Filipino Designer: Meet the Enigmatic Ezra Santos

Filipino Designer: Meet the Enigmatic Ezra Santos

Text by Lalaine Chu-Benitez; Photos by Eros Goze

In a modest two level villa off Al Wasl Road in posh Jumeirah is the atelier of one of the Filipino community’s best fashion createurs.  You walk into the unpretentious structure to be greeted by a black, grey and white foyer with two equally decadent rooms on each side – one a fitting room with deep raspberry walls and heavy silk curtains, the perfect backdrop for the designer in residence’s luxurious creations, the other a cerulean blue space with a plush maroon high back armchair and a leopard print chaise lounge, that’s so rich, so decadent – so very Ezra.

Perhaps, Ezra’s unassuming atelier is a close-enough allusion to the designer’s persona.  Enigmatically reserved, and low-key, soft spoken Ezra is like a mysterious Pandora’s Box that bursts into unexpected richness, once opened.    The antithesis of the mostly flamboyant characters in the fashion business, the designer exudes quiet confidence despite being one of the best locally-based couture designers who creates dreamy and extravagant gowns for the country’s top brass clientele.

Eight years into his own couture establishment, Ezra is not only an accomplished designer with his work featured in various high-profile magazines and events around the region, but a successful entrepreneur as well, running his own fashion house with 63 employees and generating high annual revenues in seven digits.

Last year saw Ezra achieve part of his glittering dreams when he staged his very own gala show entitled “In the Beginning” in April at the Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai  – where the designer presented the revolutionized “terno” – an iconic Filipino national fashion treasure, reincarnated in all its stately glory in dresses featuring distinctively contemporary strongly articulated butterfly sleeves, drawing “ooohs” and “aaaahs” from the UAE and Gulf’s discerning glitterati. Absolutely no small feat for a debut show in the over-saturated fashion market of the emirates.

As if that was not enough, in September 2010, Ezra embarked on crossing out another aspiration from his bucket list when he made his debut in New York at the Couture Fashion Week. Showcased was his Spring/Summer 2011 collection entitled “Aafrique de Or” presented in the form of African goddesses and Nubian princesses. The fashion show held at the Grand Ballroom of the legendary Waldorf-Astoria on Park Avenue drew NYC’s elite, VIPs, the press, and premium store buyers.

Looking back, Ezra says just like many a designer who grew up with a definitive fashion influence in their young lives, he was fascinated by his mother’s sartorial elegance during his formative years.  “I think I’ve always known that I wanted to be a designer since I was seven years old.  I was always matching things and discussing fashion options with my mom, then.”  Ezra says that he was also captivated by old films – finding design inspiration in the 40s black and white movies which showcased all-out Hollywood glam.

But Ezra took a detour before he went the style route – he studied Interior Design at the Philippine Women’s University (PWU) a breeding ground for the country’s bohemian and extremely talented artistic instigators.  After a very brief stint in Manila, the young designer found himself in Saudi Arabia – the lure of a great career and the possibility to widen his horizons beckoned. The kingdom posed a very restrictive environment to most westernized expats, for Ezra however; coming to the Gulf was a liberation of sorts – an expansion of his design opportunities, what with the availability of all imaginable fabric and design materials, not to mention the local culture’s natural fashion inclination towards the grandiose.

It was a stark contrast to the limitations in the Philippines, according to Ezra.  “That’s probably why Filipino designers are so good because they are trained with limited means. Back home, you’re supposed to be resourceful and ultra creative to make something amazing out of the simple materials available,” he observes.  And create he did, making a mark in his five year stint in the kingdom, before eventually moving to Dubai to spend over a decade in the prestigious House of Arushi.

With his exceptionally good history and roster of accomplishments, Ezra’s approach to his vocation remains effortless and straightforward.  He does not want to identify a definitive style except to say, “It’s simple but elegant.  It’s always about the individual who’s going to be wearing my design.” Providing an intimate glimpse into the artist’s deep spirituality, he was also quick to add that all his efforts mean nothing if not for the abundant blessings he has been given from above.  “It is not me, but Him who deserves the highest praise.”


Perhaps Ezra’s extraordinary achievements and commercial success can only be overshadowed by an even more promising future.  Seeing how this designer’s name has become a veritable coveted brand among the country’s couture connoisseurs, one can almost state with a measure of certainty, that the world’s fashionistas will soon have a taste of a style – that’s quite simply Ezra’s.