“Everyone has struggles”, says Jessan Macatangay, the newly graduated BA Fashion Design with Marketing student from Central Saint Martins, “so I think the best thing is to find beauty and power in it”.
This is the story the 27 year old designer, from Batangas in the Philippines, set out to tell with his 5-strong graduate collection presented in June. Crafted from Lycra and jersey, with bold structures built using found wood and metals, each succeeding design indicates the depletion of a problem. “I used a chair to represent it”, he says. “If you think of the concept of a chair, it’s not a struggle to rest and sit, but put it in a different position on your body and it becomes heavy and painful”.
The first design consumes it’s model with a heavy bulk of pleating, in deep teal with a swash of grey, as it’s protruding structure jaunts in three directions. Moving through and the outer-space silhouettes condense to restrained tailoring and sharp, wide-legged trousers. “At the very end the struggles are no longer visible, but are still within you”, says Macatangay of the small blocks appliquéd to the last designs. “The little squares of wood that make you stronger and more beautiful”. Remnants of what has come before.
It takes, he explains, cues from Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo, who piles furniture on models to reflect the burdens of women, and the Australian Erwin Wurm’s one minute sculptures – “where he puts chairs on the body, then cuts and deconstructs them”. Having developed the idea, his fitting model – who has been the same since first year – started to quarantine with him, beginning the experimentation period. “She tried on the chair and we found every opening she could fit through”, he says.
Ensuring a visual attractiveness, even with the rigid, architectural structures, was key. For the fabric’s print he looked to the vivid work of fellow Filipino artist, Benedicto Cabrera, which he developed at the London based Richard Quinn Studio and Contrado. With it, Macatangay used the Madame Grès draping technique, imbuing the French couturier’s fluid effect into his designs.
The journey was not easy, as coronavirus struck and any original plans were scrapped and re-considered. Ironically, it is the very message his collection set out to tell; “the pandemic is a struggle but you just have to face it”. Really, though, failure was no option. “I already have a degree”, Macatangay says, explaining he is a licenced nurse back in the Philippines. “But I had to change to pursue my passion. I’ve already quit something so big, so for me – this is it”.
Central Saint Martins