Benj De la Rosa with Edward Barber and Maymay Entrata.


Meet Filipino expat who found luck in abaya


DUBAI – When Benj De la Rosa moved to Dubai from the Philippine province of Aklan in 2005, he had no idea he would one day be dressing celebrities. It all started with a simple abaya.

“One of my clients wanted me to copy her abaya,” De la Rosa told It was a tough job for the self-taught designer who was then just starting as a beader for one of the fashion houses in Dubai.

His degrees in Business Administration and Secondary Education wasn’t going to pull the rabbit out of the hat for this trick, he thought.

He took on the challenge anyway. “I studied the dress and worked on the limitations. It became a challenge for me and after that I wanted to master it,” he said. He was bent on improving his work. “I went to fashion shows, and watched how women wore their abayas in the malls, and when I got back to the workshop, I went to work on what I learned,” he said.

The most expensive abaya he designed cost Dh6,000 and was worn by a South African bride. It took him and his team three weeks to create the masterpiece with various cuts, beadworks and design. Three years ago, he decided to get more creative with his abaya and started hand painting on the fabric. It became a hit, he said.

Video by Jonathan Ybera/Expat Media

Now, De la Rosa, 40, is a senior fashion designer for a fashion house in Dubai. He dreams of financing his own label, Calivo Couture, one day. The name is a spin off from Kalibo, the municipality in Aklan where he is from.

Calivo Couture was revealed to the public just last year when De la Rosa’s work was featured in the Man of the Philippines UAE pageant. Organisers asked him to create the finalists’ swimwear.

“Actually, I didn’t tell the organisers it was my first time to create swimwear but I managed to pull it off,” he told And pull it off, he did, garnering a lot of praise for the classy yet sexy fashion number that featured black briefs paired with hooded, sleeveless lace cardigans that finalists wore with confidence on the runway.

De la Rosa was on a roll after that, dressing up singer Jed Madela and Filipino star Edward Barber for their separate Dubai concerts last year.

The designer said he had already finished creating several coats for Edward who later “chose the simple yet elegant black and white combination.”

“He is such a nice and respectful boy and doesn’t have a celebrity attitude,” he said, describing Edward, who was in Dubai for a concert with on-screen partner Maymay Entrata at the Global Village. “It was such an honour to dress a celebrity like him.”

This year, De la Rosa is looking forward to flexing his design muscles again as he features his new collection in the upcoming Philippine Independence Day in Dubai. He has also been invited to showcase his work at a fashion show abroad.

“I have learned that here in the UAE, Filipinos can also be competitive and really excel,” he shared. “I am just lucky that even though I didn’t have formal education in fashion design, I am able to do my passion, which is fashion.” ICA/Expat Media


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