By Kerry Tinga
Images by Koji Arboleda
Inside his showroom that was once his warehouse, sewing room, daybed—his everything when he was just starting out—Carl Jan Cruz, or CJ, was wearing a denim jacket of his own creation while recounting vignettes from his life. The students of the MINT School of Fashion tried to earnestly listen, yet their eyes would wander around the room, distracted by the creations that hung on the racks. They were imagining what some of the pieces would be like if they put them on, imagining if they could one day make something just as compelling.
It has been three years since CJ began his label, developing a niche in premium Filipino contemporary fashion. His pieces have been worn by style icons like Kim Jones and FKA Twigs, and they can be found at New York stockist Maryam Nassir Zadeh, locally at Tropa Store, as well as online. “It is not just about creating this brand, or even this trend,” he stressed, “but an international dialogue.” The pieces have Filipino influences, for example his “Basahan” dress was inspired by, well, the basahan, the Filipino word for rag. Yet, they are elevated to an ubiquitous understanding of what fashion is or can be, transcending any specific local aesthetic, allowing it to be universally admired.
The Carl Jan Cruz brand describes its collections as “a visual autobiography that aims to represent an honest dialogue between past, present, and future, refining sentiment into something tangible.” Although the team has expanded over the years, its address and the ethos underpinning the brand remain the same.
Sitting across the room was Iann, one of the designers who form part of the team of CJ’s eponymous label, finishing up a piece for their seasonal Paris showroom. Somehow, amid the rush to finalize everything before their trip next week, they found time to have the students over.
“It is the talent, not meaning how good you are, but the essence of what you are and stand for,” he told the students, “that is the most important thing.” It is not just in the way they make their clothes in-house, but in the way they have conducted themselves as a business, that the Carl Jan Cruz brand has stuck to their talent, making it a well-loved name by industry insiders.
After some questions and answers, AJ, the creative producer, began suggesting clothes the students could try on. Initially shy, they began to match pieces from the Paris collection with archived pieces. A humble smile appeared on CJ’s face as he saw how the clothes would fit different body types and heights, clothes that are meant to be worn and appreciated for every artistic thought that went into conceptualizing it just as much as every stitch of real craftsmanship exercised in making it.
Here was a young designer, who was not only making a name for himself, but also understood the difference in the way the MINT School of Fashion is disrupting traditional fashion education in the Philippines.
Like Lesley Mobo, the industry advisor spearheading the MINT School of Fashion, CJ was educated in London. He gained work experience at the Phoebe Philo-era of Celine (now without the é), but mentioned he had lied about his age to get fashion internships around Manila at the early age of 14. And like Mobo, there was always something that kept calling him back.
While CJ channeled his youth and distinctive aesthetic to create his brand and make waves in the fashion industry, Lesley helped him set up the MINT School of Fashion program, which looks to the youth to elevate the Philippine fashion scene to a globally competitive level.
Over the past couple of months, the freshman students have met industry players like international fashion photographers Lope Navo and Onin Lorente, visited the showrooms of important contemporary designers like CJ Cruz, and attended shows and events like the Bench Fashion Week as well as the Red Cross Gala in October. This provides the bedrock for a holistic education into the fashion industry, inspiring the students to think about where and what they want to be within it. With a strong emphasis on creative innovation and application, the MINT School of Fashion program is flexible enough to work toward any of their goals, highlighting both the design and business aspects of the industry.
I asked CJ what advice he had for fashion students, thinking it would be nice to end the article with a quote. He thought for a moment and then asked me to clarify whether this would be for design students or for students interested in the fashion industry as a whole. Here was a young designer, not much older than his students, who was not only making a name for himself and the aesthetic he stood for, but also understood the difference in the way the MINT School of Fashion is disrupting traditional fashion education here in the Philippines. I explained that it was, as he said, for students interested in the industry as a whole, the future designers, as well as stylists, journalists, producers.
He left me with this: “It doesn’t matter where you are and what you are doing as long as you are content. It will never be easy, but it should never feel too hard… you should always feel that there is still more worth pursuing.”
Carl Jan Cruz’s current collection, “Looks ‘83-93’ (fall/winter 2018)” is now available for orders online and in their showroom. Contact email@example.com or visit www.carljancruz.com.