Philippine-born fashion designer Oliver Tolentino showcased more than just his elegant couture at Fashion Week El Paseo in Palm Springs last Saturday night – he also proudly showcased his heritage. In response, the crowd gave him a rare standing ovation.

Oliver was invited over a year ago by sponsor Palm Springs Life magazine to be the featured “Designer of the Week” at El Paseo, a fashion event considered the most prestigious in all of California. El Paseo is the street known as “the Rodeo Drive” of Palm Springs.

Under the El Paseo tent, larger than any at New York’s Bryant Park, Oliver showcased 68 pieces before a standing-room-only 600+ crowd.  When the lights went dark, Palm Springs socialites heard old news reels about “thousands of pairs of shoes” followed by Imelda Marcos’ voice discussing her concept of beauty.  As members in the audience smiled, a thunderous symphonic piece heralded the start of his Spring-Summer 2011 collection.

Oliver’s special muse, Philippine supermodel Tutay Maristela, stepped out and commanded the crowd’s attention as she emoted alone on the runway in the gown that won the Eco Sustainable Award last October when Oliver represented the Philippines in the Bahamas.  Tutay paused in the middle of the runway before the first song began.

It was a mostly American audience, but the Filipinos in attendance got goose bumps when they realized Oliver chose Sylvia La Torre singing “Galawgaw” to open his show.  Boom Dayupay (from Kulay) had mixed a faster version with a beat so Oliver could use the Tagalog song.   It was particularly fitting as Sylvia La Torre’s granddaughter, Hollywood actress Anna Maria Perez De Tagle (“Camp Rock,” “Fame,” and “Hannah Montana”), was seated in the front row.

It was clear Oliver had insisted that the Philippines also would be on display for this audience, which included international designer Trina Turk. Oliver’s entire collection was inspired by Hollywood circa 1950s-1960s, and his ready-to-wear segment was 20 sophisticated looks of shorts, pedal pushers, pants, over-blouses, and boleros in bright spring colors comprised mostly of indigenous fabrics piña, abaca, and raw silk cocoon.

Eartha Kitt’s “Wayray Wayray,” also remixed by Boom, kicked off Oliver’s cocktail segment, featuring 21 vibrant-colored balloon dresses, ¾ sleeved dresses with oversized turtle-neck collars, and empire-cut baby doll dresses, all indigenous fabrics.  Most were accented with belts embellished with Philippine fresh water pearls, beads, and sequins.

Oliver featured 22 couture evening gowns in darker colors of silk chiffon, dupioni silk, and beaded lace.  Gowns were embellished with Swarovski crystals, hand-made rosettes, beads, and sequins.  Several featured dramatic asymmetrical drapings in the bodice and skirt.

Five traditional wedding gowns closed the show.  The bridal pieces were made of French lace, duchess satin, tulle, and native piña and abaca.  Tutay dramatically modeled the final gown, sitting down in the middle of a mountain of tulle for effect.

When Oliver appeared for the final walk-out, the crowd rose to its feet in a rare standing ovation for such a discriminating, fashion-knowledgeable audience.  Wearing a cream abaca fiber jacket, Oliver appeared surprised and moved by the sustained applause.  He escorted Tutay to the end of the runway and took a bow not just for himself but for his native Philippines.

Besides Trina Turk, Anna Maria Perez de Tagle, and fashion editors and journalists, guests in attendance included Los Angeles Philippine Consul General Mary Jo Aragon and Mr. T. Baker Smith and his wife Lisa.  Mr. Smith is a partner with Accenture Consulting, the largest foreign employer in the Philippines.  The Smiths flew in from New York where they have hosted Oliver’s trunk shows for Manhattan socialites. Oliver’s show was followed by an after-party in his honor at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.  Palm Springs Life will feature him and his show in its upcoming issue.

Photos by Janine Chavez and Sthanlee Mirador