Weeks after the airing of his life story on Maalala Mo Kaya, revered fashion designer Rocky Gathercole visited ABS-CBN to promote the 20th anniversary fundraising dinner for Bantay Bata 163—an organization that hits close to his heart.
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Unlike many of today’s top designers, Rocky has no formal training in design. But it didn’t stop him from pursuing his dream and making use of what he considers his God-given talent. “May gift ako mag-drawing at [sa] pagde-design. Nung na-Born-Again ako, I kept praying [for] a decent job. Somehow, nag-answer ng prayer ko,” he recalls.
Rocky has met all kinds of designers over the years. There were those who executed beautifully on paper, but whose works never materialized. There were more who preferred sticking to what he calls “normal,” wearable outfits.
Even in the Philippines he believes that pieces like T-shirts and sandos are what succeed in this country as acceptable fashion, simply because they’re most appropriate for our weather. Still, he gives Filipino designers credit for keeping up with Western trends (even winter ones) and adapting their own styles to those of Americans and Europeans.
Rocky sets himself apart from his contemporaries by deliberately creating outfits that are often impractical, yet true to his artistic vision. He’s also not the type to settle for just one aesthetic. “Hindi ako nakukuntento sa isang bagay lang. Pag na-design ko na, ayoko nang i-design ulit; gusto ko iba naman. I try to top my own. Back then, kahit ano ipagawa sa’kin nung high school, iba-iba ginagawa ko,” he explains
For him, originality is key. He encourages aspiring designers, especially millenials, to always think out of the box. “Itigil na ‘yung copy-paste,” he insists. “Kasi hindi nila made-develop ‘yung gusto nila as fashion designers. Kung magde-depend sila sa Internet at sa nakikita lang nila, hindi sila mag-grow. Kailangan talaga i-dig ‘yung puso nila para malaman kung ano ‘yung gusto ipakita sa tao. Otherwise, hindi ka designer.”
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Such work ethic has gotten him very far in his career. Rocky’s creations have been worn by the likes Britney Spears, Nicki Minaj, and Katy Perry, among others. When we caught up with him at the Bantay Bata press con, we asked the story behind some of these now iconic looks and his experience working with Hollywood’s elite.
On Tyra Banks. "‘Yan ‘yung in-approach nila ako to do the finale of America’s Next Top Model. ‘Di ba nag-cut off na sila? Tapos bumalik na lang sila ulit? Memorable ‘yan kasi, bukod sa ako ‘yung [designer sa] last episode, ako pa ‘yung last Filipino designer [after] Michael [Cinco] and Fern [Amato]. Pumunta talaga ako diyan and nakapag-lakad pa ako sa ramp. Masaya ako diyan; I’m grateful."
On Nicki Minaj. "Ginawa ko ‘yan [as] part of my Gold collection. Hindi ko alam na kinuha niya ‘yan sa shop. Gusto niya bilhin [pero] pag sila nag-suot, ayoko ipagbili. Ang in-approach niya diyan [ay] ‘yung business partner ko. I was in Manila that time. Sa concert niya na ginawa sa Dubai. Kaya nung suot niya ‘yan, parang nag-flashback na [kahit] wala man ako sa Dubai, at least ‘yung damit ko nandun [at] suot pa ng pop artist na si Nicki Minaj."
On Katy Perry. "Ito ‘yung nilabas ko nung 2012 sa New York na I wished maging passport ko pagpuntang Hollywood—siya ‘yung maging daan para magustuhan ng anybody. Nangyari nga! ‘Yun naging start ng career ko. Twenty-fourteen ‘to…so imagine ‘yung gap! After two years, sinuot na. Na-bless ako diyan. Natuwa talaga ako kasi kamay ko gumawa niyan. Walang ibang tumulong sa akin."
On Gwen Stefani. "Part of my black and white [collection] na ‘yan. Ginawa ko rin ‘to para kay Cherie Gil. Sa photo shoot nia, parang ang concept nung editor is Madonna. So, nag-shoot kami [at] sinuot niya ‘yan."
On Jennifer Lopez. "Actually, ginawa ko ‘yan for Nicki Minaj [pero] mas nag-fit siya kay J.Lo. Ang nangyayari kasi sa U.S., gagawa ako ng collection, ilalagay sa shop ko, ‘tas nag-uunahan sila. Chine-check sila kung ano ‘yung babagay sa kanila, sa concert…ganun."
On Toni Braxton. "She’s one of the nicest people I’ve met. Napakabait. Basta, I love her. Diba 'pag celebrity, parang instant respect, instant love? Pero sa kanya, totally pararamdam niya sa’yo na mahal ka nya. Ibang klase sya."
On Carrie Underwood. "Carrie is a sweetheart. Naging famous yung isang damit na sinuot niya sa Muhammad Ali event dahil nalagay sa museum, sa Muhammad Ali Museum. 'Tapos I sold almost 20 [of] the same design in the US."
On Britney Spears. "Sa kanya ako na-star struck kasi grabe ‘yung billboard na ‘yun! All over America! Famous and iconic yun dahil size zero. Maliit ‘yung tiyan [nya]. Sobrang maraming nagmahal ‘dun sa outfit. ‘Dun ako naiyak. Diba ‘yun ang pinakita sa Maalala? Sya kasi ’yung imposibleng pwede pala. Back in the Middle East, medyo nilalait ako ng majority of designers. I don’t know kung anong reason nila, or hindi lang nila naiintindihan ‘yung aesthetic ko. Pero nung sinuot na ni Britney, medyo okay na ako sa [kanila]."
On Pia Wurtzbach. ‘Yan ‘yung last na photoshoot niya sa Miss Universe last January. Si Filbert, ‘yung photographer asked one outfit from me, one from Michael, [and] one from so many designers. Pero ito ‘yung famous kasi siya lang ‘yung nakaupo siya sa sahig. Maganda kasi wala kang pakialam kung Miss Universe. And she looks so sexy in that! It shows na kami mga designers, we can transform somebody in our own way.
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Photographs from billboard.com, britneyspears.com, Instagram.com/forthestarsfashionhouse, and Instagram.com/verygathercole / Banner Image by Jana Jimenez