Dubai: The UAE has been a fertile breeding ground for Filipino creativity and ingenuity in the field of fashion. Michael Cinco, Furne One and Ezra Santos are just some of the most successful names in the industry – icons who have served as inspiration and set the trail ablaze for a new generation of talents.
A young and promising fashion designer is making big strides as he follows in the footsteps of his more illustrious peers. Harvey Cenit, 31, is making his mark in the fashion scene with his wedding gown creations that cater to royalties in the region.
After honing his skills for eight years in Cebu, Philippines, Cenit brought his wares to the UAE almost six years ago.
“[I came here] basically to venture into new things, to learn new things, to learn new cultures,” Cenit tells Gulf News #Pinoy. He says the UAE has been the perfect place for aspiring fashion professionals to further sharpen their skills and find more lucrative opportunities.
“Here in UAE, couture is really a big thing,” he says. “Here you can really learn things that you cannot learn from our place.”
Harvey Cenit is now the head designer and creative director at Al Aroosa Aniqah.
Cenit is now the head designer and creative director at Al Aroosa Aniqah, where he has been designing mainly bridal outfits.
“Here in Dubai, in Sharjah, in the UAE, wedding gowns are really one of the best markets for couture, for couturiers,” says Cenit. “On the business side, there's a lot of money in weddings. Arab people spend money for wedding gowns – for anything beautiful. So, that's why wedding gowns are really one of the big markets here in the UAE.”
Cenit, who earned a degree in Fine Arts major in Visual Arts from the University of the Philippines, Cebu, says his fervent desire to create works of art has been a driving force in the fiercely competitive fashion establishment.
“My background is visual arts, but my passion is really fashion designing. It's quite cliché, but my passion is fashion,”
His venture in the UAE, though, has also been a big adjustment.
“Back in the Philippines, I used to design wedding gowns that were very simple, very elegant, very Western,” he says. “Here in the UAE, it's a new thing. Wedding gowns are very extravagant, very couture, very detailed, fully beaded dresses, so it’s quite different from ours.”
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He adds: “The brides here have three sets of weddings – they start with the engagement, then the henna party and the third one is the white dress, which is exclusive for all women. Ours is more Western, more elegant. We kind of adopt the Western cultures and there's a lot of theme – beach wedding, garden wedding.”
Cenit says one of the advantages of working in the UAE is that it opens opportunities to work for some of the more exclusive brands or even to design for big-time celebrities.
For exposure, we are quite near to Western countries and European countries. You know Cinco is Hollywood designer already, and there is also Amato and Santos. That's the advantage I guess,” he says.
He reveals more in this Q&A with #Pinoy:
On his inspirations
I get it from movies and music. I listen to Lana Del Ray's music and then I can imagine what she's wearing; that's the time I'll start sketching. From the movies, I love the dresses from the movie the Crimson Peak and I love Audrey Hepburn movies.
I love the elegant silhouette and I love the detailed things in the dress. I used to combine colours, the weird colours – not the typical combination of colours, that's my thing. So I am both wearable and artistic.
What does it take to be a good wedding fashion designer?
You have to listen to your bride. You have to understand what she likes. You have to get her ideas and then fuse it with your ideas to have the perfect combination and both of you will be happy.
Big no-no in wedding fashion
For me, there's no particular thing that I don't like for a wedding gown. Maybe just the showy type, maybe just the very see-through type and the very outrageous one. For me, it's really up to the bride; if it makes them happy, why not.
Here in the UAE, they listen to me, they listen to the designers. Mostly, they bring photos, which is good because I can see directly the dresses that they like and then I can just suggest what is not appropriate.
How wedding gowns have evolved
The classic one is the 60s, it’s very elegant – the plain without beads. These are the timeless pieces. The classic ones are not dying, they’re very timeless and very modern at the same time. In this particular era, we are kind of mixing both the very detailed one and the elegant silhouette. The silhouette is very simple, but the details of the dress are very heavy and very fully beaded – that's the trend in this time.
People he looks up to
Cinco, One and Santos – the three of them are the biggest ones here. All of the Filipinos I think look up to them, especially fashion designers. Cinco, Amato and Santos, they're really the big names here in the UAE.
On dressing up Filipino celebrities
Well, I already dressed up Lea Salonga before, so that's already quite an achievement.I'm a frustrated singer [laughs], so I’m dressing up singers instead of me singing. I still want to dress up Mercedes Cabral. I dressed her up before during the Cannes [Film Festival in 2009]. I want to dress up her again because she's quite a pride for our country. She's a great image of a Filipino woman - brown skin and not the typical mestiza, great body and a great actress as well.
Lea Salonga in a Harvey Cenit gown.
(Cenit also has dressed up Dubai-based X Factor UK 2016 aspirant Ivy Grace Paredes, Asia’s Phoenix Morissette Amon, other singers like Sheryn Regis, Nikki Gil and actresses like Dionne Monsanto and Beauty Gonzalez.)
International stars he would love to dress up
I love Celine [Dion]. I've mentioned that I've always wanted to dress up singers. I love Celine, I love [Lady] Gaga and for the red carpet I would love to dress up Anne Hathaway.
Dream wedding to work on
I don't know who's the next in line for a royal wedding [laughs]. I love to dress up any royalty.
Practical tips for a modern bride
You have to know your style. You have to know what you like. You don't have to copy anybody else's style and you have to share to your designer what you like, listen to his suggestions and then you'll get the perfect wedding dress.
You also have to know your budget. You have to tell to your designer your budget so that he can work around your budget. If you're going to buy materials here in the UAE, there's a lot of affordable materials – fabrics, beadings, tulle, bridal accessories – in Rolla, Sharjah, Bur Dubai, Satwa, Naif that are very high quality. There's a lot of high-quality but affordable resources here.
What’s next for him?
I would love to paint again. I miss painting. I miss the visual art world.