Robin Tomas is upbeat in a recent e-mail from New York. “There are a lot of things lined up in Manila,” he writes. This May, nearly three years since he debuted his eponymous clothing line in Philippine Fashion Week, is the launch of his capsule collection for Penshoppe, the casual clothing brand’s first-ever designer collaboration. Tomas will also dabble in costume design for the first time, for Atlantis Productions’ local staging of “Nine,” the Tony award-winning musical, in September. He arrives in Manila just as his Spring 2012 collection hits the racks at Myth boutique in Greenbelt 5. Tomas, who has lived in New York City since 2001 when he was a student at Parsons School of Design, still carries a Philippine passport, and comes home at least twice a year.
Penshoppe, which is aggressively upgrading its image with recent campaigns featuring Hollywood actors Ed Westwick and Zac Efron, approached Tomas following his win last year in a T-shirt design tilt that had his winning piece reproduced and sold at Bloomingdale’s. Penshoppe’s brand director, Alex Mendoza, knew Tomas from way back, when the designer still worked in advertising. “We’re in a level-up mode, and we felt Robin would be the right fit for what we need. This is part of our campaign for global recognition,” says Rocel Roque, marketing specialist of Golden ABC, Penshoppe’s mother company. “He’s very New York, his style is high-end, but he’s Filipino.” The Tomas for Penshoppe collection, 12 styles each for men and women, will hit some 30 stores across the country on the second week of May.
Designing for his compatriots has a “different fulfillment,” Tomas says over iced coffee on a sweltering afternoon a day after his homecoming. It echoes his statement in 2009 about wanting to launch his brand here for sentimental reasons. “I want to bring my clothes here, so it’s not just available there.” While his line, simply called Tomas in the Big Apple, is carried by three Manhattan boutiques, he says it excites him to see his clothes on Filipino women. “We consider ourselves blessed and lucky that Robin chose to work with us,” says Ruby Gan, one of the owners of Myth, which is carrying Tomas’ line for the second season. “He has a steady clientele that regularly looks for his creations, and he never fails them because you can count on him to deliver… And the best part also is that whatever he showcases in New York is immediately available here.” Tomas’ rise has been slow but steady. But whatever uncertainty he had from three years ago is now replaced with confidence and dogged determination.
“You learn to be resourceful,” he says when asked how an unknown designer can stay afloat in a setting like New York. The economy is sluggish “but New York is New York,” he adds. “There will always be people [who buy]… I also want to reach other markets. I want to highlight my Filipino upbringing plus my New York exposure; that’s my formula. I want to use the good points of being [trained] in New York and serve other markets.” He chose retail because “that’s the name of the game in New York, not couture.” But he wants to visit Manila more often so he could take on couture clients and, perhaps, dress up a few celebrities and socialites. “I’d really like that! Red carpet is more LA, New York not so much.”
This designer’s goal is to set up his own boutique here, and also make his clothes available in key Asian cities. He owns his business, but admits he’s open to working with an investor. Tomas, 35, chuckles when I point out that he’s finally out of his mom’s shadow. “Mom,” of course, is popular actress-comedienne Tessie Tomas. “She says people now refer to her as ‘Robin Tomas’ mom,’ in the same way my lola became known as ‘Tessie Tomas’ mom.” His grandmother, Laura Hermosa, was a popular radio talent. “I’m a happy son to see a proud mom,” he says. His early exposure to clothes and costumes is owed to his mother, but Tomas feels that carving a name in fashion is all his own. Having a famous parent, however, has its advantages: “It’s not just the fashion press here that covers me, even the show-biz press is interested.”
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