Inside the Manila Room at the Makati Shangri-La—the holding area for the press and for the celebrities about to walk down the red carpet at the last Star Magic Ball, Mark Bumgarner’s name came out as a resounding utterance from the stars’ lips. It became so with the media asking every celeb the classic, “Who are you wearing?” Heart Evangelista in an elegant column, Sarah Lahbati in a puffy caped jumpsuit, Julia Barretto in a beaded slipdress, Janella Salvador in a sequin-woven sheath, Jodi Sta. Maria in a sexy halter top dress, even Maymay Entrata in a pristine white ball gown—all mentioning the foreign-sounding name Mark Bumgarner. A new normal has indeed dawned upon those only familiar of veteran designers dressing up the biggest local stars at the annual Met Gala-esque event.
“The number of ladies wearing me was purely coincidental,” Mark, 26, recalls more than a week after the ball.
We figured his busy-ness to oblige for an interview was acceptable.
“Some stylists came to me as their first choice for their celebrity clients about two months ago, and a few ladies actually decided last minute to attend the ball because of their conflicting schedules. The last two weeks leading to the ball was a total chaos in the studio! Chaos, but I loved it. It felt like I was creating a capsule collection,” he explains.
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We actually met Mark at the ball. He was stubbly, cleaned up dapper in a suit and schmoozing for one moment and then attending to one of her artist clients’ wardrobe adjustments in the next. We had gone a little tipsy from the free-flowing red that night, but not enough to blur visions of a dedicated designer in action.
Fashion excites Mark, the way racing did him in his previous career. Yes, before sketching and tailoring for star silhouettes, the Brent- and Central Saint Martins-educated young man was a formula driver. He, in fact, is the sister of fellow racer Michele Bumgarner.
Mark trained all over Europe (especially in Italy) and then in Indiana in the U.S. He competed in both kart and Formula racing since six years old, with achievements that were “too many to name, but all throughout my racing (career), I accumulated 397 trophies.”
The Filipino-American returned to the country in 2011. He stopped it with the sport, realizing the financial woes surrounding it. Yet, while traveling the world, Mark has always been curious of fashion. He slaked this curiosity by finally shifting his career toward that direction.
“It was during my vacation in Manila that I started joining a few friends backstage for fashion shows. I started as a junior stylist. And then I slowly shifted to making my dresses,” he narrates.
Mark’s name echoed more in the wedding scene once Maggie Wilson-Consunji and Heart wore his designs. Heart, who has since evolved from teenybopper to semi-political figure, especially donned two of his creations at her wedding in 2015. She saw such potential in Mark she even collaborated with him in a previous collection, where she lent her painting skills with his dresses as the canvas. (Celeb stylist Kat Cruz-Villanueva did the introductions between the two.)
Yet, Mark only grew more workaholic.
“On a normal day, when I get to the studio, I check the production area first, making sure everything is on time. Then I go to the studio and meet clients, maybe do fittings. In my downtime, I sketch for a collection. Of course, this is on a ‘normal day.’ It’s totally different when we are preparing for an event.”
Mark has since seen the fruits of his labor. Among these was working on two trunk shows with Moda Operandi, making him the first Filipino apparel designer to be featured on the shopping site. He has extended his clientele to international personalities from just local celebs. Just last September, he created ripples after Victoria Swarovski—singer, Germany’s Got Talent judge, and the heiress to the luxury crystal brand Swarovski—wore Mark Bumgarner in a visit in Italy. She wore another creation at the 100th anniversary event of production studio UFA in Germany.
“I have clients who are princesses abroad,” Mark adds. “Most of my celebrity clients have become my friends as well. And the more I get to know them, the better I understand what works for them in terms of design and style.“
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Mark’s creative sense is quite “old glamour.” He cites Charles James, Christian Dior, and Balenciaga as his inspirations in the craft. It’s making women feel beautiful and confident in his dresses that drives him in his work, he says.
Now, Mark maintains a strong social media following to aid him in his business. He has 200k+ followers on Instagram, and keeps more than 23k likers on his Facebook page. And this is just as of press time.
“My biggest feat is crossing over from sports to fashion. It was not easy convincing people that I can do fashion as well,” Mark looks back at his journey. He isn’t anywhere near the wheel now “although I still dream of going back to the tracks someday.”
Mark finds a point of comparison between racing and designing. “The only thing that I can think of is the excitement. The giddy feeling backstage right before a show is almost the same excitement I get before racing!”
If anything, Mark’s dedication is contagious. Such energy is indicative of the bigger things ahead of him, possibly even beyond designing for the Star Magic Ball and blue-blooded personalities.
“Star Magic Ball is always exciting for me. It’s a challenge to be able to please the celebrity, the stylists, the fans, and the editors at the same time!”
Speaking of the ball, of all the stars whose dresses he churned out there, which one did he favor best?
“I have to say Maymay's white ball gown. I was excited for Maymay because it was her first time at the Star Magic Ball. She was so nervous and excited at the same time! And I couldn't help but feel the same way for her, too.”
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Photographs by Vyn Radovan and Shiela Catilo for Metro Society, and the rest taken from Bumgarner's Facebook and Instagram accounts