The first time I talked to Avel Bacudio, it was 2015 and I was asking him for clothes I would be using for a celebrity cover. A quick exchange on Facebook led us to talking over the phone. Without any prologues, whatsoever, the phone rang and a voice blurted out, “Hola, que tal?” This Spanish bit, resembling that of a Latina beauty queen, lasted for a good minute and a half before he exploded to laughter, then letting out a sincere, “Ano kapatid? Ano’ng kailangan natin?” And we got to talking.
In a sense, that first “virtual” meeting sums up what Bacudio is. He is vibrant, no-fuss, and funny, with a penchant for making even the most aloof stranger comfortable. I remember, serving as conduit in our collaboration with Boardwalk Philippines for this month’s cover feature, on the set, he was the guy handing out drinks to our cover boy, cracking jokes to everyone, and making comments that made us all laugh. But in his quiet moments, you could almost see him making imaginary sketches of his next design.
At one point, as we were wrapping up on a layout with Alden Richards wearing an overcoat fresh from his Fall 2019 collection, he stared at the styled ensemble for a good minute before blurting out, censor-free, “Parang gusto ko mas maraming ganyan for my show in New York. Malinis lang.”
He was humble and accessible, with an unparalleled genius and a sense of familiarity so intoxicating, you’d feel like you’re with a friend you’ve grown up with.
To this day, Bacudio remains as one of the most recognizable names in fashion—one that gets called out on runways and on television. His is a name synonymous with expert craftsmanship, flattering silhouettes, and a long clientele of A-listers from society bigwigs to celebrities. With this impressive resume, however, it is hard to imagine that the man behind the long line of crisp, clean looks we see on lacquered runways and magazines did not even have the capability to enroll himself in a fashion school at first.
But Bacudio is not one to turn back on his roots. He is proud of where he came from, knowing that his humble beginnings pushed him to be better. “I came from the smallest town in Bicol. When my mother passed away, I went to Manila and stayed at my sister’s to take care of my nephews and nieces. I told her that I want to study and so I enrolled.”
He then took a year’s worth of studies in Architecture at the Technological Institute of the Philippines before dabbling into the world of fashion design. He was 17 years old when he became an assistant to a department store owner where he developed an instant proclivity to learning processes of designers at the department store.
Slowly, he learned the ropes in the business of clothes and with his drive and passion, he began joining design contests. He recalls, “I remember that I joined young designer competitions and for three consecutive years, I never made it. Somehow, something pushed me to just continue trying.”
It was right when the Young Designer’s Guild of the Philippines was founded, with fellow pioneering members Jojie Lloren, and Robi Lolin, when his designs were given a second look. He continued, “Inno Sotto and Richard Tan noticed our designs and then they gave us the opportunity to showcase our work at the Philippine Fashion Watch and from there, things just expanded and came in naturally.”
“It was really Richard Tan who inspired me to go through it all. Inno Sotto who introduced me to him and I was blessed to get that kind of influence going into this industry. I was very shy and yang mga interview, interview na yan, ayaw ko niyan noon. But he believed in me and he told me, ‘Hindi naman kelangan maging magaling mag-English at hindi mo naman kelangan maging magaling sa lahat ng bagay. Your clothes will speak for you.’ That way, I started having confidence.”
Since 2000, Bacudio stood as a regular on national competitions, commonly figuring at the top. His designs started getting recognition and led him to be sent to Osaka and Chiba in Japan to compete and represent the country, together with Lloren and another designer, Lesley Mobo.
Working for television followed suit, where Bacudio was trained to come up with designs on a weekly basis for a show called, Wansapanatym. Slowly, he began developing his signature design touch influenced heavily by his background, having a mother who has done suits and a father who earned a living through carving. “On both sides, I have been exposed to the arts and in creating something.”
Developing his aesthetic was a road to self-discovery as he had gone from avant-garde inspirations to ready-to-wear almost naturally, inspired by a number of local and international designers from Inno Sotto’s couture to Cesar Gaupo’s timeless creations to Alexander Macqueen, Helmut Lang, Alexander Wang, and Neil Barrett.
It was in 2002 when won the People’s Choice award in the staging of the Concours International des Jeunes Createurs de Mode in Manila where he was among the five chosen designers who flew to Paris. Bacudio shared, “For a designer, especially for someone like me who came from the province. I think Paris is really the big dream. Nung andun na ako, akala ko nananaginip pa rin ako. I never expected that it will turn into a reality.”
In the succeeding year, he was also handpicked as one of the ten best designers in the “Timeless Terno” contest conducted by the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. It was through this unflinching vision and devotion that Bacudio established himself as a front runner in Philippine fashion. He has carved a name trusted by many, earning him a solid client base locally and abroad.
He then formed a relationship with celebrity clients starting with his first ever muse, Cris Villonco then Vina Morales, before inviting more loyal supporters from Kris Aquino to Charo Santos Concio. Internationally, his designs have walked runways in New York, Malaysia, Paris, Tokyo, and Milan.
Metro magazine, in 2012, awarded him as the Breakthrough Designer of the Year followed shortly by President Noynoy Aquino awarding him as an Ambassador of Peace. Back in 2014, Bacudio copped the the Asia’s Most Influential Designer award at the Mercedes-Benz Style Fashion Week, awarded by the famed designer Jimmy Choo.
“It was an unbelievable award. Especially for someone like me who really started from the bottom, all I have is the undying desire to be the best version of myself. I dreamt it, but I never thought it would actually happen. Jimmy Choo has taught me a lot. My style got elevated and I developed a different taste level in creating something that is detailed and well-crafted,” he said.
Right now, Bacudio continues his relationship with direct-selling company Boardwalk, having traipsed into the world of ready-to-wear from his known avant-garde sensibilities when he was starting out. His own online design atelier, Avel Designs, also showcases his modern contemporary aesthetic that elevates wearable fashion.
“I have been with Boardwalk for over 13 years and they never failed to support me. Sila talaga ang isa sa mga nagbigay sakin ng tulay. They never left my side.” Recently, Bacudio has partnered with actor and musician, Matteo Guidicelli, collaborating on a line of specially-designed jeans for Boardwalk and his online design store. Right now, his calendar is packed with exciting work with a roster of celebrities from Janine Gutierrez, Jerome Ponce, and our cover boy, himself, Alden Richards.
When asked where Philippine fashion is now, he said, “Hindi tayo nalalayo. Ang bilis nating nakakasabay sa global brands kaya sana talaga matulungan ng government ang fashion industry natin. We can’t afford to lose great talent again.”
This passion to provide a platform for emerging young designers remains and in between that and developing his ever-evolving brand, Bacudio is focused in establishing a stronger global presence. “Slowly, but surely. The part of it is that I get to improve my craft day by day.”
Produced by Leo Balante
Photography by Jerick Sanchez
Styling and hair by Ello Eregin
Makeup by Jinx Aggabao
Shot on location at the Boardwalk Studios