A RELATIVE scene stealer at President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s last State of the Nation Address was her fuchsia pink Filipiniana dress made of silk and pineapple fibers. It was crafted by one of the country’s top fashion designers, Thomasian Julius Caesar “JC” Buendia.

It took three weeks for this UST Interior Design alumnus to finish the gown. The fabric he used was produced in Misamis Oriental.

Making clothes for the President has always been challenging for Buendia what with the protocols-–the right length and colors of clothing that the President should wear, for instance– that he has to follow. But for him, the President is not a difficult client.

“I feel that when she trusts someone with the job, she will trust you to do your work,” Buendia told the Varsitarian.

The Thomasian couturier has been creating Arroyo’s Filipiniana dresses and other formal suits since becoming president in 2001.v

Tribute to classic

Buendia’s muse stems from the 80’s, which “was a time of excess and over-the-top glamour.” Classic films such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” nourished his creativity, inspiring him to be a prime mover of modern classic.

Simple can be beautiful, but plain is another thing. That was the mantra of Buendia when he showcased his all-white collection of short dresses and men’s suits during the Fashion Watch Quartet, a series of fashion shows that featured Filipino designers at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel last May. It was Buendia’s first solo fashion show after being in the industry for eight years.

“I did a white collection because it is more challenging. If a designer uses white, what will be noticed is the strength of the design,” Buendia said in an interview with the Business Mirror.

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Having designed mostly classic couture, he pulled off his pieces by putting sheer emphasis on the details to add a “twist” to his collection. An avid fan of royal families, Buendia said that his items were inspired by the late Princess Diana of Wales.

But his maiden show could not have been more memorable without the President gracing the event and wearing the cream coatdress made of jacquard silk that Buendia created for her.

“[It was like having] my valedictory address and it made my parents proud,” Buendia said.

Designer to celebrities

Joining the ranks of the country’s best designers, Buendia has dressed up famous personalities in politics and show business, such as Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, TV personality Kris Aquino, and many others.

But it was Buendia’s friend, actor Franco Laurel, who introduced him to the celebrity world, paving the way for the fashion designer to be a staple in the entertainment industry.

After graduating in 1986, Buendia trained as an assistant to Cesar Gaupo, a seasoned designer. He jumpstarted his career by designing wedding gowns.

This gave the apprentice an exposure to the competitive world of the runway where he was able to witness the goings-on backstage and check closely the details of the clothings themselves.

“That was also the time of Anna Bayle, the first Filipina supermodel, who would always fly in just to do the shows. As a young designer, I was just like a sponge that absorbed everything I could,” Buendia said

Later on, he worked for a label that specialized on “power dressing,” the style choice of the corporate world.

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In 2006, Buendia became a member of the Fashion Design Council of the Philippines.

Behind the gown

What does it take to survive in the fashion jungle?

“Years of experience, quality of work, and professionalism,” said Buendia.

Behind a beautiful gown is an intricate design of hard work and commitment. Buendia and others like him also have to strike a balance between the creative and the business side of the profession.

“[Fashion design] is a beautiful profession, but it is not really as glamorous as others would think,” he said.

He has to deal with the diverse personalities of his customers that sometimes conflict with his own style idiom and preference.

“There were clients who would insist on [the style] they wanted but as a designer, you think it would not suit them. I think my charm comes in when I get honest with them and they finally appreciate it,” he said.

For Buendia, appreciation for his works can be most felt during two of the most important events in a young woman’s life—her debut and wedding. The designer said that he finds joy in seeing a bride walk down the aisle in a lovely gown that he created.

But nothing could be more fulfilling than to be able to employ the 12 people who work in his atelier, he said.

Perhaps it is the Thomasian in Buendia that enabled him to have the ethic and the industry to maintain a business and his staff: he spent his high school and college years in the University.

“I used to look forward to January when the Narra trees started blooming yellow flowers. I also liked the memory of the vendo machine and the art nouveau style of the buildings,” he recalled.

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He said he had his work ethic honed early on when he and his classmates had to do presentations. He explained working with other people taught him lessons that could not be found in books. He was also the auditor of the then Atelier Interior Design Society.

Life’s lessons are best learned outside the classroom, but for Buendia, a simple lecture could come in handy, too. Recalling what a theology professor once told him, which eventually served as his guiding principle in life, Buendia said: “You should never give up because once you have survived a problem, the next ones would be easier. You also become a better person after that.”

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