Two years after he first impressed a crowd of international fashion watchers with his BA Fashion Design graduation collection at Central Saint Martins (CSM), Jessan Macatangay has added another feather to his proverbial cap: he just became the first Filipino designer to win the L’Oreal Professionnel Womenswear Creative Award.
The honor is bestowed only to CSM’s MA Fashion Class graduates with the best collection. Past winners include Kim Jones, Grace Wales Bonner, Christopher Kane, Mary Katrantzou, Molly Goddard, and Craig Green, now very respected names in the fashion world. Clearly, the Batangas-born Macatangay impressed this year’s judges: British Vogue’s Fashion Director, Julia Sarr-Jamois, Market Editor of WWD, Tianwei Zhang, and Fashion Features Director of I-D, Osman Ahmed.
The Filipino designer took inspiration from the restrictions that religion and society impose on the way women in his homeland dress. “I grew up in Batangas where the prevalent dress code is always modest and conservative. Batangenos are naturally religious people. So religious, in fact, that they allow their beliefs to heavily influence every aspect of their lives,” says the designer of Scupltural Sensuality, the title of his MA collection.
The collection, which took all of five months to complete, is composed of eight pieces in total—six of which made it to Macatangay’s MA fashion show. For each piece, he combined various types of jerseys and stretched them using wired frames to mimic a swimsuit's outline. His clean lines and silhouette effectively accentuated the model’s bodies. His colors were the middleground between bold and muted. The collection is feminine, sensual and avant-garde.
This year’s Central Saint Martins MA Graduation show marks the much-awaited event’s return to the catwalk since the breakout of the Covid-19 pandemic. CSM is the same art school that legendary designers Stella McCartney, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen attended.
In 2020, Macatangay took home the Gold Prize for the Yinger Prize Global Womenswear Emerging Talent Contest for Graduates by the Yinger Fashion Group. Despite the recognitions, it’s clear the guy is just starting. What’s inspiring about this Batangueño is his passion to explore and learn more, and what makes him a unique voice is his ability to take elements from his own culture and translate them into a language and aesthetic attuned to the pulse of the world.
We shot Macatangay a few questions to get to know this registered nurse turned fashion soldier even more.
What was it like putting this graduation collection together? The physical demands of it and the emotional impact of it. Did the ongoing pandemic weigh your process down?
The whole experience was very intense and fast-paced. It definitely helped me become a more mature designer, which is what I was hoping to achieve with this course. One of the main challenges was actually avoiding contracting Covid during the whole process. Some of my classmates got the virus while doing the course, which forced them to stop for a while. Our deadlines are very intense, so this was really unfortunate. It was especially crucial not to get Covid during the latter part of the process, because at this time we needed to do a lot of fittings with the models. There were fittings and lineups every week. And when you're forced to stop and isolate, it literally stops everything. Your work is interrupted, and we can only work on things that don’t involve coming face to face with another person.
From the very beginning, my plan was to work more independently and to limit interactions to as few people as possible, especially during those times when Omicron was emerging. From the start, I did fittings with just a model friend. I did my bachelor’s graduation collection during the start of the pandemic in 2020 so I was able to learn from that a lot and applied those lessons to my MA collection. There was a lot of advance planning due to the fear of potential lockdown and the university closing. Getting fabrics way ahead of time and making sure all accessories are planned out properly and in advance were my top priorities. Two days before the show, unfortunately, one of my models got Covid. It was really stressful. Aside from finding a replacement model, I had to do a lot of very last-minute casting, fitting and alteration of the clothes.
You’re from Batangas. Tell us about what your first exposure was to fashion, and how your fashion dreams started there?
I am a late bloomer in fashion. I really had no specific memory of love for it when I was a kid. When I was 17, I came across a YouTube video of a fashion show of Comme Des Garcons. This was the very instant I got intrigued about fashion. This was where it started for me.
My first degree was nursing. I actually am a licensed nurse in the Philippines. I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating high school. I had a lot of things that I liked, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to pursue. I decided to take up nursing at my mother’s suggestion, and even earned my license, but my heart really wasn’t in the practice.
After I got my license, I started taking short courses in pattern-cutting in Manila. The more I looked into the possibility of pursuing a fashion career, the more I was drawn to learning about Central Saint Martins here in London. I was accepted on the BA course, and, later, the MA course, which I just finished.
What has the past few years of studying at CSM been like?
The whole experience was amazing. The first year was really intense since I was still trying to find who I really am as a designer. From then, my focus was really just learning and enjoying the whole journey. I have so much great memories from the seven years I spent there--from BA to MA. The best memories are, of course, with the people I met. I was in a class with some of the most creative and talented students from different parts of the world. We learned so much from each other. Working with the same tutors who taught some of the greatest designers in fashion has been so amazing.With regards to my actual work, the best moment of the whole experience has been discovering who is the woman I want my work to represent. I think this was one of my best takeaways from the whole process, especially the MA course. It wasn’t easy at the beginning because I’m a designer who always wants to do crazy stuff – which I still love. But during the process I always ask: does it make sense? Who is it for? Why? After figuring out who she is, it all started to make sense. I can still be creative as much as I want but it should be about her and should make sense for who she is.
What’s next after graduation, Jessan?
I want to go back to the Philippines for a bit, then return to London to continue developing and exploring my work. I want to spend more time experimenting. While I love creating looks that make a statement, I have also been energised by creating this collection in a more pragmatic, disciplined and marketable way. I think there is more bandwidth for me to develop. My hope is to start building my own brand slowly.
How did you feel winning the L’Oreal Professionnel Creative award? What did it mean for you?
I was told that I will be awarded the prize literally a few minutes before the last part of the catwalk. I was totally overwhelmed when I got out on the runway, but I was so happy. I’m still pinching myself, honestly.
It means a lot to me, especially because before entering fashion design, I had already finished a non-fashion degree in the Philippines. Needless to say, I quit that industry to pursue fashion. It was quite risky because I was entering a totally new world with lots of uncertainties. So the L’Oréal Professionnel Creative prize, for me, was a confirmation that I am on the right track.
It feels so great to receive recognition from experts who see my potential. That means so much to me. It was especially rewarding to represent the Southeast Asian community, especially our Filipino community as legitimate voices in fashion. I think that is the best part. It was really amazing to somehow represent our own community.
All photos courtesy of Jessan Macatangay.