Michael Cinco has added another feather to his couture cap. Known for his extravagant hand-finished eveningwear, the Dubai-based Filipino fashion designer is responsible for the scene-stealing gown worn by Filipina superstar Kris Aquino for her special appearance in romantic-comedy Crazy Rich Asians, which is released in the UAE today.
The film is a multi-generational satire about a Chinese-American woman meeting her boyfriend's wealthy family in Singapore. Constance Wu, Gemma Chan, Michelle Yeoh and Henry Golding lead the movie's all-Asian cast (read our review here). Incidentally, the last time a major Hollywood studio featured Asian actors predominantly in lead roles was for 1993 tear-jerker The Joy Luck Club.
In Crazy Rich Asians, Aquino plays the character of a Malay princess named Intan. Cinco was brought in as soon as director Jon M Chu confirmed the movie's shooting schedule in Singapore, a which point Aquino's team reached out to the designer. "I was given specifications by her stylists that her role in the movie will be a princess attending a lavish wedding," says Cinco, who is a graduate of Central Saint Martins, London. "They asked me to create a yellow gown that will be fitting for her role."
The result is an opulent tulle and chiffon dress with a cape featuring calado embroidery, a traditional technique from the Philippines, which is used to create intricate lace designs. Cinco says he chose the calado style to "feature a Filipino touch" on the big screen. He reveals that he had one month to design and construct the dress. "During the first two weeks, we were deliberating on ideas and styles through email. We finally decided on this one look and, by that time, I only had two weeks left to create the gown. Thankfully, I finished it on time," he says.
Cinco was born and raised in the province of Samar before he moved to Dubai in 1997. He launched his eponymous couture house in 2003 and has since dressed celebrities such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Mariah Carey, Sofia Vergara and Bollywood's Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Bachchan wore a Cinco gown with a three-metre-long train during this year's Cannes Film Festival. The crystal-covered gown was initially designed for a Swarovski exhibition and was made by hand in Cinco's studio in Dubai Design District. A Cinco creation was also the outfit of choice for France's Iris Mittenaere for her final walk as Miss Universe 2016.
“While dressing up these famous international [stars] has really been a dream come true, dressing up one of the biggest celebrities from the Philippines gives me a different feeling – it makes me proud to be a Filipino designer,” Cinco explains. Aquino’s bright yellow gown is a nod to the signature colour used in the political campaigns of her parents, former president Corazon and former senator Ninoy. Her brother, Noynoy, served as the Philippine president from 2010 to 2016. Although Aquino’s character features in only two scenes in the film, her appearance is “a highlight”, according to Singaporean-American novelist Kevin Kwan, who wrote the 2013 book that the movie is based on. “She’s Kris Aquino. What else is there to say?” Kwan said in an interview.
Cinco was not the only countryman Aquino tapped for this project. At the Hollywood premiere of Crazy Rich Asians last week, Aquino flew from Manila to Los Angeles to walk the red carpet along with her 11-year-old son, Bimby. The actress wore a modernised, yellow version of the traditional Filipino terno dress – a creation by Filipino designer Michael Leyva – and jewellery by Filipino company Diagold, which is based in the province of Cebu.
Even Aquino's styling team was from the Philippines: her make-up was done by R B Chanco, who flew from Manila, while her hair was styled by Pin Antonio, who is based in Los Angeles. While shooting her scenes for the movie, which marks her Hollywood debut, Aquino was supported by a team comprising stylists Kimi Yap and Boop Yap, make-up artist Juan Sarte, and hairstylists Nante Alingasa and Jonathan Velasco.
During and after the film’s shoot in Singapore, Aquino sent Cinco photographs from the set while dressed in the gown. “She sent me a thank-you message and said she was very happy. She’s one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known,” Cinco says. “She was dazzling in the gown; she looked like the epitome of class and sophistication.”
Aquino, in turn, has lavished praise on Cinco in interviews and on social media. “Thank you to ‘the’ Michael Cinco for making me a gown truly befitting a princess,” she said recently. “Based in Dubai, Michael is our very own – he originally came from Samar. This movie gave me that special opportunity to make us Filipinos feel good about ourselves and our contribution to the global workforce.”
The couturier hints that his next collection, which will launch through his eponymous brand in Dubai, is influenced by contemporary art. "It's everywhere these days, wherever you go. Art has been influencing me to create beautiful things," he says. He adds that he has recently been "obsessed with the idea of the future. It is all about moving forward, about exquisite innovation."
Cinco adds that despite his international success, he has no plans of slowing down. “My life is always busy. I’m all about hard work and concentration. At the same time, it’s a job that I love doing – and when you’re happy and you exude love, you end up creating beautiful things in the world.”