Starting at 14, Filipino fashion designer Jude Macasinag is proof that you can do anything. He’s already dressed the likes of Pia Wurtzbach, Alaiza Malinao, Nadine Lustre, and Frankie Pangilinan.
At some point, you might have heard of his name. Echoing Filipino culture and history in his intricate, hand-embellished works, Jude Macasinag doesn’t mind the painstakingly long hours it takes to create from scratch. As if the world doesn’t need to know more about his roots, his surname literally screams “sun rays” in Filipino. Using old five centavo coins, abaca and freshwater pearls as materials in his designs—who even thinks of the smallest details like that? Meet Jude Macasinag, a young Filipino fashion designer who’s been thriving in France at the age of 19. We won’t be surprised if one day, his works will be displayed at the MET.
NYLON Manila: How old are you? What age did you start as a fashion designer?
I’m currently 21. I made a wedding gown for my mother when I was 17, and that I think was what started to put me out there as a fashion creative. But I’ve long been wanting to do fashion ever since I was young. I enrolled in Slim’s in Makati for design and dressmaking classes on weekends during high school, and I was 19 when I got into Institut Français de la Mode.
What was the moment or instance where you realized that this is what you wanted to do?
I first picked up the pencil and paper at around the age of three or four, and the mindless scribbles I’d make turned into doodles of people in clothing. I segued into having formal training in studio visual arts in gradeschool and highschool, but during those studies, I came back to wanting to make clothes again. It’s really probably the most boring career start ever.
Tell us about your education in Paris. Were there any struggles as a young, Filipino fashion designer?
I’m currently in the Institut Français de la Mode, part of the first batch of design bachelor students ever since they merged with the famed École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. I’ve been wanting to study at the ECSCP since I was 14, but thought that it was a dream too far especially since there were financial restraints. But I’ve been very lucky to receive a partial scholarship from the school, especially since they don’t normally give scholarships to non-European students.
As far as I know, I’m the only Filipino on campus. What I think makes me unique is the perspective from growing up in a country as culturally-complex as the Philippines, now situated in a creative environment as historically important as Paris. There are times I think I’m creating in my own bubble, so the challenge often for me is to give universal understandings of what I absorbed from the Philippine context to help relate to other people and to make meaning in my work.
This, to me, is more important than just bringing the heritage from our shores to this metropolitan city beyond a token, visual sense. It’s a lot of pressure, but also it’s pressure that I put on myself. Oh, and I constantly miss my family and friends from back home. Thank God there’s the internet to help with that.
What are your 5 favorite pieces and why?
I’m not really as sentimental with my work anymore, so I don’t really have a number of specific favorites except for one: the wedding gown I made for my mother in 2016. My parents renewed their vows after 20 years of marriage and she wore it to the intimate ceremony. It was the first garment I ever sewed, and it was all done by hand. It took me every weekend for six months to make.
The fully-embellished top of that ensemble featured the Sunburst motif inspired from Napoleon Abueva’s sculpture, which I later on adopted as an emblem after realizing how it represented my name as well (Macasinag = sun’s rays). That garment has been exhibited in a number of events and was also worn by Nadine Lustre last year.
How has your aesthetic and approach as a Filipino fashion designer changed now that there’s a pandemic?
I learned how to deal with loss, and have my energy channel through my work. My grandfather passed away during the pandemic, and my family and I was virtually with him until his last breath. When he flatlined, I stayed to watch how his skin changed colors until he was rolled over and wrapped in his sheets. Those images stuck with me. It was both desensitizing and overwhelming at the same time. I tried to cope by channeling these two contradictory feelings in my work, trying to see if I could get that sense of feeling/not feeling again with what I create.
I also realized how important family and my roots are in my process. Because of what we experienced during the pandemic, I re-assessed and found value again in what’s essential. I used to just dabble my fingers in whatever topic interested me before, and the result of that has sometimes felt stale. I feel like I care more for personal meaning now, and in my approach, I try to apply how I either find or make this meaning. Interestingly enough as well, my works have become as vibrant as ever. Somehow, color has found its way through dark times.
Any tips on how to get into fashion school for aspiring Filipino fashion designers?
I try to follow two main ideas with my work that may be applicable for aspiring creatives, whether in fashion or not: experimentation and personality.
Experimentation shows that you are motivated to go beyond the textbook ideas of creation. Knowing fundamental technique is important, but one of the things that will make you stand out is the grit and aggression you have to push ideas further. A personal rule of mine: no more just pretty gowns and dresses. Experimentation matters because it’s the only way to move forward.
Personality comes hand in hand with experimentation. Knowing your own history is important—and I don’t mean the heritage of your country. Your own personal experience and perspective is what counts. Delve into how you grew up, what you’ve learned, and who you are as an individual—it’s what will make you stand out. I have two post-it notes on my table that I continue to live by: “The way we are, the way we create,” and “The most personal is the most creative.”
Photos courtesy of Jude Macasinag
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