As a young boy growing up, Rhett Eala would often spend his time drawing ternos, dreaming of designing one for then-First Lady Imelda Marcos. His dream never came true, but what he has accomplished thus far has established him as one of the Philippines’ most celebrated fashion designers.
Rhett’s professional career started in 1990 when he joined Rustan’s as one of its in-house designers. While there, he conceptualized the Due brand, which eventually became one of the department store’s best sellers for womenswear, especially the slipdresses in luxurious fabrics.
After striking out on his own with a made-to-order business, he went back to ready-to-wear with a shop called Wink, which opened in 2001. That’s when he popularized the chiffon poncho in a rainbow of colors, a trend that women of all shapes and sizes wore. The store closed after two years.
Rhett’s talent for starting trends continued when he was tapped in 2007 to be creative director of Collezione, an old knitwear brand that wanted to become hip and relevant. Who would have predicted that the Philippine map, which he had embroidered as a logo on a shirt, would become the hottest design and would spawn a thousand and one copycats?
Hand-painted fabrics was another signature Rhett Eala look, which he debuted at his 20th anniversary fashion show in 2010. It’s a treatment in gowns and cocktail dresses that his clients still request to this day.
In 2016, Miss Universe Philippines candidate Maxine Medina invited Rhett to be her official designer for the international competition, which was held in the Philippines early this year. Never having designed for pageant contestants, he knew he had to come up with something original and which would blow the world away. He certainly didn’t invent fringe, but what he did with it became the talk of the fashion world to this day.