Danilo Franco: fashion illustration “brings” design to life
If you take it from fashion designer and great illustrator Danilo Franco, anyone can draw. If there is one form of expression that can be learned, it is drawing.
The results may not be as beautiful and refined as the twin series of Filipino-themed Christmas images that Franco and fellow designer Barge Ramos collaborated on in 2009, but the ability to draw is innate in every person.
Otherwise, Franco, who for more than 30 years has been the essential illustrator of many designers and women’s fashion magazines, would not waste his time teaching illustration subjects to design students at the School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA ) in Makati.
Franco became known for a specialization that was not put forward in the fashion industry: fashion illustration.
Yet it is in fashion illustration that Franco has built an audience, even among his contemporaries and other fashion designers. They give it recognition in this area that goes without saying.
And it is also this know-how that this seasoned designer-illustrator now chooses to share with the next generation.
Besides basic and advanced illustration, he also teaches fashion subjects at SoFA.
Years ago he ran short illustration workshops at Philippine Women’s University.
In addition to illustrating the designs of colleagues such as Ramos and Ben Farrales, Franco used to âre-illustrateâ the designs submitted by various designers to magazines such as Woman Today and the late Manila Women’s Wear.
âI used to re-illustrate the works of almost everyone: Mang Ben (Farrales), Mang Pitoy (Moreno), Auggie Cordero, Cesar Gaupo, Rusty Lopez, Mike dela Rosa, Edgar San Diego, Jun-Jun Cambe , Dobie Aranda, “he says.
Based on their feedback, Franco’s colleagues seemed happy with the results. Not a few were truly grateful, he said. Some of these creators, now based abroad, are launching
Touch him from time to time to thank him.
It wasn’t that their designs weren’t good, says the master illustrator. He cites Gaupo, for example, as one of those designers who really knows how to draw. The magazines simply wanted “consistency” in the sketches appearing on their pages.
âDuring my years of teaching, I have proven that drawing can be taught 99% of the time,â says the Fine Arts graduate from the University of Santo Tomas.
From his student years, Franco worked as a model maker in the Philippine Daily Express. He then applied as an in-house illustrator for Farrales.
The first stint introduced him to the fashion world. Soon after, he showed his own collections with other contemporaries such as Ramos, Danny dela Cuesta and Chito Vijandre.
âThe talent for drawing is innate,â says Franco. âYou just have to see him again. Remember, we all started drawing when we were kids. And we all produced honest, graphic designs because we had no inhibitions. The details themselves have often become symbols.
If one is diligent enough, the long hours that he or she devotes to honing his or her skills could produce beautiful illustrations.
âIn every design process, there are steps or procedures. Even in drawing, there are formulas, âhe says.
As a designer himself, Franco knows the importance of good illustration. It’s a tool, he says, that designers need to communicate their ideas to clients, and in the case of hired talent, owners and investors.
âAnd even if you don’t end up as a designer, knowing how to illustrate would serve you well as a merchandiser or stylist,â he says. âAgain, this is a skill you would need to convince and influence others.
Of course, it’s quite common in fashion to come across clothes that look more like drawings on paper. That’s why he always tells his students to find a balance between “the illustration and the technical side of it”.
Computer savvy designers could still resort to clip art and CAD (computer aided designs) instead of illustrations, but the results, as one of Franco’s students admits, are far from being ” soft “.
“The results, she says, lack soul,” says Franco. âThat’s why, despite her computer skills, she still enrolled in my class. “
In 2009, Ramos asked Franco to illustrate his ideas that Ramos hoped to turn into a series of life-size dioramas, complete with costumes, for the Vatican’s annual outdoor Christmas exhibit.
Since he had easy access to abaca, cotton and piÃ±a fibers, Ramos, through the Fiber Industry Development Authority (Fida), was on the verge of producing Filipino costumes, including native accessories. such as a woven bayong laden with exquisite local hand-woven fabrics, to be worn by models.
He even made a deal with a local company that makes Christmas belen for export to make the body molds. The outdoor dioramas are said to have been the first of their kind from the Philippines, to be installed in the Vatican, seen by people all over the world.
âEach year, a country is chosen by the Vatican to create its own life-size dioramas that show its culture and how its people pay homage to the Holy Family,â explains Ramos.
Besides Fida, Ramos coordinated with the then Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican and the Center for International Trade Exposition and Missions (Citem).
Initially, Ramos heeded the wishes of the then Philippine Ambassador to Italy to produce more colorful and “prosperous” images of the Filipino family. It was a complete break with the popular image of a struggling OFW.
âSo I designed four dioramas based on this peg,â Ramos explains. “I asked Danny (Franco) to illustrate the drawings.”
But even before Ramos could present them, the ambassador to the Vatican rejected the original idea in favor of more modest and peasant-inspired images of the Filipino family. The two ambassadors obviously had different visions of how to project the country into the world.
âI had to design a collection of more sober images also dressed in Philippiniana, and this time inspired by the muted paintings of Damian Domingo. Again I asked Danny to illustrate them for me, âRamos says.
But the ideas did not go beyond paper. As Ramos was about to submit the second set of images to our Ambassador to the Vatican, he learned that the Ambassador had previously hired an artist from Davao to design and perform the series of installations.
It wasn’t supposed to happen, Ramos said. But over the years, he’s always been satisfied with the way Franco and Loretto Popioco, another designer-illustrator, reinterpreted his ideas.
âDanny definitely has a distinctive touch,â he says. âHis illustrations bring a designer’s ideas to life.
PHOTOS BY BELLOSILLO