Puey Quiñones:  From hometown artist  now First Lady’s designer

Only this February, Puey Quiñones, who designs the dresses and Filipiniana outfit of the First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos, opened his atelier in Poblacion, Makati City.  Here, in this beautifully decorated place, he receives clients and close friends for whom he occasionally cooks — the culinary arts being his other passion.

Fashion Designer Puey Quiñones

‘I loved the sound of the machine and the sound of the stitching. It was like music to my ears,’ Quiñones tells Daily Tribune.


Being the designer of the First Lady, Puey can say he has indeed come a long way from his youth in Northern Samar where, as a kid, he was always at the top of the class when it came to folk dancing and other extracurricular activities. He is the only son among the four children of a policeman father and a public schoolteacher mother. He grew up playing with his three sisters and the other girls in the neighborhood.

“We would cut out paper dolls from the cardboard of cigarette packs because we couldn’t afford to buy Barbie dolls,” he recalled in an interview with the Daily Tribune.

He related: “My father was very strict. I would hide from him when I did those girl things. He wanted me to become a real man and to become a policeman. He would ask me to join him in the cockpit every Sunday. During the town fiesta, he wanted me to join the boxing bouts. I would really cry. I would cry on the floor because I didn’t really like to box.”


Lola’s favorite

If his mother was quiet about the way his father was trying to raise Puey, the effeminate little boy found solace in his grandmother, Lola Regina, “who was my spoiler and my ‘kunsintidora’ (enabler). I was the lola’s girl. She was a modista (dressmaker) and I would hang around a lot in her home. She became my number one influence. She was my favorite and I was her favorite.”

His lola saw him succeed “and that made her very happy.”

Puey loved to be “on stage. I had a beautiful voice as a child and I sang a lot, which I took from my father’s love for music.” He also danced, declaimed and participated in programs where he shone as a performer.

His sisters were all honor students and received medals at the end of each school year, but “I never had a single medal for academic excellence. But when I graduated from high school, I had more medals than the valedictorian because I was cited for my performance in extracurricular activities,” Puey shared.

Puey’s siblings had left for the big city to pursue their college studies, but his parents decided that he should study in the local state university “because my father was afraid baka daw magladlad ako (I might end up coming out),” Puey said, referring to his sexual orientation.


Number one in the performing arts

“So, I studied in the University of Eastern Philippines, the state university in Northern Samar. I majored in Political Science because my father wanted me to become a policeman or a lawyer. When I found out about the University Performing Arts Organization, I joined the audition. I ended up being number one for the first time in my life.”

“I wanted to take up Mass Communication. I admired Korina Sanchez in Hoy Gising! She was just so strong on the television screen. I dreamt of becoming Korina Sanchez but that was not meant to be. I never had the opportunity because I could not leave our province. Eventually, I would meet Korina and make her dresses. I love Korina.”

By the time Puey was in second year college, he just focused on the performing arts. “I did not attend my classes. I would pretend at home that I was going to school. I would just copy from my friend when it was exam time. I would treat him to pancit bihon during lunch, he said.”

“By the time I was in third year, my parents began looking for my cards. But I had nothing to show because I wasn’t studying anymore.”

photograph courtesy of dianne bacELONIA for the daily tribune
Puey Quiñones has just relaunched his bridal showroom in Los Angeles, California. He travels back and forth between Manila and LA and is pursuing his craft with the excellent artistry and cutting-edge approach that have endeared him to his clients and fans.


By the time I was in third year, my parents began looking for my cards. But I had nothing to show because I wasn’t studying anymore.”


Escape to Manila

One summer vacation, his aunt, who owned a uniform-making business in Manila, came home for the Holy Week. Puey took a chance and asked if he could join her. The aunt agreed thinking he would just stay for the summer break.

Puey had something else in mind. The adventurous young man, not sure of what he would do with his life, had decided on getting a job in Manila.

And thus began Puey’s life-defining journey, one that would bring him to where he is today, the proverbial height of success, although, he reveals, “It had not been easy and I had had my share of challenges and setbacks.”

As of press time, Puey had just relaunched his bridal showroom in Los Angeles, California. He travels back and forth between Manila and LA and is pursuing his craft with the excellent artistry and cutting-edge approach that have endeared him to his clients and fans.


Our interview with Puey follows:  

Daily Tribune (DT): How were your early years in Manila?

Puey Quiñones (PQ): I lived in my aunt’s house along JP Rizal in Makati City. She and her business partner, Dennis Lustico, lived in the same address. Since I desperately needed a job, I told them I would perform any kind of work. I lived with Dennis, who was then an upcoming young designer. I would help in the making of uniforms. I helped sew the buttons. I also did hemlines.

I became an over-all assistant of Dennis in his shop. I also cooked our meals since I loved cooking.


DT: How did you become interested in designing?

PQ: I was amazed at how Dennis would turn his sketch into a real dress or gown. I taught myself how to sew with the sewing machine. I would borrow a sewing machine and I would experiment and master the mechanism. I mastered how to use a highspeed sewing machine. I loved the sound of the machine and the sound of the stitching. It was like music to my ears. When you hear the machine running and the needle hitting the fabric, wow, I really pay attention to that. Tapos sabi ko, parang gusto kong magtahi. So, I would ask for the retasos. I would drape it around a mannequin. And I would sew it.


DT: Did Dennis know?

PQ: Yeah, he knew. But I couldn’t tell him that time that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I was too shy. Kasi, you know, for me as a kid growing up, I considered fashion as a career for someone who was well-off already, pang mayaman lang. I was afraid people would think I was ambisiyosa (ambitious). But I was really ambitious. I was too intimidated to tell him that I wanted to be like him. I would drape a mannequin when I was alone, but now and then, I took the courage to leave the mannequin with my draping on. Just so he would notice. I would also sketch and let it lie about hoping he would notice it.

Working with Lola Mel

DT: When did he finally notice?

PQ: After probably several months, he asked me from out of nowhere, ‘Do you want to apply as a designer?’ His former boss, Mel Meer of Bergamo, needed a designer. He was looking for a young designer because he was launching a women’s collection. Dennis recommended me.


DT: Did you ever attend Slim’s or a similar school?

PQ: I am self-taught. I didn’t have the money for tuition fee. It’s good I had free food at Dennis’s home. I didn’t receive any salary because I told him from the start, ‘I just need a place to stay and I would do everything.’


DT: Tell us about Bergamo.

PQ: I call Mel Meer Lola. He’s like my lola. I showed my sketches and he liked my ideas and my vision. I came up with something different, not the usual Bergamo design. So, I started immediately and that was my first job.

He actually needed me for just one show. I experimented and he was very happy. He liked the outcome and was impressed. So, he took me in as an employee. This was in 2001. I stayed with him for two years.


Tingting as first client

DT: What made you famous? What was the turning point?

PQ: I joined the Young Designers Competition. The winner would be sent to Paris. I didn’t win but I made it as a finalist. Tingting Cojuangco, who was a judge, went backstage and met me. She asked me to go to her house. She became my first-ever client. Then, she recommended me to Gina de Venecia… sunod-sunod na.

I was nervous. She asked me to make several dresses for her. I was so happy when she gave me money as a deposit. Ten thousand pesos was a large sum then, and I bought my first sewing machine, a second-hand one. But I continued staying with Dennis. I installed the sewing machine in his garage.


DT: When did you finally live on your own?

PQ: I met my British boyfriend, a businessman who was travelling a lot. I left Dennis and I lived in Bel-Air. I wasn’t really totally on my own because I next worked for Lulu Tan Gan, who gave me a really good exposure. Lulu is very technical because she does knits. I also learned from her the business side of fashion. I was her assistant designer and stylist.

In 2004, I started completely on my own. This was after I parted with my ex. I first opened my atelier in late 2003 at Classica Tower on HV dela Costa, Makati. It was just a room. It was my shop at daytime and my bedroom at night. I didn’t have the capital. A client gave me an advance payment again. I was able to hire one costurera. One of my first clients was Aimee Marcos. Then came Irene Araneta. And then, high society followed. The Dizon ladies, Tita Jul, Janina and Candy, the jewelers, soon followed. And then, Cecil Ang, Ramon S. Ang’s daughter, and Tim Yap for whom I made all those flamboyant outfits.


Queen of Burgos

DT: When did you discover the Población?

PQ: It wasn’t as famous as the Población as we know it now. I needed to have a bigger space so I rented Ed Calma’s penthouse on Burgos Street. This time, I had a bigger team.

But then, I experienced a personal predicament. What happened was, I lost clients. Parang my business really suffered and I got depressed. That’s when I tried naman cooking. Because I took a break sa fashion, I pursued my love for cooking. I hosted luncheons for my exclusive clientele. I became known as the Queen of Burgos.


DT: Tell us about your foray into cooking and hosting these special dinners.

PQ: Since I lived in a penthouse, it became a party place and I would host private dinners. Then people would pay. It became my second career after fashion. I did it for a year.

I learned how to cook from my favorite grandmother, Lola Celerina. Even when I was a full-time designer, I would host all the time because I love entertaining. I love hosting. I specialized in Samar cuisine. Among my favorite dishes are humba, ginataan and pinangat. I modified by turning them into more couture, especially in the way I presented them. I used authentic ingredients from Samar which my mother would send to me by bus. For example, my gabi (taro) leaves are different. They don’t make you feel itchy in your mouth. While I had an assistant, I did the cooking myself. I myself sliced the ingredients, including the onions and garlic. I had a particular cut and they had to be uniform.

photograph courtesy of Unsplash/juan gomez
‘I would borrow a sewing machine and I would experiment and master the mechanism.’


DT: But you eventually went back to fashion. Why?

PQ: After a year of cooking and hosting, parang I wanted to go back to fashion. My friends from the fashion industry, like Sari Yap, tried to help me. She included me in a fashion show, the MEGA Young Designers competition. I was one of the mentors, not a competitor. But parang it didn’t work pa rin. That time, I kind of felt that my time in the Philippines was over. So, I called Michael Cinco in Dubai.

(Next week: How Puey conquered LA and finally came home to Manila and became a favorite of the First Lady of the Philippines.)