Bloomingdale’s today, N.Y. Fashion Week next?

Robin Tomas. Photo by Giulia Piccari

By Cristina DC Pastor

The t-shirt was the beginning for designer Robin Tomas, son of Imelda Marcos impersonator Tessie Tomas. But, boy, was it a jumpstarter: The shirt he designed for Supima – marketing unit of American Pima cotton — won in 2009, impressing the likes of New York Times fashion editor Horacio Silva and Wall Street Journal fashion writer Teri Agins who were among the judges. It’s selling at Bloomingdale’s for $88.

“Hindi siya mura (It’s not cheap),” the 34-year-old designer told The FilAm. The shirts are almost all sold out since they launched March 19.

Why someone would buy a Supima by Robin Tomas over a Fruit of the Loom is like asking why a Porsche over a Toyota. Sometimes, the desire to look fashion-forward just trumps price and frugality. Robin said a Miami man bought four of his shirts in identical color and style. As for celebrity client, he hasn’t heard of any, but asked in jest, “Does my mom count?”

“I think it’s the perfect balance of design, innovativeness and wearability,” he described his winning design. “And it was able to show the great qualities of the Supima fabric: very soft and very light.”

Robin, who won Best Reinvention of the Men’s T-shirt award over 12 finalists and after several elimination rounds, said his shirt is neither too trendy nor too generic. “I think it’s a great for dressing up or dressing down. Wear with blazer in the fall or wear with hat and shorts in the summer.”

After college, Robin worked for Tommy Hilfiger, J. Crew and the Gap. He is now eyeing a return to women’s wear under his own label, a style that’s trending toward Amish “with a modern blend to it.”

“Nothing like the prairie dress, but the body is all covered, and it’s very classy,” he said rather vaguely.

Pleated maxi skirt

With mom Tessie Tomas

At Parsons, where he learned to sew, detail patterns and sketch, he was trained to dress up women. In fact, he participated in last year’s Philippine Fashion Week to introduce his women’s line. He is shopping his collection around Manhattan retailers and hopes to launch his label in the fall. And if all goes according to his timeline, can New York Fashion Week be far behind? I can imagine Tessie Tomas cheering on front row.

“Of course, that’s my dream. Maybe in five years,” he said.

Before there was Tina Fey and bête noir Sarah Palin, there was Tessie Tomas and Imelda Marcos. Tessie was a dead ringer for the former first lady — notorious for her 3,000 pairs of shoes — down to the weeping and the waving to crowds. Robin, who was a young boy when his single mom’s Meldita act was a comic hit in Manila, would sometimes tag along, always in the background, playing by himself. In interviews, Tessie often talked about how blessed she was to be raising her only son.

Tessie visits Robin every year, and mother and son bond like they are truly separated by seas and oceans. The two are very close. In New York, they watch all the Broadway shows they can cram in their short time together – usually three days – and eat in restaurants Robin has discovered and would like his mom to experience as well.

“We’re very sentimental and very close. But after the third day she will say, ‘I love you, but I think I’ll stay in a hotel now,’” he said of his mother’s annual visits to his Hell’s Kitchen apartment. She also enjoys exploring the city on her own.

Robin said Tessie is not doing Meldita much these days. “She’s more into indie films and very active with social work.”

She’s also happily remarried. Robin said British marine biologist Roger Pullin is an “amazing and a very, very supportive stepfather.”

Two of the greatest things he remembers from his mom — hard work and humility – are the values that keep him grounded in New York, the “ultimate playground.”

“I’m just very lucky to be here,” Robin said.


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