How designer Jessan Macatangay found beauty and power in the midst of a pandemic
IMAGINE being stuck in a foreign country alone at the height of a pandemic that has put the world at a standstill. Now picture yourself being a fashion design student who’s on the brink of finally concluding his four-year journey in one of the world’s most prestigious art schools— a feat you singlehandedly worked hard to achieve and somehow came accompanied by high expectations from friends and family back home. You wonder how this global crisis will affect your education. Will you be able to fly back home with your head held high saying, “Look! I finally did it”?
Cooped up in your flat, frustrated and homesick, you receive news that you will not be given the same kind of support previous graduates have had for your final show. With lockdown restrictions in place, your school has decided that it’s best if everyone who can provide you support—seamstresses, wood and metal workers, even the ones who have access to your school’s fabrics—stay safe in their homes.
These are just some of the things that London-based fashion designer Jessan Macatangay had to overcome recently in order to earn his degree at Central Saint Martins, the same school that gave us iconic designers Stella Mccartney, John Galliano and Alexander Mcqueen.
Originally from Batangas, the setbacks caused by the pandemic awakened the Batangueño fighter spirit in him. Instead of giving up, he took this chance to show everyone that with hard work, resourcefulness and determination, anything is possible.
“The first few weeks after the lockdown was announced was the hardest for me,” shares Macatangay. “We needed to move our work from the university to our homes. I considered flying back to Manila to be with my family but thought it was wiser to stay in London since my sewing machine and basic tools are all here. My final collection is quite different from how I envisioned it before the pandemic. I needed to change a lot of things, from the design to the materials and the process by which I was going to make them. More than anything else, I was really grateful for the guidance of my tutors from the university.”
He said that one of the biggest hurdles he had to face was having to change his mindset to fit the situation—making do with the limited access to resources and facilities that would allow him to create his pieces.
“I had to buy fabrics online, which meant I had very limited choices. I only used two fabrics for the entire collection, lycra and cotton. I also had a bit of silk satin, which I was able to use. I dyed and digitally printed my fabrics to achieve the looks I wanted. For the pieces that required metal- and woodworking, I worked with scraps and whatever I could get my hands on. It made me realize that what I was going through completely reflected the concept of my graduation collection, which is finding beauty and power in the midst of struggle. As I faced the disappointment and frustration of the whole situation, I rediscovered my inspiration for doing what I do as well as resilience. I felt strong and empowered seeing my final garments come together under these circumstances.”
Challenging as it was, all of Macatangay’s hard work paid off. His five-piece collection (everyone else only had three pieces) was one of his batch’s stars, and was even highlighted in international publications, like Vogue, New York Times, Grazia and Net-a-porter. Macatangay’s visually striking final collection symbolizes how people carry the weight of personal struggles.