Remembering Christian Espiritu, Veteran Couturier And Designer

Portrait of Christian Espiritu, by Jaime Zobel de Ayala, 1987. Courtesy of Barge Ramos

The renowned designer was known for helping redefine the Filipiniana and for costuming some of the country’s movie classics.

The Philippines has lost one of its pillars of fashion. On June 18, the 89-year-old veteran couturier and costume designer Christian Espiritu passed away in the United States, announced his daughter Talitha Espiritu through a Facebook post. 

Considered one of the most important designers of his generation, Espiritu is best known for redefining Filipiniana attire and “reinventing” the modern terno to feature sleeker silhouettes, hand-embroidered detailing, and distinctly Filipino designs. The designer is most prominently remembered for his mentorship of designers, including Inno Sotto and Jojie Loren, and for being former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ chief couturier during the 1970s.

Espiritu was also known for crafting elegant bridal wear and had philanthropist, and politician Margarita “Tingting” de los Reyes-Cojuangco as his muse. The two cultivated a long-term relationship that saw the couturier dressing even Cojuangco’s daughters, including youngest daughter, China’s wedding gown. 

Apart from being a couturier, Espiritu was also active in the Philippine movie industry. He directed the movie Alaga starring Edu Manzano, in 1980. Following his directorial debut, he worked as a costume designer and fashion consultant for Danny L. Zialcita’s films Gaano Kadalas Ang Minsan, Palabra de Honor, and To Love Again, as well as Laurice Guillen’s The Marriage

Espiritu studied Architecture at the University of Santo Tomas and worked as a draftsman for architect Leandro Locsin for two years before shifting to fashion design. Following a lucrative career in the Philippines, he went to New York in 1994 and stayed there for six years, returning to the Philippines for his family. During the latter years of his life, he retired from designing but never really left the fashion industry as he became a columnist writing about fashion. His legacy will continue to live on in the dresses that he has created, as well as in the craftwork of the designers he trained in his atelier, some of whom are now recognized in the country as well: Inno Sotto, who was his assistant when he was Marcos’ chief couturier; Barge Ramos, Jojie Lloren, and Gang Gomez. 

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