Disorder Magazine UK 2011 

Disorder Magazine UK 2011 

Disorder Magazine UK 2011 

GQ Style UK 2010 

GQ Style UK 2010 

Homme Style UK 2011 

Homme Style UK 2011 

Homme Style UK 2011 

Homme Style UK 2011 

The collection will feature the graphic color blocks that have become his signature, revealing his obsession with shapes, patterns, and geometric lines. “I started watching sci-fi movies from the ’80s and ’90s. I really like the film ET and that story of going back home to the motherland. I looked into my love of geometry and lines—its simplistic perfection.” The patterns on his clothes are created with such precision that it might, at first glance, look like a print; it’s only upon closer inspection that you see it’s actually pieces of fabric that have been cut out, assembled, and sewn back together. “It took me a while to fully understand how to create those geometrical points. It took a lot of time and practice perfecting them, just to flatten the fabric, get it all flat and clean. It was a hard process, but it was a really enjoyable one,” he explains. The triangle has also made its way to his personal logo, a pattern that, when flipped over, bears a slight resemblance to the Philippine flag. “One of my friends pointed it out, and it was purely accidental. But when I realized it, I was so happy. It was a really nice way to put my heritage into my clothes.” He might not have used the most conventional means, but Rovero has found a way to come home.

 

For more information on Ralph Rovero’s work and designs, visit ralphrovero.com. Photos courtesy of the designer except for those taken for ANCX by Deiniel Cuvin.