Sunday, January 31, 2010

Robin Tomas On The Radar

You know how some journalists say that "news finds you"? This is exactly happened when Berry, my sister Trina and I walked past The TimesCenter in the Garment District some days back.

There was a Supima Fabric Show going on and I have to be honest, it was the fabrics that got to me first. I love fabric stores as much as I love Barneys and seeing displays of cotton in all weaves and colors just reeled me in. We went inside and asked if I could check out the fabrics. A very helpful PR intern at the door pointed out that there was a design competition going on and I realized I could write about that.

Since I was in a hurry to get back home with Berry still sleeping inside her sling, we just exchanged details. Soon after, I got in touch with the PR firm and received the press release announcing the winners of the design competition. As fate would have it, Filipino designer Robin Tomas won "Best T-shirt Design", which meant his winning shirt design would be produced and sold at Bloomingdale's. That's a pretty big deal for designers who want their name and work put out there for the market to see!

Here's my interview with Robin Tomas right after his win, published in the Philippine Star last Sunday.

Robin Tomás Gets His Shirt On


By Christine Dychiao
(The Philippine Star) January 31, 2010

NEW YORK — Six emerging labels and the seven talented young designers behind them were given a chance to send their capsule collections down the runway to an audience of buyers, editors, retailers, and fashion influencers, at the Supima Design Competition last Jan. 19.

The design contest, sponsored by Supima (which stands for Superior Pima cotton and the association representing American pima cotton growers) was held at The Times Center in Manhattan’s Garment District.

This annual event is meant to showcase the next generation of fashion talent and the possibilities of Supima, “the cashmere of cottons.”

All finalists were provided with models, hairstylists and makeup artists, and generously supplied with Supima fabrics, which come from the same mills that supply licensees like Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, and Lilly Pulitzer.

All six finalists presented three pieces of women’s evening wear and a T-shirt design to a panel of judges — industry heavyweights composed of Teri Agins of The Wall Street Journal, Simon Collins of Parsons School of Design, Chris Frye of Bloomingdale’s, Horacio Silva of The New York Times and Buxton Midyette of Supima.

NYU art graduate and designer Gina de Silva won “Best in Show” while our very own Robin Tomás, a product of Parsons, Gap, Tommy Hilfiger and J.Crew — and son of comedienne Tessie Tomas — bagged the “Best in T-shirt” award.

His design, an innovative triple-layered piece, will be produced and sold at Bloomingdale’s.

The winning T-shirt design of tonal layers of tissue-weight supima cotton jersey

Still reeling from his win and the realization of what he has accomplished, On The Radar spoke to Robin about his jump from advertising to fashion, the design competition, his future plans, and what a T-shirt made of lightweight Supima has put on his shoulders.

PHILIPPINE STAR: You graduated with a degree in graphic design from UP Diliman and worked in advertising. Was it an easy transition into fashion?

ROBIN TOMAS: I didn’t immediately know I would be in the fashion industry. But it was definitely an easy transition for me as both industries rely heavily on one’s creative idea balanced with knowing one’s market/audience/client.

What was the turning point or catalyst that made you decide to shift from advertising to fashion?

A big chunk of the decision was my torrid love affair with New York City, and the thought that fashion was a passion I could nurture in New York. Fashion gave me the avenue to be creative and the freedom to individuate as an artist.

What made you decide to go to Parsons?

I decided to go to Parsons in 2000, after having worked in the advertising industry in Manila for two years after college. I fell in love with Parsons and was thrilled with the alumni (Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Anna Sui, the Proenza Schouler tandem, etc.)

Are there designers who inspire you?

I look up to Ann Demeulemeester of Antwerp, Tom Ford, YSL, Valentino.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I look to nature, happy accidents, a rare coral, an exotic flower’s pistil, how the sun hits Riverside Drive from bay windows at dusk, etc. And most of the time, fabrics speak volumes in terms of designs.

You showed during Manila Fashion Week and recently started a couture line in Manila. Where are you selling there and how is it doing?

We are in the stages of looking to consigning pieces, and beginning to work for special couture projects for clients in Manila.

You are still based in New York. Are you still working here apart from doing your own line back home?

Yes, I still work on projects for fashion companies and clients here in New York and at the same time selling my collection to the New York market.

How has designing for Gap, Tommy Hilfiger & J. Crew prepared you for this competition?

It taught me about my market, to focus on the “rules” of the game, to leverage on the aesthetic integrity combined with the marketability of the product/design. What I mean by “rules” of the game is, however creative, right-brained, artsy fashion is, we have to think of the bottom line, the business, the fact that clothing is a product that has to be sold and has to be bought.

What made you decide to join the Supima Design Competition? How long did you prepare for it?

I wanted to join the competition to see how I would fare in the New York playing field, to gain exposure and great experience no matter what the outcome of the competition may be. I began preparations shortly before open calls were held at Bloomingdale’s last October 2009.

You mentioned this was actually your first time to design a T-shirt, that it was a challenge and that you’ll “never look at a T-shirt again the same way.”

Let’s face it, most of the time a T-shirt is something we just put on and that’s it. But it was my first time to sew a very flimsy, stretchy type of fabric. Supima cotton tee fabric is really soft and amazing, but it can be a challenge under the needle. And so it made me appreciate and respect the T-shirt.

All the six finalists showed eveningwear along with a T-shirt design? What was the inspiration behind your collection, especially your winning triple-layered shirt design?

Double layer denim gown on the bias with beaded hem applique

Twill Weave Ballgown with Gazaar inserts back detail

The basic idea for my collection (evening gowns and T-shirt) was the juxtaposition of the quality of the cotton fiber, the polished next to the raw edges. So my gowns were frayed in parts, either on the backside, on an applique, and for the T-shirt, the top layer was hemmed clean, while the remaining two under layers were raw edged.

What was going through your mind when your collection was going down the runway?

I was excited, nervous and couldn’t quite believe that New York was seeing my pieces for the first time.

How did you feel when they announced that you won Best in T-shirt, and how does it feel to have your design sold at Bloomingdale’s?

To tell you honestly, I am still shell-shocked by the fact. But when they announced it, of course I was in awe and quite speechless when I had to go out onstage. I can’t wait to see my design in the stores.

Is there a possibility for your winning shirt design to be made available in Manila?

Very much so, I am looking to grow it into a capsule collection for the Manila market.

What did your parents say about you winning? Especially your mom, whom you’ve always said is your staunchest supporter.

My parents are very happy. My mom flew in to watch the show, which was very special for me. Win or lose, she was very proud.

Are you setting your sights towards launching your label internationally as well?

Definitely. This experience has been a great catalyst to the next steps, which are to create the next collection, to form various partnerships, and get the clothes out there.

What tips or advice can you give to young people who want to go into fashion design?

To hold on to their dreams, to their ideas, visualize what they want to be as a designer, and be resilient, industrious and creative. Hold on to the great qualities inherent in us Pinoys — adaptable, jovial, and hardworking — with a smile.

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For more on Robin Tomás go to

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