SLOWLY but resolutely and steadily, designer Mitch Desunia quietly toiled on her craft, away from the social whirl of the fashion world. From making paper dolls to honing sewing skills handed down by her seamstress mother to repurposing pre-loved clothes to setting up her own shop, Mitch has ran the gamut of struggles of a creative talent.
“It wasn’t easy. It was like a rough road that never ends. But through hard work and perseverance, I was able to establish a small dress shop in Las Piñas in 2009, three years after I left our town in Sorsogon. Business was sometimes up and sometimes down. It was harder than I thought it would be,” Mitch shared.
“I experienced going to Divisoria soaking wet in the rain, I experienced being bashed and humiliated, I experienced not having enough money for dinner. I cried a lot that I almost gave up,” she recalled. “But there’s this voice in my mind that tells me, ‘You cannot go back to Sorsogon a loser! You have to stand up and finish what you started!”’
The Mitch Desunia Spring/Summer 2020 Collection highlighting inabel luxe.
All Mitch could do was pray to God, call on all the saints and implore the universe for guidance. The response was overwhelming: “2016 was the breakthrough in my career. It was the year I first joined a show during London Fashion Week, at House of Ikons, a designer platform for creative people across the globe.”
With a renewed confidence in herself, Mitch enrolled at the University of the Arts London-Central Saint Martins to further enhance her design skills. She took up Fashion and Textile Forecasting.
“I didn’t realize at that time that this course was about to prepare me for something bigger: creating an RTW line. A year after, in the summer of 2017, I was able to launch Mode, an RTW high-street clothing brand for kids, men and women. This brand is now available at select Finds Finds at Vista Malls nationwide. In the later part of 2017, I introduced Mode in the UK market,” Mitch, 40, revealed.
In 2018, she established IDO Manila, an RTW line of occasion dresses for women available at select Robinsons department stores nationwide.
This year, she launched Desunia Beauty Essentials, a health and beauty line, and the luxury label, Mitch Desunia London, which is about high-end clothes, shoes, bags, scents and accessories for both men and women. The Mitch Desunia label was also able to license Mode UK.
After her international debut in London, Mitch participated in group shows in Milan and Paris over the years. She also did a show at Cannes. In 2012, indie actress Mercedes Cabral wore a Mitch Desunia black gown during the awards night of the Venice Film Festival, where Thy Womb, her film with superstar Nora Aunor was screened.
But the need and necessity to show in her own country became too compelling for Mitch. So she conceptualized “Entwined,” her Spring/Summer 2020 Collection. It’s her brand’s formal introduction to the local market.
Entwined is about giving a special spotlight on inabel, which Mitch personally adores: “It’s a method of handweaving that produces a fabric that I can consider next to a Chanel tweed. I have this strong collaboration with the weavers in Ilocos Sur, and we’re working nonstop in improving inabel in many ways. I love working with them. To mark the luxury in style, I created Cars X Couture as the concept of my solo show, where luxury cars and luxury fashion are presented on the catwalk.”
The driveway of Palazzo Verde in Las Piñas also served as the runway as posh vehicles and inabel weaves took center stage on November 22. “Fashion is for everyone. Fashion is not supposed to be selective, and fashion has to respect all sizes, shapes and colors. The Mitch Desunia brand is proud to say that we love all men and women. We embrace all sizes, shapes and colors,” she enthused.
Philanthropy was also the purpose of the event. As the current president of the Rotary Club of Makati Southeast, Mitch is implementing three signature projects: Operation Braveheart, giving free minimally invasive heart surgery for kids with an open hole in the heart (patent doctus arteriosus) and a hole in the heart arteries (atrial septal defect); Bahay at Yaman, where they provide livestock production to produce food for their adopted street children in Bulacan; and Project Inabel, for the indigenous weavers in Sabangan, Santiago, Ilocos Sur.
What excites Mitch nowadays—and makes her anxious, as well—are the frenzied preparations for her show at the House of Lords, Palace of Westminster, arranged for her by Marie Fairbank, the doyenne of Fil-Brits in London.
“On February 21, 2020, there will be another milestone for the brand. For the first time, we are going to have our first solo international show. I am still in awe at the moment. I didn’t really expect it’s going to happen but everything is in place,” a grateful Mitch said. “I will present at least 38 pieces for Autumn/Winter 2020, which also includes children’s and teens’ wear. I am happy that right now, we are becoming a better version of our brand each day.”
Inabel goes luxe
Mitch Desunia highlights Ilocano hand-woven textile in major fashion show.
From Sorsogon, she aims to conquer the fashion world. (Above right) Mitch Desunia shuttles between London and Manila.
The Ilocano people of northern Philippines possess a rich heritage in weaving textiles, which is alive until now with its traditional patterns and weaving techniques. Many people call the traditional textile “inabel,” the general Ilocano word for anything woven, from the root word abel, which means “to weave.”
The Ilocano inabel has fascinated many designers and has been frequently used by them in modern fashion. Mitch Desunia is one of the designers. Moreover, she is putting the spotlight on the inabel in her “Entwined: The Mitch Desunia Spring-Summer 2020 Collection” show, which is the highlight of “Cars X Couture” event that combines high fashion and luxury cars, to be held on 22 November, at 6 p.m., at the events place Palazzo Verde in Las Piñas City.
Desunia showed us a sample of her inabel creation — a sleek coat of hand-woven textile paired with black tulle Boho skirt. And one can see the beautiful potential of the inabel as a material for luxe and trendy fashion.
Promoting Philippine traditional fabrics.
Ilocano hand-woven textile for the top, complemented by a tulle skirt.
A flowing, multi-colored wraparound dress.
A coat of inabel textile.
Dramatic gown with flower embellishments.
The textile was woven in Santiago, Ilocos Sur, she said. The desire to help out the local weavers and promote Philippine-made textiles encouraged Desunia to use inabel for her latest collection. She also believes in the craftsmanship which can compete globally in terms of beauty in design and durability.
Desunia said that inabel is comparable to the tweed creations of Chanel and Gucci. She also said the fabric is thick enough that it can used in Western countries, but it is not too warm that it can be used in the Philippines.
Desunia tweaked with the traditional patterns to suit her taste and the inabel is shaped for modern silhouettes.
The ensemble she created will be a trend, she said — something that can be worn both in parties and offices. Desunia has a penchant for merging contrasting things but striking a balance, such as between the traditional and the fashion forward, the elegant and the informal.
But she maintains that she has fondness for the elegant and thus the collection will be containing beautiful gowns and bridal dresses for which she has become known.
Desunia does not come from an affluent background though. Hailing from the district of Bacon of Sorsogon City, Sorsogon, she grew up in a house along the shore. After school, she enjoyed drawing faces and dresses on the sand along the beach. She drew them quickly, finishing them before the waves washed them away. At eight years old, she made paper dolls with different dresses which she sold her classmates and friends. She moved to Manila when her mother worked in factory as a sewer. Her interest in sewing and fashion was bolstered by her mother’s work. She would make dresses out of retaso (clippings from textiles).
Desunia became one of the recipients of a scholarship program of the Department of Science and Technology and took up Electronics and Communications Engineering at the Technological University of the Philippines.
She also went into the ukay-ukay business, bringing second-hand clothes from Manila to Sorsogon. Since most of the sizes of these clothes were large, buyers often requested her to alter them, honing her sewing skill more.
Desunia decided to pursue her first love — fashion. She took over a fashion atelier in Las Piñas and became known for bridal gowns. To beef up her fashion credentials, she decided to study fashion abroad, even on a short course. She enrolled at the Fashion and Textile Forecasting course of the University of the Arts, London-Central Saint Martins.
In the Philippines, she worked as a call center agent, and with her savings, was able to establish Mitch Desunia Haute Couture on 15 March 2009, which specialized in affordable couture bridal gowns. The company was later on incorporated in 2015 and became Mitch Desunia Apparel Inc.
Recently, she created three more brands: Madame Moiselle Desunia (MODE) for high-street fashion pieces for men, ladies and kids available at select Finds Finds stores; IDo Manila that provides occasion dresses, available at select Robinsons Department Stores; Desunia Beauty Essentials that focuses on beauty products such as soaps and lotions.
“Entwined” will serve as an epitome of her hard work and creativity.
Of cars and couture
By Nico Erle Ciriaco
London-based Filipino designer Mitch Desunia presented her Spring/Summer 2020 collection at the sprawling Palazzo Verde gardens over the weekend. The fashion forecast, simply dubbed “Entwined,” focused on the Abel Iloko weave as main textile for the collection.
“This collection focused on the Inabel fabric, presenting extreme designs from the very plain to the super printed. The entire trunk is filled with happy colors and aesthetics.
“This forecast is based on the previous fashion season in New York, Milan, and London, then applied here for the next season. Some of the silhouettes are also inspired from those published by forecasting companies like WGSN and Mode Selection where they include textile swatches and fashion photography,” intimated the Sorsogon-born designer.
The weekend show was actually the highlight of a car show by collectors and Ford Motors. The world of super cars melded with high fashion through “Cars X Couture,” a car exhibit and fashion show in one.
“Ford Motors Phils. partnered with the collection. Cars and clothing is quite a concept and it brings up the ante on the Desunia label. For this show, we launched the sneakers and other comfortable footwear collection. These upscale designs are initially available online. Mitch Desunia London, as a brand, will soon have a physical store at the Mayfair in London,” informed Mitch.
The weekend car and couture show was presented, in cooperation with the Rotary Club Int’l, for the benefit of the End Polio Now campaign. Mounting the exhibit and show required close to Php 3-million in production cost and other incidental expenses.
“While I like a well-presented merchandise, as far as purchases are concerned, most of the clothes worn in the show were sold off the rack, at a markdown, and buyers simply took home the apparel after the event,” enthused Mitch.
Mitch is also the house designer for such mall store brands as IDoManila for Robinsons, and Mode for Vista malls. Her beauty products, Desunia Beauty Essentials, are likewise available at all Vista malls nationwide.
Mitch Desunia’s next fashion forecast will unfold in May when she presents her Autumn/Winter 2020 children’s wear, men/women’s apparel, as well as intimate wear at the SMX Convention Center.