The sign on the street read “Manila: City of Dreams,” and we all had to laugh. Manila? Dreams? More often than not, it was our city of NIGHTMARES: horrible traffic, overcrowded, dirty, smoggy, etc. I had certainly had more bad experiences than good in the capital city.
After trying on numerous dresses at four different stores in and around Des Moines, Iowa, I gave up hope of finding a dress for Jeff and I’s wedding reception/celebration. Everything I tried on was too fancy, too formal, too uncomfortable, too expensive, etc. I gave up hope and went to plan B: have a dress made in the Philippines. Lianne, one of the teachers I work with, had told me the previous year to not even waste my time on finding a dress off the rack, but I didn’t listen. So when I came to her, hands lifted in surrender, and asked for the names of a few good designers, she was more than happy to help – in fact, she offered to do the search for me! After a few weeks, she brought me the names of two designers. I did a little research of my own and eliminated one designer whose work just didn’t fit my own personal style. The other designer, though, had done work that I absolutely loved, so we made an appointment to meet with Maureen Disini at her studio in Manila. I was instantly intimidated by 1) the idea of meeting a designer to have a dress made and 2) meeting this specific designer who is incredibly talented and becoming more popular by the hour. When I mentioned to a local friend that I was having my wedding dress made in the Philippines and was meeting a designer, she asked who. When I mentioned Maureen, my friend nodded enthusiastically. She had heard of her?! That only made me more nervous about meeting her! But there was no going back. Appointment made, and girls weekend planned, six of us hopped in Lianne’s SUV and headed to “the city of dreams.”
I spent the better part of July, August, and September scouring the http://www., looking for dress ideas. I had no trouble finding beautiful designs; I had plenty of trouble making decisions. I am the self-proclaimed most indecisive person on the planet. Pair my indecisiveness with my anxiety regarding meeting a legitimate designer (why would she waste her time on me?!), and you can imagine how I was feeling.
We arrived at the Ritz (the Ritz!) for my appointment at 11:30 and took the elevator up to Maureen’s floor. We were ushered into her studio, and like true newbies to the fashion world, gaped and gawked at the posh studio, with it’s floor-to-ceiling windows, modern furniture, and impeccable decorating. We sat at the all-glass table in clear plastic chairs to wait for Maureen to finish a fitting with another client and did our best to compose ourselves as we were served water and melon.
Maureen was nothing like I expected. I expected distant, aloof, condescending. She was completely down to earth, incredibly nice, and – thankfully – very straightforward. I felt all my anxiety and nerves dissipate as she looked over my ideas and gave me honest feedback about what would work and what wouldn’t, what was trendy and what was classic. What I had spent 3 months deliberating, we had figured out in 30 minutes!
After taking my measurements, we planned for our next appointment and chatted a little about her upcoming trips to Europe and New York for fabric. I did my best to appear nonchalant as she talked of finding materials for my dress in the fashion meccas of the world. The entire meeting, I was pinching myself to make sure it was real. Maureen is amazing, and I feel incredibly lucky to have my dress designed by her.
To top off an already perfect experience, I mentioned liking one of her dresses – a short, black and white striped racerback – and she GAVE it to me! I stammered through a “no, thank you,” but she insisted I have the dress and went to get it for me, saying the timing was perfect because they’d just finished a trunk show for that collection. As soon as she walked out of the room, I looked around at the other girls and saw they were just as shocked and awed as I was. The best part: it fits!
We left soon after with plans to go over sketches in about a month. The whole way down in the elevator and to the car, I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening! I’m having a one-of-a-kind dress made just for me by an AMAZING designer… and she GAVE me one of her designs!” If I were the kind of girl who squeals and screams, that’s exactly what I would’ve been doing. Instead, I quietly relived each moment in my head for hours, while Lianne laughed at my faraway facial expression.
The rest of the weekend was spent shopping at markets and stores we don’t have in our area and eating delicious food. We made it to several resaurants unparalleled in Subic: Wild Flour for breakfast, a Japanese place called Geisha in the Fort for dinner, and my favorite, a restaurant called Earth Kitchen that served local and organic fare.
Every one of us had her own goals/desires (“dreams,” if you will) for our trip to Manila, and we laughed about the city of dreams every time one of us got that one thing she was looking for: special flour, an elusive book, a perfect pair shoes, pearls, and of course, a dress!
The trip was made 100 times more enjoyable by having “tour guides.” Lianne and Dimps both have a wealth of knowledge about Manila and were able to guide our posse to the best locations, stores, and restaurants. Lianne booked an amazing apartment that was really cheap. Any time one of us mentioned something we needed or were looking for, Dimps and Lianne were quick with an answer as to where we could realize our “dream.” Instead of spending 1/2 our time searching for things, we got there quickly, or they had a better alternative. I don’t think I can ever go to Manila with out those two again.
Manila is still dirty. It’s still overpopulated and crowded with traffic and trash. The smog still hangs heavy in the air. But if you know the right places to go and the best shortcuts to get there, it’s a really great city to explore and a great place to realize a dream… or at least a dress.