Furne One: Singular sensation

The Spanish, Chinese, American and Filipino origins of Furne One’s parents make him a pure example of what it means to be truly international. With this unique mixture in his blood and sensibility, it’s no wonder that One’s mindset and artistry is world-class.

One’s journey to the global stage is both a fable and a fairytale. Born in Cebu City, he studied Fine Arts major in Advertising at San Carlos University. But it was in fashion design that he found his irrevocable vocation. Early on, One stood out from the Queen City’s much-vaunted fashion talent pool.

“My grandmother and mother were both fashionistas. They loved to wear beautiful clothes. Looking at them, I would sketch designs, and I kept sketching as I grew older. Unfortunately, when I went to college in Cebu, there was no course on Fashion Design yet. So, I took up Fine Arts,” One told Asian Journal in an interview.

Winning Streak

In 1994, he knocked Manila off its snobbish perch by winning the first Mega Magazine Young Designers Competition. This particular contest became the stuff of legend because the judges included top-flight designer Josie Natori, French Vogue’s Colombe Pringle and Visionaire’s Stephen Gan.

The prize was a trip to Paris where Furne (short for Fernando) trained for a while. Natori was so impressed with One’s entry that she offered him an internship at her New York headquarters. “I actually consider her as my mentor because she, in her own way, jumpstarted my career as an international designer,” One said in a broadsheet article.

In Japan that same year, One continued his remarkable winning streak by nabbing a special prize at the Japan Women’s Wear Awards.

In 1997, he was awarded again a special prize for his designs at the Asian Fashion Grand Prix Contest — and was also nominated at the now-defunct Manila Fashion Designer Awards.

After all this international exposure, One knew in his heart that his talent and skills would be better appreciated abroad. He recalled to Asian Journal: “I initially thought of New York since I’ve been there.

Then, a friend suggested Dubai. I thought hard about it and realized that in Paris and in New York, there are many good fashion designers and the competition was going to be tough. So, I tried out Dubai. And I liked it there. It’s a melting pot of races; in fact, there are more expats there than locals — lots of Europeans. It’s also an open city; not as strict as other Arabic cities.”

The Amato Woman

After toiling for other companies, One decided to strike out on his own. In 2002, he opened his first boutique, Amato Couture, in Dubai. “Amato is Italian for ‘beloved’. The demand then was for bridal finery, and the word seemed a fitting name for my new venture. It clicked! Then I started designing party dresses for my growing clientele.”

One also dressed one supermodel after another. Iconic photographer Ellen von Unwerth shot an One creation for Galore magazine worn by supermodel Omahyra Mota, who also starred in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), while Valeria Mazza appeared in Velvet magazine. The Cebu-bred couturier is the resident designer for Germany’s Next Top Model, hosted by Heidi Klum, for several seasons.

One is overwhelmed with her Heidi’s supermodel looks but more so because of her professionalism. “She encourages growth and progress in people she works with. I think these are things that should be considered a good and rare quality for someone of her prominence and stature,” One said in the same broadsheet story.

Not long after, One was conquering Germany one stitch at a time. The German actress Jenny Elbers Elbertzhagen wore one of his astonishing creations, which won Best Dress at the Leipzigen Opernball in 2008; and Mariella Graefin von Faber-Castell wore an One-designed costume for her performance as Die Buhschaft in Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s critically acclaimed play, Jedermann.

Tyra Banks also had Cycle 19 finalists (2012) of America’s Next Top Model dressed in Furne One. Stephanie Leigh Schlund, the gorgeous Cashmere in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), set the red carpet ablaze in his creation in one of the premieres of the blockbuster movie. 

The Amato woman knows more than the average female. She is “the kind of woman who’s smart, independent and has impeccable taste. She’s not afraid of her sensuality and she celebrates her strength and uniqueness. She is a woman who knows what she wants and won’t apologize for it.” She can be in the same vein as Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett and Madonna —  powerful women who are One’s undisputed muses.

The comeback

One’s exquisite creations are always glittered and paved with Swarovski crystals, so in 2007, the company commissioned him to design a bridal gown that was later on featured in its special-edition coffee-table tome, Unbridaled. This was followed with another show-stopping collaboration, the Crystallised Swarovski Elements event held at the swank Burj Al Arab Hotel.

In March 2009, One was invited to join Miami Fashion Week, where he unexpectedly won the coveted Miami and Moda Music Awards’ Designer’s Choice Award for his “To Dream of Heaven” and “After the Storm” collections inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

It’s all about hard work and diligence, One says of his storied climb to success. And a little bit of luck. “I am always at the right place at the right time,” he has said often, in all humility.

Of his influences, One states: “I respect and like all designers, especially Josie Natori, Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Gianfranco Ferre. But I get most of my inspirations from films and Madonna’s music videos. I’m a movie addict. I love, love, love Tim Burton and Pedro Almodovar films. I love vampires, too, such as True Blood, Twilight and Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I like everything gothic and Victorian!”

With all his credentials coupled with a humanitarian heart, Furne One was the featured designer in the Red Charity Gala in 2010. Excited, energized and deeply honored, the ebullient designer says with a laugh. “It was a charity event. And was like my comeback film in the Philippines!”

The inspiration was Queen Elizabeth I. The legendary monarch resonates with the Furne One woman: strong, independent, no-nonsense.

“I’m a size queen,” One notes. So, his creations were big on volume, a play on proportions, over-the-top accessories and otherworldly styling. It was directed by Ariel Lozada, with fashion styling by Noel Manapat and hair and makeup by Patrick Rosas.

‘World class’

After that unforgettable fundraising show at the Makati Shangri-La, One has graced the local fashion scene several more times. The most epic, of course, was the ‘eleganza’ extravaganza called World CLASS held at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino in 2018. A gathering of the best of Filipino fashion, CLASS stood for Cinco, Michael; Libiran, Francis; Amato Couture; Santos, Ezra; and Santiago, Cary.

World CLASS was truly a “Clash of the Titans.” Santiago, who organized the now-legendary battle, can rightfully bask in the show’s successful afterglow: “Furne came ready for battle. Michael came prepared; he has nothing to prove anymore. Ezra everyone loved because his clothes are wearable. Francis is a social media superstar.”

One’s collection was called “Amor Vincit Omnia,” which means “Love Conquers All” in Latin. The collection was inspired by the ornate architecture of cathedrals, Catholic vestments and religious iconography.

“Classic silhouettes are given the Amato Couture edge with soft ruffles made of tulle, sculpted to create voluminous masterpieces.

Pearls in multiple shapes, sizes and shades decorate the embroidered patterns giving them an ornate touch. Intricate detailing and meticulous handwork transform the entire collection into walking pieces of art,” the designer explained.

What made him say yes?

“Who could say no to being a part of such a prestigious rare gathering of the country’s most talented and acclaimed artists? For as long as I can remember, we Filipinos have looked up at the designers of Paris and Milan.

This is where we can show our fellow Filipinos that we, too, are capable of creating beautiful world-class garments to represent the Philippines and make the country proud,” One said.

‘Immaculate machinations’

What was supposed to be a “rematch” of the 2018 World CLASS spectacle turned into an Amato Couture solo spectacle. On October 22 this year, still at Waterfront Cebu, One single-handedly filled the Pacific Ballroom with his intricate, exquisite and impeccable constructed creations.

The show was called “Immaculate Machinations,” alluding to a plot, or a path or a plan to being pure and chaste, with the ensembles in various permutations of white and whiter shades of pale.

The set was decorated with angels; hands that symbolize Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, the fresco at the Sistine Chapel ceiling where God reaches out to Adam; and the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Divided into four segments: Cold. Warm. Crystals. Sculptures, it was directed by Junjet Primor with hair and make-up by Jojo Dantes-Padua, Ginno Alducente, Emi Ayag,Carla Fuentes, and Jomer Arances. Jewelry was provided by Diagold.

The 50-looks collection included the stupendous pieces worn by Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Katy Perry.

Marina the Magnificent

When it comes to runway supremacy, no one comes close to Marina Benipayo, whom One considers his formidable muse. In “Love Conquers All,” the finale piece which Marina wore, sent the audience to its feet. I was an “iconic fabric sculpture created with rows of ruffled tulle in various sizes. It embodies angel wings with its curved sleeves and statement headpiece.”

In “Immaculate Machinations,” Marina again served as the perfect finale: “The approach is like an eerie doll. She wore an ensemble of ruffles made of horsehair with beads and crystals,” One said.

“It’s been 13 years since the first time I had the privilege of walking for Furne Amato for the Red Charity Gala. I remember thinking what a challenge it was for me, being in my 40s already by then, having to walk wearing a bejeweled corset, on seven-inch platforms and a 50-kilo cape.

Adding to the excitement was the faulty fog machine that spilled oil on the base of the runway, I figured it would be the best test of skill for any model. I myself couldn’t believe I was able to finish my set successfully [actually I was praying while walking]. That show one of the most memorable in my entire career,” recalled the legendary supermodel.

“Since then I have done finales for Furne and each one felt absolutely surreal and remarkable for me. And in my mind I kept thinking how fortunate I am to have always been chosen by this distinguished artist.

I say ‘artist’ because he transforms models into living sculptures. What an honor to have that rare opportunity!

“Fourteen years later, I find myself doing his Immaculate Machinations finale again at his Cebu gala. Now in my mid-50s, the challenge is physically harder, but I can’t thank Furne enough for always trusting me with his work.

“Just being included in a Furne Amato show is every model’s dream; and I can’t thank the Lord enough for the blessing that Furne is in the industry,” Benipayo said.

What makes a world class Filipino designer?

“It definitely takes a lot more than just being rich and famous. Hard work, passion and pride makes one a ‘World Class Filipino.’ I would consider overseas Filipino workers in this category,” noted Furne One.

“These individuals work hard day and night, yet still manage to stay positive despite being miles away from their loved ones. Not only do they help the Philippine economy, they keep their heads up and sacrifice a lot to provide a better future for their families.”