Rafé Totengco Takes Inspiration From The North Fork For His Latest Collection

Rafé Totengco’s Latest Collection Has The Sentiments Of A Sweet Escape

Photograph by Martin Romero

For his Spring/Summer 2024 collection, bag designer Rafé Totengco presents glistening miniaudières swept over North Fork shores, celebrating femininity, vibrance, sunlight, and the season.

For a summer away from New York City, it might seem like there’s no better destination than the Hamptons. If it were up to Rafé Totengco, however, he’d tell you that being there would feel as if you hadn’t even left Manhattan. “I mean, it really is a fabulous location,” he says, but “I’m just not there.” On the weekends, the Rafé New York designer would rather be on the peninsula opposite the Hamptons, up in the North Fork. “I swear to you, your trip will feel so different if you just go away for two days. Just come out,” he urges, reenacting the convincing he had to do to get a few of his friends to come and visit. “Just come and see it for what it is, and you’ll see. You’ll come back.”

With the locale’s sprawling vineyards, lush gardens, and secluded beaches at every turn, it seems that taking the road less traveled would have you reap the most rewards. “You could kind of call it a bucolic scene or state of mind. I mean, every time I go there for the weekend, as soon as I cross this threshold, immediately, [my] stress level goes like whoosh.”

Totengco spends every weekend in the North Fork; it’s become something of a necessity for the designer. “Having lived in the city for so long, you need that escape. For me, it’s like, I need that balance,” he tells Vogue Philippines. “I mean, I used to love being in the city every weekend. But now that I’m able to go away, I look for it. I need it.” 

Photograph by Marin Romero
Photograph by Marin Romero

He knew it would inspire his next collection as the vases in his home seemed to overflow with the fan shells he would collect on each of his visits. In such an idyllic setting, it was hard not to find beauty everywhere you went, says the designer. “I take my mom and my husband from Thursday night on. It really is our happy place. I kind of wanted to be able to share that happiness—of the location, of the moment, of the feeling.”

Femininity, vibrance, and sunlight for the new season

Totengco is the kind of designer who never stops designing, finding inspiration in just about anything. The collection is largely informed by the details you might ignore in passing: the North Fork’s pebbly beaches, fresh flowers from the local farmer’s market, the frequent bachelorette parties hosted in the vineyards. “You see these girls all dressed up, but [because] it’s so windy and it’s so natural,” he shares. “They’re all dressed, but it’s not, like, super fancy. There’s a casualness to it all.” 

He approaches his clutches the same way; each piece in the collection is meticulous in its beadwork and craftsmanship, but still conveys something of a sense of ease through its design. “There’s a sequined clutch that I did—[there’s] no way that can be done by machine. When you see it, you see that each sequin is individually stitched into place,” he explains. “And yet, when you look at it [from afar], it’s not a very complicated bag. It’s a frame clutch, done. But it exudes so much femininity and color and vibrance… It catches the light. It reflects sunlight. [This bag] is a way to celebrate light and the season.” 

Photograph by Marin Romero

That same effortlessness is evident in Totengco’s campaign images, starring model Hannah Locsin and photographed by Martin Romero. That shoot day, it would be the three of them in the designer’s car, driving around until they stumbled upon a scenic patch of land fitting for the collection—something not at all difficult to find in the area. “The whole day was just so relaxed,” Totengco recalls. “We shot a lot in one day, but it didn’t seem like it. It felt like we weren’t even rushing. Somehow, there was just this ease into the company.” 

More than the actual work, Totengco remembers going with Locsin and Romero to buy greens from the farmer’s market and sharing a salad under a comfortable midday sun. The day lacked the frenetic pace that creatives in fashion are so used to, but it didn’t make a difference in the designer’s desired results. “I was so happy when I saw the pictures because they’re exactly what I wanted,” he says. “Her hair’s blown in the wind, and she’s just there in the sun… I don’t know, [they’re] exactly how that day felt.”

Photograph by Martin Romero
Photograph by Marin Romero

In thinking of this collection, Totengco had meditated on his moments of peace spent in nature, wishing the same for the Rafé New York woman “whether it’s just for the weekend, for the evening, [or] even if you’re stuck at home.” Everyone needs solace between all the noise. “I think, more than ever, everyone’s looking for an escape,” he says. “We’re all dreaming of getting away. So even if you can’t go somewhere like the North Fork, I think, just visually, we want to be transported.”

The new collection from Rafé New York will be available online at rafe.com, rustans.com, and Rustan’s department stores.

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