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08/30/14 Mandy de la Rama On Her Eponymous Label

Mandy de la Rama would rather not have her photo taken—or have you Instagram any clothing you buy from her. She’ll tell you this when you visit her Makati home, from which she sells her eponymous label and gives customers a crash course on how to wear her garments. Before the cult renown of her first collection, de la Rama even chose whom to sell to.

Consider the command she’s exercising a way of taking herself back. A sort of re-possession after being flaunted a style icon, from fashion mag interviews to society covers. More than a decade ago, she’d also stepped up in her family’s knitwear business, running five children’s lines including the noted Tarte Tatin. It’s been a while and de la Rama has been due more personal ventures, like the label she resurrected four months ago.

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Her clothes reflect an austere kind of fancy where colors are muted and structure is ambitious. More than anything, each piece, from a slouchy gray sweatshirt to a belted dress that can be worn several ways, requires a woman self-possessed enough to carry it. And unbothered enough to Instagram it, of course.

While preparing to exhibit one of her children’s lines at Rockwell’s MaARTe Fair (August 29 to 31), the friend of Homme et Femme chats with NOUS about anti-sexy style, her indifference toward dressing up, and why Vice Ganda will never get to wear her clothes.

Hi Mandy! Can you tell me about the personal label you resurrected? 

I actually started it about maybe 12 years ago. What I did was make clothes and sold them from my house. It didn’t even have a label. I used to travel a lot for work and when I’d come back, I’d have all these ideas. Instead of putting it to paper, I would do it on cloth. Eventually, I accumulated so many of these ideas that I had to sell them. That ended—I had a child and that was it. Now, I decided to resurrect it but make it more professional. There’s sizing, variety in colors. Now I’m selling from my house again.

How did you put the first collection together? 

It’s a collection in the sense that I accumulate and then I put it out but it’s not like how designers do it where everything is related. With me, there’s no trend. A lot of the things I make can be worn several ways. It’s almost like wearable art, but toned down. Before, I was so much into the Belgian and Dutch designers that had all this angst.

You can wear these several ways so I have to be there to explain it to the customer. It’s difficult for me because I work full time in my office. That’s another thing, I was able to put up a factory already. I have a whole lineup of sewers and cutters, so it’s easier for me to produce now.

How many pieces are in the first collection?

I came out with a collection of maybe 100 but that’s divided—one style, five colors each, and then sizes. So it’s about 25 styles.

And what inspired these pieces?

Things that I would like to wear that I can’t find. Admittedly, I’ve amassed quite a collection of, let’s say, shirts. I’m really a t-shirt girl. I just like a t-shirt, jeans, and I’m sorry, if I could wear tsinelas everywhere, I would. I cannot be bothered anymore. I see that dressing up is just taking too much time. A lot of people kina-career, diba?

When I started selling the clothes, I only chose who to sell to. So I would call people who would understand what I’m getting at. So many people want sexy. I’m the anti—I don’t make sexy or fitted. But I was really surprised that a lot of women don’t have the confidence to put something together. Everybody looks cookie-cutter. When they came to me to buy, they [realized they] could actually look different and not have to be sexy to look stylish. I have a lot of bigger women coming to me now.

Simplicity has become a premium amid so much overstatement these days. 

Yeah, my God, that Vice Ganda. Diba? I get so scared.

So for you, comfort is really important?

Material. I hate anything that’s man-made. Unless the garment absolutely calls for it because, of course, structured garments can take the shape that natural fiber can’t. Let’s say for a puffer jacket, it has to have some kind of polyester there to hold the shape. Otherwise, it’s really material. It has to be natural or my kili-kili will really sweat. It’s really function over form right now.

What are some favorites from your first collection?

I have a top that’s certainly the favorite of everyone. It’s an oversized collared top. It’s everything that you can find in your basic oxford polo but it’s exaggerated. It’s big and makes the wearer look thin.

Any fabrics or colors you’ve worked a lot with lately?

I like paper cloth. It’s 100 percent cotton but the consistency is like paper. A lot of it is shirting fabric imported from Europe. A lot of the times, my agent in Paris will call to ask if I want to buy lock, stock, and barrel. Then I just decide later on what to do with it.

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Are you already thinking about a second collection?

It’s already in the works. I plan to come out with it in maybe a month. Perfect for the holidays. I also have a lot of knits. Our family, we’ve been in the knitwear business for maybe 45 years already. That’s our specialty. We actually have knitting machines and I make sweaters, knit shirts. There will be a lot more knits—cotton cashmere, cotton rayon, depending on your needs.

It’s really interesting that you feel the need to be there to explain the pieces to customers. 

Yeah, because of the personal touch. I’ve also had celebrities who have come to me and I’m not the type [for celebrities], diba? Malay mo mamaya-maya that Vice Ganda is already in my house, right? (laughs) Anyway, [the celebrities] aren’t very confident. So this lady came, and she was really easy to work with and she was very open to all these ideas for wearing the clothes. She told me, ‘You know, if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t have understood any of this.’

You basically style your customers!

Exactly. So it’s tiring for me—people come, and I make them come at about 6:30 ‘cause that’s the time I get off of work, and they leave at 11. By that time, the wine is flowing na, which is good because they buy more, diba? (Laughs) Initially, I should be there and then after that, if you understand the concept of my clothes, I don’t need to be there anymore. I don’t need to tell you it doesn’t need to be sexy.

So online selling is absolutely out of the question?

In fact, I asked the people who bought from me to not post what they bought from me ever. I have no plans of putting it in a store, I have no plans of opening a store in my name, I have no plans of expanding in any way other than what I’m doing now. If I did, I’d probably jump off the—because of everything I’m handling right now. This is just a sideline eh, this ladies’ line. And I don’t want it to grow.

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