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. •

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