In a show of Pinoy pride, the Philippines is making its mark in the world of fashion. Here’s how Filipino designer Francis Libiran did it.
Independence Day is a good day to commemorate what makes us Filipinos memorable to the world. After all, the Philippines—with its rich culture and history—is also known for its world-class talents in music to films, sports…and of course, fashion.
Being able to represent the Philippines in different parts of the world truly warms my heart. From fashion weeks to red carpets, and proud moments when we get to represent the country in pageants and games, I feel rewarded when I see my creations showcased for the world to see.
Here are a few events when I have proudly represented the Philippines, along with my fellow countrymen:
Fashion Events and Galas
There have been numerous fashion galas that have already featured my collections, but let’s name a few. One of the most notable is Harbin Fashion week—held in Harbin, China. We get invited to this every year to represent the Philippines and showcase our designs. And we’ve been doing this already for four years now.
We’ve also graced Portland’s FashioNXT last 2014, although it only happened once. Our designs were also featured at the Sakura Fashion Festival in Tokyo, Japan; the Vietnam International Fashion Week; Canada-Philippine fashion week in Toronto, Canada; and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur (MBFWKL). And in these fashion galas, we showcased our dreamy, ethereal couture gowns and ensembles.
On those international platforms, we promoted the Philippines by showing the world what we can bring to the table. And since I’ve always incorporated a Philippine flag in my outfits, these global audiences will know that they proudly came from a Filipino fashion designer. After all, the intention is that these designs did not just come from a person, but from a proud Filipino from the Philippines.
America’s Next Top Model
One of the most memorable things that I did in the international scene includes dressing up models in America’s Next Top Model (ANTM) Cycles 18 and 22. The Hello Kitty couture collection was featured in ANTM’s Cycle 18, while my collection—Creatures of the Night—appeared in ANTM Cycle 22.
In fact, these were remarkable concepts that piqued the interests of viewers. I’ve even dressed Tyra Banks herself during red carpet scenes, which led to her being the best-dressed of the night in some moments.
Whenever I design pieces for international artists, I always make it a point to showcase how talented we Filipinos are. We are, after all, bursting with so much talent and promise. And I want something that makes them go, “Wow, the Philippines really is talented in showcasing their creativity.”
I get really excited whenever I see the dresses or suits that I designed, especially when they’re being showed off for the world to see. It was an honor to have dressed Gwen Stefani, who wore my short, layered dress with a black ribbon during her concert in the United States. At the same time, I gushed when I saw Nikki Reed in my creation during an Oscars event. I’ve also had the chance to dress up Mel B, Priyanka Chopra, Angela Bassett, and Serayah McNeill—big names in the international scene!
I’ve already designed two outfits for Billy Porter for the Netflix series Pose. He chose a black and white matador dress—showcasing my signature art deco design—with a flowing black layered skirt. The collaboration happened after Billy himself contacted me and said he would be more than happy to wear my designs. Feeling ecstatic and honored, I dressed him.
He then posted about it, saying that the creativity behind it came from me—someone from the Philippines. And hearing that truly is heart-warming.
I’ve mentioned Tyra Banks earlier because she wears some of my pieces in red carpet scenes. In turn, she usually mentions me in her red-carpet moments. According to ABS-CBN news, she was hailed best dressed at the 4th Annual Blossom Ball, where she wore a black and gray gown. It was adorned with lines to highlight her curviness, which made her look sultrier.
Back then, her assistant informed me that it was her choice to wear my creation. My eyes glistened with delight. In her short speech, when she acknowledged my creation, she even mentioned the Philippines. Truly an honor!
Darren Criss is one of the people whom I usually dress as well. He contacted me because he wants a barong for his wedding. It’s another heartwarming moment for me! This Fil-Am actor wanted me to design a Barong Tagalog, both to showcase my design and the Philippine culture, on his special day.
I then made him two barongs. One served as a backup outfit. Aside from that, we also dress him up for the red carpet from time to time. I’m glad to have found a friend in him.
I’ve also dressed Aladdin’s Mena Massoud in red carpet events, particularly during his movie premiere in Toronto, Canada. I made him a custom wool brocade ensemble for that event. And aside from that, I’ve also created a Francis Libiran bomber jacket for him when he went on the Ellen DeGeneres show.
Pinay Beauty Queens
It’s really easy to design a dress. Everyone can do it. The uniqueness and authenticity, though, depends on your mindset on what to put. How would you show pride for your country? How would you represent the Philippines?
Whenever I’m doing dresses for beauty queens, I always ask them this question: How do you visualize yourself when you’re wearing my creation in an international setting? I like the sense of pride they have when they’re wearing my gowns and I want to hear their ideas.
Next are the details: How would you walk on stage? How would you want to project yourself? These are all things we put into consideration when creating something for them—to have more than just style, but meaning as well in the dress.
For me, showing off a Filipino-designed gown on a global scale is a way of telling the world about the beauty of our country, and the creativity and talent that’s uniquely found in the Philippines. Plus, I can’t explain the pride and joy that I feel whenever my pieces are being worn by beautiful and impactful women. Not only do they represent our homeland, but they also represent the creativity that this country is capable of.
Kylie Versoza was one of the women who graced the international stage in my creation. I created a terno for her national costume—one that looked traditional, but at the same time unconventional. The design inspiration behind it was the patterns of old church windows.
Megan Young’s outfit was one of the most challenging pieces because we had very limited time to produce it for the Miss World pageant. She wanted to show off her curves, but since the event is being held in Indonesia, it wasn’t recommended for her to wear anything too sexy or revealing.
Thus, I had to conceptualize something that was conservative, yet stimulating, so she could carry the dress in an impactful way. In the end, we used a blush pink dress—honoring the corals of the Philippines as our inspiration.
Miss Universe 2015, Pia Wurtzbach, also wore a custom Francis Libiran red gown adorned with embroidered art deco style and elaborate beadwork. She wore that in the Miss Universe 2016 red carpet gala, along with a blue abaca gown in that same event, and even posted it on her social media page!
Miss Universe 2018, Catriona Gray, also graced the world stage with one of my creations. During her time in Miss World—held in Maryland, USA—she adorned an intricately beaded designed lavender gown. For her national costume, she wore a blue avant-garde ensemble with my trademark art deco design.
The Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) happened in 2019, where we were the host country. Thus, the Philippine Sports Commission asked if I could submit designs—particularly of Barong Tagalogs. But whenever we see a barong from afar, it’s going to look plain. And since the parade of nations is what people will see first, we needed to dress the athletes in a way that their outfits don’t look too plain compared to everybody else.
With that in mind, I want something visually nice so that people from different countries will see how the Philippines is represented—thriving and vibrant. I then made use of the colors of the flag—blue and red—and placed them on the collar. That way, our barong will represent the Philippines through our colors. However, the design is only seen at the front and the back would look plain.
In the spirit of Pinoy Pride, I extracted the sun from our national flag and placed it on one shoulder. The idea is that it’ll extend to the cuff and the sleeves, all the way to the back. This one-sided detail can be seen from afar. And it’s a more definitive way to express our Pinoy pride—that we are not just great with sports, but also innovative and creative.
Eventually, I submitted 10 designs to the sports commission and they opted for a simple one, which they used in the event itself.
A lot of athletes have been dressed by me for that sole event. About 5,000 of them were wearing a Francis Libiran barong. It was truly a proud moment for me because I saw how the Filipinos there were so gratified that they’re rooted in our home country. There was negative press during that time, but the aura changed entirely when the athletes emerged wearing the barongs.
It felt like my heart could burst at any moment.
Pinoy Pride Through Fashion
“Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen.”– Apolinario Mabini
These surreal moments show that we Filipinos really do the best we can to make an impact to the world. We are more than just a country and we want the world to know that. The Philippines, after all, is overflowing with beauty, impression, and talent. Thus, every day, we should be expressing love for our nation—no matter how challenging the times are. That way, we’ll always remember to take care of the land that has opened its home for us to live into.
This year’s Independence Day, let’s strive to have freedom—the freedom to express, the freedom to create, and the freedom to make a difference for the world to see.
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