Grace, subtlety and quiet magnificence: Paul Cabral’s Filipiniana couture

FIRST Lady Liza Araneta Marcos and designer Paul Cabral (fourth and fifth from left, first row) at the ‘Una: Paul Cabral Premier Gala.’

Resounding applause, standing ovation, and a crescendo of superlative praises capped the finale of “Una,” the premier gala fashion show of low-key designer Paul Cabral at the newly refurbished Laperal Mansion, the presidential guest house, in Arlegui Street recently.

The enthralled audience of Paul’s first-ever fashion show, composed of the cream of high society, politics, the diplomatic world and business, led by US Ambassador MaryKay L. Carlson, tycoon Many V. Pangilinan, Philippine Ambassador to Spain HE Philippe Jones  and Mrs. Edna  Lhuillier, philanthropist Alice Eduardo, Mark and Emily Villar, Helen Gamboa and daughter…,  could only agree that indeed, the shining star of Philippine couture has finally come out of his cocoon. For all these years, Paul has kept an almost invisible presence,  and yet, among his clients and those in the know of the fashion world, has always been consistent with his magnificent designs, understated and classic, yet of world-class quality in both their aesthetics and craftsmanship.

AS a designer, Paul Cabral aims for masterpieces that are subtle, subdued and striking in simplicity. | PHOTOGRAPHS BY DIANNE BACELONIA FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE

I take liberty with quoting from the souvenir program distributed before the show, which allowed us an insight on what to expect and indeed, its words turned out to be predictive of the stunning collection that could have come from the hands, heart and soul of a true artist that is Paul Cabral.

Noteworthy of the eloquent passages was the mention of “Paul Cabral’s shy demeanor (being) evident in his creations in the way they are modest, silently tasteful, never loud or attention-seeking. They are streamlined in structure and are a testament to the quiet power of great design. The fit and fall of the dress are more important to Paul than the adornments of beadwork. He aims for comfort more than anything, clothes that make one feel the most themselves, in their skin. His creations are subtle, subdued and striking in simplicity.

PAUL Cabral aims for comfort more than anything, clothes that make one feel the most themselves, in their skin.

“A common trait of the Filipina is her being well-mannered and humble in dressing. The Filipino literary icon Maria Clara is a constant inspiration for design and Paul Cabral has mastered the art of conservative dressing in modern times. Decade after decade, Paul’s designs have remained staples in the architecture of fashion. The formality of his creations is appropriate in the echelons of style and their grace lives through generations of fashion fans, old and new.”  

CABRAL’S creations echo timeless style and grace.

The “next Ramon Valera” One of the select few high society ladies of Manila whose name alone suffices when being introduced, Maricris Zobel is the wife of business tycoon Inigo Zobel and the mother of their five good-looking and accomplished children. She was a signature model of the legendary designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno.  As an It girl of the late 1970s, she participated in his fashion shows in the top cosmopolitan cities of the world where they showed off Filipiniana creations before the international jet set, top industrialists, European royalty and heads of state including Russian President Leonid Breshnev and King Hassan of Morocco, the latter performance a gift of First Lady Romualdez Marcos to His Majesty on the occasion of his birth anniversary.

The fit and fall of the dress are more important to Paul Cabral than the adornments of beadwork.

The legendary Pitoy loved her for her mestiza looks and what he described as her “perfect model’s shoulder.” Two years ago, she and her fellow original Pitoy models Lolita Imperial, Crispy Santamaria and Carol Masibay presented a fashion show during the birthday of Mrs. Imelda R. Marcos, where they modeled the creations of Paul Cabral. Maricris busies herself with philanthropic work, patronage of the arts, hosting intimate dinners and enjoying life in the company of her grandchildren. When persuaded, she occasionally dons her beautiful clothes for fashion shows that pay tribute to her mentor and discoverer, Pitoy Moreno, and the fashion greats of yore, all for a noteworthy cause, of course.

Comparing him to the great designers of yore, Maricris shared:   

“Paul Cabral is the leading designer of the Philippines today. I truly love the way he used Philippine indigenous materials in his Laperal Mansion fashion show. The way he modernized the Philippine look was most impressive and very world-class. While he showcased Philippine artistry and craftsmanship, he also succeeded in showing that Philippine fashion could be at home anywhere in the world.

“As I took a look at his tunic creations, I could not help recalling Pitoy’s memorable classic tunics in his time. Paul’s white cotton tunic was an incredible take of the late great designer’s tunic but Paul has made it very 21st century. What he achieved was to improvise and give it an up-to-date look, which he achieved by using tapis (Philippine wrap around the waist), sleeveless tops and our quintessential Barong Tagalog.

“It was obvious that with the way he has modernized Filipiniana, one would want to wear it today and not feel out of place, but very much at home in a modern setting. Paul’s outfits are very indicative of the Filipina today.

MARICRIS Zobel and daughter Bianca in Paul Cabral.

“Everything that he presented was both beautiful and wearable, to belabor the point. I was impressed too with his use of brocade for men’s pants with top vests that I too could use.

“I noticed that the First Lady, Atty. Liza Araneta Marcos, who loves Paul’s creations and wears them often, wore a pina outfit that he created. One could see that she was very relaxed and it fit her perfectly. One could sense that the pina material did not feel itchy.

“I have been to many fashion shows in various parts and I could easily say that Paul’s works would be admired right in Milan, and I must repeat, a big hit would be his tunics and the way he had incorporated them into daily wear.

“His works are neat, very clean or what we would say in Filipino as “malinis ang trabaho” (neat in craftsmanship), and, if I may use the word, very clingy, or they fit and hug the body well. The way he constructs his clothes is remarkable. He knows the body of a woman and flatters her well. Anyone who wears a Paul Cabral becomes even more confident.   


“On a personal note, Paul is a very modest person and is always nice to be with. There is a humble presence about him. I had met him only two years ago when he started dressing up the present First Lady. It was she who had called us to hold a little fashion show during the 94th birthday of her mother-in-Law, Mrs. Imelda Marcos.    There were five of us – Crispy Santamaria, Lolit Imperial, Carolyn Masibay, Menchu Menchaca and myself. We showed him some photos of ourselves in our past shows and the way he created our tunics was amazing.  He made my dress and those of Menchu and Carol.

“As I recall that evening at the Laperal Mansion, he was very much applauded and given a standing ovation as he passed through the various rooms. In the past, there were the legends, starting with Ramon Valera, and then came Salvacion Lim Higgins and Pitoy Moreno. Ramon led the way and now,  Paul Cabral is on his way because he has proven the agelessness and timelessness of his creations. My daughters will be able to wear what he had made for me. My daughter Bianca, was in a Paul Cabral too during his fashion show.”

(To be continued)