Jef Albea at his atelier in Mirdif, Dubai. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

The latest entrant into Dubai’s fashion circles has just set up shop in the emirate, bringing with him his trademark sense of theatrical flair that is evident in his designer couture.

Filipino fashion designer Jef Albea is no stranger in the fashion world. His eponymous brand, which is headquartered in the Philippines, has been a hit with Philippine celebrities such as Zsa Zsa Padilla, Vina Morales, Morissette Amon, Maja Salvador, Alma Concepcion, Maine Mendoza, Starmagic stars, Rachelle Ann Go and Lea Salonga among others over the years.

Albea considers designer extraordinaire Michael Cinco his idol, while Ezra is a close friend.

Albea, 34, may have started his career as a theatre actor, but his true calling was not in front of the audience but rather behind the scenes, where his penchant for drama could find a voice with his vibrant theatrical costumes in the Philippines. That same elegance and vivacity is visible in his bridal gowns.

The self-made man started his journey when he opened his shop in Manila 10 years ago and he is now ready to conquer Dubai with his bridal couture. Although he’s busy setting up his brand here, travelling between Manila and Dubai and managing his shops, he’s yet keen to take the runways by storm with his latest collections for the London Fashion Week in September 2017.

Albea talks to Gulf News tabloid! about his journey as a fashion designer.

Albea with models wearing his bridal designs.

How did you start your journey as a fashion designer?

Being a fine arts student, I discovered that illustrations are powerful. I found fulfilment in transforming my sketches to being. I used to work in Dubai as a budding designer and got familiarised with the operations and logistics of it; that inspired me and gave me the confidence to start my own brand in the Philippines 10 years ago. My target market was mainly brides; celebrity clients came to notice my work and, for that, I am very thankful to them.

Where do you draw your inspiration from when designing?

One of my inspirations are Muslim women. They are very kind, beautiful and caring, but the world doesn’t seem to see that. So I want my designs to elevate and celebrate their femininity. I want my creations to be like them — delicate but very powerful.

Albea with actress Alma Concepcion (second left).

Are you happy with your achievements in the fashion industry?

I have always considered myself as a low key designer. I was invited to join Project Runway [American Reality TV show that discovers budding designers] and [international] fashion weeks, but I refused to join. I never felt the need for it. The satisfaction of my clients is the best achievement for me. Aside from seeing celebrities wearing me, watching every beautiful happy bride walk down the aisle in a Jef Albea is really a milestone for me.

What prompted you to set up shop in Dubai?

Dubai is very close to my heart. It is like my second home. My inspiration to pursue my career is basically because of Dubai. I promised myself that I will come back and build my own when I am ready. Fate has led me [here]; this is the right time. I am very thankful to my business partner Madame Sharifa for trusting me. She’s always there to support and help improve our business. We have a list of clientele and they are very excited about our creations. Orders are flowing in like wedding gowns! We are very confident and motivated to show the Emirati women our passion and dedication to create haute couture.

What is the trademark of Jef Albea?

There is no trademark actually — fashion is ever-changing. Every creation is simply an expression and celebration of one’s personality, being and creativity.

Are there any established designers in Dubai whom you wish to emulate?

Michael Cinco and Ezra are my friends. Cinco is my idol and I am very impressed with how he does his work. They inspire me.

How do you juggle your time managing shops in Manila and Dubai?

I am blessed in having a great team. Madame Sharifa is very understanding and cooperative. My team is very efficient and professional. My time here in Dubai and in the Philippines varies, depending on the amount of work that needs to be done for our clients; so I travel a lot.

The House of Ikons invited you to present your collections at London Fashion Week in September. How do you feel about it?

A lot of work and excitement! I am showcasing my bridal gown collection in different hues. Simple cuts, playing with different colours and looks.

What advise would you give to budding designers?

Never stop learning. Never spend a day without learning something new. Never end a day without trying something new. Every day is a learning stage. And always believe that everything will come to you, just believe in the right timing.

What is your ultimate dream?

My dream is for people to appreciate my work, not only because of the meticulous job done on the garment, and not only because of the heavy bead work and customised embroidery. I want people to see my designs as something that gives definition to a woman’s purpose of wearing it. I want people to celebrate and look at how a woman expresses her character and attitude. I believe that every designer’s dream is to have his work immortalised by being worn by people who effect positive change worldwide. Fashion is a prerequisite of power. I have been dreaming of designing outfits for Madonna. She is an icon of style!