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How Did Filipino Designer Michael Cinco Become UAE’s Main Fashion Player?

Dubai-based Filipino designer Michael Cinco has carved out a name for himself as a significant fashion player in the city. Counting classic Hollywood actresses amongst his earliest muses, he now dresses leading contemporary celebrities in his ethereal, fairytale-esque designs from the Michael Cinco Haute Couture House.

“One of my favorite songs of all time is The Impossible Dream. It was my anthem while growing up and working towards achieving my dreams,” Cinco says. However, he preferred to substitute ‘impossible’ with ‘impalpable’, a word that he encountered in a fashion magazine and whose energy he instantly connected with. Cinco has subsequently won multiple awards, participated in numerous Fashion Weeks, appeared in America’s Top Model, and also launched a fragrance. His journey from a rainbow- struck boy in the Phillipines to a leading global fashion designer is a remarkable one.

Khaleejesque sat down with Cinco for a behind-the-scenes tell-all interview.

Priyanka Sacheti: Was fashion always your career choice?

Michael Cinco: Yes, you could say that I always had the mindset of a fashion designer even as a child while growing up in Samar in the southern part of the Philippines. I frolicked along the seashores, gazing at rainbows and reveling in their magnificence. I only had a black and white TV at home where I watched Audrey Hepburn and other glamorous actresses in classic Hollywood films. The vivid colors of the rainbow inspired me to drench these monochrome films in color and create amazing designs in my child’s imagination. These were the influences which greatly shaped my formative years.

PS: You took a daring step by leaving the Phillipines in 1997. What made you choose Dubai?

MC: Dubai is a haven for haute couture and it was a big leap for me to move here. I came to Dubai with the resolve to make dreamy, beautiful dresses and I initially worked as an in-house designer at one of Dubai’s biggest fashion houses, reinvigorating its image. What I especially admire about Dubai is that its rulers have cultivated such a grand vision for the city: they constantly aim for the superlative, whether it’s the greatest, biggest, or the tallest. It motivates me to do better and excel at what I am doing. Dubai, for its par t, has been so welcoming. It has embraced me with open arms, giving me so much space to dream bigger and bigger. I would also like to mention that women here in Dubai appreciate haute couture fashion as an art; they would like to own and treasure a unique, customized couture dress as they would a beautiful piece of art.

PS: Having gained that initial success, what then led you to study at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, London in 2002?

MC: Achieving a dream is a dynamic process. I wanted to hone myself further. I felt I owed it to myself to better my craft. Central St. Martins was the place where I chose to do so and I studied fashion and pattern-making there. London is always the place to be and it has now become my favorite city in the world. I love how it represents the intermingling of diverse cultures and yet retains its uniqueness.

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PS: After graduating you returned to Dubai and launched your own label in 2003.As a young designer and an expat, was it difficult to establish yourself?

MC: I established my atelier, Michael Cinco Couture as a fulfillment of a long cherished dream. Yes, it was initially difficult to compete with the local designers. However, I ultimately considered such challenges negligible for they taught me valuable lessons. I completely immersed myself in my work and did not focus too much on the fact that I am an expatriate designer. You have to make the clients trust your talent and they do not care where you come from at the end of the day. I trained my attention towards excelling in my craft because it’s the clients’ happiness which matters the most, after all.

PS: How important are your Filipino roots to you?

MC: I am a Filipino fashion designer with global fashion aesthetics. However, I am very proud of my Filipino roots, which have taught me resilience and also, how to dream big.

PS: Who is your kind of woman? And how does she play a part in the creative process of designing?

MC: The essential Michael Cinco woman won’t stop at anything to get what she wants. She is a woman of the world and won’t settle for anything less. As for the process of designing, well, I travel a lot and derive inspiration from the diverse cultures, traditions, and customs I encounter during my wanderings. I love opera music and arts. I also get inspiration from museums, architecture, and cinema. I gather all the beautiful details that I have observed in my mind and it all converges upon me when I start designing a collection or a specific couture dress. However, I would also like to emphasize that while it’s great to tell a story in every design, it is also most important to ensure that you realize the aspirations of the woman you are designing for.

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PS: You’ve appeared twice as guest judge and designer on America’s Top Model, including showcasing an eco-couture collection in the show. How did you become associated with the show and how did that collection evolve?

MC: Tyra Banks is an industry. She knows what is good for her business. When a Filipino producer of her ANTM’s show, Michael Carandang, recommended me, she immediately asked to personally meet with me. It was a very pleasant experience working with her. As for the collection, Banks asked me to design one using recycled materials. My idea was to create couture dresses that are made from recycled materials like safety pins, parachutes, broken mirrors, garbage bags, and plastics.

PS: You also won the Breakthrough Designer in the WGSN Global Fashion Award in which you competed with several other international designers. Please tell us how it was like to compete on an international arena.

MC: I consider it as one of my greatest achievements. I am truly proud that this once shy and gangly boy from Samar of the Philippines came up on stage in the world’s fashion capital, New York, to receive that award. What was an additional source of joy was that I had competed with and won ahead of other leading international designers, all of whose passion and love for work I respect and admire.

PS: Couture to scents: what motivated you to launch your perfume, Impalpable Dream?

MC: Creating a fragrance has always been a dream for my brand. When I got the chance to collaborate with one of the biggest brands in Asia, BENCH, I immediately suggested the idea of creating a perfume. It was launched in 2012 and has been very successful.

PS: What is next for Michael Cinco?

MC: It has been a journey of a lifetime, and yet, I have just begun…I especially aspire to make my brand a global one.

For more information on Michael Cino, visit www.michaelcinco.com

– Priyanka Sacheti




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