Published in T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine (March 2013)
Being Micheal Cinco
Radical and unapologetically flamboyant, Dubai’s renowned couturier Michael Cinco reveals why the Middle East luxury fashion cognoscenti continues to intrigue him.
By Priyanka Pradhan
His self-effacing demeanor may throw you off, but Michael Cinco is every bit the grandiose designer, well known not just for wearing his signature sunglasses at all times but also for his extravagant wedding couture and awe-inspiring evening gowns. Even his office gets his signature design with a pristine all-white door, replete with crystal embellished furniture and long-stemmed white roses. The man does know how to woo. And the ladies are falling in line.
Celebrities from Tyra Banks and Lady Gaga to Naomi Campbell and Sofia Vergara are known to swear by Cinco’s ingenuity. In fact he was taken completely by surprise when actress Sofia Vergara picked his black evening gown for the Golden Globe Awards ceremony in January 2013, out of the scores of designer dresses that came for her.
“The dress was a sample and did not even fit her! And yet she insisted on wearing it, so it had to be reworked and tailored to fit. It was so unexpected and became a huge red-carpet hit!” he says excitedly.
This child-like enthusiasm and passion for couture comes from a deep love of the opera and classic Hollywood movies, he says. “I grew up in a small town, away from the city, in rustic Philippines, and there were not many pastime activities, apart from watching black-and-white classic Hollywood movies. I’d watch these movies to observe Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn and the clothes they wore – I was so in love with them! I was only six or seven when I started to admire the couture dresses seen in the movies and just knew I’d be a designer some day.”
After graduating in fine art and working in the Philippines as a designer for a few years, Cinco chanced upon the opportunity to work to Dubai in 1997. But things were not as smooth as he expected and there was some
learning and unlearning to do in the new market. “When I first came to Dubai, it was during the economic boom. People were inspired by fashion in Europe but the aesthetic was very different here. Wedding dresses would weigh tens of kilos with heavy crystals and embellishments and were very overwhelming. It was a completely different scenario for me and I had to learn to adapt to the Middle East consumer. However, I saw a slow evolution of style and aesthetic, as women started getting more aware and refined in fashion, with their travel schedules abroad and frequent shopping excursions to Paris, Milan etc. They started opting for more minimal, lighter, and more sleek and elegant looks, fabrics and designs. That’s the crucial change that has come about in the Middle East couture market.”
After a break in his career and a stint at Central Saint Martins College in London, he made a comeback in the Middle East with the launch of his own fashion house, Michael Cinco Couture. Even after his European stint, Cinco says the intrigue of Middle East couture brought him back.“Women in the Middle East are like no others when it comes to fashion. I have never seen women who are more demanding, exacting, particular about design, than here in the Middle East. They really challenge your mind, your ideas and your capabilities and, in turn, expand the creative horizons of the designer. One has to travel with them into their fantasy world and sometimes one ends up telling an idiosyncratic story of fashion, through them. The designs for couture consumers here not only have to be trendy and up to date, but also very, very unique – out of the world, never seen before and yet wearable. And that’s the challenge!”
He continues: “The economic crisis in 2008 turned out to be favorable for local UAE-based designers because the couture consumers, who previously got all their designer ensembles from Europe and other parts of the world, turned to Dubai for a more economical option. That was our foot in the door, luckily
for me. My clients who came to me then have never left ever since!”
But apart from his exhaustive client base in the Middle East, Cinco sees a cult following in Russia and even China. Demand is also pouring in from the United States, but he’s taking it slow at the moment.
“The issue with the American market is that pricing has to be lower, in accordance with the economy there at the moment. Also the design aesthetic is different there, but Russia is more profitable right now. I do get calls from LA, Canada and NewYork, even from Brazil, but I’m currently in the process of building a solid base to set up a global business and cater to the American and European markets later this year.”
He recently worked with celebrity singer Britney Spears on an ensemble for her music video “Scream and Shout”, and his eco-friendly designs showcased on the US-based reality TV show “America’s Next Top Model” in 2011 received rave reviews, prompting his recurrent guest appearance on the show ever since. Late last year, he was also involved in the pan Asian version of the reality show “Asia’s Next Top Model”, as guest designer and mentor.
Currently in the midst of preparations for his show at LA Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2013, Cinco is seen dividing his time between preparing for upcoming fashion shows abroad and at
home, and working on the launch of his perfume, “Impalpable”, in Dubai. With so much on his plate for the year ahead, he lets off steam by traveling and watching movies at home.
“I also love watching YouTube videos of my favorite opera singer, Maria Callas, who also happens to be my ultimate inspiration. Apart from that, it’s just staying in and relaxing with friends… and no,I don’t sleep with my sunglasses on,” he smiles.