In the fashion documentary The First Monday in May, designer Jean Paul Gaultier recalled that “fashion is supposed to represent what’s happening in society, politically and economically, the clothes have to live.” The French style icon expounded on the meaning of fashion while his haute couture evening gowns, together with other prominent designers Alexander McQueen, Li Xiaofeng, and Guo Pei, adorned the galleries of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s spring 2015 exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass.”

The Costume Institute’s chairman Anna Wintour also said that fashion is a true indicator of the state of culture because of the ability to concretize the ethos of an era. “Fashion is a reflection of our times,” the Vogue editor in chief said. “Fashion can tell you everything that’s going on in the world with a strong fashion image.”

For Filipino couturier Michael Cinco, this proved to be true. As the world went on lockdown, the fashion industry was also hit hard by the pandemic, with countless retail shops, designer ateliers, bridal boutiques, and the like temporarily closed. Instead of producing intricately beaded couture gowns that Cinco is known for, the designer produced personal protective equipment for frontline health workers in Dubai, as he was first inspired by their bravery and selfless devotion.

“Last April, I was asked by the Arab Fashion Council and the Dubai Health Authority to help produce protective medical gowns and isolation gowns for our medical frontliners in the UAE. I thoughtwhy not make something that will make them happy and be inspired while doing their jobs,” Cinco said exclusively to Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “I have a couture workshop at Dubai Design District, which was placed in total lockdown, with no one allowed to work in that area. I started producing when the government eased the restrictions during the first week of May. So far, I’ve produced 700 lab gowns in one week, and handed them over to the Dubai Heath Authority. This project, #AThread4Cause, was initiated by Arab Fashion Council founder Jacob Abrian with D3 Dubai and the Dubai Health Authority. They are the ones who will distribute all the PPE to the hospitals.”

When asked about his other inspiration for the gowns, Cinco explained his process first with a particular fashion exhibition in Paris, France. “While in quarantine, I browsed through my photos and saw pictures I took in 2017, when I went to see the Christian Dior exhibition, where all the muslins were stylized by black markings, which seemed to be made with pens,” he said. “One day when I saw my tailors sewing the simple white medical gowns, I took one and draped it on a mannequin. I created something very simple and safe but fashionable, something inspired by the Dior exhibition.

With fabrics provided by the Dubai Health Authority, Cinco’s white medical gowns—made from waterproof and dust-proof microporous material—donned black or red linear design with emphasized waist for a stylistic touch. “It takes an hour to create the couture PPE with all the piping,” he said. “I’m actually planning to use a cotton washable material so they can reuse them and still be safe in the hospital. I just don’t advise to use them as a uniform because I don’t have any knowledge if these will be safe for reuse.”

As clamor for his designs reached all the corners of the globe, Cinco expressed delight in the interest, but revealed that he’s still unsure of designing non-medical-grade ones. “It’s only for medical frontliner workers for now, but surprisingly I got a lot of orders and inquiries from different countries asking about the lab gown I posted on social media,” he said. “I’m not yet sure if I’ll create more and sell them because at the moment, we are still busy helping the Dubai government. At this time, I don’t know if I’ll make fashionable couture protective outfits because I don’t know yet what will happen with the fashion business in Dubai.”

With the country still restricted in movements, Cinco said people in Dubai were advised not to hold gatherings like weddings and parties. This is a particular blow to Cinco’s core business with made-to-order couture gowns for wedding and fashion events where local women attend almost every week. “In my case, I only do custom couture gowns for clients. I don’t really mass produce ready-to-wear clothes so most of my orders and deliveries are on hold,” he said. “I still have some clients from other countries who will still have their weddings later this year. I’m still positive that fashion in Dubai will survive although we might struggle financially and it will definitely change the fashion landscape all over the world. I’m just praying and hoping fashion businesses all over the world will survive and rise up from the crisis.”

Images courtesy of Michael Cinco

Source: Manila Bulletin (