Honorary Model for Shop. Sell. Strut! Season 2

On June 9, 2018, I was given the thrill of being the Honorary Model for Shop. Sell. Strut! Season 2, held at Pure Event Space in South Amboy, NJ. Shop. Sell. Strut! is the fundraising event created by founders Alyssa Lego and Amanda Witkowski to raise money and awareness for autism-related causes. This year’s event raised money for the Morgan, Marie, Michael Foundation, and their iCan iPad Learning Experience Gift Program.

Shop. Sell. Strut! features fashion shows as part of an afternoon of fun, vendors, a silent auction, and entertainment. I had the pleasure of walking in three of the runway shows, as well as participating in the opening number and closing presentation. I was also thrilled and surprised to receive my very own pageant crown by Alyssa and Amanda as a thank you for all of my work on behalf of Shop. Sell. Strut! Perhaps my most important role for the evening was a speech that I gave talking about the important mission that drew everyone together. You can read the text of the speech on this post I published on LinkedIn.

Before I show off the great photos from this amazing afternoon, I want to take a moment to thank Alyssa and Amanda, as well as Dawn Lego, Maria Witkowski, the members of the event committee, and the volunteers, for giving me this wonderful honor and coming together to raise money for this important cause.

My opening look, that I wore when welcoming guests to the venue, was from Bebe. Bebe loved the look so much that they made me one of their #bebebabe Women of the Week for June 15, 2018 on Instagram.

The lovely Amanda Witkowski and I are comparing fascinators before the show begins. Amanda is a world-class figure skater, who is going to be a pediatrician, in addition to her modeling and fashion merchandising. A truly multi-faceted and talented young woman.

There aren’t enough words to describe my feelings for the brilliant and beautiful Alyssa Lego. She has founded several charities, a fashion line, and a fundraising organization. Plus, she is an inspirational speaker, pageant queen, tap dancer, as well as a writer. She’s also getting ready to debut her own radio show. She inspires the heck out of me and it’s always so much fun when we get together.

Me and Dawn Lego, who did so much behind the scenes to make things happen. Thank you so much, Dawn, for letting me part of this experience.

My next look for the evening was this custom couture gown from one of my favorite designers, John Leon. This stunning pink outfit was designed specifically for Shop. Sell. Strut! and I loved the chance to represent a good friend and fabulous designer on stage.

My view from the stage a few moments before the opening number kicked off.

Front and center giving my speech about the mission of Shop. Sell. Strut!

One of my runway looks, from Mona’s Boutique & Tailoring. I loved working with Mona and her boutique is a perfect stop for weddings, proms and other formal attire.

I especially enjoyed strutting the runway in this outfit from Brand A. It’s called the Myra, and it’s named after me! Brand A is the fashion line created by Alyssa and Amanda and this runway show was the line’s debut.

The fashion was international! This was my first time wearing a traditional Indian saree. This beautiful and elegant outfit is golden, with the Shop. Sell. Strut! colors of fuchsia and mango. The jewelry was amazing and I felt so beautiful and special wearing it. This was one of the highlights of the show.

My own pageant crown! I was so surprised and happy to receive this special gift from wonderful people.

My final look is a second stunning custom couture gown from John Leon. The pageant crown is the perfect accessory, don’t you think?

With designer and blogger Ava Holly Lewis-Korth.

Me and media personality Shefik, who was the co-host of the afternoon.

When I wore my Brand A look on the runway, it included an amazing piece of jewelry from Kellene Kulas.

Bebe’s New Manhattan Store Grand Opening Party

Anyone who’s followed my social media for a while knows that I love Bebe. I was so sad when they announced last year that they were closing all of their stores and going online only. I actually worked for Bebe a while back, and have lots of friends there, not to mention closets full of their clothes!

I was super excited when my new friend Christine told me she was working at the new Bebe location in Manhattan and invited me to the exclusive grand opening party! New Bebe stores! I’m told they are going to have fewer stores in more upscale, exclusive locations and will be rolling them out slowly across the country. The store at 34th and 5th (1 West 34th Street, New York, NY) is wonderful and I’m so happy that I can shop at Bebe stores again! I hope this flagship store is huge hit and leads to great things for the new Bebe brand! Stop by and say hi to Christine!

The invite-only grand opening party was held on March 15, and featured a dope DJ, lots of bling, new Bebe styles, photographers, videographers, VIP guests, drinks by Sparkling Nuvo, and lots of fashionable people hanging out and having fun.

Loved the beats laid down by DJ Vashtie Kola, who kept things moving all night on the 1s and 2s. Downtown’s Sweetheart is not only a musician, but a director, designer, and model. It was a pleasure to meet her and everyone should follow her on Instagram @vashtie.

The very special guest for the night was Jasmine Sanders (a/k/a Golden Barbie), the face of Bebe’s latest campaign. She’s an accomplished model and actor, who’s become a viral Instagram star with over 2.8 million followers. I loved meeting her and her photos for Bebe are amazing. It was also fun standing and talking with her while her video was playing on the big screen. Go follow her on Instagram at @golden_barbie.

I want this jacket so bad!

Me and Christine at the party!

I’m a #bebebabe!

Kicking Off Shop. Sell. Strut! Season 2 at Breaking Grounds Coffee and Cafe

This past weekend, I attended the first committee meeting for Shop. Sell. Strut! Season 2, which is scheduled for Saturday, June 9. It was a wonderful afternoon, and the event is on its way to being a tremendous success.

Shop. Sell. Strut! is the fundraising arm for the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation (Tax ID: 82-1496694), a 501(c)3 supporting individuals on the autism spectrum with programming, appliances, and resources for enhanced living and development. The event in June is their primary annual fundraiser, featuring a fashion forward runway show. One hundred percent of the proceeds benefit the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation.

I’ve been honored to be asked to serve as the Honorary Model for Season 2, as well as an honorary member of the event committee. Seeing what is being put together, and all the energy and effort everyone is dedicating to the cause, has been so inspirational.

The meeting was held at Breaking Grounds Coffee & Cafe in Mt. Holly, NJ. It is the perfect space, and truly symbolic, due to its mission to provide inclusion, diversity and opportunity for adults with developmental disabilities. They took such amazing care of us, and the space is so comfortable. The entire town is quaint and beautiful, so be sure to stop in if you’re in the area. If you happen to have children or family members with autism, it’s the perfect spot for them to enjoy. Oh, and the bagels and pastries are delicious! www.breakgroundscoffee.com

Over the next few months, I’m going to share a lot about Shop. Sell. Strut! and these amazing women putting the event together. Part of Saturday’s meeting was a photo shoot, to give our team promotional shots to use. What a fun opportunity to get everyone together, dressed up and modeling for the camera. All of these photos were taken by Naomi Rivera at Looking Glass Photography. Thank you, Naomi!

If you’d like to support Shop. Sell. Strut!, tickets for the June 9th event are now on sale at one.bidpal.net/shopsellstrut/ticketing. We’re working on a great selection of items for the silent auction, and there will be other opportunities to donate and support. You can even support the Morgan Marie Foundation on Amazon Smile. Get in touch if you’d like to be involved or if you have questions.

We started off by going on Facebook Live to give away this autism-inspired bracelet to one of our Facebook followers. This was done in celebration of our 500th Facebook follower. Congratulations Marco Panting for being the winner!

Here are Shop. Sell. Strut! and Morgan Marie Michael Foundation co-founders Amanda Witkowski and Alyssa Lego.

Our Event Committee Members Brooke Niemiec, Cameren Berry, and Laura Singer. It was great meeting all of you, and going on this journey together!

Think I was having fun?

# I Strut For Autism, Do You?

Committee member Brooke Niemiec.

Committee member Laura Singer.

Co-founder Alyssa Lego.

Co-founder Amanda Witkowski.

Committee member Cameren Berry.

I had to show off my pink custom couture dress from the amazing designer John Leon (www.johnjnlleon.com). Thank you so much, John, for your amazing creation, and for staying up until one in the morning to have it ready for me, at the last minute! We’re hoping to include this one-of-a-kind piece on the runway in June. I’m going to do a whole blog on it soon. I love it!

Most importantly, we’re a family coming together to support an important cause that affects millions of families. We want to raise awareness of the needs that exist, as well as money to support the cause and make positive things happen. Everyone who is involved is committed to positive change, and we all hope our contributions will make a huge difference.

New Year’s Eve Ball Drop in Times Square

OMG! Look at me! I am in the heart of the City.

When I use to work in the City, especially around the holidays, I couldn’t wait to get out of Manhattan and be back home in Brooklyn.

Now, I absolutely can’t get enough of the City. When they say the City never sleeps, it’s true.

I had an amazing opportunity to be in Times Square, New Year City to see the famous ball drop to welcome 2018. What a feeling to be around a million people. Did I mention it was 7 degrees? You’ve got to love NYC!

I love New York! I cannot wait to do it again next year.

Starduster New Year’s Eve Styles

This past year, Ellen’s Stardust Diner in New York City has becomes one of our favorite spots in midtown. Ellen’s is located on Broadway, a few blocks away from Times Square. What makes this place special is its famous singing waitstaff, known as Stardusters. The servers are all talented aspiring performers, many of whom take time away from Ellen’s to join national tours, cruises, and even Broadway shows.

We decided to spend our New Year’s Eve at Ellen’s, and loved the entire experience! The singers were entertaining and amazing as always. Because it was New Year’s Eve, they were all dressed up and stylish to welcome 2018! I wanted to share some of my favorite Starduster styles.

I don’t have all of these wonderful performers’ names, so please let me know so I can update and tag everyone properly.

Here’s the famous Ellen’s Stardust Diner marquee.

Our server (and, therefore, the star of the evening), was the wonderful Liz Davies (@lizdaviez). She has a great voice that’s perfect for jazz or smokey blues.

Courtney has a great cool and retro style. He brought a lot of energy to his performances.

Yes, bling! My favorite dress of the evening. Singer, dancer and actor Kayleigh Brennan (@misskayleighmarie) looks stunning, and agreed with me that you can never have enough bling!

Actor Zach Snyder (@zachallensnyder) had the coolest silver bling bow tie. He has a great stage presence puts everything into his performances.

Zach Snyder

Liz looks cute and festive. I love her ankle boots and flair skirt.

It was quite a party! Everyone was dancing and having a great time. The show lasted about four hours.

Here’s actor and writer Marrick Smith (@marricksmith) looking suave and sophisticated.

For more about Ellen’s Stardust Diner, visit www.ellensstardustdiner.com, or look for the long queue on 51st Street and Broadway!

SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker Pop-Up Store in New York City

Sarah Jessica Parker is a fashion icon. Her Carrie Bradshaw on “Sex and the City,” is the embodiment of a New York fashionista. When I heard about the new pop-up store for her SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker line, I knew I had to check it out. On Saturday, I made the trip to 52nd Street and was immediately struck by the bright, colorful space. The warm feel of the store drew me in. Then I saw the shoes, which are amazing. Sarah Jessica Parker loves bling!

I spoke with one of the sales associates, who told me that Sarah Jessica has been in the store almost every day it’s been open. The line was originally launched in 2014, but this is the first store dedicated to SJP in New York City. The pop-up is scheduled to be open for about 10 days, but hopefully it will lead to a permanent location in the city.

I love this wallpaper. Everything about the store is so cool and distinctive. I was told that Sarah Jessica is very hands-on with everything and the attention to detail really shows.

I love bling! All SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker shoes are handmade in Italy. Holding these shoes, I am impressed by the quality of the craftsmanship. Sarah Jessica designs all of the shoes herself. Beautiful style, high-quality construction, and they are so comfortable! I was pleasantly surprised by the prices as well.

I love the fact that these shoes don’t feel like a celebrity line, but a really high-end designer brand. One of the sales associates told me that since she launched the line, Sarah Jessica has been very active in soliciting feedback about what her customers want. I really wasn’t expecting to buy something when I visited the store, but after a few minutes I wanted everything!

I tried on these bling boots, and was thrilled that they sell Size 5! Since they are Italian made, they are sized perfectly, which is difficult for me to find. It just keeps getting better and better!

In addition to shoes, SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker also includes these super cute clutches.

When I walked into the pop-up store for #SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker, I was greeted by Jake. I was looking at a pair of bling booties that were on the shelves. I asked him if you have a size 5. He said, sorry I have a 5.5. I was bummed. Then, the magic happened! He showed me another pair of bling booties that were on the shelves. Eureka! They were a size #5. I told him “I want them!” This must have been the fastest sale he ever had.

SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker also features fragrances.

Here is another look at the clutches. I just love the bright, bold colors. These are products that will make you feel good when you are wearing them. When fashion can brighten your day, you know it’s special.

I love that the collection has bold, stylish bling shoes that aren’t only stiletto heels. These are shoes that any woman can wear, dressed up, or when in jeans. They are adaptable to any look, and really flexible so they can work in lots of different situations.

More bling! I still can’t get over how high quality everything is.

SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker

I’m thrilled to have discovered the SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker line! I have some new favorite shoes. Being in the store and having her retail experience, I can feel how much she loves what she does. When a designer puts their passion and personality into their work, it reflects on the person who wears it.

The pop-up is scheduled to close on Sunday, December 3. My visit was extremely memorable, and I can only hope that this experiment is a huge success. If I can have a Christmas wish, I’ll be attending the grand opening of a brand new SJP by Sarah Jessica Parker store somewhere in midtown Manhattan in 2018!

L’il Girls Strut For Autism at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party October 22

Do you have a little princess at home? Would she like to have tea with Cinderella, Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Anna, Elsa, Ariel, and Moana? Would she like to become more confident, and learn how to handle herself on the runway, or while doing an interview? She can do all of this in a friendly, fun atmosphere while raising money for an important cause at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party this Sunday, October 22, in Manasquan, NJ.

You may recall last April I attended the Shop. Sell. Strut! Fashion Marketplace and Runway Show Benefiting Autism New Jersey. That was a memorable event where a wonderful crowd at the Lake Terrace in Lakewood shopped, watched several fashion shows, participated in silent auctions, and had an overall good time, all to benefit Autism New Jersey.

Shop. Sell. Strut! was founded by two amazing young women, Alyssa Lego and Amanda Witkowski. They are very socially-conscious people who have been using their time and talents to raise awareness and money. Their event in April was a tremendous success. I had so much fun being involved!

After their success with Shop. Sell. Strut! Season One, Alyssa and Amanda have turned their attention to a new cause, The Morgan Marie Michael Foundation.

“Our mission is to create awareness and encourage respect for children with special needs,” Alyssa told me. “We have developed programs such as the iCan iPad Gifting program and PURPOSE – Life after 21. Our Shop. Sell. Strut! event series serve as fundraisers to support the foundation and its clients.”

“A simple iPad can make the difference for an individual on the autism spectrum,” adds Amanda.

Sunday, October 22

Their next event, which will take place at the beautiful Atlantic Club in Manasquan, NJ, will be the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party, on Sunday, October 22. Little girls ages 4-12 who attend will take part in a high tea with seven Disney-inspired princesses. They can get all dressed up in formal attire, and they’ll be involved with photo shoots, a personal animation video, as well as runway and interview coaching, plus a dance party. Guests will also be included in the Shop. Sell. Strut! 2018 calendar.

Tickets to this fun event are available now, and each ticket for your little one includes admission for a parent or guest. Tickets for additional guests are also available.

I’m so honored to have been invited to be a social media ambassador for the afternoon, so I’ll be there! Who doesn’t want to meet princesses? I hope the Morgan Marie Michael Foundation will raise a lot of money. I’ll be following their programs and continue to support!

Get more information at the Facebook event here.

L'il Girls Strut For Autism at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party October 22

L'il Girls Strut For Autism at the Shop. Sell. Strut! Tea Party October 22

A Cinderella Story by John JNL Leon

Sit down and listen to a story of a fashion blogger who went to the ball. Oh, goodness, there is a very special event taking place in New York City. It’s the Pinoy Weave Fashion Show and Gala, honoring three amazing designers from the Philippines. It’s a formal event! Whatever will I wear?!

I know! I’ll find an amazing designer to make me a beautiful gown. So I went off to a wonderful and magical land, called Philadelphia, to meet with John Leon. I had met John and seen his work at Atlantic City Fashion Week and love the flowing quality of his designs. I asked if he’d like to make me a gown, and a few Facebook messages later, we were invited to his studio to make our own magical ball gown.

I knew I had made the right choice when I saw the first sketch he came up with, just based on his initial ideas. It was beautiful!

It was time to take some measurements.

… and more measurements.

What color should the gown be? Would you like a train? How high are the shoes? Questions and decisions! I told John to run with it! Pick the colors, find an amazing fabric and be sure that the magic will last until midnight!

We left the studio filled with excitement. A few days later, John said he was ready for the first fitting. The gown was coming to life! We rushed back to Philly and …

… it was amazing!

Such a beautiful royal purple color, fit for a princess. It flows, it glides, it was everything I was hoping for.

More fittings. It has to be just right.

It’s almost ready.

It’s amazing what a skilled designer can do, transforming a roll of cloth into something so elegant and beautiful. With the final fittings complete, we left John to finish his work. When he was done, we picked up his wonderful creation. Then it was time to get ready!

Hair is done.

And makeup.

Nails, of course.

A quick preview while driving into the city. Then…

Ta-Dah! Don’t you love it? I truly feel like a princess.

I think one of the best things a designer can do is make the person they are styling feel special. That’s what fashion at its best can achieve. It takes more than just skill with a sewing machine, or an artistic touch, it’s understanding what makes someone feel a certain way.

After the fashion show, which was an amazing event I’ll cover in another blog, it was time to hit the town! Here I am at one of our favorite spots, at Supernova NYC (www.supernovany.com) above Times Square.

A few drinks and time to hit the streets, with some New York attitude!

I just love how the gown flows. When I first saw the fabric, it looked stiff, but amazingly it is really smooth and caught the breeze perfectly while walking through Manhattan.

This Brooklyn girl had to take a photo in front of Junior’s!

Finally, we reached the heart of Times Square! There is such energy here, a million people all around me.

But, it’s almost midnight! The carriage will turn back into a pumpkin soon. Will the magic last?

Quick, off to bed!

But, this gown is so amazing, and so comfortable, that I never want to take it off.

Thank you for sharing my fairy tale with me, and thank you so much to John Leon of John JNL Leon Fashion Designs for his special vision and incredible talent, making my Cinderella dreams come true. With John Leon, it’s not just a gown, it’s a fairy tale.

Remember that black and white sketch that started it all? Here’s the finished color drawing that John prepared, and I’m honored to share it with you here.

Want your own fairy tale? Follow John JNL Leon on Facebook at www.facebook.com/johnJNLleon/ and Instagram @johnjnlleon.

I’m excited to announce that John Leon will also be showing his Spring/Summer 2018 Bridal Showcase at Philly Fashion Week on Saturday, September 23! More information and tickets are available at www.phillyfashionweek.org.

Maarkah To Showcase African and the Middle Eastern Designers at New York Fashion Week

Branding is an essential concept in the fashion world. The brand expressed by a designer and their work is what draws people in, getting them to wear those clothes as an expression of their own personal style.

On September 11, 2017, Runway Prestige presents the debut of Maarkah fashion showcase, which will attempt to raise the profile of talented designers, primarily from Africa and the Middle East, who are largely underrepresented in the fashion world in general, and at New York Fashion Week in particular.

The Westchester-based marketing agency will bring its event production and fashion promotion experience to create a high-end event with a unique focus that should become an important part of the NYFW experience.

We spoke with the owner of Runway Prestige and producer of Maarkah, Rabab Abdalla, about September’s show and started out by asking about why she choose to focus on designers from Africa and the Middle East.

“I decided to focus on designers from the Middle East and Africa because I feel there is an underrepresentation of designers from those regions.” she told me. “If you think about it, how many shows have you been to that had one, or more than one, designer from those regions? Most fashion shows have designers from the western world. Official NYFW shows are no different. You may see one or two designers there and most accolades post-show are not given to them.

“Maarkah, meaning “brand” in Arabic, will represent the underrepresented, focusing on providing a platform for remarkable aspiring Middle Eastern and African designers providing comprehensive support and opportunity. It is for designers to feel welcomed and equally talented as mainstream designers in the western world during New York Fashion Week.”

What people may not realize is that these designers are already being worn by celebrities and are very recognizable, even if their designers aren’t household names yet.

“Many designer are definitely dressing Hollywood A-Listers and are taking over on the red carpet,” Rabab explained to me.

Who are some of the designers who celebrities are wearing?

“Taylor Swift, Angelina Jolie, Adriana Lima, Taraji P. Henson, and Ellie Kemper, to name a few, all wear Reem Acra, a designer from Lebanon.

“Jennifer Lopez is a big fan of Lebanese designer Ellis Saab, whose clothes are also worn by Meryl Streep, and Janelle Monae. Jennifer Lopez is also big on another Lebanese designer, Zuhair Murad, who’s also popular with Tracee Ellis Ross.

“Director Ava DuVernay paid tribute to Saudi designer Mohammed Ashi at the 2017 Academy Awards. Winnie Harlow has worn Nicolas Jebran, who’s from Lebanon, and Giuliana Rancic wears Rani Zakhem, a Lebanese designer who was raised in Kenya.

“At the 2017 Golden Globe Awards in January, so many celebrities wore Arab designer gowns such as: Tracee Ellis Ross, Lily Collins, Sofia Vergara, Olivia Culpo, Elsa Pataky, Jessica Biel, Felicity Huffman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Emily Ratajkowski, Kristen Wiig, Giuliana Rancic, Raya Abirached, and Trace Lysette.”

Wow! What it is about the work of these designers that you feel has made them so popular among the A-List crowd?

“I think most Arab designers are very luxurious,” said Rabab, “meaning they don’t skim on the type of fabrics or embellishments used. A lot of them use luxury fabrics and stones like Swarovski. I think the same of African designers.

“African print is a big hit among the stars. Rihanna, Solange Knowles, Lydia Hearst, Dawn Richard and Lydia Hearts have all worn looks from Nigerian designer Deola Sagoe. Gwen Stefani is known to make bold statements in African prints at events worldwide. Angela Simmons and Thandie Newton wear Jewel By Lisa. First lady Michelle Obama has worn African print, as have Kanye West, Kim Kardarshian, Amber Rose and Angela Simmons.”

The goal of Maarkah, which will be presented at Studio 450 (450 W 31st St, New York, NY 10001), is to bring attention to these talented artists in New York City and shine a spotlight on their work, to give them the exposure they deserve to a wider audience.

I’m looking forward to attending Maarkah in September and hope that by bringing attention to this show, it’ll help in its mission. I asked Rabab if she had any final thoughts she wanted people to remember.

“’They,’ the designers, are the Maarkah, the brand, that needs recognition. Runway Prestige, LLC is a production company that is providing the platform for Maarkah designers to be seen and become marketable in the United States. Maarkah New York Fashion Week is not exclusive but inclusive.

“We will welcome designers from across the globe who wish to showcase on this platform. This is the way of Middle Eastern and African culture, you welcome anyone and everyone. Through Maarkah we aim to share the region’s beauty of art, design, culture, food and tourism promotion.”

For more information about participating in or attending Maarkah in New York City on September 11, 2017, please visit www.runwayprestige.com/index.php/maarkah1.

John Ablaza: His Story, His Passion, His Future

Le Petite Couture at the Philippine Consulate General In New York City
I was honored to be invited to the Philippine Consulate General in New York City to see the installation of John C. Ablaza’s Le Petit Couture collection as part of the Philippine Independence celebrations. We are here surrounded by his work, with our host for the evening, the Consul General Tess Dizon de Vega. The beautiful hall where the event was held is filled with amazing artwork, priceless national treasures of the Philippines from some of that country’s greatest artists. I loved seeing John’s art included as part of their cultural treasures. It is the first stop on the international tour for this important collection.

There have been long journeys for designer John Ablaza. Growing up in the Philippines, he found two of the great joys of his life – horticulture and fashion – at the hands of grandmother. In their family garden, he is inspired by the the sweet fragrance of the sampaguita (Jasminum sambac), the national flower of the Philippines, that he learns to sew together with her. The love of the natural beauty he sees around him, and the skill to turn it into something magical, have been creative gifts throughout his life.

Fast forward many years. John is standing in a different garden thousands of miles away: at the beautiful estate of the Amar family in Stony Point, NY. He is surrounded by family, friends and supporters, celebrating a 30-year career in fashion. The breathtaking runway show they’ve just witnessed, featuring models framed by fountains and fire, showcases a designer at the height of his creative energy. The polished stones that border the reflective pool graced by high-couture gowns and other creations that have traveled the world. It’s every bit the fashion spectacle any celebrity fashion designer would relish, soaking in the adoration of an appreciative crowd. But John Ablaza isn’t an ordinary fashion designer.

John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams
“John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams” was held at the Amar Estate in Stony Point, NY.

His Story

It’s a couple of weeks after the “John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams” celebration. I’m sitting with John in a quieter setting, at the home of Ronnie and Mayette de Dios, where he’s staying while here in the United States. I’ve learned that John is someone who puts everything he has into the things he really cares about. When he’s working, he doesn’t even think about eating. The passion to create takes over his entire being.

“It’s about seeing the world differently,” he tells me. “Everything I do has a meaning behind it. It speaks to me, and to the people who wear my clothes.”

From a very early age growing up in the Philippines, he loves nature and its beauty. He goes to school and studies horticulture, garden cultivation and management, hoping to build a career for himself. His talents earn him the attention of Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos, who hires him to manage her legendary gardens. It is his first break and he takes advantage of the opportunity to set out into the world. Marcos is one of the many women who helped shape his life and he still has a great affection for her.

From Flowers To Fashion

Eventually, his work in horticultural design leads him to move to Taipei. He works for several years at a major hotel handling their floral arrangements. The hotel hosts frequent international fashion events, and John meets the designers who hold shows there. He looks at the clothes, examines how they are made, marvels at the craftsmanship and elegance.

“I began my career in fashion as a wardrobe assistant at those fashion shows. I would hang around and help out where I could, just to learn. I would ask the designers if they thought I could become a designer myself. They said that if it was something I really loved to do, I could do it.  They offered to help me and teach me about fashion. I went back home and started travelling to fashion shows around the world, learning about the industry.”

John Ablaza with the Mangyan Tribe
John Ablaza works extensively with the local Mangyan tribe, indigenous groups found on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, creating economic opportunities they would never have otherwise.

A Passion For Charity

At the finale of John’s Stony Point show, he speaks to the audience and explains that he will not do any events that do not benefit charity. When speaking with him about the causes he cares about, he lights up. Clearly, his passion for helping others runs deep.

“From the very beginning of my fashion career, I wanted my work to support others. I’m not in this for the money, or fame, or anything to do with the fashion industry. If it was just about all of that, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would have walked away. It is what’s in my heart that matters.”

His heart is with the people of the Philippines. Look at a John Ablaza creation, and you’re seeing a virtual economic stimulus policy for tribespeople in his home country. As we examine one of his gowns, he explains.

“I look for sustainable materials that we can use. The gowns and bow ties that you’re looking at are made with seeds, bark reeds and coco beads, all of which grow around the Philippines. My clothes support the people who grow and harvest them. Other people will polish, carve or otherwise prepare the materials. I show people how to create the products. I am very hands-on with everything I do, and get very involved with every step of the process.”

He works extensively with the local Mangyan tribe, indigenous groups found on the island of Mindoro, creating economic opportunities they would never have otherwise.

“I’ve had so many struggles. There were times when I had no money, and had to figure out how to keep going.

“Four years ago, my home burned down and I lost so many material things. But, I did not question why that would happen to me. I only knew that there were others with a greater needed and I had to figure out ways to carry on.”

I almost start crying when I think about that contrast. People on a tribal island, on the other side of world, cutting up coconut shells or peeling bark off trees, being able to feed their families through their labor. Then, those simple gifts of nature being used to create beautiful high-couture gowns that would be comfortably worn by the richest, most famous women in the world, on any red carpet or gala ball. The beauty on both ends of that equation is equally astonishing.

John Ablaza Le Petite Couture
The John Ablaza Le Petite Couture Collection. Installation at the Philippine Consulate General New York as part of Philippine Independence Celebrations, June 2017.

Le Petite Couture

“This has been a dream of mine for many years,” John says as he gently touches the small mannequin, which is about two-feet tall. “I feel it is the next step in my career.”

VIP guests arriving for the Stony Point celebration were greeted at the entrance foyer of the estate, and then escorted around back for cocktails. What they may have not realized is that they were being welcomed by one of the most important parts of the evening, the debut of John Ablaza’s Le Petite Couture collection.

Surrounding the foyer, on little pedestals, were nine miniature gowns. These are not mere doll dresses, or small reproductions, but exquisite gowns made with all of the care, detail and craftsmanship as their full-sized counterparts.

“I made 30 of these miniatures in about 100 days, almost all of the work done by hand. Each one of them is named for a woman who has made a difference in my life. They are all one-of-a-kind and will not be reproduced.

“I have received offers to display these pieces around the world. I hope to showcase them with my pride for Philippine culture and fashion.”

“John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams” wasn’t just a distinguished designer looking back on his long career, seeking a retrospective or nostalgia. It was the beginning of a new chapter, a way to show where he is going by reflecting on where he’s been.

Creating Legacy

Last year, John was offered an opportunity by the U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe to conduct a mentorship program for aspiring fashion designers. He calls it one of the most rewarding experiencing of his life.

“When I started working with them, they seemed so hopeless. They would sit with their heads down. I told them I understood their situation, the challenges they faced living in that country. But, they are so talented, so creative. In the time I spent with them, they were so receptive to what I had to say to them. It gave them hope that they could achieve their dreams.

“I want to replicate that around the world. I want to mentor designers who may not have the same opportunities that I have. I want them to learn from what I have done, understand my creative process, and be able to achieve great things.”

His dream now is to inspire aspiring designers around the world, especially from areas that may not typically offer the right opportunities, to follow what is in their hearts. He doesn’t just want to inspire people to be creative in their designs, but learn from his example to work in sustainable materials, to create jobs and economic opportunities, and to promote cultural awareness.

“I hope to find places around the world where I can begin mentorship programs. Find people who can learn from my example, and then be an example for others. It is what I want to spend the next few years focusing on. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities, to continue to tell my story and inspire so many more people.”

John Ablaza Le Petite Couture
John and I at the end of our interview, showing off pieces from Le Petite Couture.

And The Story Continues …

I felt so grateful after spending a few hours with John for this interview. Being around John is an experience in being grateful, appreciating others. I asked if he had any final thoughts about the “John Ablaza: 30 Years Behind The Seams” celebration that first brought us together and, of course, he immediately thought about everyone except himself.

“Oh, please be sure to include how grateful I am to Raj and Manju Amar for being our hosts for the evening. Without them, it could not have happened. They have given me a wonderful gift. Please also mention how much I loved the speech that Mithi Aquino-Thomas gave to begin the show. I read it afterwards and it brought tears to my eyes. So many people worked so hard to make this a special celebration. There were too many who really helped and their names are etched in my heart and mind.”

But, what about himself? What did he take away from the show?

“I was at a crossroads in my life, about what my place is in the fashion world. Part of me wondered what I should do next. Creating Le Petite Couture and seeing the excitement around it has given me a new motivation. I want that to travel the world, maybe showcase at the Smithsonian or The Met, and bring lots of attention to the Philippines.

“I am excited at the idea of mentorship. It is something that can be my legacy. I hope that you will help continue to tell my story.”

It is clear that John Ablaza is about to start another long journey, and I cannot wait to see where it takes him.