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Jan Garcia: strength, introspection and conviction

Picture this. Manila, 2007: Ford Supermodel of the Philippines 1987 Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez as photographer, Elite Look of the Year 1989 Philippines Lou Bunyi-Pareja as hair and makeup artist, and Binibining Pilipinas Universe 1990 Gem Padilla and Binibining Pilipinas International 1991 Patty Betita as models for the couture creations of Bodyshots 1986 Ramp Model of the Year (Pro Division)-turned-designer Jan Garcia.

That all-supermodel production was my high-school high-fashion fantasy made flesh, and is one of the most unforgettable editorials I’ve ever done. Having such top-calibre talent in one setting is hard to replicate nowadays.

I recently caught up with the gregarious Antonio “Jan” Garcia, as I was awestruck with his latest visionary photoshoots. But first, in a “throwback kung throwback” way, I sent him our feature from forever ago in which he stated: “My fashion philosophy, humbly I may say, is both aspirational and sensitive. [Big words, huh?] I always start with something idealistic, then be sensitive enough to translate it into a given market or, in the made-to-measure business, the clients’ needs. I think in the end, it’s always: Will there be someone who will actually feel and look good in what you have designed for them?”

How has his aesthetic evolved or changed since then? “I have always been a thematic designer. This process for

Marina Benipayo in a charcoal wool bounclé pantsuit

me has consistently been very effective in envisioning my collection, ergo my designs. I think I’ll stay practicing this unless I find a more effective way of showing my message from a specific inspiration to actual clothes,” replied Garcia, a summa cum laude graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.

Garcia was exposed to fashion and clothing at an early age. “I was sketching every chance I could get even as a kid of six, as far as I can remember. My mom, Rosa Garcia, was a member of FDAP [Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines] before she left for the US in the mid-1980s. My granduncles from both sides were pre-war tailors,” he recounted.

With the lingering pandemic situation, he turns introspective. “I realize that as a designer I have to constantly [re-evaluate] myself in the most selfless and objective of assessments; If only I could honestly admit that I have done better with my self goals and expectations since our last conversation. Sadly, I’ll be untrue if I say I have, but with the present challenging state of the whole world, I can say we’re all on the same ground to achieve whatever we’ve set ourselves on, and it’s equal footing from here.”

Since his return from the US (where he practiced for a time) in the early 2000s, Garcia’s clients have stayed within the “special made-to-measure” demographic. “Or what we fondly call an oxymoron, the ‘couture market.’ Surprisingly, though, this

doesn’t just cover old ideas of age range. The very young [the clientele of straight out of college and buying for themselves] have actually been aggressive right before the onset of the pandemic. Then at a blink, every designer’s business drama has changed drastically from kaching-kaching to coping,” he explains.

Designer Jan Garcia

It is not just a question of quickly adjusting but more of acquiring survival skills. And just like any survival skill, he had to learn to extend, reassess and diversify his brand and his brand’s services: “I have to constantly provide expected couture quality products while delivering them in a personally customized, home-serviced, almost ‘medical’ fashion—PPEs, masks, shields, gloves, sprays and all! Not to mention the paperwork proving my personal [and staff’s]health status.”

In the fickle world of fashion, Garcia survives because he strives to remain relevant. He fittingly calls his Fall Winter 21/22 collection “Gabriela”.

“It immediately connotes a woman of strength and conviction, as in Philippine Revolution heroine Gabriela Silang,” he said. “It is also a 1950s German post-World War II movie about the plight of its Swedish female director. Hence, the lines and nuances from the same era showing hourglass shapes and exaggerated shoulders delivered with mostly hints of men’s fabrics and wartime tailoring and feminine soft nods to its own period ideas of romance.”

Using supermodel-actress Marina Benipayo, Binibining Pilipinas Maja 1992, as the image of his collection was a hard-fought decision for Garcia.. “I salute Marina’s command of editorial modeling but it actually was a conceptual debate, since I want to exhibit the clothes without risking the model upstaging them,” he shared. “Now, looking at the final shots, I must admit that Marina delivered more than the expected and there is no better choice than her. She was a real pro to work with.”

Even with his accomplishments, Garcia said with genuine humility: “I still have my reservations and insecurities about my aesthetics but then again, I really believe that the challenge is to organically arrive at designs I’ll be happy with.” n

photographer: DON JOSE DAVIES; model: MARINA BENIPAYO; hair and makeup: DONVER BELZA & ANDREW JARDEMIL; styling: MARIA ST; catering: GOT BAKE; location: I AM ABI STUDIOS

Clothes: Jan Garcia at 8 Maria Street, Villa Susana, Caniogan, Pasig City; 0945-7025154; 0918-2035293; [email protected]

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