Where Dreams are Made Of: Meet Tony Rivera of DDC New York Minotti
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Where Dreams are Made Of: Meet Tony Rivera of DDC New York Minotti

Where Dreams are Made Of: Meet Tony Rivera of DDC New York Minotti

Fashion | May 23, 2022
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While most seek greener pastures and never look back, Tony Rivera finds himself revisiting Manila, hoping that his Filipino roots regrow.

It’s always a pleasure whenever I get to meet Filipinos who have made a successful life abroad. Their journey as to how they’ve become what they are now should be taken as a footprint for those who want the same for their own lives.

Meet Tony Rivera—a 54-year-old Sales and Interior Designer for DDC New York Minotti. Born and raised in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, his entire family moved to the Bay Area of San Francisco in 1983, when his father became a press attaché for the Philippine government. For 39 years, he has lived in the US—shuffling between San Francisco and New York City. And it was in January of 2000 when he decided that he belonged on the East Coast.

Here’s a short conversation I had with him about his life in general.

What is living in New York like for you? Is there any other city you would like to live in? Where and why?

[While] growing up in the Philippines, I have always had this notion [that] I will end up in New York City when I become an adult. [True enough], I spent my 20s in San Francisco. I [then] relocated to New York City at the turn of the new millennium⁠—January 2000⁠—spurned by the end of a personal relationship. It gave me the push I needed to pursue my dream of studying fashion.

One city that continues to draw me [in] is Manila. I would love to live in both cities in the very near future, [as] I see both NYC and Manila as centers of style, art, and chic people. I do enjoy entertaining Filipino friends when they visit NYC.

Having spent the last 23 years in NYC, I’ve always considered it my home base. In NYC, I am involved as a donor and as a volunteer when time permits in the following charities and causes, which are dear and close to my heart: The Trevor Project, Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, and [the] Human Rights Campaign, to name a few.

After many years in the US, I visited Manila for the first time in 2000, which began my love affair with this city. Thanks to the advent of social media, I have been in tune with what was happening in the city in terms of art, style, culture, and people. Manila is dynamic and has a ton of quirks, much like NYC. And I have been returning 2 to 3 times a year⁠—in hopes [that] my Filipino roots regrow once more.

Can you tell us about your career in NYC?

In 2000, [when] I started studying at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I [also] started my fashion career as a receptionist for Joseph Abboud⁠—a men’s fashion line. Realizing at that time that women’s fashion is more aligned with what I wanted to do⁠—and not men’s⁠—I decided to seek [an] internship with an important fashion house on Seventh Avenue.

I volunteered at New York Fashion Week as [a] production gopher, and that’s where I got to see the biggest names in American fashion. One show that stood out was Chado Ralph Rucci. After having an out-of-body experience watching each creation come down the runway, I was convinced I needed to work for Ralph Rucci.

I called the atelier and basically asked if they were hiring any fashion students or needed interns. The answer was yes, and I started as [a] workroom assistant. The position led to more responsibilities, as the couture house was growing exponentially. The house was invited to show at the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture show. [After all], Ralph Rucci [was the] first American to show couture since Mainbocher.

Working behind the scenes [for] Chado Ralph Rucci⁠—producing couture and ready to wear⁠—ignited my dream to start my own fashion house. However, that dream had to be put on hold indefinitely due to the recession of 2007 to 2009. I didn’t have the capital nor any investors or family members to start a young fashion house.

Given the past recession and the current pandemic, what did you do to overcome the challenges that came with them?

Continuing my studies in design, I decided to switch gears since the fashion industry was experiencing a downturn. I enrolled at the New York School of Interior Design⁠—to focus on interior architecture.

While on a summer break one school year, a longtime friend called and said they were looking for a sales assistant at J. Robert Scott New York, a Los Angeles-based furniture manufacturer [who was] helmed by Sally Sirkin Lewis⁠—a constant Architectural Digest 100 member. Having risen through the ranks at J Robert Scott in a short amount of time, I started to hear from several headhunters.

The one company that was compelling was DDC New York Minotti, where I am currently one of the top senior sales and interior designers. Pre-pandemic⁠—on a regular basis⁠—I would visit factories in Milan to burnish relationships with brands I represent, as well as attend the annual Salone del Mobile furniture fair.

During the pandemic, furniture manufacturers had to be creative in showing new designs, and Zoom was a major communicating tool⁠—albeit digitally and virtually⁠—since business travel between Europe and US was not possible during the height of the pandemic. Post-pandemic will see me return to Europe for business regularly again.

How did the pandemic affect your livelihood? 

The end of February [to the] beginning of March 2020 marked the start of the pandemic in New York City. From a business standpoint, we [thought that we] would have a severe downturn in business.

The exact opposite happened. We saw [our] business boom due to clients and customers not being able to travel. [They] looked at their own homes and decided to start or continue home design projects. Many of my clients said that they wanted their homes to be Zoom-worthy⁠—due to the advent of work from home or WFH. 

In 2020, [we] doubled the sales numbers of 2019. 2021 doubled 2020. 2022 is on track to best both 2020 and 2022. The brands I represent are considered luxury home furnishings, primarily from Italy and Europe.

How did the pandemic affect your mental health? What’s your advice for people who are still undergoing difficulties due to the pandemic? 

The one most important thing that has sustained me during the first year of the pandemic is human contact. My tight circle of friends and family used Zoom, FaceTime, and FB [Facebook] Messenger to check up on each other on a regular basis. To remind me are all in the same situation.

Continuing routines done before COVID [also] gave me a sense of normalcy and calm. This includes work and workout routines.

Describe your sense of style? What are your go-to brands? 

I define my personal style as mastering the mix of high and low. I regularly wear Uniqlo, COS, Gap, Sandro, and Zara. On occasions where getting dressed up is considered good manners, my favorite brands are Prada and Saint Laurent. 

Where I don’t skimp on are shoes⁠—and I wear mainly Common Projects, Maison Margiela, and Saint Laurent. Watches are always Cartier, vintage Rolex, and Apple Watch.

Do you wear Filipino brands? What are they, if yes? 

In my younger day, [the] Filipino brands I wore were Collezione C2, Bench, and Penshoppe. [Now], I am always on the lookout for upcoming Filipino fashion brands that cater to my age group, which I feel is a void that needs to be filled at the moment.

How do you see yourself 5 to 10 years from now?

Between 5 to 10 years from now, I look forward to be splitting my time equally between NYC and Manila⁠, thanks to the recent addition of non-stop flights from PAL. I see myself incubating a men’s fashion sportswear start-up that would cater to my contemporaries⁠—along the lines of Tom Ford and Prada, yet with youthful Filipino sensibility. Sort of a return to fashion.

What are your favorite places to visit here in the Philippines?

Boracay, Palawan, Cebu, and the hustle and bustle of Manila.

What is on your bucket list that has yet to be fulfilled?

As the world slowly opens, my bucket list has grown to include traveling to Siargao, Bali, and Sumba Islands in Indonesia, Machu Pichu, Tokyo, Japan, Great Wall of China, and [the] Pyramids of Egypt.

Photos by Arsen Vasquez

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