Woven By Heart

Pepe Quitco (center) with models Patricia Matabilas (left) and Mae Ann Bello (Photo by Beauford Ma)

Pepe Quitco (center) with models Patricia Matabilas (left) and Mae Ann Bello (Photo by Beauford Ma)

Inaul is an exquisite handwoven fabric and a sign of the culture and tradition of the Maguindanaon people from the southern region of the Philippines.  With various patterns and vibrant colors, the material is used as a malong, which is a skirt that wraps around the lower part of the body worn by both men and women. For Filipino fashion designer Pepe Quitco, inaul is one big inspiration for his renowned couture designs, and he is a faithful admirer of the fabric’s beauty and intricacy.

 “I would love to leave a legacy of uplifting and promoting our locally made inaul.  It would be such joy to be of help to our Maguindanaon women who weave them the old-fashioned way,” he says.  His creations have remained true to that statement.

Quitco was born and raised in Cotabato City on the island of Mindanao, and still resides and holds his fashion business in the city today.  His father was a medical doctor, his mother a registered nurse. Despite the latter’s background, Quitco believed that he inherited his artistic flair from his mother.  “Her artworks were vivid,” he recalls, “and they were to influence the course of my career in fashion.”

Rust-colored inaul weaved with makainggit pattern is fashioned into a serpentine long skirt paired with a top made of mocha Thai silk, accentuated by a deep pichu collar, and embellished with gold antique buttons. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Rust-colored inaul weaved with makainggit pattern is fashioned into a serpentine long skirt paired with a top made of mocha Thai silk, accentuated by a deep pichu collar, and embellished with gold antique buttons. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Rose-pink tent gown made of chiffon with subtle pomelo, lime, and chartreause beadwork and has draped cowl’s neck. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Rose-pink tent gown made of chiffon with subtle pomelo, lime, and chartreause beadwork and has draped cowl’s neck. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Emerald-green off-the-shoulder gown made of mikado silk with a serpentine silhouette and accentuated with beaded laser-cut baroque pattern on the bodice and sleeves. Faux sapphire blue stones are scattered for color accent. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Emerald-green off-the-shoulder gown made of mikado silk with a serpentine silhouette and accentuated with beaded laser-cut baroque pattern on the bodice and sleeves. Faux sapphire blue stones are scattered for color accent. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

A patchwork of various inaul pattern is lightly beaded and fashioned into a terno. Floral appliques and fabric flowers accentuate the low hipline cut. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

A patchwork of various inaul pattern is lightly beaded and fashioned into a terno. Floral appliques and fabric flowers accentuate the low hipline cut. (Model: Patricia Matabilas. Photo by Beauford Ma)

He had no formal education in fashion design but was fortunate enough to come across people who worked in the field, which already interested him. Having graduated with an economics degree from San Beda College in Manila, Quitco would frequently visit Jing Chua, a friend and schoolmate, who was working at a couture shop at the then-Manila Hilton Hotel. "I was so fascinated by his sketches and the nicely crafted creations that resulted," he remembers.

Quitco returned to Cotabato City after college and worked for a bank for 14 years.  In the midst of this, his love for fashion inspired him to start a couture-shop business at home.  With the support of his family, he focused more on this venture, and the decision proved highly successful.  Eventually, he resigned from his full-time bank job.  

Most of Quitco’s designs maintain an air of simplicity.  “I adhere to the fashion dictum that less is more and always aspire to creating well-defined purity of my clothes,” he declares. He strongly believes in fine details and clean, feminine lines.  However, he occasionally makes room for more daring outfits.  “I can be more experimental, especially with gowns for fashion shows and the like."

Cropped jacket in bold vinta (native sailboat) colors, which is made of checkered inaul I, is paired with lost-black georgette-layered pants subtly beaded from the hemline sparsely going up. (Model: Pee Macapeges. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Cropped jacket in bold vinta (native sailboat) colors, which is made of checkered inaul I, is paired with lost-black georgette-layered pants subtly beaded from the hemline sparsely going up. (Model: Pee Macapeges. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Dark-gray inaul with black siko-siko pattern is fashioned into a terno. The flowing metallic chiffon skirt is light and airy with the waist cinched by a thin black satin bow accentuated with a rhinestone brooch. (Model: Pee Macapeges. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Dark-gray inaul with black siko-siko pattern is fashioned into a terno. The flowing metallic chiffon skirt is light and airy with the waist cinched by a thin black satin bow accentuated with a rhinestone brooch. (Model: Pee Macapeges. Photo by Beauford Ma)

For clients, colleagues and friends, Quitco’s designs are meticulous, characterized by precise draping and intricate beadwork, albeit quite restrained.  Seeing his outfits worn at different times gives Quitco a sense of fulfillment. “To see my clients carry my designs with confidence and elegance shows an appreciation for my artistry and it is a great accomplishment,” he proudly shares.

To keep abreast of the evolving fashion industry, Quitco subscribes to fashion and style catalogs and attends fashion shows for the season.  He is also very observant of his surroundings and appreciates books, films, music, scenery and people’s interactions.  All these elements influence his designs.  

“I also get inspired in creating ethno-Filipiniana inspired outfits.  A fusion of contemporary and Maguindanaon motifs is integrated in my designs. I transform them into practical and wearable outfits women of today can wear,” he says of what makes his work unique.  

Lime-green and light aqua-blue inaul with linear pattern and fringes is fashioned into Filipiniana style. The extended sleeves top is kimona inspired and the layered skirt is tapis inspired together with a long flowing deep purple georgette skirt for color accent. (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Lime-green and light aqua-blue inaul with linear pattern and fringes is fashioned into Filipiniana style. The extended sleeves top is kimona inspired and the layered skirt is tapis inspired together with a long flowing deep purple georgette skirt for color accent. (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Rose-pink gown made of chiffon, draped on one side, and beaded in pomelo, lime, and chartreuse. (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Rose-pink gown made of chiffon, draped on one side, and beaded in pomelo, lime, and chartreuse. (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Burnt-orange inaul with binaludan pattern is fashioned into a poncho-like kimona paired with long loose pants and draped with a fuchsia inaul with siko-siko-pattern shawl. (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Burnt-orange inaul with binaludan pattern is fashioned into a poncho-like kimona paired with long loose pants and draped with a fuchsia inaul with siko-siko-pattern shawl. (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Black-velvet bangala (Muslim blouse ) is paired with a draped lumbayan-patterned inaul.  (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Black-velvet bangala (Muslim blouse ) is paired with a draped lumbayan-patterned inaul.  (Model: Mae Ann Bello. Photo by Beauford Ma)

There are many challenges for a design entrepreneur like Quitco, but he is focused on maintaining a positive attitude as he goes through hurdles along the way.  He strives to be flexible with his needs and material requirements especially since he lives far away from the fashion hub of Manila.  

“At times, I call on my designer friends in Manila to shop for me," he adds.  “But I do not let the lack of materials dampen my spirits. Whatever is not available, I find a replacement and make use of what is on hand."

Quitco is extremely proud of his Filipino heritage and this is self-evident in his captivating designs.  Two shows that remain significant to him every year are the Inaul Fashion Show in Cotabato City every December 19th and the Grand Flores de Mayo in Manila every May.  

Brown formal coat with Mao collar has inaul border on hem and cuffs. (Model: Roy Bolesa. Photo by Beauford Ma)

Brown formal coat with Mao collar has inaul border on hem and cuffs. (Model: Roy Bolesa. Photo by Beauford Ma)

The Inaul Fashion Show is done in commemoration of the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival and showcases the use of locally woven fabric with Quitco doing the Filipiniana portion of which he is mostly identified.  

The grand Flores de Mayo is usually held on the first Sunday of May and is sponsored by the Congregacion del Santisimo Nombre del Niño Jesus, which is spearheaded by top fashion designer Ben Farrales and Uniliver Philippines. "On this occasion, designers show their best Philippine terno (a native dress with butterfly sleeves for women) with whatever theme the organizers have," explains Quitco. "It is also a grand time meeting and reconnecting with fellow designers."

Quitco is passionate about promoting inaul, both locally and internationally and helping Maguindanaon women along the way.  “These women weave the fabric in the traditional way, and I would really like to help open doors for the products to be seen, exposed and marketed to the fashion world,” he describes his primary goals.  "They may be lacking in modern technology, but because it is handloom it makes it more precious and a treasure to own.”  

To budding designers and other creative people he advises: “Love the craft, giving it your full dedication and commitment."

But the industry is highly dependent on personal relationships, and Quitco remains aware of what is most important of it all.  “Always have good rapport with the people you work with so as to come up with the kind of creation you envision. Building a good and pleasing relationship with your clients is also a big plus,” he advises.

Pepe Quitco is doing what he loves in the place where his heart resides. He remains extremely grateful for where he is and what he has achieved with his creative expressions through design.  He hopes to continue his work for the people in Maguindanao and Filipinos as a whole.

*Video follows

Photographer: Beauford Ma
Videographer: Ryan Cuevas
Photo and video editor: Ivan Kevin R. Castro
Hair stylist and makeup artist: Elden Lopena
Art consultant: George S. Garma
Music and video Consultant: Cleofe G. Casambre, M.D.
Models: Patricia Louise Matabilas, Mae Ann Bello, Princess Nhahra Macapeges, Roi Bolesa


Serina Aidasani

Serina Aidasani

Serina Aidasani divides her time between New York and Chicago. She enjoys deep conversations, mocha lattes and tries to appreciate little joys of the everyday.


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