On the day of the 2019 Met Gala, Carl Jan Cruz and his team were just going about their morning. To their surprise, the Isagani dress from the Pang-Okasyon line would make an appearance on the pink carpet.
“It’s like, some of us were just getting our usual taho [when we found out],” CJ tells us in a phone interview. He says it was unexpected because Fashionista associate editor Whitney Bauck had worn the Isagani dress once before. He wasn’t aware she would use it again while doing interviews at the Met Gala.
Whitney lived in the Philippines when she was a kid. In an Instagram post, Whitney wrote that she wanted to “both rep the motherland by wearing Filipino designer [Carl Jan Cruz] and [have] an excuse to be an #outfitrepeater ([because] there’s nothing more sustainable than wearing what you already have).” The two have been good friends since Whitney featured CJ on Fashionista in 2018.
“The dress is an unconscious take on the Collegio de San Agustin uniform,” CJ explains. “Without realizing, it tied back to the Camp theme in a way.”
CJ is known for his interpretation of sustainable Filipino fashion by using re-purposed materials. In the five years he’s been doing this, he’s already showcased his collection at a Milan Fashion Week trade show and Paris Fashion Week. Last October, he had his first-ever fashion show in Manila.
“Maybe for others, [the Isagani dress is] just another dress [at the Met Gala] or another take on the theme. Others, maybe [they thought] it looked like a rag,” CJ says. “I think like any other breakthrough in the brand, it’s humbling that from our studio in Taguig, we could reach the Met Gala.”
CJ says his brand has been steady since the Met Gala—no big changes for now. But he believes this exposure has helped “[diversify] our market in New York.” He’s also glad that 50 percent of their customers are from the Philippines. He surmises it’s because fashion consumers are more mindful of the craft and quality of pieces. “It’s not just about the hype now. Individuality is more valued.”
When asked about the struggles of being a Filipino/POC making it internationally, he says he experiences it every day. “Nothing is glamorous. There’s a lot of rejection especially if you’re introducing something new [and] contemporary [in] Filipino fashion.” But he’s not one to give up on making clothing that’s different and functional.
“What matters is we create something with no malice,” he says. “Going into this five years ago, I think my aesthetic has become more refined and inclusive. I’m more driven [to do] a good neckline and armhole, and using the right fabric. It doesn’t have to make sense in the mind, it just has to make sense sensibility-wise and how it’s worn.”
So, what’s next for CJ after his Met Gala debut? He’s not allowed to say much yet, but he’s “working on a couple of things because we’re growing the brand and strengthening our distributions.” Keep your eyes peeled, he might just drop a new collection that you can shop.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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