Inno @ 30
In 1995, my closest designer friends in Cebu Jun Escario and Jojo Romoff insisted that we travel together to Manila to watch the fashion gala “Inno Sotto: Anno XV.” Top model Suyen Chi had gotten us three tickets, and the prospect of seeing Inno’s 15th year collection mesmerized us, thus we packed our suits and headed for the capital.
Inno did not disappoint. Though I couldn’t sit with my friends who connived to give me the ticket to another table (occupied by the Filipino Designers’ Group,) we raved about the same pieces. This was the first time that I had been to Inno’s show. This was also the first time that I realized he was peerless- no one comes close to him in terms of aesthetics and good taste, and perhaps no one ever will.
The clothes fascinated us but what was completely mesmerizing was the man. Post-gala, after being swarmed by admiring clients and the press, he found energy to thank us when we approached to tell him that we were Cebu designers. He completed the heartwarming gesture by handing each of us a small book of his clothes. Thus, when I received a personal invitation from Inno to celebrate his 30’th year through a fashion gala at the main theater of The Cultural Center of the Philippines, I recalled that Anno XV experience with a smile: had it been fifteen years?
At the 302010 gala, the ladies in the audience were well heeled and elegantly dressed. Chary Aboitiz looked particularly stunning in a deep indigo gown. This time I went with my cousin Anne Hofer Santos, and my good friends Francis and Joy Onglatco. Jojo went with his sister Vania and Cebu’s top designer Philip Rodriguez, while Jun Escario was indisposed.
The show opened with a film on unrequited love called Muse--Heart Evangelista was luminescent on the silver screen. The presentation of the ready to wear line that Inno designs for Rustan’s, which is also called Muse came up next. Little black dresses draped generously at the back, shoulders, and sleeves filled center stage against scrims of macro-sized oriental motifs in white and large red, tasseled, silk Chinese lanterns.
The final suite of spice colored fluid trapeze gowns transfixed everyone. While a sitar player picked hauntingly beautiful tunes, Marina Benipayo was an evanescent dream of absinthe silk flowing like goddess Tara on a balmy late summer moonlit night.
The brief retrospective segment towards the finale, which featured key pieces from his past collections, was memorable. I could identify every couture piece that he fashioned—Alhambra, Memphis, Monet, Pintados, and my all-time favorite oeuvre, Sunset in Madrid.
The protagonist of the film Muse soon appeared on stage in a white wedding gown, the show ended with the audience clapping as notes of endearment floated down like graffiti on center stage. Applause reached crescendo as the curtains, props, and scrims were lifted to reveal Inno with the models backstage.
It was another standing ovation, another coup for Inno Sotto. And yes, it had been fifteen glorious years since I first saw his creations. As he came forward to acknowledge adulations I remembered how he and Richard Tann inspired young designers through Fashion Watch. I was one of those who benefitted from such inspiration; we have become friends since then.
For this writer Inno is more than just a one of the greatest Filipino designers for beautiful are his clothes indeed, but even more beautiful is the man who crafts them.