Model: Natalia Armovit
London, NYC, Paris, Milan. With each fashion capital comes along the top tier of established designers. The Versaces and Pradas of the world. There also comes a new generation of emerging talent, creating a name for themselves through the means of parties, anti-establishment shows and Inst-envy hangouts. That’s your Charles Jeffreys and Vaqueras. Thousands of miles away from the hustle and bustle of all four fashion capitals and its bubbling talent, a satellite community of creatives sits (or rather dances) in Manila, Philippines, led by the fashion designer Carl Jan Cruz. His eponymous brand, founded in August 2015, is growing into what is becoming synonymous with contemporary Filipino fashion, one deconstructed piece of denim at a time.
From yoga teachers to doctors – in three and a half years he’s been running the unisex brand, Cruz has seen the interest in the brand extending from the close circuit of the fashion industry into a wider demographic from all walks of life, diversifying not only the audience but also the outlook of the brand. Under the hashtag #CarlJanCrewz and via his Instagram account, the designer has assembled a loyal group of fans who can’t wait to see what’s happening next in his universe. They have also informed the way the brand is communicated – he regularly casts members of his community when creating visuals for the brand as part of an ongoing collaboration with photographer Renzo Navarro. The people who love, buy and wear Carl Jan Cruz went from fans to ambassadors, expanding on the community-based work the brand is focused on. The freedom created by Cruz allows the people in his crew to identify with each other, creating a safe space for creativity expression beyond one’s own reality. “I know this one girl who is a doctor but she finds refuge in mixing music. Now, all of a sudden, she’s been exposed to a much more creative community and started learning DJ-ing,” Cruz tells us. He also recognises this is a response to the shift towards conservatism in the Filipino society: “while it might suppress certain movements, with this new-found connection, people are much more encouraged.” For his AW19 lookbook, Cruz travelled to Bicol Region where a big part of his family resides. Instead of models, he cast his own members of the family to wear the clothes. In a process he describes as “awkward at times,” Cruz and Navarro created beautiful imagery that don’t just evoke plain lookbooks. These are real people wearing clothes that are emotionally connected to them.
His heritage obviously plays a big part in his work as he came back to his hometown of Manila in 2015 after having studied at London College of Fashion and then interned at Céline under Phoebe Philo. “Being a contemporary Filipino fashion brand is not really a thing,” Cruz says, before expanding on how there’s little visual expectation from an emerging designer that has global impact in his home country. However, he’s definitely paving the way to making it a thing. Taking every-day references from Manila’s streets along with textile techniques seen in traditional dress, Cruz is injecting international, fashion-oriented sensibility to the heritage. You can clearly imagine his rough hems and soft deconstruction hanging in stores worldwide. And they’re on their way to do so. Currently stocked at Maryam Nassir Zadeh in NYC (the brand’s first international stockist), as well as 100% Silk Shop in Toronto, Tropa Store in Manila, and an upcoming Tokyo location, the brand is making its way around the world, introducing a vision Filipino fashion beyond the cliché elements most often seen in Western media.
Model: Luke Quismundo
In his methodology, Carl Jan Cruz could be considered traditional. Whilst the final pieces look nothing but modern, the craftsmanship behind them is rooted in both heritage techniques and haute couture ways of working. The denim in particular is a strong suit, as Cruz treats it as a tailoring fabric, creating clean cuts that verge on deconstruction. He cites Charles James, Rei Kawakubo, and Christopher Nemeth as design inspirations, each completely different but after a few looks totally traceable in his designs. His collections are aligned to seasons due to the ways of selling, but instead of names, he labels them according to the number of looks. Starting with one in 2015, he’s reached number 123 with his AW19 collection. Everything he creates is designed and produced in-house at his atelier in Manila, with his team growing from three to nine in just under two years. Whilst on the phone, Cruz is also trying to arrange the expansion of their offices as it’s become a bit too crowded. As the CEO and the creative director of the company, he’s on top of everything, both financially and creatively. When it comes to the sales, he says the brand’s market is still 50% Philippines which Cruz finds particularly interesting because “shopping is not really a hobby in Philippines, but more of a necessity.” He explains that a high-street chain like Zara is perceived more like a mid-premium brand, making his national success even more meaningful.
Model: Natalia Armovit
While he does have big ambitions, Carl Jan Cruz also recognises the importance of remaining with the same ways he’s got to where he is now. The plans are to test the grounds with several pop-ups in the future, perhaps in Paris where he has already created a sort of hub thanks to the seasonal showroom during Paris Fashion Week. But beyond the literal expansion into the stores and wardrobes worldwide, Cruz sees a positive limitation in creating everything in-house. “We are able to control, in a good way, how we run things,” he talks about contract set-ups, customisation of items for different markets and just general admin. Until the world catches up though, his by-appointment showroom space will remain the hottest fashion destination in Manila.
Photographs by Renzo Navarro.
Model: Luke Quismundo