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In Conversation With Filipino Fashion Designer Jessan Macatangay

This licensed nurse turned award-winning, rising Filipino fashion designer takes us back to his beginnings in the industry and talks about his show-stopping collection at London Fashion Week

Jessan Macatangay
Jessan Macatangay

Batangas-born Filipino fashion designer Jessan Macatangay recently bagged the L’Oréal Professionnel Womenswear Creative Award at Central Saint Martins during the London Fashion Week. There, at the MA Fashion Class of 2022, 32 designers from different parts of the world showcased their collections, and Jessan’s was an absolute standout. He became one of the two winners of the award that is bestowed only to the MA Fashion Show designer/s with the best collection/s. 

Jessan is the first Filipino to win this award. He impressed this year’s judges, including British Vogue’s Fashion Director, Julia SarrJamois; Market Editor of WWD, Tianwei Zhang; and Fashion Features Director of I-D, Osman Ahmed. One look at his collection, and it’s easy to see why.

This year’s Central Saint Martins MA Graduation Show marks the much-awaited event’s return to the catwalk since the great pause caused by COVID-19, and is part of the official program of London Fashion Week.

Jessan is a two-time fashion degree holder from one of the most sought-after schools in London, with internship experiences for world-renowned luxury fashion brands Marc Jacobs and JW Anderson in New York. CSM prides itself in alumni students like fashion design heavyweights and icons Sarah Burton, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Zac Posen, John Galliano, and Riccardo Tisci.

Jessan completed his BA (Hons) Fashion Design with Marketing: Womenswear, a coveted art degree in CSM, in June 2020. Then he earned his MA Fashion Womenswear from the very same institution, finishing it as a scholar of The Self-Portrait Scholarship and British Fashion Council Foundation.  

"Sculptural Sensuality" at London Fashion Week - Central Saint Martins MA Fashion Show Class of 2022.
"Sculptural Sensuality" at London Fashion Week - Central Saint Martins MA Fashion Show Class of 2022. | Photo via @jessanmacatangay

The six ensembles he displayed on the catwalk were crafted from various types of jerseys, which Jessan said he stretched using wired frames “to mimic a swimsuit’s outline,” embracing the exquisite female figure. There are two others which were not included in the runway show. “The intention is to come up with pieces that are feminine and sensual yet avant-garde. I wanted to make sure that the approach will result in clean lines and silhouettes that accentuate the wearer’s body,” he notes. He paired these creations with handmade sandals in collaboration with SKUA Studio.

This isn’t the first time Jessan impressed the fashion world. In 2020, right at the peak of the pandemic, he presented a BA Fashion Design graduation collection at CSM dubbed as “Finding Beauty and Power Through Struggle.” It innovatively featured deconstructed chairs which are almost camouflaged beneath layer upon layer of draped fabric. The collection, which was featured in many international fashion magazines, is symbolic of the struggles a person faces. And cleverly, there’s a story progression that came with the intended sequence of the pieces. As the creations become smaller and closer to the body, they translate figuratively into struggles becoming more manageable, seemingly melding into the body and consequently making a person stronger. It was a concept that was on point in relevance, considering the unprecedented circumstances the world was in.

The red piece was worn by actress/singer Nadine Lustre for her Wildest Dreams visual album. In 2020, this collection earned him the Gold Prize for the Yinger Prize Global Womenswear Emerging Talent Contest for Graduates by the Yinger Fashion Group.

"Finding Beauty and Power Through Struggle" - Jessan Macatangay's BA Fashion Design graduation collection
"Finding Beauty and Power Through Struggle" - Jessan Macatangay's BA Fashion Design graduation collection | Photo via @jessanmacatangay
Nadine Lustre in a creation by Jessan Macatangay
Nadine Lustre in a creation by Jessan Macatangay | Photography by @edenclona via @jessanmacatangay

Creative rebirth

While his name now rings a bell for impressing fashion insiders and casual fashionistas alike especially with his recent feat, Jessan’s creative rebirth didn’t come easily. The coveted recognition that he earned for his nonconformist approach, to him, is an affirmation of his artistry.

He shares, “I had already studied for a non-fashion degree in the Philippines and then quit to pursue fashion. It was quite risky to throw that all away to enter a totally new world with lots of uncertainty.”

He finished a different degree with half his heart, but he was somewhat unsettled and uncertain of what was in store after his studies, so he started afresh. “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,” he tells Metro.Style

As what his inner compass continued insisting, Jessan jump-started his fondness for crafts and fabricating something from scratch一thanks in part to a YouTube video of a COMME des GARÇONS fashion show he chanced upon that marked the first time fashion intrigued him. A “late bloomer” in fashion, as he considers himself to be, his humble beginnings date back to when he was braving unknown waters. His newfound passion led him to start taking up short-term courses, hoping to kick-start a blossoming career in the fashion circuit. 

For every designer, the first creation they worked on for a client will always be special. For Jessan, it was a bridesmaid dress for his friend. “It felt like such a challenge to get it right for the big day. But, looking back, it was much more of a risk for her than me,” he says in jest.

“After I got my license, I started doing pattern-cutting short courses in Manila. The more I looked into the possibility of pursuing a fashion career, the more I naturally learned about Central Saint Martins here in London. I was accepted on [into] the B.A. course and later, the M.A. course, which I have just finished,” he shares.

Jessan interning at Marc Jacobs in New York, helping out wth the Fall 2019 collection
Jessan interning at Marc Jacobs in New York, helping out wth the Fall 2019 collection | Photo via @jessanmacatangay

Inspirations and motivations

However, while his ascent to graduation was accompanied by his persistence to accomplish his academic and creative pursuits, there were times when he, too, had to stumble. The onslaught of the pandemic, for one, messed up the traditional operations of workplaces and offices worldwide, so that made it more challenging for him to execute his BA graduation collection as planned. “The mandate to remain inside our homes took away my access to seamstresses and other professionals that, otherwise, should help us students put together our collection. It also significantly reduced the materials I had access to,” Jessan recalls, mulling over the memories that stand out the most for him in his student life.

Whenever he designs a collection, his creative process begins with identifying the woman he wants to represent in his work. From there, Jessan allows himself to be inspired by anything and everything around him.

He shares, “I am always inspired by things that are not necessarily fashion, whether it’s architecture or fine arts. Anything that has forms and dimensions. My work is mostly 3D. Experimenting with 3D always gets me in the mood to design and work, whether it’s draping, fittings, or pattern-cutting.”

A 2017 summer project by Jessan Macatangay
A 2017 summer project by Jessan Macatangay | Photos by @a.slice.of.moon via @jessanmacatangay

“Sculptured Sensuality”

Coining his collection “Sculptured Sensuality,” Jessan seeks to bend conventions in his home country. “It was inspired by the cultural restrictions that stop Filipinas from fully expressing themselves through fashion,” he says. In Asia, showing some skin is deemed promiscuous by some, drawing attention that is often unsolicited and getting offensive remarks.

“Filipinas from all walks of life often find themselves being subjected to bashing [and] unnecessary judgment, and being told to cover up when they post photos of themselves wearing clothes that do not conform to the conservative standards of generations past,” Jessan points out. “In fact, growing up, I even saw women wear T-shirts over their bikinis while swimming, just to cover up.” 

Jessan created this collection of wearable avant-garde art, hoping to encourage modern women to  embrace their femininity and let go of their fear in fashion. 

“I want my collection to help give women permission to express themselves as they deep-down want to do. I want my collection to give them the spark of excitement of wearing whatever they want. Even to show lots of skin if they want,” he muses. 

When asked what defines him as a fashion designer and what the core of this collection is, he says,  “Ultimately, I want to dress up women who want to feel sensual and sexy, and [are] unafraid to show skin.” 

Jessan’s statement in fashion is a fine balance between the sensual and the sculptural, reinventing materials while empowering women in the process. As the first Filipino winner of L’Oréal Professionnel Womenswear Creative Award, it’s his dream for more Asian or Filipino fashion designers to be recognized globally.

“It was especially rewarding to represent Southeast Asia, especially our Filipino community, as legitimate voices in fashion,” he declares. “I think that is the best part [of winning]. It was really amazing that I could represent our own community.”

Photos from @jessanmacatangay