High fashion designer Ivan Raborar of Ivan Raborar Couture expanded his brand of artistry to interior and handicraft designing.
Collaborating with the government is a new thing for the 39-year-old designer. The Department of Tourism was the first to notice that his talent is not limited to creating beautiful gowns and wearables. He was tapped by the agency to redecorate its regional office in Koronadal City.
“That was a surprise. I never thought I would be seen in a different light. But I took the offer as a challenge, not only to test my limits, but also to expand my boundaries as an artist. I believe we can still grow and develop new capacities no matter what age we are and how far we have journeyed in our careers. There’s so much I still want to discover for myself and with myself,” he said.
“They [DOT] have given me a big task—to create iconic pieces showing the Mindanaoan culture. I have never before created useful things except for clothes and fashion accents. Going beyond what I usually do is kind of exciting because you get to meet normal people who depend on you and look up to you as a mentor,” he added, referring to a group of handicraft women he met through the Department of Trade and Industry.
In his search for suppliers, Raborar bumped into the DTI looking for materials for the first few handicrafts he intended to use to adorn the receiving area of the DOT regional office. This marked the start of another engagement with a government office, this time creating a lasting heritage of designs and helping the women of Lake Sebu, through the intervention of DTI Region 12, innovate and keep abreast of local and global trends.
Raborar intends to create a chandelier made of woven bamboo in the shape of small tuna-like fishes, one of the iconic pieces he has initially set to create with the Kestubong Women’s Association Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (KeWARB)—a group of amazing women handicraft weavers based in Lake Sebu.
The engagement with the DTI involves a marketing partnership agreement with KeWARB, forged under the DTI Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program where Raborar will be providing KeWARB with exclusive product designs for mass production. He will buy the finished products at fair market price, and these products will be incorporated in his couture and creative works.
The renowned local couturier and creative design consultant of the province has many affiliations that can get him to supply a string of local hotels in South Cotabato, as he also seeks to expand his footprint to the rest of the country. Export is an ambitious goal he plans for the long term.
Raborar intends to focus his handicraft designs to everyday details seen in South Cotabato—things that are taken for granted but are part of and dominate the daily scene in the streets, at home and other familiar places from where he grew up.
He started redesigning KeWARB’s lampshades with a fresh look, incorporating daily facets of life in the otherwise humdrum and age-old blueprint the group has been repeatedly doing for ages.
Product designing was an alien concept to Rabonar until KeWARB. It has taken a whole new experience on how the designer sees artistry and aesthetics in everyday living. This coming July, Rabonar plans to join the T’nalak Festival to showcase the collaborative pieces he created with the amazing skills of KeWARB weavers.
“I am raring for the public launch of this collaboration with KeWARB and the DTI. In the upcoming T’nalak Festival we will show how Lake Cebu handicraft weavers have innovated as they have now the means to transform native handicrafts into modern utilitarian pieces but keeping attuned to the cultural ethnicity of Mindanaoan art,” he said.
His work will also benefit a host of indigenous women who are members of KeWARB. Raborar said the indigenous people have a special spot in his heart as they are the weavers of native fabrics he used for his couture collection. He uses indigenous fabrics like T’nalak, T’boli, Maguindanaoan and B’laan textiles, and does the bead working and ethnic embroideries as well.
Raborar has been designing clothes since he was in high school. For somebody who has not had any formal education in sewing clothes, Ragonar considered his talent innate.
His exposure to the craft began at an early age. His father was a known seamster in their municipality in Koronadal, South Cotabato and his mother was an equally competent seamstress. Everyone else in his family knows how to sew but it was only him who seriously considered sewing as a profession, making use of the talent that was passed on by his parents.
What sets him apart from other designers is that he is a hands-on designer who does his own pattern, cuts fabric and sews the pieces together to create fabulous dresses and gowns with the help of his crew. With the other designers, they draft the designs but stay clear from the diligent processes of creation.
As an active member of the Fashion Designs Alliance Philippines, Raborar makes sure that he gives time for events and engagements the group is passionately working on.
Despite his being as a stalwart in the local fashion scene, he intimated that his first love is actually dancing. He dreamt of becoming a ballet dancer but opportunities in the province were scarce and with six siblings in the family, money was also an issue.
It took him many twists and turns before he finally found his real calling. Without an opportunity to go to a ballet school, Rabonar enrolled into a two-year hotel and restaurant management degree at Notre Dame of Marbel University in Koronadal City. But fashion gigs, which were aplenty that time, swayed him to focus on designing instead.
In over a decade of creating wearable masterpieces, Raborar has clothed the likes of Senator Loren Legarda for whom he crafted a T’boli ensemble. Miss Earth 2008 Karla Paula Henry donned his gowns during the competition, so as fellow candidates Miss Earth Honduras and Miss Earth Venezuela, as well as Miss Earth-Water 2011 Athena Imperial, who is now co-hosting in GMA 7 shows.
He also won the Grand Prix Award for the best eco-designed gown during the 2008 pageant, using his signature T’nalak-based creations. Rabonar is also hailed as the country’s Prince of T’nalak Couture.
He pivoted into celebrity status when he became one of the 14 finalists of Project Runway Philippines, a reality television adaptation of the Project Runway in America that documents the journey of fashion upstarts and established designers and the rigorous process of creating fashionable pieces from draft designs to the actual finished product.
Despite his growing network of connections, family will always be an integral part of his person, which is why he always goes back to his roots in Mindanao after a gig or an engagement.
“I have a very supportive family. My mother passed on in 2007 but my father and brothers have been constantly beside me, egging me on to pursue my diverse pursuits as an artist. I have eclectic pursuits that I want to nurture as each of them forms part of who I am, completing me as an individual and an artist,” Raborar said.
Apart from being a designer, he is also a good cook, a better dancer and, at his best, a remarkable plantito.
His romance with plants started during the pandemic. From growing small ornamental plants, he now propagates big and expensive plants the likes of Monstera. He even rubbed elbows with actress and self-professed plantita Aubrey Miles in one of the plant shows in Manila.
He admitted that while age is just a number, as many claims it is, he has reached a maturity level that prefers a life of quiet and solitude with plants as his companion. So, whenever he is at home, caring for his plants takes up most of his time. Lately, he never leaves home unless there is an important engagement such as product development trainings at the DTI or fashion gigs. Just recently, he was called for a lock-in shooting for another movie by Direk Lav Diaz starting May until July 2023.
A new movie with Piolo Pascual as lead is a timely distraction from his very cerebral duties as product design consultant.
Raborar has lent his couture skills to several of Diaz’s movies as wardrobe consultant featuring his stylish creations and did some bit of acting in a movie top billed by John Lloyd Cruz which is intended for international screening this 2023.
“I will also do the wardrobe ensemble for the new movie and a bit of acting, as well. In fact, my elder brother who is a director of a theater group in our place was ecstatic about the opportunities I have been given. And I am truly thankful for everything that is handed to me,” he said.
Diaz’s assistant director Hazel Orencio was instrumental to having Raborar on board as wardrobe consultant as the designer’s ethnic impressions works best for Orencio’s official outfits in international film events like the Cannes Film Festival.
For fashion upstarts who want to flourish in the industry, Raborar is generous enough to share his insights.
“As a designer, just be yourself, find your own aesthetics. If copying other designer’s works make you feel inspired, do it discreetly but do not copy everything. Continue to create something new, innovate. And for the plantitas and plantitos out there, just continue planting. It helps keep our minds sane and helps the environmental, as well,” he said.