How Young Designer Jessan Macatangay Found Beauty And Power Amidst The Pandemic



Young Designer Jessan Macatangay proves that even the pandemic cannot stop a person who perseveres, making him amongst the new graduates of one of the world’s top fashion schools, Central Saint Martins.

With the unprecedented onslaught caused by COVID-19, all types of industries were profoundly impacted—from tourism, F&B, sports, entertainment, fin-tech, and of course, fashion. The lockdown has caused businesses to close, people lose their jobs, and career plans postponed. However, regardless of the circumstances humanity is currently facing, the world has no other option but to find new ways on how to navigate through this reality.

And this struggle is also felt by even one of the most elite fashion schools in the world, the very same school that gave us iconic designers like Stella McCartney, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen. Due to the lockdown, Central Saint Martins (CSM) had to shut down its facilities and postpone all important events such as the annual graduation fashion show—an event many in the fashion industry look forward to and discover a new breed of brilliant designers. And one of the fashion students who were on the brink of finally concluding his four-year journey is young Filipino designer Jessan Macatangay.

Jessan Macatangay
Jessan Macatangay

Recently, MEGA got a chance to talk to Jessan in London via Zoom across timezones. Here, he shared with us that when there was a prospect that they will not have a show, it was very frustrating for him. “When you go to a university such as my school, even in your first year, you’re already expecting to have a graduation fashion show at the end of your program,” he says.

“So, when the pandemic happened and caused the lockdown, everybody was really frustrated. It was a very hopeless point in my life. It was very upsetting,” he recalls. But spirits were rekindled as CSM thought of an alternative: produce the university’s first-ever digital fashion presentation. An execution we’ve seen from various storied fashion houses such as Hermes, Dior, and Gucci, to name a few.

After simmering on the alternative, Jessan immediately realized the need to move forward from his current situation. In fact, it was his own graduation collection that shook him up to his senses. “I then remembered, my collection serves as a reflection of what’s happening: finding beauty and power in the struggle,” he explains. “The struggle is the pandemic and I have to face it. So, it’s kind of like living in my concept, honestly.”

The Medium Is The Message

For the past three years of doing projects in the university, Jessan has always created looks that are very aesthetically pleasing to himself. That’s why for his final collection, he wanted it to have a personal meaning, as well as evoke emotions once a person sees it. “I wanted this project to be very personal, so I started exploring my personal struggle—mostly about mental health,” he says.

As he was researching a lot of things on the concepts of struggling, he came about a photograph wherein household items were attached to a woman’s body signifying their daily struggles. So, Jessan used this concept to represent the struggle in the collection.

“If you actually come to think of it, a chair is something made for you to rest your body. But if you put it in a different position in your body, it becomes heavy and painful because you keep it in the opposite power,” Jessan explains. Although this may be, an important question still exists: how do you actually find beauty and power in the struggle?

One of  Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures

“I was looking at Erwin Wurms’ One Minute sculpture where he put a chair in someone’s body and he deconstructed it,” he adds. “So, I [thought] the best solution to finding beauty in the struggle is to manipulate it and find ways to fit through it. Because at the end of every struggle is success and power.”

Jessan Macatangay
Jessan Macatangay’s Full Graduation Collection

Upon looking at Jessan’s pieces, one will immediately notice the process of how he manipulated and deconstructed the objects burdening the model. “The collection starts with a big chair, a big sculpture, and a big frame. Then it becomes smaller as we deconstruct it, which means once you face and deal with the struggle it becomes smaller and less heavy,” he details. “In the end, it becomes as if it’s not there, but still becomes part of you, making you a better person.”

Grès, Spring/Summer 1952

For his final details, especially the aesthetics of the pieces, he incorporated the things he loves and finds beautiful. Cue in Madame Grès famed technique of draping. And as for the prints and colors that dominated his collection, Jessan also made it a point to incorporate his own heritage by adapting the palette found in Filipino artist Benedicto Cabrera’s Sabel painting.

Benedicto Cabrera’s Sabel Painting

Never Too Late

Unlike the majority of the designers who have always had a passion for fashion ever since their youth, Jessan is a late bloomer. He had no specific earliest fashion memory that switched his creative fashion bulb when he was still a kid. “In fact, I tried reminiscing everything. But what I can say is I’ve always loved art when I was younger,” he shares.

But it was only at the age of 17 years old when he first came across an online fashion show of Commes des Garçon by Rei Kawakubo that he fell in love with fashion. “That’s exactly where it started. Like I really got obsessed with it, because I like different forms and shapes in sculptures,” Jessan says. “And Commes is like anti-fashion and very innovative,” which also played a huge part in his own design philosophy and aesthetic.

Now, Jessan’s journey towards becoming a designer is quite surprising. That’s because he initially took up BS Nursing in the Philippines and even became a registered nurse. “Honestly, when I was in high school, right after graduation I really didn’t know what to do. I have a lot of things that I like, and I couldn’t figure out what exactly,” he admits. So, in a practical way, he followed the advice of his mom to take up nursing. But it was only in his second year when they were already having their hospital internship, such a noble job that nurses do isn’t for him. And the reason he didn’t quit and still managed to power through is for his own family. Come to think of it, we, Filipinos, would do everything just to make our parents proud.

It was only after working for some time as a nurse that Jessan finally decided to pursue one thing that he knows he loves: fashion. He immediately took a few short courses at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines. The moment he learned the basics in pattern making and designing, he took the leap of faith and applied to Central Saint Martins for a Foundation Diploma.

Jessan’s Work Station

According to Jessan, “it’s called a foundation course in the UK because it’s like a year of you trying out everything—from fashion design, textiles, graphic design or fine arts. Then you choose one that you apply and hopefully get in the program that you prefer.” Luckily for this young designer, he got accepted for a 4-year BA degree in fashion design and marketing. But that’s not all, during his stay in CSM, he took a gap year to have his internship for global luxury fashion brands like Marc Jacobs and JW Anderson in New York.

The Possibilities Are Infinite

Come June 17, 2020, it was the day of the CSM graduation fashion show. However, it’s not the quintessential show because it was being done a la “new normal.” It was a compilation of all the short films featuring the graduating students’ collections. “Initially, I said it was very upsetting that the show has been canceled. But when I was already watching the compilation of digital fashion film, there’s a feeling of empowerment,” Jessan recounts.

Two to three months ago, he didn’t have anything to start with—there were no fabrics, the sewing and press machines in the university’s facility was locked. “There was a feeling of empowerment when I was watching the show, because I couldn’t believe that I finished a whole collection, given the circumstances and setbacks due to the quarantine.”

Now that he finally graduated, Jessan is looking forward to what’s next for him. Jessan shared to us that CSM has already offered him to do an MA in Fashion Design, which will already start in October this year. “Taking up my masters would help me because I know that I have a lot of things to learn still. I want to get to a point where I’m matured enough when I [officially] launch my brand and that I’m ready.”

Jessan Macatangay

Eventually, in the near future, he wants to have his own brand that’s based in London. But even if he’s based abroad, he assures that he will still explore, be present, and cater to the Filipino market. After all, “I still want to go back to my roots and make my fashion career have a foundation first in the Philippines,” he affirms.

In the long run, Jessan’s journey towards his success in persevering to attain what he’s truly passionate about proves that there’s no dream that is too big. You only have to work for it with full conviction, rise up to the challenge, never lose hope, and keep on fighting for it. As for his collection, it serves as a reminder that there will always be a source of light in the dark wherever we may be. We must face our own obstacles head-on. Because it is only through these situations that we grow and be a better version of ourselves way more than ever. And that’s why the possibilities will always be infinite.

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