Designer-to-the-stars Furne One, from the label Amato, rarely talks about his many achievements. Despite having found worldwide success dressing celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé and Katy Perry, the Dubai-based Filipino couturier’s reputation for being self-effacing precedes him.
Seeking to shine a light on his talent is Los Angeles film producer, and founder of the Fashion News Live (FNL) network, Rocco Leo Gaglioti.
His film, Inside Amato, had its premiere in the United States last year and won Best Documentary at the International Fashion Film Awards in California.
Last month, the 22-minute film made its Dubai debut with a private screening to select members of the fashion community at Stereo Arcade in the Double Tree by Hilton. Ever one to shy away from the spotlight, the modest designer did not make an appearance on the night.
“I initially came to Dubai to make a movie about Amato at Fashion Forward [FFWD], because no one had ever done it,” says Gaglioti. “He’s never opened up to anyone in this way before and Bong Guerrero [the founder of FFWD] has never allowed anyone complete backstage access. I chose Furne because he is the most closed and shy designer that exists. He’s very timid but so talented – such a genius.”
Gaglioti’s technique for helping the designer relax in front of the cameras was to scale the production team down to just two people. Filmed in a fly-on-the-wall format, the documentary charts the progress of Furne One’s couture collection for Fashion Forward last April – from sketch-pad to runway show.
The documentary is a slow-burner, with Gaglioti taking the audience inside the designer’s atelier in Deira, where his team of artisans are seen hand-finishing gowns, and backstage at Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah ahead of the presentation.
Some of the most revealing moments captured on film are of Furne One making alterations to his collection – which was inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel, Anna Karenina – minutes before the curtain rises.
“There are puff skirts with shirt-type blouses and puffed-sleeved embroidered jackets and lots of zippers, which makes it very industrial,” the designer said of his collection at the time. “All the embellishments are made from safety pins and crystals. What’s important is that I’m always thinking ‘my woman’ is not afraid of the dictates of fashion. She’s strong and wants to experiment.”
Women who seek out Amato’s couture have a penchant for his flawless, feminine, avant-garde creations. The pressure to continually churn out high-octane collections, headline-grabbing shows and couture of exquisite precision, ultimately means that Furne One runs a very tight ship.
“He knows exactly what he wants and he’s very assertive and strong-willed about it,” says Gaglioti. “He has a heart of gold and is such a kind, gentle man. But he’s also very passionate about his work and only seems to be stressed out when he’s preparing for a show.”
An ardent admirer of Amato, Gaglioti is keen for US viewers to share his appreciation for a designer who launched his label in 2002 and continues to accumulate VIP clients.
“US audiences are not overly familiar with his work, sadly,” says Gaglioti. “Americans don’t immediately think ‘fashion and couture’ when they think of Dubai, so it’s been my job to highlight that along with Amato. I also hope I’ve been able to show the beauty of this enchanting, optimistic city.”
Catching up with Amato’s show director and choreographer Kevin Oliver
What’s Furne One like to work with?
There are designers and there are designers. Some just want a straight catwalk show where I will simply stand backstage and say “next” after 8 beats. Then, along comes a designer who calls you every day, wants to meet you three months before the show to discuss the passion and storyline behind the collection — that’s Furne. I’ve worked with Furne for 8-10 years and we really click well. Although I have worked with many brands and on many shows — he’s my favourite designer.
How easy is bringing his vision to life?
It’s essential that I get inside his head. This can be challenging and sometimes the vision swings in many directions. However, Furne knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants. So, generally we get to where we need to be a month before the show. When the music is in place, that’s when it really starts. Music inspires his collections to a certain extent and it can certainly inspire my choreography.
What are the biggest technical challenges?
Technically Amato is tough — from balancing the AV side of things to the music, lights and directional movement of the models. It may look haphazard but everything is choreographed to the second — from the model’s pauses, to their exits and the speed that they walk — nothing is left to chance.
How do you teach models to navigate Amato’s elaborate catwalks?
[Laughs] Yes, and he can also put them in difficult shoes. Walking on sand, for example, is tricky — it’s slippy and you sink. I’ve been particular about the sand being laid out as thinly as possible. If the models are not comfortable, it’s clear from their faces on film and in photos. And I must say that the girls are great — they translate his clothes well and upon my command they visually portray every expression from haughtiness and sensuality to being completely blank or appearing robotic.