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At Gorgeous & Green 2011: Oliver Tolentino Couture

An interview with the designer Oliver Tolentino.

by Steve Phipps/FAMAMOCA
18 January 2012

above, left-to-right: before, during, and after the models walked at Gorgeous & Green 2011. Photographs by the author.

Phipps: Pieces from your collection were just on the runway here at Gorgeous & Green 2011, an evening which celebrates eco-conscious. The comment I overheard most often from the audience was, "That's a pretty dress." So, first of all, congratulations on a nice collection and a successful show. And let's start right there: What makes a great fashion show?

Tolentino: Personally, for me it's the drama. I love models who emote, music that entrances, and clothes that dazzle.

Phipps: What is your "process" of designing a piece or collection? Where do you find your design inspirations, and how do you deal with, also the frustration of, not feeling inspired?

Tolentino: I often get inspired when taking a trip before an upcoming collection. Traveling and new sights put me in a creative mood. I usually start with fabrics and that will lead to inspiration of what I should make from the material. You have to know when the inspiration mood strikes you and be productive then. You can't force the creative process. Sometimes sitting or walking in the outdoors can be inspiring.

Phipps: Let's talk a little about design influences. Who are some designers from the past, any era, that you particularly like or admire?

Tolentino: I admire Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, and Chanel.

From Gorgeous & Green 2011. Photograph by the author.

Phipps: If we looked in your closet and you took out one favorite piece, what stylistic or design choice would you point out?

Tolentino: My personal tastes are very simple. Jeans, black pants, pullover knit and cotton shirts.

Phipps: Ever since there was a textile show here at the MOMA — the exhibit had things like woven stainless steel that was actually soft and supple, and polyester mixed with aluminum — new fabrics has been a favorite topic for me to discuss with designers. And I saw from your website that pieces in your collection have been made from the leaves of pineapple and abaca plants, as well as a new fabric made from water-lily leaves and jute. It's really impressive. So: What is the most unusual fabric you have worked with, or want to work with? What were/are its challenges?

Tolentino: The most creative I got was making a gown out of trash — bottle tops, water bottles, and fabric scraps for an eco show in Hong Kong. The challenge is always to make something that doesn't look like it was made with unusual fabric so people will want to wear the dress.

Phipps: Can you talk a little bit about what you think of as "sexy", where you find it and how you express it in design.

Tolentino: My style is that sometimes it's more sexy to show less.

See more from Gorgeous & Green 2011

Oliver Tolentino

hair, makeup, model talent credits for photographs on this page

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