Friday, June 26, 2015

International Fashion Icon John C. Ablaza brings “Couture & Culture” to the US

Phoenix, AZ – Opening his US tour in Arizona at the Phoenix Art Museum on May 30, 2015, dignitaries and fashion influencers, on and off the runway, graced the much-anticipated “Couture & Culture” gala fashion show by Manila-based international designer John C. Ablaza.

John C. Ablaza

It was a wonderful evening filled with beauty, curious minds, innovative art, and a strong sense of community as the affair, produced by Darrell and Andrea Smith of benefitted the Miss Arizona Scholarship Pageant Foundation and The 3000 Club 

With luxury cars displayed upfront the museum by event sponsor, Mercedes-Benz of Scottsdale, the ropes opened and the red carpet welcomed VIPs leading them first to the charity auction and the preview of Rizal Traveling Museum exhibit sponsored by the Arizona Knights of Rizal. 

Chosen by the National Centennial Commission in 1998, John was appointed to recreate a replica of the wardrobe of Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines, in conjunction with the 100th year celebration of Philippine Independence. His Rizal collections has since traveled all over the Philippines, North America and across Europe, and was popularly visited during its 5-day display at the Saguaro Hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona on June 11th thru 15th, 2015. 
(See photos below by Joseph Inosante)

The VIPs continued on to the lively reception at the Rineberg Gallery.   Cocktails and sumptuous hors d’oeuvres were served, and live string entertainment was provided by Urban Electra, while guests mingled and met John C. Ablaza and his “Couture & Culture” Signature Models ~ Bea Santiago, 2013 Miss International Philippines; Art Ortiz Natividad, 2014 Asia Star Model Philippines; and models Marc Nash and Stevo Trann.

It wasn't long before the crowd was led to the Breat Hall for the highlight of the evening.  I was amazed... a fashion show that actually started on time!

Opening model, Kristoffer Smith wore a feather sheathed knee-length pants, one of John's signature pieces, as he kicked off the runway show with the theatrical and acrobatic moves.

It was an exhilarating start, followed by awe-inspiring 40-piece collection including ~ simple white floor length dresses and men’s light linen shirts paired with drawstring short trousers; artfully slimming gray long and short dresses and men’s formal wear with feather lapel layover; dramatic red evening wear; beautifully handcrafted brown and white gowns with unique ornaments made of sustainable elements; and who can take their eyes away from those spectacular bowties… focus!

Bea Santiago, Miss International 2013

(Photo credits Steve Yap Photography, Stephen Yap)

The details are definitely eye-catching and fascinating, especially knowing that the sculptured gowns, menswear and accessories were handmade with eco-friendly and organic materials like coconut, dalet or barks, sig-id or reed grass fibers. Excellent craftsmanship!

I was excited and honored to walk the runway and be part of John's legacy.  I must say that this is one of, if not the most organized front and back house production I have ever experienced! Kudos to the producers, models, Pretty & Dollfaced hair and make-up crew, wardrobe team, photographers and videographers and all the volunteers for pulling it off in less than 45 days! Bravo!!

But the real success and the most important aspect of “Couture & Culture” is John’s advocate for ancestral craftsmanship and his dedication to safeguard the Mangyan tribe and the indigenous culture in Mindoro, Philippines.  He mentors the tribal women to hone their embroidering techniques and design skills with a mission and promise to bring them more work and improve their livelihood. In a recent press release, John revealed his collaboration with one of the respected families in Cebu, Philippines – the Ayala’s – who share the same advocacy in helping the Mangyan tribe.

If you missed John C. Ablaza's "Couture & Culture" Fashion Show and Rizal Traveling Museum last month, you are in luck! For his next engagement, John is bringing both the fashion show and the traveling museum to the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, Cerritos, California on July 11th 2015, alongside Ryan Cayabyab and Nonon Padilla's Noli Me Tangere - The Musical.

Pack your bags, jet to California, get your FASH on and make a fashion scene! For more details about this glam affair and other chic stories and happenings, visit and LIKE “Chasing Sheila” on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

SJ Couture - Making dreams come true, one bride at a time!

Written by Sheila Vertuno for F Magazine, May/Jun Issue

Scottsdale, AZ – Looking at my reflection wearing a silk duchess satin sleeveless A line floor-length dress with silk organza ruffle at hem, I was misty-eyed as I saw myself in a wedding gown for the very first time in my life. 

Nope! I wasn’t in the market for bridal wear, otherwise I will have some explaining to do with my husband of 18 years.  But not having a fairytale experience of walking down the aisle in a white gown, it truly felt like Christmas morning to play dress up while interviewing Jeanne Hankerson, SJ Couture CEO and Designer, at her vintage-themed Scottsdale boutique.
Jeanne Hankerson, SJ Couture CEO and Designer

Photo source:

SJ Couture’s high quality and authentic wedding gowns are designed for today's real woman. Making dreams come true (including hers!) one bride at a time, Jeanne told us how she got started in the fashion industry,  “I dream about wedding gown designs, in 2010 I decided to try and see those dreams come to fruition.”  With great talent and eye for detail, that very same year, Jeanne won the Phoenix Fashion Week Emerging Designer of the Year 2010!

Jeanne found her niche: understated elegance. What SJ Couture is about - “The simple, striking designs take vintage grace and infuse it with a contemporary twist. Jeanne believes that fashion is a frame only enhancing the perfection of the woman. Her gowns are ethereal, never ephemeral because your wedding is not just a day… it's a new beginning.”

It is very refreshing to see a variety of uncommon lines and combinations of fabrics for bridal wear than the usual Disney-esque beaded tulle ball gown and sequined serpentine cut long dress.  Jeanne uses handmade organza, eco-friendly silk/hemp charmeuse and unexpected combination of floral laces. When asked about her popular material choices and where they are sourced from, she told us, “I use silk fabrics in my gowns and deal with New York for those and I use laces that are sourced from Italy, France and Austria.” No way mass-produced, her gowns are all made in America…New York City to be specific.

Photo source: DesertRh1no Photography, Daniel Vertuno

SJ Couture prides its collections with timeless style and subtle details, never to take away from the bride’s moment.  There’s no lone motif to Jeanne’s designs, instead she focuses on individual personalities.  The key, Jeanne says, is in listening, understanding and collaborating with her brides.

Two of my favorite SJ Couture bridal gowns are “Zoe” and “Alex.”

ZOE photo source: Don Giannatti Photography, Donald Giannatti
ALEX photo source: Katina Patriquin Photography, Jim Hesterman

My top pick, the Zoe gown, is an ivory silk duchess satin fitted bodice with dropped waist crystal-accented trim and delicate scalloped lace at the edge of hi lo hem. Post wedding this is practically wearable in other formal evening or red carpet events.

Unique with its youthful silhouette, the Alex gown is a combination of a silk duchess satin strapless long dress and a ¾ sleeve Italian floral lace open back jacket.  What I love about this is that it comes in 2 versatile pieces that can be worn separately, styled with other wardrobe items. 

Getting down to work after my make-believe bridal fitting, I asked Jeanne more questions about her brand and herself…

Sheila: What is the inspiration behind SJ Couture creations?
Jeanne: My inspiration comes from different historical periods, the aroma of a spring day, the desert after a rain storm.

S: How do you go about designing a wedding dress?
J: The design process starts with a sketch then goes to pattern then to sample. Once sample is created, I work on tweaks and it will go back to apply the changes and return again as a sample, once everything is ok'd it will then be sent to cut and sew.

S: I like that you refer to each of your gown by name, how do you pick their names?
J: Some gowns get their names during the design process, some gowns come in and are finished and I have to think about the name that fits that particular gown. To me these gowns have personalities and the name has to fit the personality. I love the Alex gown, that name just fit the gown.

S: By the way, Congratulations! I saw that Alex has made its appearance on national TV, with Access Hollywood and E! News, earlier this year.  

Watch it here:

Access Hollywood ~

E! News ~

S: I am proud and honored to represent SJ Couture at the recent RAW Artist fashion show in Phoenix.  Could you tell us about the Alex bridal gown you had me wear at the RAW event?
J: The inspiration for the Alex gown truly came from the Kendra gown, there were some brides that loved the Kendra gown but wanted the dotted Swiss portion to be separate, so the Alex gown was born. I use silks for the gown and lining and beautiful lace from Italy for the jacket.

The "Alex" by SJ Couture
Model: Sheila Vidamo-Vertuno
Makeup: Amber David
Hair: Paul Mitchell School

The "Jennifer" by SJ Couture
Model: Lindsay Viker
Makeup: Amber David
Hair: Paul Mitchell School

The new "Willa" Cashmere Tank Top with the "Piper" Skirt by SJ Couture
Model: Christiana Kelly
Makeup: Amber David
Hair: Paul Mitchell School

SJ Couture gowns presented by RAW at the Monarch Theatre

Christiana Kelly and Jeanne Hankerson for the final walk

Photo source: Edwin Padilla Photography, Edwin Padilla

S: Like the Alex gown, I noticed that many of your bridal gowns come in 2 pieces, which is unconventional. I’m obsessed with it and its versatility!
J: I love the idea of 2 pieces - as my collection of 2 pieces grows it's makes it more fun to mix and match. With the cashmere tank top, the idea that you can wear this top with jeans or dress pants/skirt after the wedding is really nice.

S: What has been your favorite custom piece that you’ve created?
J: I love all the gowns I create - they each hold a special place for me, so there is really no favorite.

S: If you could dress anyone, past or present, who would it be?
J: If I could dress anyone it would probably be Jane Austen!

S: If you could collaborate with anyone, past or present, who would it be?
J: This is a tough question, I don't know that I would collaborate so much as want to see how, let's say Christian Dior worked ie what inspired him - made him tick - that would be really interesting.

S: What is the best part of your profession?
J: Hearing back from happy brides - that joy is so gratifying.

S: What’s next for Jeanne Hankerson?
J: A lot of my designs now can be evening/red carpet gowns just by changing the color - that would be fun!

S: What advise would you give a bride to be?
J: Don't wait too long to decide on a gown - that's adding stress and pressure to an already high anxiety time. A good time frame to allow for your gown order is at least 6 months prior, this way there is plenty of time and hopefully reduces stress.
There you have it, if you plan on having a winter nuptial and be a holiday bride, now would be the right time to start planning for that perfect wedding dress. Bonus – if you mention “Chasing Sheila” when you make your appointment with SJ Couture, you are in for a discount!

On a lighter note, Jeanne is an early riser and drinks only decaf coffee (Morning person starting her day with decaf only… impressive!). True to her roots, her style is East coast preppy; she enjoys DMB, James Taylor and classical music; and her favorite travel destination is London.  Workaholic as she is, Jeanne is still “working” on relaxing. But she enjoys her rare free time with friends and family =)

Good luck with your future venture, Jeanne, and more success to SJ Couture! I am a big supporter of local and small business. And I believe in your brand!  #MadeInAmerica