NEW YORK — Swear to gad. One of the models walked with a limp. A slight one though. Sure, she had a model’s pencil-thin frame, ashen face and pulled-back hair, but this one didn’t glide on the catwalk. She twitched on one foot, and the audience followed that foot from one end of the runway to the other.
There we were, Elton Lugay (Philippine News branch manager for the East Coast) and I, finding ourselves drenched and thrust into a New York moment called Fashion Week – on a rainy Sept. 11 morning.
It’s that time of the year when designers converge on a makeshift tent on Bryant Park on Fifth Ave., to unveil their latest collections, and with celebrity clients rooting for them. The designers are a mixed bag of style icons (Diane von Furstenberg, Carolina Herrera, Bill Blass) and up-and-coming trendsetting talents, sometimes straight out of fashion schools.
Cebu-born Monique Lhuillier, whose gowns have draped Hollywood’s hottest stars (Angelina Jolie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Debra Messing, Britney Spears, and Lea Salonga, to name a few), is somewhere in between. She has been around six years as a Hollywood stylist, but her designs remain fresh and continue to excite fashion editors, merchandisers and the celebrities who proudly proclaim Monique’s name on the red carpet. He biggest coup was designing Britney Spears’ 2004 wedding gown.
In Fashion Week, she showcased her Spring collection of ready-to-wear formals and cocktail dresses, a collection characterized by ruffles, bows, pleats in soft fabric and candy colors of vanilla, mint, pistachio and butterscotch.
“This season is about embracing your femininity,” she said, adding further how her clothes accentuate women’s curves, while giving the illusion of length. To further dramatize the feminine aspect, there is a lot of draping and embroidery on her designs.
“I saw the color palette flash before my eyes while enjoying a box of my favorite Laduree macaroons,” she explained her choice of delectable colors.
In the audience was Grammy awardee country singer LeAnn Rimes escorted by her husband.
The photographers took their time snapping photos of the couple who gamely obliged. When the lights began to flash and the loud music came on, 20 naif-looking models burst on the ramp parading Monique’s clothes in comfort and confidence.
Real people would find many of Monique’s cocktail dresses reasonably wearable. There is a lot of layering using soft material such as tulle, organza, silk chiffon, etc. and the skirt billows at the hem. It’s not the kind of style that one would wear and feel confined while in it. The style is sexy as it is playful.
Monique comes from a Cebuano family known for their industriousness and style. Her family owns a successful pawnshop chain in the Philippines, her mother a prominent society A-lister.
She went to a boarding school in Switzerland as a teenager and also studied fashion design there. Los Angeles became her home after college and ultimately her launching pad. She began designing eveningwear while working in a Paris couture shop in LA. While planning her wedding to investment banker Tom Bugbee, she found herself creating bridal designs. Her debut collection of bridalwear was well received by editors and merchandisers.
Although the USA Today faults her Fashion Week collection as “very tame,” many in the audience seemed to like Monique’s confectionery creations judging from the energetic applause to her ‘bow.’ Ditto for the model whose slightly unsteady steps became something of an icebreaker for those who can’t tell a taffeta from a tulle.