Designer Michael Leyva Raises The Bar For Fashion Shows In The Philippines

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Michael Leyva is one of the most sought-after names in Philippine fashion. Unlike most designers who’ve dedicated a large portion of their formative years to study, train, and prepare for a career as a creative, Michael’s entry into the world of style was rather unexpected. It was by all means tragic, but later bore fruits that would inspire the entire Philippine fashion industry.

It was Leyva’s brother, Bryan, who initially sought out a career in fashion. He was a rising star who, apart from winning the hearts of the city’s well-heeled, also displayed creative prowess in prestigious competitions like the Young Designers Guild Competition in 2004. Bryan’s trajectory to success was evident, and his demise sudden. The question of who would take over pending projects and commissioned works prompted Michael to dive into the then-unknown realm of fashion design.

“I was set to become a flight attendant,” remembers Michael who graduated with a Tourism Degree. The day he took over his late older brother’s workshop marked his first day of learning in fashion. The 28-year-old admits, “I honestly knew nothing about fashion design when I started. I couldn’t sketch. I couldn't draw or choose fabrics. I really knew nothing.” Sheer determination and faith that he was being guided by his late-brother compelled Micheal to carry on. He intimates that in a dream, Bryan urged him to continue what he had begun in fashion.

For the designer du jour who just recently celebrated a decade in fashion, “I am a reincarnation of my brother. He is my guardian angel who has helped me throughout this 10-year journey.” In commemorating the milestone anniversary, Michael paid homage to his brother. The grand show, held at the National Museum of Natural History, was equal parts solemn, sentimental, exhilarating, and monumental.

In my 20 years of covering fashion shows, I’ve never really sat down to a local fashion presentation that truly engaged the senses from start to finish. That was until Michael’s Hiraya, which was held in one of Manila’s most stunning neoclassical landmarks, The National Museum of Natural History. “I’ve always felt that The National Museum was the only place to celebrate this milestone. It was that or nothing. I wanted to elevate the fashion experience in the country and showcase our local landmarks,” explains Micheal.

Guests were requested to come in black. As everyone settled into their seats, a tribute for Bryan, accompanied by song moved audiences into silence. It was followed by a dramatic march of live mannequins from the top floor of the museum, down to the main level.

Completing a 50-piece collection for Hiraya was an even taller order than mounting a show of unprecedented scale. “We began planning for the show proper in March 2022, but the collection took up around 8 months or more to reach completion.” Tedious editing, trial and error went into the creation of a fashion presentation intended to showcase MIchael’s versatility as a designer. More than just a location, the National Museum and its neoclassical design helped to anchor the collection. “It inspired me to explore hand painting and sculptural caging for my garments. These are techniques I haven't done in the past.”

A large part of Michael’s success has to do with his openness to step out of his comfort zone. “It’s important as a designer to constantly reinvent myself and think out of the box.” The design progression he presented that night was testament to his range and mastery of craft. It also told the story of a decade-long journey—peppered by learning, evolving and constantly pushing the boundaries of creation.

PART I. Micheal Leyva’s rise to fashion was catapulted by his bridal designs. He utilizes volume, intricate beadwork, and maximalist sensibilities in the creation of a bride’s dream wedding gown. To open Hiraya, he sent down immaculate white couture pieces infused with architectural influences of the location. It was a brilliant merging of old world romance and avant-garde inclinations.

PART 2. The second portion of Hiraya saw a proliferation of bright hues, flamboyance, exaggerated silhouettes, and elaborate details. The multilevel runway of the National Museum that evening was a moving montage of Michael’s expansive red carpet work with A-listers and celebrities.

PART 3. Softer shades filled the runway veiled by layers of sheer, tulle, and sparkle. It registered as a modern reimagining of the Elizabethan age, which was perhaps an allusion to future achievement and success on the global stage. During a quick chat after the show, he confesses, “Setting up abroad is definitely on the agenda. I’d love to be able to represent our country in the international community. To show how hugely talented our designers are . We are exceptional in terms of finishing. Filipino designers stand out because of our higher level of craftsmanship.”

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