Stylish Exclusive: Leo Almodal On His Ethereal Design Aesthetic And Further Atelier Vision

By Marane A. Plaza

One of the finest Filipino couturiers that we are proud to have in our culture today is Leo Almodal. With his ethereal, whimsical couture creations, any woman can feel like royalty in a Leo Almodal couture masterpiece. Catering to women in the USA, Europe, Africa and Asia, the young designer has indeed brought his craftsmanship and fashion atelier brand to the international mainstream.

Having built the foundation of his career in the Middle East in the first few years of his career, Leo Almodal is producing his first-ever solo runway presentation in the Philippines with a collection of 70 creations tomorrow, June 22, at Okada Grand Ballroom.

I had the blessing of having a conversation with him in-person in Macau months ago, and I’d love to share our conversation in this feature story.

An Education degree-holder, Leo initially aspired to be a teacher. But fate had different plans for him.

“I finished a degree in Education as a Magna Cum Laude in Cebu. When I was in college, I was also like a working student and an academic scholar,” he said. “So when I finished studying, I really had to find a job because I was self-supporting ever since. When I tried applying for five schools so I can teach and applied what I learned, every single school rejected me. I even applied for a job even in a Korean ESL school. I believed I finished all the exams well and nobody offered me a job. I was 21 years old, a fresh graduate and really needed a job.”

“I was so desperate, because it’s almost like a month since I finished college, and still I had no job. That’s when I read an ad for a job in a newspaper, and it was a one-whole page ad looking for a fashion designer. I totally remember it, it was like a top-down car and then with the bride and the groom on the car. So I went for it and applied.”

Leo Almodal in Macau, China

Leo shared that creating clothes was something he was familiar all his life, because his mom and dad are dressmakers and tailors who would make company uniforms. Even in college, Leo was already the go-to person of everyone when someone needs to make gowns or jerseys for the college muse, or any costumes for school events. He even accepted part-time stints as a fashion designer while studying.

“I’ve been a fashion designer for 23 years, counting my part-time designer stints in college. It runs in the family. I’ve always wanted to make clothes professionally too, but the thing is,my parents as much as possible wanted me to pursue a different career because they knew how hard it is to run a business like that. They were basically sewing uniforms, so my parents did not understand yet that you can elevate a tailorshop business they had.”

After responding to a job post ad by applying, Leo became a fashion designer in SM Department Stores by 2004.

“So I applied for that fashion designer post and the next day, I had an interview and then next day after that, I was working with them for a department store. I started working for SM Cebu as a bridal fashion designer. I only worked with them for three months and then I was hired abroad already.”

He decided to pursure and expanded his fashion design career in Bahrain. The designer worked in Bahrain for four and a half years, and then went back to the Philippines to work for a jewelry company. And then flew to Dubai to work for four years and a half as a fashion designer.

“I was the youngest in the group of fashion designers in Dubai. It was me, Michael Cinco, Ezrah, Banwat and others. They’re my batchmates.”

“There are only three big fashion designers in Dubai who are given the opportunity to have their names on their brand, they partially own the brands. Most of the designers in Dubai are working for a madam or a company as a ghost fashion designer. And I’m one of them. So basically, I was working as a ghost designer in Dubai, and I did that for four and a half years,” he narrated. 

“Like you know, they have like fashion shows in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi together with these other Filipino designers. My fashion shows were applauded, but my boss would come out in the hall and not me. So, all the credits were given to my former boss. I believe they made a lot of money from my creations and so I told myself, if I can do it for other, why can’t I do it for myself? And that’s how I started my own company, and my brand.Now, it’s been 10 years since I built my very own atelier brand.” 

Finding Magic in His Aesthetic

“Actually, if you check my dress compared to other designers, the way they’re made are not the conventional way. It’s different from them, because my technique is self-taught and all.”

“I’ve found my ways in terms of creating couture that really suit the figure of a woman, with lovelier combination and beading of crystals and stones. So since I have a background in jewelry design too, I’ve combined couture and jewelry design techniques. If you check my process, the technique is the combination of making a dress and jewelry.”

Starting On His Own

“When I was working in Dubai, I was offered by an Italian ambassador to start a brand in the Philippines. He invited me to start a business because he saw a lot of potential in my creations. But it did not work out and did not push through so I was really heartbroken that the business did not start. But it pushed me to start the business on my own,” he said.

“I started my brand on my own from scratch. And it was so hard because number one, I didn’t have enough capital. It’s the typical OFW reason, I was sending money to my parents,” he said.

“Succes has been gradual for me. I had to build my network of clients from scratch. But now I can say I have designed for a lot of celebrities and beauty queens including Toni Gonzaga, Anne Curtis, Sharon Cuneta, Regine Velasquez, Kim Chui and a lot more. Internationally, I’ve designed for celebrities and clients too. 80% of my clients are from the USA, 10% from Europe and Africa and 10% from the Philippines and Asia.”

Advice for Aspiring Designers

Leo wanted to uplift aspiring designers by giving a truthful, tough-love-kind of advice.

“It was so hard to start my label. I really had to work hard for it. It took me six years to have returns of investment. For the first five years, it was break even and roll over only, sometimes I would even have debts.”

“But my advice to aspiring designers? Do not give up. If you check the statistics, thousands of fashion designers graduate each year in the Philippines. You wonder where they are now? And you’d see that once they start, they want to be rich and famous in three months, and they quit if that does not happen. My advice is never give up your persistence, and be consistent. Because it takes like years. I even took five years before I see profits and ROI,” he said. “But now I am living a comfortable life.” 

“It’s hard. There’s very stiff competition, especially in the fashion world. I’m a tough lover and I do not sugarcoat things and I say it as it is. It wil be a difficult, hard career. But the thing is, in order for you to succeed in this kind of business, you have to be consistent. You have to be persistent. You have to have a strong will, and you have to work hard and work wisely at the same time. It is not easy that you work hard and for three months, you’re good already. No, it doesn’t work that way. If you really want this kind of career, you must fight for it. Fight for it!”

The Leo Almodal Success

“My aesthetic is very ethereal. It’s a bit classic, it’s a bit fairy tale-ish but high fashion. I think every woman wants to feel like a princess especially on your wedding day. We do high fashion that can still be wearable and relatable, and classic at the same time. Leo Almada is a fusion of high fashion and jewelry. When you wear a Leo Almodal couture, just wear it then carry a clutch and you’re good to go, you’re already gorgeous.” 

When asked what is his further ambition, Leo answered this:

“When I was younger, I was too ambitious because my vision was to open an international brand and have shops across the world. But during the pandemic, I have a recent realization. Now I have like my own shop in the Philippines and I have like this lineup and all these people who are getting branches for me. Sabi ko pagod na pagod na ako, I am exhausted. What if I’m going to open all those branches I’m going to die early. Sabi ko nga, I left behind a big luggage. You see, but the thing is. Will I be enjoying it? Will I be happy? I just want a quality of life. Maybe just one branch in the USA. Now I’m very happy with that. I want to have a baby next year. I have a house and lot, some investments. Now, I just want to have a family,” he concluded.  

Bennilyn Molina & Elisha Tabla of Aura Events Management, Stylish Magazine editor-in-chief Marane Plaza, and fashion designer Leo Almodal at the Leo Almodal Atelier in Mandaluyong

For those who still want to avail of the VIP access tickets for the Leo Almodal Solo Fashion Show tomorrow, contact Aura Events Management.

Images courtesy of Leo Almodal