Fashion and bridal designer Joe San Antonio presents her latest collection inspired by Swan Lake, one of the most popular ballets of all time.
Joe, who specializes in couture and custom bridal gowns, delivers an eight-piece collection that will make any wearer feel like a ballerina out on a romantic stroll.
“I was inspired by the love story behind Prince Siegfried and Princess Odette,” says Joe, who first saw the ballet several years ago on DVD. The telling of a story between a prince and a princess cursed to turn into a swan captured young Joe’s attention and imagination. “I love ballet shows. It amazes me how the emotions are portrayed through dance and movement.”
Joe San Antonio
Photos: Juan Padilla
The experience stayed with the Central St. Martins-educated designer, and became the springboard for her most recent work.
The collection features gowns with Joe’s signature hand-sewn elements and intricate beading. “For this particular collection, we used hand embroidery details with Swarovski crystals.” Joe also created dresses with French lace and French tulle, which add softness to the whole look.
Two gowns in particular hold a special place in her heart. “The lilac and dusty blue gowns are actually inspired by the fact that Odette can only transform at midnight and daybreak.”
She goes into detail: “Though the color white has a special meaning for me since I love doing bridal gowns, for me the blue and lilac dresses also present a bracing look for a modern bride.”
True to Joe’s romantic and elegant designs in the past, these new creations play on soft and rough textures without sacrificing their ethereal feel. Each intricate detail shows the dedication and passion for her work, which includes paying special attention to her bridal clients.
“I usually think of what my previous brides wanted for their wedding when I render my designs,” she says.
“I keep in mind that every bride has a unique perception of her gown for her big day.
I usually think of how a bride would feel when she sees the design. Will she be comfortable? Will she be excited?
“These things help me conceptualize for my clients, whether she’s a simple bride or a very expressive kind of bride.”
The Filipina designer notes that she often takes inspiration from things that had an impact on her. The current pandemic brought about by the Coronavirus disease, for instance, was a factor in her previous collection, called La Grace.
“That collection was derived from the two meanings of the word grace,” she remarks. “The event industry has been greatly affected by the pandemic. Because of this, the meaning of grace—thoughtfulness and elegance—came to mind.”
Joe adds: “Thoughtfulness because through this experience, we became mindful of the things that we’ve neglected over the years. The things that we have, we now value them more.
“Elegance because though weddings have shifted to becoming an intimate affair, we still see the glow of every bride even when the gown is simple.”
For this collection, brides and non-brides alike will have their pick among the eight gowns that evoke sophistication from every angle.
First is the off-white sheath gown with a fully-beaded and hand-embroidered bodice that comes with a detachable train. Between that and the strapless piece with lace applique which extends to the glistening A-line ivory tulle skirt, one will be spoilt for choice.
Then there’s the mermaid gown with an asymmetrical neckline and tulle skirt details. The patterned beading helps flatter the figure as the dress hugs all the curves, and provides the perfect amount of drama even without the volume.
Joe’s fans will also delight in a beaded spaghetti-strapped number, which flows into a train made of delicate lace.
Another gown, which can be worn with or without the strap, is a wonderful contrast of textures because of its rough hand-embroidered bodice and soft tulle skirt.
The last white piece is certainly not the least. Anyone who wears it becomes a sight to behold with its sweetheart neckline, sparkling sequins, and patterned beads—each hand-sewn to perfection.
But as Joe herself expresses, the showstoppers for this collection which she dubs Eleganza (the Italian word for elegance), are the lilac and dusty blue gowns.
Get blown away by the dusty blue creation with its strapless bodice encrusted in Swarovski crystals, beads, and sequins, which spread onto its magnificent ball skirt.
On the other hand, the lilac sheath gown with a halter neckline and detachable train is both decadent and enchanting, with its elaborate beading all done by hand.
Both the gowns’ skirt and train are made of French tulle, which appear at times frothy and cloudy. One is reminded of the water in the lake at daybreak, and the lavender sky turning into night. It’s easy to understand how Joe San Antonio was inspired by Swan Lake when marvelling at these looks.
This latest collection, which took about four months to finish, attests to Joe’s signature of designing form-fitting gowns with intricate details that make them memorable. To say that these pieces are exquisite is an understatement.
It is also not a stretch to say that these designs can withstand the test of time. As the arresting photos of the collection show, the classic dresses look right at home set against backdrops such as the Duomo di Milano, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, and Arco della Pace.
Choosing these sites is no accident either, as Joe’s love for architecture is what led her to fashion design. “I’ve loved designing ever since I was in middle school,” she recalls. “But not particularly clothes. I love drawing landscapes and architecture, that’s the reason I thought I would be an architect.”
But she had another calling. “When I was studying for university, I realized I love designing clothes when I kept on experimenting on my own clothes. I would edit what I bought into what suits me more. After college, I knew I had to study fashion designing to have more knowledge in this field.”
She first studied at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines, and later at Central St. Martins in London.
Since then, she has become one of the most sought-after fashion designers in the Philippines. Asked how her style has changed through the years, she replies: “I’ve seen my designs evolve into more elegant and classic pieces.
“I used to be playful with cuts and silhouettes. Now, I enjoy focusing more on details like embellishments, fabric manipulation, and lace sculpting.”
For her future collections, the proudly Filipina designer wishes to use and develop techniques that are known in her native Philippines.
“I plan to make more detailed and complex designs that every bride would love to wear,” she reveals. “Hand embroidery on wedding gowns is one of our proud craftsmanships that’s not common elsewhere.
“I would love to incorporate our own materials such as piña silk and abacca. I’m also interested in experimenting with fabric manipulation of our local weaving materials.”
The devotion Joe has for her craft shows in the time devoted on each piece she designs, whether it’s a minimalist look or one with hand-embroidered embellishments. Each creation is a labor of love, and one can expect nothing less in the next collections to come.
“I love that every bridal gown I make has a story,” Joe explains when asked what she loves most about being a designer.
“It is such a privilege to be part of the most memorable clothing a girl will ever own. Hearing their love story and their dream wedding excites me. I can really say fashion design is my passion, and I’m happy doing what I love.”