Rafe Totengco Captures the Essence of Summer in His 2019 Collection for Bench
"I don't design clothes I wouldn't wear myself," New York-based designer Rafe Totengco says with a smile when asked about his most recent pret-a-porter collection. "I mean, what would be the point of clothes if they just stay on the hanger and you don't wear them?"
The award-winning designer was in the country recently for Bench Fashion Week where his 2019 collaboration with the popular casualwear brand was officially launched on the runway last 29 March.
Deviating somewhat from the stark and somewhat edgy urban vibe that characterised his 2016 collection for Bench, Rafe's newest line plays up a relaxed mindset and is mostly inspired by a recent visit to paradisiacal Siargao.
"I don't surf, but I did enjoy Siargao," the designer says with a grin. "My friends were telling me 'Why don't you learn [how to surf]?' And I said, 'I'm only here for three days!'" He laughs and adds "What I did enjoy was viewing the surfers - that alone is a sport! But there's just something about visiting the islands: there is something romantic and exciting about being in the tropics."
There is certainly a breezy tropical vibe to the 2019 Rafe x Bench collection: hibiscus prints can be seen in many items from clothing to accessories, the predominant colour scheme is a refreshing palette of blues that calls to mind the ocean and the clear skies of summer. There is nothing tight or form-fitting here: everything is loose and comfortable, characterised by relaxed silhouettes that are at home both in the city and on the seashore.
"It's a collection you can mix with anything in your wardrobe," Rafe says of his work. Indeed, individual pieces are quite apt for casual work environments: bright, Hawaiian-style print shirts adding a fun vibe to staid khakis; and long-sleeved blouses that can go from the office to the club with a twist.
Considering how the designer has lived in the United States and has made New York his base of operations for over 30 years now, there is still something uniquely Filipino about this particular collaboration. The word gumamela - the local term for hibiscus blossoms - is emblazoned across T-shirts, and accents such as neckscarves call to mind the kerchiefs worn by Filipino men in the olden days.
Those who mostly know Rafe Totengco as an accessories designer may find themselves surprised that he also designs apparel - but designing clothes is actually where his career began years ago. In a way, his collaborations with Bench have certainly become a homecoming for him - in more ways than one.