Don Protasio: Tents & Poetry

By Kathy M. Villalon

Some fashion collections start with a mood.
So, while Don Protasio, Ilonggo designer, thought of what collection to present for the Philippine Fashion Week 2011, his mood was, “I want release!”
So, he thought of the desert and its nomadic lifestyle, of colors brown and gray, of dry fabric, and materials that veer away from the body. This gave birth to the “tent” concept, which make up Protasio’s Fall-Winter collection for PFW 2011.
“No matter where you are, trends always follow what the fashion capitals have set. Thus, I followed the trend set by Paris where the fashions of the world are showcased. The most influential labels are there, so you have to follow their trend,” said Protasio on why he chose to have a fall-winter collection. “People who buy from you follow a certain schedule. In a business, you have to consider your buyer’s seasons in order to experience growth. Some companies abroad buy my collection through my site My clients are not solely Cambodians,” Protasio added.

After a stint as a mall artist in Iloilo, Protasio left for Cambodia four years ago. Six months after he arrived there, he and Loven Ramos, also an Ilonggo who stayed in Cambodia earlier, opened “One Shop” in One Hotel. The hotel caters to one client at a time, thus it’s name.
After a year, feeling that they need the freedom to experiment more, Protasio and Loven opened Poetry. “It’s in the same alley but with a second floor. We were free do set-up the place as much as we want. Poetry applied installation art wherein every month, we change the shop’s mood. We play with it,” Protasio said.
This year, Protasio opened his own workshop at the first floor of his apartment. Now, he has two shops.

Protasio didn’t know what to expect when he arrived in Cambodia. “I had this idea that Cambodia, being a third world country has mostly poor people who are stuck in a certain time. But I was wrong,” Protasio said.
Protasio was lucky to be in Cambodia when development was evolving fast because the country has started to embrace what the outside world brings in. “Cambodians from abroad decided to go home and stay. So many tourists were also coming in. So, Poetry was well-received. Most of my clients are from Australia, New York in the United States as well as the British from London because they understand my aesthetics. They appreciate my idea that I sell something that will remind them of Cambodia yet it’s not ethnic, so they can wear it when they’re back home. That’s what Poetry gives. A souvenir that fits their lifestyle,” Protasio said.
Protasio understood this need because when he arrived in Cambodia, he had a hard time looking for clothes that would suit him. “Bangkok is near but it’s impractical to go there just to buy clothes. So, that pushed me to come up with plain black clothing line that consists of T-shirts, jackets and cardigans because these are hard to find there. My pieces are lightweight, washable and relaxed. Poetry is the only shop that offer this kind of clothing,” Protasio said.
It can be said that Poetry pioneered the concept of simple clothing which can be mixed and matched or played with. But varied Cambodian and foreign designers have cropped up as well as they became more conscious about world fashion. Some even copied Poetry’s style.
“I don’t mind that. In fact, it’s flattering to be copied,” Protasio said. He even mentored some of the designers and invited them to open shops in Alley West, where Poetry is located. Now, the alley is a must-go-to place for shopping whenever one is in the city of Siem Riep.

From mall artist, fashion designer to a fashion entrepreneur, is there growth for Protasio? “I don’t want it to grow yet to the point that I’ll have a hard time coping. I don’t want to lose sleep because I worry that I may not be able to manage it well when I’m not around. You see, some days I don’t think of fashion,” Protasio said.
“I think part of what gets me motivated is that I have time to do other things that I love like shopping, dining out with friends or going on a vacation,” he added.

Protasio can’t help but notice the trends in Iloilo City. He goes home every year to attend the PFW in Manila and have a vacation in Iloilo City.
“A lot of young people now are open to new fashion. They’re very much influenced by celebrities and the people they admire,” he said.
But, he suggested that a person should find one’s own identity and style and then come up with a new fashion that reflects his or her personality. “Fashion is there for you to harness. Use it to express yourself and not to be somebody else,” he said. “Just because Lady Gaga is wearing this and that, it doesn’t mean that it will fit your personality,” he added.
Protasio admitted that he has passed this road before - emulating somebody. But he said that he became happier when he learned to express himself in his own terms.
“For example, in sexy dressing. Sexy doesn’t have to be hooker sexy or in a vulgar way.  It has become boring. There are Belgian and Japanese fashion styles that are sexy. There’s intelligent sexy,” he said.
“For middle aged individuals, experiment. Don’t get stuck in a certain style just because you’re comfortable with it already. Fashion is changing. You will be left behind if you can’t adapt. Before you know it, you’re already ‘baduy’,” he advised.
Protasio admits that some people don’t know what they want. So, he said that the first thing to do is to try. “Buy the best things that you can afford with that style. It does not need to be branded. Also, he advised that one need not buy so many things. “With the economy so bad and the ecological problems that we are facing, the last thing you should do is have many things that you can’t use. It’s better to have a dress that you use all the time. Just learn how to style it. Try ukay-ukay. There are many brands that you can mix and match so that your personality comes out. And it helps the environment that you use somebody else’s clothes,” he concluded.*

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