Accessories Designer Rafe Totengco Bring Us Something Different

Story by Kristine Ortiz

 

When asked what his 10- year-old self would tell him today, Rafe Totengco jokes, “Why didn’t you get started sooner?” Even as a young child, the Filipino American accessories designer — who has been designing for his coveted namesake brand Rafe New York for the last 16 years, and serves as the creative director of handbags at The Jones Group, which handles more than two dozen labels including Rachel Roy, B Brian Atwood, Stuart Weitzman, Givenchy Jewelry and Nine West —always knew that fashion was in the cards for him.

A self-described “creative,” Totengco remembers growing up in the Philippines and making alterations to his school uniforms and Sunday church clothes on a seemingly weekly basis. “Since the fifth grade, I was already designing. The tailor and I had a very good relationship,” he says with a laugh. It was his realization that simple aesthetic changes to something as basic as trousers could bring him “instant gratification,” that laid the foundation for his future in the fashion industry.

After starting his own fashion business in Manila, Totengco made his way to New York to pursue his love for design, a move that his family supported. It was his time in the Big Apple that allowed Totengco to explore and to hone in on how he wanted to make his mark on the industry.

“I felt that the only way for me to be independent and be my own designer was to start an accessories company,” he says. “I didn’t have to go through the drama of producing so many sizes per style and all of that. You can essentially do a capsule collection of 10 pieces and be in business. So it was a great way for me to still be in fashion and express a different side of my creativity.”

But it wasn’t until Totengco saw one of his pieces in a fashion magazine that he felt his place was affirmed in an often-brutal industry. “I was like, ‘OK, here we go! It’s gonna be a whirlwind, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be fun!’”

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And what a whirlwind it’s been. Since his start in 1997, in addition to his namesake label, he has designed a collaboration collection with retail giant Target, has been recognized by prestigious organizations like the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and Gen Art, and received the Pamana ng Pilipino Presidential Award from the Philippine government for bringing honor and recognition to his home country through his work.

The praise that he has garnered seems inevitable given his ability to draw inspiration from an “amalgam of different things.” For the fall season, he takes cues from graphic marbled floors in Venice (“[Everyone] was taking pictures of the frescoes, and I’m the only one taking pictures of the floor,” he laughs), a vintage photo of Eartha Kitt and Barbra Streisand featuring a leopard clutch, and the Art Deco aesthetic of The Great Gatsby. His pieces range from the structural Maryanne minaudiere, which he describes as one of his “iconic” designs, to practical zip clutches and totes, some of which are inspired by his time growing up in the Philippines.

Totengco is always prepared for visual inspiration, using both old-school and new-school technologies. He says that he always carries around his sketchbook, which he considers a type of “therapy” and a “second crutch” — it gives him a space to get all of his ideas out. But he also relies on his iPhone; an avid Instagram user, Totengco calls the popular phone application his “visual library,” a public space that enables people, both peers and customers, to get a glimpse into his world. Full of photos from his collections and various travels around the world, his feed lets people see where he draws his inspiration from. For Totengco, this allows him to nurture a close connection with his customers.

In a market flooded with big names and designer “It” bags, this intimate relationship is “something that’s really special” to Totengco, who’s more than pleased to have his small niche in the industry. “There’s a woman out there who wants something different [and] who wants to take the road less travelled,” he says. “There’s something authentic about what I do, [and] to me, that’s something I’m really proud of.”

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ON RAFE’S RADAR:

  • Go-to comfort food: Filipino food of course. Fortunately in New York I can run over to Jeepney, a restaurant in the East Village, to satisfy my craving.
  • On repeat on my iPod: “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
  • Pet peeve: Ill-fitting clothes — on anybody.
  • Talent I’d like to have: I would love to be able to play the piano.
  • What I love about being Asian: There’s an automatic kinship when you meet a fellow Asian, this unspoken understanding that you “get” each other.

 

This story was originally published in our Fall 2013 issue. Get your copy here.

Aaron Kwok, Ken Watanabe and More at the 18th Annual Busan International Film Festival

Glamorous stars, stunning (sometimes shocking) fashion, blinding lights and a seemingly mile-long red carpet.

The Oscars? Cannes? Nope, it’s Opening Night at the Busan International Film Festival. And this time, the stars garnering the screams from fans are some of the most beautiful people from all around Asia.

Since its inception in 1996, the Busan International Film Festival (formerly, Pusan) has grown into arguably the biggest, most important film festival in all of Asia. Located in the seaside city of Busan, about 200 miles south of South Korea’s capital of Seoul, the film festival (also known as BIFF) draws thousands of film execs, media and international stars from around the world.

 

Aaron Kwok in a Longines ad.

Aaron Kwok in a Longines ad.

This year, the 18th annual BIFF, sponsored by prestige cosmetics line Artistry, kicks off this Thursday, October 3, with a red carpet screening of Vara: A Blessing, the third feature film by director and Bhutan priest Khyentse Norbu. Taiwanese mega-star Aaron Kwok is set to moderate the opening ceremony, and throughout the 10-day festival, we can expect to see luminaries like Ken Watanabe, who’ll be starring in Japan’s version of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven; and Vietnamese American actor Dustin Nguyen, whose film Once Upon a Time in Vietnam, which he directed, with have its international premiere.

Other highly anticipated films screening at BIFF include Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer, starring Kang-ho Song, Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris; the controversial film Moebius by Ki-duk Kim; Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate about Julian Assange; and The Coen BrothersInside Llewyn Davis.

Kang-ho Song in Snowpiercer.

Kang-ho Song in Snowpiercer.

And of course, there will be tons of fashion (and films!) to evaluate. It’ll be a veritable eye candy fest. Stay tuned as Audrey goes to BIFF and gets a firsthand look at Opening Night!

The Busan Cinema Center, courtesy of Busan International Film Festival Korea, biff.kr.

The Busan Cinema Center, courtesy of Busan International Film Festival Korea, biff.kr.

 

Much More Than Cosplay: Minju Kim Offers a Manga-Inspired Collection for H&M

Though the Isabel Marant for H&M Lookbook has been making waves these past few days, we must admit that another collection has caught our attention.

This fall, South Korean designer Minju Kim will have the honor of having her sartorial creations in H&M stores, after winning H&M’s 2013 Design Award back in January.

The 27-year-old Kim, who studied design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium (whose alumni include Ann Demeulemeester and Martin Margiela), wowed a prestigious panel of judges with her “Dear my friend” collection, which was influenced by Japanese manga artist Junjie Ito.

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With eclectic shapes, a playful use of color and impressive use of texture, the designs speak to Kim’s distinct vision and fun personality. On the runway, the clothes may seem a bit extreme, but when translated for the masses, they become nothing short of stand-out amongst anything you’ll see in stores this fall.

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“Creating this collection with H&M has been an amazing experience,” says Kim. “My designs are about turning characters into outfits, and it’s exciting to think that these characters will soon be worn by people around the world.”

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The collection, made up of nine pieces and two accessories, is set for release on October 17 at select H&M stores in the U.S., UK, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany and online. It will also be available at Opening Ceremony in New York, Los Angeles and London, marking the first time that H&M clothing will be sold at Opening Ceremony.

Asians in Fashion | Miss A’s Suzy for Elle Korea September 2013

This 18-year-old Korean singer and actress gives us a taste of her modeling skills.

Bae Su Ji, more commonly known by her stagename Suzy, is most recognized for her role as Go Hye-mi in the popular drama series Dream High alongside Taecyeon, Eunjung, Wooyoung, IU and Kim Soo-Hyun.

Suzy is also known for her roles as Jang Ma Ri in Big, Yang Seo Yeon in  Architecture 101, and Dam Yeo Wool in Gu Family Book.

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In 2010, Suzy debuted with Korean girl group miss A. Adding on to her already impressive resume, Suzy has done her time as a tv host and is nicknamed “CF Queen” due to her success with endorsements.

Clearly, this is one talented young lady and quite a beauty as well. In this Elle Korea September 2013 photoshoot, Suzy shows a mastery of her poses and an amazing ability to make color pop. Check out the photos below:

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New York Fashion Week: Less Than 10% Asian Models

With New York Fashion Week behind us, Jezebel decided to conduct a study on the diversity of the models, or lack thereof, who walked down the runway at New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2014.

In previous years, people have commented on the lack of representation of models of color. In fact, the Fall/Winter 2013 collections were subject to heavy criticism due to an alarming number of companies — Araks, Assembly, Belstaff, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth & James, Gregory Parkinson, J Brand, Jenni Kayne, Juicy Couture, Louise Goldin, Lyn Devon, Threeasfour, and Whit — 13 in all, that featured only white models.

So naturally, we were eager to see what would happen this past Fashion Week. Companies had to try and remedy this diversity gap, right? And there were nearly 5,000 looks. That’s plenty of opportunity for models of color to take on the runway.

The results? Almost 80 percent of those 5,000 looks were modeled by white women, a number that has pretty much remained static since 2008.

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This is not to say that all designers completely ignored the criticism of previous years. Anna Sui, Pamella Roland, Jeremy Scott, Dennis Basso, Vivienne Tam, KaufmanFranco, Rachel Comey, Alice + Olivia, Ohne Titel, Tracy Reese, Thom Brown, Diane von Furstenberg and Zac Posen are on the list of designers who featured at least 30 percent models of color. While this number may still seem rather low, it is unfortunately the best we’ve got.

Many of the designers who were critiqued for having no models of color tried to remedy this by adding three to five non-white models. (We know. We’re rolling our eyes, too.)

Some designers tried to trick the crowd and give the illusion of a more diverse set of models. While this season seemed to be more diverse, the same models of color were being booked and were simply walking the runway multiple times.

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From left: Liu Wen at Jason Wu; Ji Hye Park at Nicole Miller; Tian Yi at Monique Lhuillier; Yumi Lambert at Y-3.

The Asian models above prove this. Tian Yi walked 15, Yumi Lambert was seen in at least 13 and Ji Hye Park and Liu Wen walked 12 shows. Rather than book a variety of models of color, companies relied on the same faces.

Somali supermodel Iman Abdulmajid was part of the crowd watching this season’s New York Fashion Week and noticed the lack of diversity on the runway.

“I’ve always said runways and photos are important to shape our young girls,” Abdulmajid said in an interview last week. “To see models of color on the runway is important to the self-esteem of our young girls. To see otherwise makes them feel like they can be in or out.”

We can only cross our fingers that those in power in the fashion industry also begin to understand the importance of diversity on the runways.

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Asians in Fashion | Jeon Ji Hyun for Vogue Korea, September 2013

South Korean actress, Jeon Ji Hyun, is best known for her role as “The Girl” in My Sassy Girl. Since the release of the romantic comedy in 2001, My Sassy Girl has maintained its rank as one of the highest grossing Korean comedies of all time.

While Jeon Ji Hyun is definitely worthy of her popularity as “The Girl”, she should clearly be known for her fashion sense as well. Posing for Vogue Korea,  Jeon Ji Hyun is captivating with her classy looks and just the right pop of color.

Check out more of her looks below:

 

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Asians in Fashion | Model Amber Chia Stays Glam with Asian Grandmothers in Esquire Malaysia

Every once in a while, I appreciate the quirky fashion editorials from the magazine world. This recent editorial featuring Amber Chia and three lovely older ladies brought out a chuckle in me because it brought a whole new meaning to the term – Girls’ Night Out. Snacking on some late night munchies? Mahjong? Amber Chia being the designated driver for the entire night? My kind of fun.

Check out the rest of the editorial below!

Amber Chia - Esquire Malaysia, August 2013 - 2

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Asians in Fashion | EXO-K for Ivy Club Autumn 2013

With the rise of EXO’s popularity, we can confidently say that  Ivy Club made quite a good decision to have the boys model and endorse their Autumn 2013 look.

Already strong in their “school-boy” concept, EXO looks even more adorable in this fashion line. September is near and “back to school” is here. In case you’re not excited for the new school year, check out EXO-K sporting Ivy League’s Autumn 2013 Schoolboy look. Trust us, its sure to brighten up your day.

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Check out more of their looks here.

Fall ’13 Fashion Extra | Chatting with Stylist Sima Kumar about Kristin Kreuk’s Cover Shoot

BUY THE FALL ’13 ISSUE WITH KRISTIN HERE!

Sima Kumar, on why it’s fun to dress Kristin: We’re both yoga junkies, and that’s part of what makes her fun to dress. She has an organic sense of her body, so she can carry off so many different looks and really be a chameleon.

When she was just about to turn 30, we talked about how interesting it’d be to change up the proportions of her style. She’s so fit and thin, so it’s easy to put her in tight clothes, especially since she comes out of the CW and is so pretty. But people have noticed that I’ve started draping her in looser things with different proportions in a way that’s more interesting and brave.

I always look at [fashion] as an opportunity for other people to see [Kristin] in a way that’s different than the way she’s marketed for her shows. You get so stereotyped when you’re on a series, [for example,] as the girl who’s always crying or heartbroken, so it’s just another opportunity for us to shake it up. It’s a playful way to express parts of her that the public doesn’t usually get to see. And she likes the intellectual process I go through styling, in order to try and create a story.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto3

Sima Kumar: I’ve styled so many musicians, so this look was inspired by rock ‘n roll. There’s the furry vest with long slip dress underneath, which has kind of an off-duty model/rock star girlfriend vibe. I think she pulled it off really well.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto4

Sima Kumar: This is more of a fun, bohemian look. I know she’d never wear this in real life, but I pulled it for the shoot because it photographs beautifully. We’re mixing prints, and this outfit shows her love of travel and other cultures.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto2

Sima Kumar: This look is inspired by Devo. [laughs] It’s almost like one of those ’80s videos.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto1

Sima Kumar: This look was more about the different textures: the jeans are metallic, the sweater is cashmere, and the blue necklace is handmade by an amazing designer, Elke Hechler. They’re made of Austrian hand-blown glass beads that are woven and knit together.. It’s a very basic outfit — a comfy sweater, jeans, and necklace — but it shows her bumpy side, her soft side, and her shiny side. The multiple layers of her personality.

 

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Sima Kumar: This was a hot outfit; she had ankle boots, leather shorts, a T-shirt, and a chain nail vest that’s designed by Alana K’akia. So this look is about how we’re always protecting ourselves. Our armor is very complex and intricate, but she’s exposing it. And the dog belongs to Dexter [Quinto, the photographer]!

 

For Sima’s blog post about what it takes to put together a shoot, check out New Culture Revolution.

 

 

 

Countdown to KCON 2013 | Fashion Post: What to wear for the big weekend!

KCON 2013 is just around the corner, and the question that has risen for most (if not all) attendees is this: “WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR?!”  With thousands of fellow hallyu fans and not to mention a notable handful of idols in attendance this year, the pressure is on to find that perfect outfit.  Stuck on what to wear this year?  No fear!  We’ve broken down KPOP fan fashion into three rough categories, based on what we’ve observed (and worn) from our own time in the hallyu scene.  Take a look at what may suit you!

 

The Style Mavens

Admittedly, you’re a K-Pop fan.  You have your favorite artists, biases/ideal types and OTPs (one true pair for those who may not be familiar), but the visual cues of your fandom memberships are subtle.  You choose to set off your fashion-forward outfits with K-Pop accessories, ranging from phone cases to rings to necklaces, phone cases or even those cute socks with your favorite idol’s face on them (hidden by your sneakers, of course).  Though you love your idols just as much as the next person, you’re fine with showing your love through small displays.

So something like this…

Worn with something like this…

(From L to R: G-Dragon “One of a Kind” necklace, EXO ring, Teen Top rings)

Shameless Stans

You’re equally as devoted to making a fashion statement as you are about showing off your KPOP loyalties.  Whether a shirt emblazoned with Dynamic Duo’s faces, a GD snapback a la “Bad Boy,” or a pair of Teen Top socks (with appropriate shoes), you’re not afraid to show others where your loyalties lie.  And as popular fashion-blogger Tricia Gosingtian shows, the “fangirl/fanboy” look can be much more than just wearing a t-shirt and jeans — but regardless of sartorial tendencies, you’re a clear KPOP fan.

Tricia’s take on KPOP fan fashion:

(Clearly, Trica’s a GD/Big Bang stan.)

Besides Tricia’s GD-inspired tops (which we’re absolutely in love with), here’s some other things that you can pick up for your outfit, picked especially for KCON:

(K)osplayers

You’re a fan who is wholly committed to the cause…of KPOP.  You’ve done your extensive research and everything from your hair, makeup and clothes is a carbon copy of your favorite idol.  Whether it’s donning the same Joyrich/Chrome Hearts/Stussy/HBA/(insert cool streetwear brand here) T-Shirts and jerseys, colorful clothes, or homemade costume ala your favorite music video, you are a perfect double take for your favorite oppa, unnie or dongsaeng.  With a deluge of KPOP online shops making it ridiculously easy to know what clothes your favorite idols are wearing, it’s easier than ever to become an idol, or at least, look like one.

Some great (k)osplays from online:

But hands down, one of our personal favorites — little Big Bang!

So now that you’ve seen the different styles, what will you be wearing at KCON this year?