You know how earlier this year I was invited by the University of San Carlos Technological Center’s College of Architecture and Fine Arts (USC-TC CAFA) to be stylist mentor to a couple of their graduating Fashion Design students (class of 2013)? Well, just very recently (couple of weeks ago), the very same school commissioned me to conduct a two-day module on styling for their new senior class (class of 2014), under their Fashion Seminar course schedule. A pre/co-requisite to Line Development, another senior year course which will require the students to produce two photo shoots (one catalog/look book shoot and one editorial-style shoot) for their senior collections as a final project, some of the more important goals of Fashion Seminar include introducing the students to the concepts and forms of fashion presentation and communication, and helping them explore the creative relationships between designers and other fashion/image-making professionals. My module was to be clustered with those of the photographer Dan Douglas Ong (who was set to talk about fashion photography) and my makeup artist friend Justine Gloria (who was to talk about, well, hair and makeup).
No idea why it was me that they chose to represent the styling sector of the business/industry. Weren’t there, like, a hundred of us stylists in this city alone? I mean, I would get it if this was 1999, because back then there were just three of us (Meyen Baguio, Clarissa “Eiphrylle” Ouano and myself)—but this was 2013, where you could open any given magazine or Friday paper or lifestyle blog, and easily spot ten stylists’ names fighting for byline space. Could it be that everyone else they’d contacted had turned them down?
At the outset I was a little hesitant about taking this assignment on. I even made a list of why I shouldn’t do it! One: between my responsibilities at Shutterfairy Photography (where I am currently senior stylist/associate photographer) and my own solo projects, it would be crazy to squeeze in one more obligation, right? Two: where it was one thing to act as mentor to two students in a side-by-side setting (this was what I’d done for them back in February), it was another thing to have to handle a headcount of 16—plus I seemed to know that speaking in front of an audience wasn’t exactly a strong suit of mine! Three: I hadn’t really been very active in the local fashion scene lately—I hadn’t done magazine work in ages, and the last fashion show I had styled was some five or six years ago! Four: some of the students in this class already had impressive styling portfolios under their belts—Rockellangelo dela Merced had been senior stylist for the Cebu-based online fashion magazine BLANC for the past year and a half (until they decided to discontinue it a couple of months ago); Exur Jude Lopena had won an award for best stylist at the fourth installment of Style Army (an annual fashion and design contest sponsored by Lee Jeans Philippines) last year; and there was Paco Serafica, whom I’d worked with a couple of times on album cover projects in the not-so-distant past—and so what could I possibly teach these people that they didn’t already know?
In the end, though, I just had to say yes. I mean, if I wasn’t going to do it, who was going to? I just had to keep my eye on the prize, which was the opportunity to add “guest lecturer” to my resume. I also looked at it as a chance to rack up some volunteer hours—it was high time I revisited my personal social responsibility goals, anyways, as I’d been slacking in that department as of late (the last volunteer work I’d done was back in 2009!). Not less importantly, I also felt like I had to give back to the school, after they’d provided me with a really amazing summer intern (Dianne Acebedo, an Advertising Arts student of theirs and an aspiring photographer, who’d helped me with some of my more important shoots from April to June of this year).
It was the first day that was designed to be a lecture and discussion-based session. I opened the whole thing with a brief talk about the general concept of styling and fashion presentation/communication, why there is a need for a stylist in order to create a compelling picture (a chance for me to reference the legendary editor Diana Vreeland’s “The eye has to travel” axiom), and the different functions of a stylist in all fashion (and even in non-fashion-centric) contexts. I then launched into a rather lengthy discussion on the qualities of a good stylist—I made sure to expand on this subject because, as aspiring designers, these people were ultimately going to need to be able to choose their collaborators wisely. (Of course, of the 20 or so “qualities” that I mentioned, not all of them were in me, and I made sure to lay those cards on the table—being “well-organized,” for one, is something we all know I’m not very good at!) Acknowledging, of course, that one of the goals of this lecture was to show these students how they, as (future) designers, could double as a stylist in the absence of one (sample scenarios: the job is too small it doesn’t interfere with your business; or, there’s budgeting issues; or, scheduling issues), the bulk of my presentation (two hours) was dedicated to walking them through the stylist’s creative process: from conceptualization and mood board development, and all the way down to the shoot/project proper, and even post-shoot/project deliverables. Towards the end of the session I took the time out to debunk common misconceptions about the job (with emphasis on “it is not a glamorous job”). I also set aside about 15 minutes for show and tell, wherein I passed around various items from my own toolkit (funnily enough, my ever-dependable lint rollers and Tide to Go pens emerged as the stars of that show).
I make all of it sound so easy, but the truth is I was shaking the whole time! Thinking about it now, I’m not so sure I was able to deliver most of my topics compellingly! I’m pretty confident, though, that I nailed the part where I talked about mood board development—I remember my nerves flying out the window and somehow being able to spark a lively discussion among the class when I got to that part (that topic even got a stamp of approval from Advertising Arts professor Carla Adlawan, who surprised me by sitting in)! I will say this right now without shame: in my creative process, nothing stands out more than my ability to churn out a killer mood board (yes, in all my self-deprecating glory, this is about the only aspect of my work that I consider myself an expert at)! My clients and constant collaborators can attest to this. Never a day goes by that I am not building one, or rebuilding one, or presenting one, or simply carrying one around (I have a mood board notebook that goes with me everywhere I go)! It’s become my middle name, and it’s something I hold sacred, so much so that it pains me to no end when people use the infinitely crude term “peg” to refer to it! I got such a kick out of talking to the students about the thought/research process, and about developing a healthy cultural reference base (i.e., exploring various disciplines outside fashion, like music, film, literature, etc., to obtain inspiration). I even showed them a couple of actual boards from my archives, painstakingly dissecting each one to show them the essential components. There was so much that I wanted to cover, but couldn’t, simply because we didn’t have enough time!
Which brings us to one of the challenges I faced as I was plotting my module outline and putting together my presentation: how to fit 17 years’ worth of experience and lessons learned into a 5- to 6-hour session? I scratched my head several times over this. I felt really bad when it came to editing my slides in an effort to narrow my topics down! (Examples of some of the material that had to be scratched out: job etiquette, trend analysis, line consultancy, and portfolio development.) I did suppose I could be cutthroat and heed the advice of my friends who’d said, “You don’t have to share all that you know—remember, these people could potentially become your competition in the future!” But the truth is I’ve gotten way past that kind of mentality now. Whereas maybe a few years ago it was all about what I could take, I’d like to think that now I’m all about what I can share.
The photos that you see on here are from our second session, which, as you would’ve guessed, was executed in a workshop style of structure. During our first meeting I had promised the students that I would make our next one more exciting and more hands-on for them, and what better way to do that, right, than by staging an in-class shoot, complete with a photographer (me), a model, a hair and makeup guy, a couple of props masters, etc.? The premise: orchestrate a full-blown joint catalog shoot for Ria Alazas’s resort ready-to-wear line Habibi and Christianne and Iris Bohol’s accessories line Sugar Kissed, with everyone taking turns in the styling. (Habibi had been on my radar for months now, after I’d stumbled across some of their exquisite kimono tops last November; Sugar Kissed I had learned about from the CAFA students that I had mentored last semester.) The central mood board was furnished by me: “She’s a badass, tomboy surfer girl (think Michelle Rodriguez’s character in 2002’s Blue Crush) who’s just flown into an exotic surfing spot like, say, Sumatra or Siargao, and lost most of her luggage along the way, and all that’s left are her boards, her reggae/dancehall and grunge mixtapes, and a bag of kimono tops, kaftans and palazzos. How do you envision what her outfits might look like, after she decides to ‘go with the flow’—i.e., hit a couple of local thrift stores and borrow from her boyfriend’s luggage?” My instructions were that each outfit had to have a masculin feminin element to it, and dash of thrift store chic, and a touch of festival style—they could even inject a hint of Billabong Girls style if they wanted to. I split the class into groups of three, gave each group a piece from the Habibi racks, and asked them to build unique looks around their assigned items. The surfer bracelets and beach beads and feathered necklaces/belts from Sugar Kissed I spread out on a long work table, and they were free to pick whatever they liked. It was so much fun! But that was just the first part! The workshop had a second phase, in which I presented five outfits that had been pre-styled by yours truly, each with a styling problem that they had to solve without my help: pants that were too long, a shirt that was too tight, baggy denim cutoffs that needed to be tapered, a scarf that needed to be repurposed, a shapeless Baja hoodie that needed to be re-silhouetted.
Needless to say, everyone did a great job during those exercises. As you can tell by looking at these photos, the kids made some pretty impressive creative decisions that day, some of them I wouldn’t have been able to come up with had I been on my own! You couldn’t help but beam with pride! Well, there were a couple of missteps here and there, but they were very minor—e.g., overaccessorizing (or underaccessorizing, for that matter), overreliance on binder clips, etc.—and nothing unforgivable. Their mood boards were pretty exciting, too! Loved how Rockellangelo’s group had an old photo of a young Carly Simon in their board, making it easy for our model Joni Alburo to slip into that laidback ‘70s folk rocker girl mode. Exur Jude’s group’s board had screencaps from Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet from 1996—showing the characters of Leonardo DiCaprio, Dash Mihok, Zak Orth, Jamie Kennedy, and Harold Perrineau in their edgy, stylized Aloha shirts—that translated really well into the outfit that they put together. This one girl Jem Borces did an outstanding job telling the story behind her group’s board, which I commended because, as I’d told them during our lecture, a good stylist had to have strong storytelling skills (and some selling skills), too.
Preparing for this workshop I hadn’t even considered releasing the resulting photos; all along the intention had been to keep them for internal use only, and maybe print some of them so they could serve as “plates” to which their grades were going to be attached. But as I was browsing through some of these photos two nights ago, I thought that, wow, it would be a shame to not let these babies see the light of day—they could totally be of use to the folks at Habibi and Sugar Kissed! And so now I’m here, frantically trying to get these photos out via my blog before the items that we used for this shoot get sold out!
So my first guest lecturing/workshop stint didn’t turn out to be so bad, after all! New feather in my cap, and I kind of like the way it looks on me! But, of course, none of this would’ve been possible without a really amazing support system. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my designer friend Dino Lloren (part-time faculty at CAFA) for asking me to do this in the first place, for pushing me when I said I couldn’t do it, and for helping me foster a positive learning experience for everyone! Thanks, too, to designers Peewee Senining and Brian Aloquin for staying with us throughout the workshop session, and for providing invaluable critique to help the students refine their skills. And to the team that helped me put this shoot together—model Joni Alburo, lighting supervisor Marlowe Guinto (who really is a videographer by profession; he just likes to help out with studio lighting setups on the side), props masters Jenny Hortillosa and Monique Rosal—I cannot thank you enough for hard work, dedication, and attention to every detail! Special thanks to the makeup artist Jonas Borces for being more than happy to help us at the last minute, after the person we’d originally booked said she couldn’t make it. Thanks, as well, to Ria Alazas for allowing us to use some of the pieces from her latest Habibi collection, and to Christianne and Iris Bohol of Sugar Kissed for bringing with them more than a hundred pieces from their beach bum/surfer-inspired collection. And mad props to Carlo de Asis of Aframe Surf Company for the boards! Finally, thanks to the students for welcoming me, and especially for your outstanding engagement during these sessions! Not sure if I am ever going to get this kind of opportunity again, but you guys made this one so memorable it would be a shame for me to ask for more!
Wanted to avoid having to end this piece on this kind of note, but: where there are supporters, there are always going to be challengers. Funny thing, really: when I announced my involvement in this project, couple of my detractors began going around questioning my credentials—like, “Why is he doing workshops now?”—and I think it’s still going on until this very day. But, you know what, I am not going to argue with them. Because it’s true that I no longer have a lot of magazine bylines under my belt, and that I turn down more than I take on. Full disclosure right there. As a matter of fact, when I first met these students, more than half of them didn’t know who I was—some of them might have even been disappointed upon seeing me; they’d probably been expecting a big name to show up in their classroom. But I didn’t let any of that sway me. I just went up that platform and did my thing. I did suppose I could assert myself, but then I remembered: that was not what I had come here to do, and that was not what was important to me now. I’d planned on ending my lecture with slideshow called “Selected Works,” containing a few samples from my portfolio (largely circa 1997-2003), but decided to skip that at the last minute, and instead proceeded to talk about one of my favorite stylists Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, with emphasis on how she was responsible for some of the most memorable fashion images of our times and yet was humble enough to not assert this outwardly. For example: the cover of Anna Wintour’s first American Vogue issue (model in a heavily embellished Christian Lacroix haute couture crop jacket and a pair of acid wash Guess jeans, November 1988) is largely credited to the famous editor, but it was actually Carlyne who styled that cover shoot. It was important to me to get that story across to these students, because I didn’t want all the hype around the likes of, say, Liz Uy to belie the fact that the most beautiful and enduring images are often those created by people who are content with working behind the scenes. You may find this hard to believe, especially since we’re talking about the ego-laden world of fashion here, but, yes, there really are people out there who would rather slip silently through the back door! Remember, though, that just because they like to do that, it doesn’t mean they are less passionate about the work that they do.
Below are a couple of behind-the-scenes shots, taken with iPhone:
Habibi and Sugar Kissed joint catalog | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City on July 16, 2013 | Styled by Angelo Kangleon and the USC-TC CAFA fourth year Fashion Design students (MJ Alferez, Roxanne Barroquillo, Floreena Bersales, Jem Borces, Menjie Cabiluna, Rockellangelo dela Merced, Diane Elid, Exur Jude Lopena, Lamae Roldan, Paco Serafica, Matthia Tangoan, Kieren Stefan Tirado, and Mike Yapching) | Model: Jonielyn “Joni” Alburo (MAC) | Hair and makeup by Jonas Borces | Lighting supervisor: Marlowe Guinto | Set decorators: Angelo Kangleon and Jennifer Hortillosa | Behind-the-scenes photos by Monique Rosal | Special thanks to Dino Lloren, Brian Aloquin, Peewee Senining, Carla Adlawan, and Maricel Wong | Extra special thanks to Carlo de Asis of Aframe Surf Company for the boards