From a simple but nurturing home to making bold strokes in global fashion, Furne One is Cebu’s gift to the world—a symbol of Filipino pride that comes in a halo of gorgeous fabrics, shimmering beadwork and bold designs.
There is a dream-like quality to the work of Furne One (pronounced “Oh-ney”), but in this dream, there are no fairy princesses with flowers in their hair or dashing princes to sweep them off their feet. In the visions in his head, he conjures up a different kind of fantasy—of majestic women tough but beautiful, magnificent in their structured, almost architectural yet ultra feminine haute couture, burdened by fashion yet somehow liberated by it.
Fashion designer is a term that does not even begin to describe him. A craftsman and an artist both, Furne’s work shocks and awes—from his “It’s Alive” show and his collaborations with Swarovski, to the various collections showcased from Los Angeles to Dubai. Criticized as a costumer on one hand and hailed as a visionary on another, Furne’s instinct and flair for drama has nevertheless made him one of the most exciting designers to have risen in the last decade, audacious enough to throw in everything—extravagant headdresses, ostentatious appliqués and stiletto platform boots into a mix featuring winged sleeves, décolleté necklines, sharp cuts and sexy sheer fabrics.
“Furne One is known for his intricate and handcrafted gowns that are literally hard to describe in words,” wrote the LA Fashion Magazine in an article about the Furne One by Amato Couture 2012 show at LA Fashion Week, which was published online in March. “The finale was absolutely stunning,” it would also say of his pièce de résistance, a nude crystal-decorated bodysuit with arms made from tulle fabric that were meant to look like wings. “It was a masterpiece—a work of art, and much more than fashion, which is what Furne One’s show was all about. His collection was not just full of beautiful and ornate pieces—it symbolized nature, its beauty and what he felt represented this best,” the article would end.
“Growing up, I knew that I was inclined to the arts,” says Furne. “If I weren’t a fashion designer, I guess I would be a theatrical director.” This is unsurprising given his unyielding vision, as had been noted in Splash Magazine’s website how he himself is “in charge of each detail, from aesthetic of hair and makeup, to lights and music.”
“I draw inspiration from a variety of unlikely sources,” he says of his creations that are the glorious centerpieces to his overall presentations. “They range from music, cinema, gothic art, disturbing images, vintage pieces, cosmic mysticism, architecture, myths and legends, science and religion.” But even the simplest things are just as important inspirations to him, like “people, nature, my travels, old villages and even intelligent conversations.”
Anyone would fear that Furne’s broad list of influences may result in a mish-mash of one-off art pieces, but Furne always manages to deliver collections that are thematically consistent. Although his clothes seem to be out-of-this-world modern art pieces at best, it should also be noted that pop stars Shakira, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum, Nicole Scherzinger and, to a more flamboyant extent, Nicki Minaj have all worn Furne’s creations on the red carpet. Come to think of it, even local pop princess Sarah Geronimo has been “Furne-d.”
Deeply-Rooted Born and raised in Cebu, Furne recalls, “My childhood was fascinating and colorful. I remember I used to marvel at my mother and grandmother’s fashionable clothes, and I would always be blown away every time I saw them wearing something new. They inspired me a lot in a sense that they both have great taste—very much like today’s trendsetters. They have always been so up-to-date with the latest in fashion. I guess that counts as my very first fashion encounter.”
If his vision for fashion had been stirred at home—beginning to sketch at the tender age of ten—outside that nurturing and inspiring environment, it would be encouraged even more by other kindred souls. “My fondest memories all started in high school, with my circle of friends having exactly the same interest in fashion,” he relates. He likewise recalls them saving their allowance just to buy back issues of “our fashion bible, Vogue.”
“Surprisingly, my friends and I ended up working in the world of fashion.” Looking back, perhaps it wasn’t a surprise more than it was an answer to a calling.
Taking up fine arts with a major in advertising—as well as some courses in New York later—Furne’s biggest break in fashion was his 1994 Mega Magazine Young Designer of the Philippines Award victory. “My career was jumpstarted,” he concurs. “As part of my prize, I got to apprentice with Josie Natori, one of the judges at the time, in New York. From there, a lot of doors opened for me.” That same year, Furne would bag the first prize at Japan’s Women’s Wear Awards; just three years later, he went on to become a finalist at Manila’s Fashion Designer Awards.
Dubai Calling From Cebu to Dubai by way of Manila, Furne has traveled far, and not just in terms of his achievements. “It may sound weird but years ago, I had a dream,” he shares. “I’m talking about an actual dream, not just a figurative one. In the dream, I traveled to a far away place that looked a lot like a Middle Eastern country. The place had an air of magic and mystery, and something inside me told me this is where I should be.”
According to him, it was just less than a year later when he “heard about this place that people were starting to call the new melting pot in the Middle East. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to move to Dubai.” But while he has been re-establishing his roots in an emirate located southeast of the Persian Gulf on the Arabian Peninsula, Furne has never forgotten his humble beginnings. “Coming from a small island, I was given the chance to dress up A-list celebrities,” he muses now, recalling the “unexpected standing ovations and awards” he’d received with wonderment.
Still, even a courageous creator such as Furne isn’t immune to some missteps, if critics can be believed. One of them is Agenda Online magazine writer Kaylene Peoples, who declared Furne as “just a self-proclaimed artisan” and that his Spring 2012 collection shown at Vibiana during LA Fashion Week last January was “more of a costume line than anything realistically wearable in the real world.” She goes on to talk about “the parade of D-list models” on the catwalk—some of which sported face-constricting headgear—and the “less than worthy stitching of these garments.” Nevertheless, she conceded that must have gone wrong for the collection was its “presentation, or lack thereof,” where the clothes were showcased in a less-than-theatrical setting than they called for.
Just the same, mixed reviews and negative criticism are not uncommon, especially in fashion where views can often be subjective and murmurs are not always constructive. Even the greatest minds can use some room to learn—it is, after all, the only way to get better. Self-assured, Furne notes almost defiantly, “Good and bad reviews are my memorable achievements.”
The Path to Greatness A brief overview of his feat would reveal the opening of his first boutique Amato, which means beloved, in Dubai in 2002. From here, he supplies his elite clientele of Eastern World royalty with an array of hand-stitched designs and intricately detailed creations. Amato’s success would land Furne a commissioned project from Swarovski in 2007, for which he created a staggeringly glittered bridal dress to grace the limited edition book “Unbridaled.” His collaboration with Swarovski continued to be celebrated with show-stopping collections for the Crystallized Swarovski Elements events.
By 2008, Furne’s work would the toast of European fashion elite, thanks to his exposure on “Germany’s Next Top Model,” where he was invited as a special guest designer for the show’s season finale. The tremendous response to the work showcased there would have him featured for three more years thereafter, rocketing Furne One and Amato Couture into the international fashion spotlight that would soon win him his celebrity clientele.
Furne has been described as “unstoppable,” praised for articulating a mix of edginess and glamour in his aesthetics that he showed at the Perth Fashion Week earlier this year. Blogger Ushi Sato of www.theshadesandscarf.com would also note Furne’s strong desire to stand out as an original and to “create thunder in silence.”
His show in Perth was made up of stunning pieces with slender silhouettes and incredible beading, with models who had big platinum blonde wigs adorned with dazzling headpieces or spiked crowns, and sparkling shoes. Donna Ferreri of Perth’s www.stylehunter.com would gush, “Furne One has produced the most exquisite show I have possibly ever seen. My eyes are still blinded from the mere sight of the thousands upon thousands of crystals and jewels that adorned the fabulous garments that shimmied and shone down the catwalk as part of the ‘Mata-Hari’ collection.”
Indeed, if this is Furne speaking in silence, he is managing to do so in a voice that can no longer be ignored.
The Future Demands “Like any other designer, I started to work for other fashion houses to experience the tricks and trade of the business,” he points out, underscoring the fact that things can’t just be left to chance. “It’s a tough battle, but patience, hard work, determination and a little bit of luck kept me going—so I could earn my way to where I am now.”
He forgets to list sheer guts and inborn talent to his formula for success, but that much is evident, whether it is articulated or not. Undeniably, Furne’s name will only grow bigger in the global fashion arena as his collections expand and his creations take their unstoppable flight. This year, Furne marks a new milestone in his illustrious career, following the monumental opening of Furne One and Amato Couture boutiques in Los Angeles, with plans to further expand.
Being described as a “Global Pinoy” only makes Furne proud. But while many would agree that local fashion could actually become a voice in global design, homegrown designers with talent and creativity face certain challenges that could hamper that growth. For his part, Furne notes that “government support to send young and talented Filipino designers abroad” is what’s needed. He adds, “We can also open more fashion schools to help broaden and educate young design aspirants,” and wishes them financial support as well. “I believe the Filipino is very talented. We have so much to offer.”
We asked him what his clothes would say if they could speak and Furne quips, “Look at me!”
Indeed, here’s looking at you, Furne. We celebrate your very bright future, and the trail you have blazed for other Cebuanos and the Filipinos in general. If there’s anything his success can teach us, it’s the fact that if you are bold enough, you can dream it; and if you can dream it, you can make it true.
- by Annie S. Alejo
- photography Tina Patni
- hair and make up Gene Ginno Alducente
- couture Seduction of Mata-Hari Collection by Furne One