Joey Samson’s Red Charity Gala collection is a journey to the past and back
Joey Samson’s latest collection is a revival of histories both personal and universal
“That’s why I take a part of the old me with me always. The journey is my pilgrimage, and vice-versa.”
When one journeys to the past as a way of restitution for the present, images and souvenirs that were once shrouded by the raw emotions of memory are unveiled. Sometimes there’s an undertone of grief when people look back, when they talk about nostalgia and relics. But for introspective designer Joey Samson, his pilgrimage is tinged instead with serenity. His garments speak for themselves, depicting “one man’s journey to nostalgia” and evoking a feeling of devotion.
Samson recollects his childhood attire: set ensembles at school and a wardrobe that almost completely matched with his father’s. He speaks of a past dream to become a doctor—a surgeon to be exact. The precision and techniques he had learned still manifest in his designs. In a way, there is also a uniformity to his designs, yet his collective work is an homage to wardrobe favorites of old. Back then, the term used to describe his signature minimalist and unisex collections was “avant-garde.” Today, the word has been refined after a global flux around the concept of gender and fluidity; it’s now androgynous.
In PilgrimAge, Samson reconciles his past with his present, with a reverence toward traditions that he now sees from the perspective of a more mature artist. The collection plays with rediscovery. PilgrimAge, in itself, reveals of the designer’s past and character: a singular idea, the word halved to bring about a double meaning, then put together to redefine “a time for coming home.”
There’s an undertone of grief when people talk about the past, which you’ve mentioned in your write-up for the collection. Is this also the mood in the creative journey you took for this collection?
[It’s] serenity more than grief. Being able to put everything in its own proper perspective is key. One can’t really move forward without honoring the past.
Does your past training in pre-med still influence your journey as a designer? What techniques or disciplines still manifest in your creative process?
Yes, it does in a lot of ways, through hard work and perseverance, restraint, and artisanal work.
How would you describe your Catholic upbringing? Does it relate to your collection?
I went to a Catholic or parochial school from preschool to high school. I grew up hearing mass every Sunday and first Friday of the month, and all the other holidays of obligation. Growing up, I would also tag along with an aunt, my mom’s sister, to church festivities and activities: processions, fiestas, the Misa de Gallo, to name a few.
I grew up in a town where Holy Week rituals are still being practiced and a Christmas Eve festivity called “Maytinis,” the reenactment of different biblical scenes, is still something everybody looks forward to. Remembering these things never fails to tug a string [in me].
So in a way, yes, [my Catholic upbringing influenced this new collection], though in the beginning, it was not the intention. I realized during the process that what I wanted to convey—but not in a very literal way, I hope—had something to do with my faith and the things that continue to inspire me up to this day.
Tell us more about your journey toward becoming a designer. What moments and interactions do you feel have stood out and shaped who you are today?
I took up pre-med in college, but towards my senior year, I realized my interest had shifted to the arts and design. After college, I enrolled at Slims Fashion and Arts School and stayed there for a year, studying fashion design and other related classes. I worked as an apprentice to Mang Ben Farrales and then the late Danilo Franco, first as an apprentice then eventually as his assistant. I stayed with him for seven years and learned a lot, learned everything. In between, I’d enroll or take special fashion-related courses or classes.
One has to work really hard to continually better himself and continue to love his work.
What’s your creative process like?
I try not to stick to or be conscious about a specific design process. Inspired or not, I just let things happen naturally. Sometimes, I don’t even sketch. I just write things down.
Reading a book, watching old films, traveling, talking to people, walking, and spending time alone are proven to be good take-off points for me. Every time I make a collection, I always say each piece is special because it leads me to make the next piece or even the next or future collection.
Any favorite forms or styles when it comes to garments? Is there a style period you always go back to?
The Renaissance. Tuxedo shirts and tuxedo trousers. Anything formless and blank. The ’20s to the ’40s.
Tradition is often black and white when it comes to gender, yet your designs are androgynous. Likewise, your designs are very minimalist, but you design patterned and textured pieces. How do you reconcile these polarities?
For this particular collection, I made a very conscious effort to veer away from my usual black, white, and gray palette. But the genderless flavor of my garments, I dare say, is a trademark.
When you are given a bigger stage, you have to step up. It is the first time that a designer will be doing both menswear and womenswear for the Red Charity Gala. It will be my first time to do a solo show for this type of market, so I had to take into consideration what this market wants, what they have in mind and, hopefully, what they will appreciate, but still within the context of my own design language, hence the color, fabrication, and texture that I have employed for this collection.
The distinctiveness of my menswear pieces, the way I deconstruct and reconstruct garments, and the tuxedo and the sportswear elements coexist with the more luxurious pieces [in the rest of the collection], their feminine fabrication, and the texturization by way of beadwork, by the garments being fashioned from chains, etc.
“One can’t really move forward without honoring the past.”
You went on a pilgrimage yourself earlier this year. Where did you go and what did you take home with you?
My family and I visited Montserrat in Barcelona, Santiago de Compostela, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and the churches in Paris and Rome. [I brought home] renewed faith and memories with family and loved ones. PilgrimAge is partly inspired by memories from that trip.
How do you see the old Joey Samson, given how far you've come today? Which fragments of your past are you honoring in this collection?
I miss the old me. When I was just starting, I was very unaffected. Everything was pure and genuine. It was hard and I was struggling and I’d always doubt if I was doing the right thing, but I didn’t care because I loved what I was doing and doing the it was just the right thing to do. Fast forward to today; I always have to live up to something, like certain expectations.
That’s why I take a part of the old me with me always. The journey is my pilgrimage, and vice-versa. •