Ricardo Preto is definitely not the first Portuguese to land in the Philippines and make a second home out of it. But unlike the conquistadors of our colonial past who discovered and claimed our islands by accident (history books say that Magellan’s goal was the Moluccas of Indonesia but dedicated us to Spain anyway), Ricardo knew exactly what he came for and why he has chosen to stay.
The designer, already established in Europe, thoroughly studied the local luxury retail scene and how his pret-a-porter portfolio would fit right in after receiving an offer from Rustan’s chairman Nedy Tantoco and Rustan’s President Donnie Tantoco to set up shop in Manila. Since 2016, Preto has been part of the store’s universe of brands, taking on creative director duties at the store’s in-house contemporary menswear and womenswear lines, aptly named Ricardo Preto Exclusive for Rustan’s. He was also responsible for the revival and rebrand of Rustan’s iconic youth line U, once upon a time the go-to brand of bright young Manila for the trendy and the flashy, into a streamlined label for the times. That his body of work now stands side by side with the world’s best luxury labels is akin to finding gold—or spices—in these parts.
“I wouldn’t come to Asia for a long time and the Philippines was the best start,” he says, throwing back to his decision of trying it out in Manila. But Preto, looking very much at ease on the day of the shoot—and right at home among the store’s frontliners and the press and PR circles—seems to have made a monumental yet natural career move worth the transcontinental to and fro. “This is the most Latin country in all of Asia,” he says in a manner that exudes a sense of being in the right place and the right time. “That has made moving here easier for a Portuguese designer [like me].”
We spoke to Preto about finding his place in Manila, his personal style, and what he advises we pick from his latest collection.
What do you find to be common with Portugal and the Philippines?
The internet makes connections between countries clearer, so I don’t think Filipinos differ from the rest of the world. [With] globalization, if you look at it, we have access to everything. We can have access to the same food, the same clothes, the same lifestyle. The Philippines has its [own] accents but they are not entirely too different from the places I’ve worked in everywhere else in the world.
Do you find designing for this market to be different from designing for Europe?
I don’t [see much] difference between Europe and Asia. I think we think in the same way. I am just careful with one thing: the choice of fabric. Because in Europe, we have the four seasons, and here, we have rain and summer. I try for all my fabrics to be adaptable to this weather but even in Europe, I do the same things. The only difference is that because there is winter, I do more jackets. Heavy ones. It’s the only thing.
You design for both men and women. Do you find yourself differing in process depending on who you’re designing for?
The process is the same. I, all the time, start with a pyramid of fabrics, pyramid of shapes, pyramid of colors. My process is normally divided into three: essentials, core, and imagemaker. I use this process for both menswear and womenswear. I think men dress in a specific way and women another. Even the way they buy is completely different.
You classify clothes into three: essentials, core, and imagemakers. How is each one different?
Essentials are what we carry for all seasons. A white dress shirt for men or women. It is classy, easy, and lights up your face.
The core is the inspiration of the season. It’s pieces that can stay in the sales floor for five months.
The imagemakers are produced in small quantities. It’s what we put on windows, mannequins. It’s what makes it to our campaigns. They are very strong pieces; we don’t do so much [of it] because I don’t want it to be a piece that everybody wears. Like prints. I only do a small quantity of prints because I don’t want my customer to arrive at a place and have someone else wear the same thing.
How much of your personal style is in your menswear brand?
I try to be loyal to myself and be the image of my own brand: pure and simple design. I like simple clothes, simple cuts, nice fabrics, pieces that are easy to carry from morning to night.
We live at a very fast pace these days. It’s necessary that my customers feel comfortable about themselves all day, not needing to change clothes because they have to attend dinner [for example].
Photographs by Patrick Mateo