Filipino Designers: Francis “Izchka” Zeta and Yen AB

Filipino Designers: A Tale of Two Designers – Izchka Zeta & Yen AB

By Lalaine Chu-Benitez


Two exceptional Filipino designers, whose careers and personal paths are inextricably linked, also happen to be two of the strongest couturiers to watch in the emirates right now. With a clear cut fashion perspective and design brilliance that stands out, these createurs de mode are set to make an indelible mark with their original brand of style. 

Filipino Designers: Francis "Izhcka" Zeta
Photo by Eros Goze


For acquaintances in the UAE’s high fashion scene, Francis “Izchka” Zeta is known as an uber stylish clotheshorse you would often see strutting in all his fashionista glory at local events. Tall lanky frame in edgy ensemble, fearless hairstyle, giant shades and all, he cuts an intimidating figure for those unaccustomed to the eccentric and flamboyant characters of the country’s couture-fab community. However, remove the fierce wrap-around spectacles and what is revealed is actually a surprisingly shy, soft-spoken individual. His talent for design, though, is nowhere near modest. As a key member of Michael Cinco’s design team from his former atelier, Jacy Kay Couture, who helped catapult the couture star to fame, Francis Zeta’s artistry and keen attention to detail has long been enjoyed by the fashion house’s privileged clientele. Now, as the newly-minted Creative Director of Jacy Kay Couture, I asked the designer whom everybody fondly calls as Izhcka, if he is at all daunted by the prospect of coming into his own and emerging from the shadows of an acclaimed designer. “Not at all,” he says. “I have always thought of my emergence as one likened to the fabulous Arabian golden-red feathered Phoenix. There is that burning desire to create, to breathe new life, to offer something orphic and erudite, yet one that mesmerizes and is spectacular. This fiery desire has trampled that which is daunting.” Raised in a well-educated and cultured middle class family in Catbalogan, Samar, the designer credits his family life for nurturing in him a deep love for all things beautiful. He recalls, “Growing up, our parents were so particular about things in our home. Everything had to be pristine white – from linens, to plates, to our clothes and everything else. My parents taught me that everything has to be beautiful and spotless.” Unsurprisingly, the designer brought with him the same sensibilities he’s learned from childhood, throughout his colorful career – first as a production designer at ABS-CBN, until he eventually moved into fashion armed with a degree in architecture, which although atypical, has given the designer a formidable foundation that allowed him to technically manipulate the construction of his creations with much ease and mastery. This time around, as Jacy Kay Couture gears up to unveil the first collection of Francis Zeta, the designer can’t help but gush about his new design obsession – his inspiration for his maiden fashion offering. “I am so deeply moved by medieval and baroque architecture. I am in awe at the sight of pointed arches, intricate column clusters, rose windows, spires and flying buttresses,” he enthuses, while showing me his expansive design illustration for a heavily-beaded deep teal opera coat featuring minute embellishments to form his beloved architecture-inspired elements.  

Filipino Designers: Francis "Izchka" ZetaFilipino Designers: Francis "Izchka" ZetaFilipino Designers: Francis "Izchka" ZetaFilipino Designers: Francis "Izchka" ZetaFilipino Designers: Francis "Izchka" Zeta

For this collection, the designer has referenced his designs to the complex architectural features found at the Notre Dame Chartres Cathedral in France and realized them as style expressions through intricate combinations of fine adornments painstakingly put together to complete a grand gesture of fashion. He adds, “Although our silhouette will remain the same – flattering and body conscious for our dresses, and unashamedly opulent and full for our wedding gowns, you will see some remarkable detailing that you have never seen before.” Indeed, those delectable couture morsels are enough to whet the appetite of bespoke consumers and style pundits waiting for the next big thing in the UAE’s fashion feast. On what is to be expected of his much-talked about impending debut, Francis “Izhcka” Zeta, replies simply but meaningfully, “For me, almost anyone can design, but for a dress to be elevated to couture craftsmanship and the arts, it should, it MUST, be a thoughtful expression of an artist who refuses to follow the mold.”

Filipino Designers: Yen AB
Yen AB – Photo by Eros Goze

Yen AB

Not very long ago, designer Yen AB, said he was pounding the pavements aimlessly in the emirates, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life.  An education in Nuclear Medicine, his original chosen profession, wasn’t enough to keep him inspired and motivated.  This was until 2006, when then newfound friends (now his ‘design trinity’) Alfred Osting, Sylver Custorio and  Francis “Izhcka” Zeta (who was to become his mentor), took him under their wing and introduced to him the world of fashion design. “I was very lucky and ever so thankful to Alfred, Sylver and Izhcka.  I knew nothing about the industry, but when Izhcka took me in as his assistant, he became my ‘idiots guide to fashion design’ – for lack of a better phrase.”  He explains, “He taught me proper presentation illustration, beadwork design, and etc.  Without his mentorship, support and encouragement, I will not be where I am today,” Yen says gratefully. Fast forward to 2014, and in just a short span of years, Yen AB, has been able to establish the House of Yen with the support of Khamis Al Hameli.  Now he oversees four branches – UAE, Qatar, Hayes London and Melrose Avenue in LA, and enjoys a roster of A-list clients in the region, as well as Hollywood.  His work has been featured in music videos, movies and TV. He also has to his credit, successful gala exhibits held at the Emirates Palace among other prestigious venues, as well as two successful runs as the finale at the London Fashion Week (LFW).

Filipino Designers: Yen AB Filipino Designers: Yen AB Filipino Designers: Yen AB

For his finale at this season’s LFW Spring/Summer 2015, Yen, yet again, showcased his uncanny ability to translate unusual inspirations into amazing fashion pieces in a collection called, “Aria of Midnight.” Taking green values as a guiding force, he has fabricated recycled scrap materials like PET plastic (from water bottles, no less) and other found and repurposed materials into embellishments that go beyond typical crystals and beads. These extraordinary features were matched with a curve hugging silhouette, black silk over rose hued fabric, dangerously low necklines and bare backs, and strategically placed cutouts, mixing together into sophisticatedly svelte ensembles with just that pop of the unexpected.  The collection is already in Yen’s LA Boutique and will be featured at the Metropolitan Fashion Week on September 26th and a gala show in Phoenix Arizona on October 4, 2014. True to form, Yen remains enthusiastically obsessed when it comes to the arts and aesthetics that define him – whether it be with his newfound love for the recycled, his affinity for comic books to manga, to other unusual ideologies.  The same design ethos has allowed the designer to grow his craft in recent years, giving him his definitive fashion voice able to create the most curious of silhouettes, fabrications, as well as accessories, which are all reflective of his playfulness, but also his distinctively elegant hand. All this is quite a remarkable feat for a relatively new designer, especially considering how the fashion industry is so competitive in the UAE and greater Gulf, with designs tending to be diluted.  But perhaps, not with a person like Yen who, once set in his tracks, is driven by sheer dogged determination, unwavering focus and a keen sense for business. “I tend to be obsessive.  When I want to do something, I’m dead set about doing it and I don’t give in to distractions. I also work hard at ensuring that there is a balance between my passion for designing as well as my continued drive towards a successful business,”shares Yen.  He adds, “I guess, I am very fortunate.  I know where I came from, and that I still have a long way to go, but I know exactly where I am headed.” And you better believe it, because for this designer, this is merely the beginning.

Read Comments

1 comment

Nonoi Hacbang
January 7, 2017

A New Creation I Breath I Live Life Life Life