Fashion storytelling with flair and passion

Fashion storytelling with flair and passion
Models in neo-ethnic attire by The Closet Couture in Norman Peñaflorida's first fashion event Woven at City Clock Tower. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

Norman Peñaflorida wants to be known as a fashion storyteller.

“I design and create to tell stories about our indigenous people, our folklore and mythology,” he said. He believes that blending regional fabric and weave with a contemporary touch will reach and draw “a wider audience to listen to our narratives.”

It was his theater experience that opened the door for Peñaflorida to venture into costumes and fashion. He owes a lot to the late Ojie Juliano who mentored him in the ways of costume design. 

He started as a workshopper for Gantimpala Theater Foundation and eventually joined it as a production staff member doing odd jobs. Later he essayed various roles in the company’s four classics—“Kanser,” “El Fili,” “Ibong Adarna” and “Florante at Laura.” 

In his first major show, “Woven,” at City Clock Tower, Peñaflorida  paid homage to his theater background with a flowing white robe on which were images of characters from the four plays and Tony Espejo who he also considers a mentor. It was a collaboration with artist Wiki Aniceto, a colleague and friend from his Gantimpala days. 

His theater journey was put on hold when he went on rehab to shake off alcoholism. He said he was led astray in his youth: “Bata pa ako noon, madaling maligaw. But lessons were learned, thanks to my supportive family.”

Historic Tondo

Norman Peñaflorida

He grew up middle-class in Tondo, Manila. His father, now deceased, was an engineer for Procter & Gamble, and established a home in what was then known as a poor community. It was only his family that had a three-story house then, Peñaflorida said.  And while he now lives in Quezon City with his partner, he still considers Tondo his home; it is where his mother still stays. 

On his Facebook page, he often guides his followers on the best food trip and historic places to visit in the district. He also invites other designers to visit Divisoria to buy fabric and other necessities for their atelier. 

It was only in the past few years that Peñaflorida developed an interest in indigenous fabric. “Hand weaving is like storytelling. Each strand is different from the others. No two weaves are exactly alike,” he said.  That reality would serve as his inspiration in his creations. 

Aside from showcasing the respective cultures of indigenous groups, Peñaflorida said sourcing materials from them helps them earn some income. “Tulungan natin ang mga kapatid nating katutubo,” he said, imploring help for them.

For sale or rent

Director Joel Lamangan dons a robe from The Closet Couture collection.

In his shop he calls The Closet, he displays his unique collection—among others, a barong-inspired inaul, a sports jacket with t’nalak accent, a blazer or cardigan made of inabel. While these are for sale, there are items available for rent. “A lot of people cannot afford to spend much for a piece or [a whole] wardrobe, but need to be presentable or simply be beautiful,” Peñaflorida said. 

Singer Bayang Barrios channels her Katutubong Diva vibe.

The delicate fabrics require dry cleaning, but the ordinary ones can be handwashed. Here he employs a neighborhood on España, Manila, to do the laundry. “Giving the people a source of livelihood is being part of the community. Then they also learn to protect me and my business,” he said.

And a business it is for Peñaflorida and The Closet. He is commissioned to dress up artists in various shows for the Metropolitan Theater Manila and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Among these shows are “Contra Mundum,” “Bayang Pinapangarap,” “Pasyong Pilipino,” “Tuloy ang Palabas” and “Panunuluyan.” 

But he wants to take it easy this year, he said. “I want to go back to the theater and pursue my singing.”  

But whatever road he takes, Peñaflorida said, he will always be a storyteller. “That is what we, as individuals and as a community, are made of: stories. That is my real passion.”

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