An Unexpected Running Start

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Let’s take a moment to focus on what my students have accomplished, shall we?

The other day, fifteen Clothing Tech seniors showed me the results of a semester’s worth of work: 5 looks finished during the lab/studio hours of my advanced construction class. We use the term “advanced” very loosely in this department. Prior to the advanced course, they have about 10 units of pattern drafting and sewing. Some of these kids had never touched a machine or picked up a french curve prior to this class. In drafting the curriculum, when we wrote “advanced”, we were being “optimistic”. I’m happy to see how that optimism has gotten them somewhere. Almost everyone is finished and ready to show something they can take genuine pride in, having sweated blood over a subject they little preparation for at the start.

When I was an undergraduate in Clothing Technology, we didn’t get to have a fashion show. As seniors, we could opt to arrange a graduation show as the culminating activity for our advanced constuction class, and somehow my batchmates didn’t want it. I was indifferent to it, because by the time the opportunity came up, I’d been consigning to a small boutique for two years, but I do remember my professor losing her temper in the middle of one lab class. I was always late, and this time was no different. As soon as I had my machine set up, my professor started yelling about how all we did was complain while missing opportunities and turning in shitty projects. I got a 1.75 in that class, which is UP shorthand for “nice try, but whatever.”

My friend Duffie wrote something about indifference being the opposite of love, and my mediocre performance as a Clothing Technology undergraduate says just as much about love or indifference. Indifference led me to channel my energy towards other things – things that I wish I could say were just as productive; but the truth is my disappointment with the department and my inability to relate to my peers far outweighed whatever drive I had to push for something greater. This reflected in the jobs I got immediately after graduating and the little effort I put into picking myself up any sooner.

I wouldn’t say those years were wasted though, because had I not made it through on time, I wouldn’t have gotten this job. I’ve been teaching at UP for four years, and the students in this picture were freshmen when I started. Their first class that I got to handle was Costume History, and I remember being so inept and incompetent, thinking that we could pull through just by watching movies and talking about the movies after. I cynically felt this was still a step up, considering the kind of instruction I’d been dealt.

I handled two more of their classes in the following years, and I’m not bullshitting by saying they made me want to do better. This batch seemed to genuinely love their work and treated creativity as an end in itself. The only times I saw any compromises in their output were when they spent too much time thinking about what would go on the runway, and I would take that any day over the indifference I felt towards what had been asked of me.

In a couple of weeks, they’ll be showing their first collections. Hopefully, these will not be their last, because there’s real talent here; moreover there’s integrity in what they’ve created. A large portion of their grades came from peer evaluations, and they were so careful about fairly assigning who sat on whose panel, making sure the assignments were permuted randomly (because their teacher is really bad at math).

This is a group that’s more concerned with collaboration and constructive criticism, than with competition. They help each other out rather than tear each other down, which goes against the stereotypes of the industry they are about to enter–should they decide to stick it out. This is a small batch of designers; but as cheesy as it sounds, I have genuine faith that their hearts and minds are big enough to change the game, and shift our attention from what the fashion industry already looks like, to what it could be. Some of them will be treated like freaks, and the most I can do is keep my fingers crossed, hoping they’ll be okay with letting their freak flags fly.


In other news, I’ve been busy with my MA. Last semester, I allowed myself to miss a deadline on account of not being able to afford to pay for parking at the Lopez Museum (why do you people not have parking? Whatever happened to public service?). So now, I have this semester to make up for that incomplete grade. I’d love to say I don’t care about grades, but it’s only when you actually have something to maintain that you begin to care about keeping it up; but what matters more is that I finish my Masters on time, because I’ve been there too long as it is.

Next semester, I’ll be doing my final year of coursework, then I don’t know if I’ll take some time off before beginning my thesis. What I do know is that I want to stop teaching fashion. I’ve already mentioned it to friends, but it was just this week that I actually admitted it to those involved and affected by this decision.

This idea to quit literally came out of my ass, when I started brainfarting about wanting to join a roller derby league while visiting my sister in the states. But because I should know better than to let the prospect of getting elbowed in the face by a very large woman on roller skates have any bearing on my *future*, I let the first coin toss be the application I sent in for Jenesys 2.0. That did not get approved. Onward to round 2, which is a proposal to write a book. There is no funding, only research credits, and as with all projects that involve government approval, I have serious doubts about whether or not it will pull through. But still…

I’m 28. I’m one of the youngest among my colleagues. For a time, this was the answer to life after college, but there will always be more. Like roller derby.

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This heaven gives me migraines

Teaching Fashion History at a Public University, Jeane Napoles, and Derivatives

For two years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching the courses in Western and Asian costume development, as part of the University of the Philippines’ Clothing Technology program (which has been my sole source of stable employment for the past four years). I call it a privilege because it has been fun (for me) and, among all of the classes I’ve taught, has provided the most potential for future projects. In these courses, it has always been important to maintain a candid and comfortable atmosphere, particularly because of the difficulty that comes with separating one’s personal beliefs from the many layers that cloak the subject of fashion. If it’s true that what you wear on your body, what sits next to your skin, reflects your politics, then this permeates the lessons I’m tasked with passing on to a room full of bodies dressed to express whatever is cycling around in their brains (edit: my friend just confirmed that I dress like a color blind toddler, so fuck it). There has to be room to argue.

I was only three years older than my eldest student (in one case, I was five years younger, and there are still cases where we’re the same age. It’s just a little awkward. A little, sometimes) when I started; but four years in, I’ve already been set apart, in age, by a decade from our current crop of freshmen. This is probably more than enough to guarantee a degree of loss in transgenerational discourse, but it’s still not enough to set you apart in terms of technology. Even if I’m finally old enough to be taken seriously as an authority figure, the electronic extensions to our limbs are pretty much the same. We all have fingers made for keystrokes and eyeballs that extend to screens…They just have nicer phones.

When it comes to history however, we’re practically on separate planets, and this is a common gripe among teachers when it comes to trying to get through to this subset of digital natives. When your consciousness is an extension of your social networks, the information you process extends solely from specific algorithms, negating the possibility of a cybernetic common ground–ask Aziz Ansari, or something. The paradox of living in the information age is that even with the positive and emancipatory potential that comes with unlimited access to information, it is also too easy for issues that were once deemed front page fodder to be relegated to the bottom of the stream. If everyone has their own front page (aside from personal issues of course), then how is this reconfiguring the terms of what is and isn’t newsworthy? Would you even trust someone who constantly googles herself to be her own reliable filter?

And…This is why, even with everything that’s happening in meatspace, I still have to keep up with dumb shit on twitter. Or rather, this is why I have to care about people like Jeane Napoles – a person so fashion that fashion went and ate its own spleen the minute her name became associated with it. Unfortunately fashion no longer had a spleen, because Jinkee Pacquiao.

When it comes to fashion, and here I’m limiting the concept to clothing and its performance (socially, not materially), the boundaries between the social, the cultural, and the personal are so heavily blurred, making it difficult to discuss without steering into a blind alley of subjectivity. How do you even begin to explain a serviced apartment at the Ritz (it’s called the fucking Ritz!) alongside international students fees and tuition at FIDM–and everything else on top of that?

From there, how do you go backwards into the industry’s history of casual yet subtle violence, underpinning the movement of an object, from its material and social functions, to the legacy it leaves as an idea, in order to make sense of its contemporary “eventuality” as a case study like Jeane Napoles?

I know, what an asshole, right? Suck a bag of dicks, Jeane Napoles!
I know, what an asshole, right?

When I taught my first history class, I didn’t have the ideas fully articulated so I just let movies do the talking. Through marathon viewings of The Tudors and Velvet Goldmine, I would sit at the back, trying to figure out what it was about fashion that we weren’t really saying. That was three years ago, and now that I’m teaching a similar subject, it’s only now that I’m beginning to grasp fashion’s role in ripping at the seams of an already fragile social fabric without flinging shit at people who covet designer dresses and handbags that cost more than my annual income. Not only might some of those people be my students, but it does little to acknowledge the shared responsibility that comes with building this institution, and the accompanying imbalances. And because it cycles through this very same plane as desire, it perpetuates itself as light rather than shadow, represented as aspiration rather than alienation. Instead of remaining in the shadow of (late) capitalism with the sweat shops and scammers (which arguably inhabit separate realms of the fashion industry), fashion stubbornly hogs the limelight, with all the Jeane Napoles-types fighting for their own time to shine.

Yet, while she may just be some womanchild living off her parents’ ill-gotten (although this has “yet to be proven” [haha, right]) wealth, that doesn’t explain why there are still too many like her; and too many who will balk at seeing how she carries on, despite not-so-secretly coveting the life she’s living. To jump to mass hypocrisy as a conclusion is too simple, and that’s where the conflicts lie. Incarnated as craftsmanship or performance, beauty is too loose a term to comprehend the massive rift between the price and the actual cost of an object, especially when we talk about fashion. Even as we are repelled by the speculative, financialized arm of the fashion market–where we trade derivatives rather than clothes–there are still so many aspects of the industry which captivate and remind us that human hands are capable of bringing a thing of beauty to life.

While beauty (and the monopoly of the term by certain industries and certain geocultural regions) may be another issue altogether, the extent of our complicity in defining it has yet to be discussed–without resorting to the usual barrage of cattiness, or racist comments about how some person who bought her way into being relevant is too brown to be wearing Vuitton, or myopia accompanying interclass warfare. If the fashion industry is too easily dismissed as a frivolous and fanciful pursuit, then how come the story keeps ending the same way? How come we’ve never done anything about it? And why are all the key players dressed the same?

Also, what the fuck is this?

Alexander Wang Dress, 90 Pesos

Actually it was a lot less than that, but it doesn’t make any difference because it was too small for me.
That it was too small for me is crucial, that meant I would have to give it to my sister.

Actual conversation:
“I got you an Alexander Wang for Uniqlo dress!”
“That’s great! Who is that?”
“Alexander Wang!”
“Oh. Okay. But thanks!”

The question of who Filipino fashion belongs to has always intrigued me, especially in this day when even the dirt poor have access to designer labels. I took advantage of this knowledge when I was in high school, and we would trek up to Baguio during summer vacations just to shop for clothes. The 7-hour trip has since been replaced by a habitual stroll or short drive to my nearest haunts. There are a handful in Cubao next to the train stations, another couple near Quezon Ave. (where I found the Alexander Wang, also two Tsumori Chisatos, an Anne Demeulemeester and a Betsey Johnson dress, and a Matthew Williamson blouse), and countless others in North Ave., Blumentritt, Taft, and pretty much all along the length of Edsa (prime real estate for any retail establishment).

Continue reading “Alexander Wang Dress, 90 Pesos”

Disenf***ingchanted

While cussing it out is completely unnecessary, I can’t help but feel more disenchanted with fashion than I have ever felt. I got home from a month of frolicking around and promising myself I’d make all sorts of purrty things, only to feel uninspired and even a little jaded by the whole prospect of dressing people up. It could be the market. I know I’ll get myself in trouble by saying so, especially given how sensitive people are, but seriously the market for high fashion (whatever the fuck that means) needs to GET A FUCKING GRIP. We’re talking about clothes, pee-ple. It’s fabric. Shitloads of it are spun each day only to produce shitloads more in the money hungry interest of some prissy connoisseur, and you’re all losing your cool?

I still trawl fashion blogs and read magazines, because I do seriously enjoy what that side of the world has to offer. Let’s face it, clothes are beautiful. Each and every creation first took root as a haze in someone’s mind, and was spun out of the sincere need to create. And just like any craft, a tremendous amount of toil and tedium is required in its perfection. Isn’t this what the word fabrication stems from?

There is a degree of artistry and craft to fashion that is impossible to ignore. But at the same time, I read all these UNBELIEVABLY IDIOTIC REMARKS about the whole endeavor that just make me want to get as far away from it as humanly possible; remarks like “Dear God, If you love me you will give me a pair of YSL cage booties, my life absolutely depends on it.” Seriously, woman? Do you seriously feel the need to bring God in on the equation for your booties? Your booties were probably made by some disgruntled factory worker hammering away under the eyes of another god altogether. And then what, you’ll go for a round of fasting for something to wear with your fucking booties? Then again, fashion loves a woman who fasts.

The thing is, my attitude towards fashion comes through in every job interview I’ve been on. I haven’t even entered the industry yet, and I can already feel my soul getting sucked out under the weight of it. On one hand we have the actual commodity and the market of materialistic, fashion hungry mavens who will shell out ridiculous amounts for an object that costs less than 3 US dollars to make. The fashion industry strives for their patronage and wants to create more of them. While I’d make a lot of money, off of a fashion victim, I’d probably end up losing it by paying him or her to shut the fuck up. On the other hand, we have the side of fashion that treats the commodity as freight, volume, and a meaningless series of standard procedures. I’ve heard people say “Buy some shirts at ____, rip the tag off and slap our label on, just give them what they asked for”. After all, “what they asked for” is just a label.

Maybe I’m just overthinking it. I remember before stepping out of the apartment every day, whoever I’d be living with in the States would tell me not to “think too much”. Is that the only way to get by in fashion? By not “thinking too much”? And is “not thinking too much” the cesspool from which statements like “I will die without this dress by Phillip Lim” comes from?

Office Dress Code Inspires Entry About Chris Martin in Sagada

The world that we live in now, it seems passé to react to anything out of the ordinary. Hoping that we never get caught in the mess, hoping to live daily without interruption. Hoping to persevere this slow boring death.
-from the write-up on Dappled Cities’ take-away show off of LaBlogotheque.com

When we were in Sagada a coupe of years ago, we kept running into this very, very blonde Caucasian dude. We called him Chris Martin, because he looked exactly like Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow. Some time after we got back and re-established our existences in the city, I found myself standing next to Chris Martin on a train, and he was like “Hello again! I am Polish!”. I’ve completely forgotten his name, in fact he didn’t even blurt out “I’m Polish!” (although he really was Polish). What I remember was that he wasn’t afraid to show how blown away he was by the randomness of it all, in his words “80 million people in this country and I run into you again!”

And that’s how I met Chris Martin.

Fact is we’re assailed by the random on a daily basis but we just stop noticing at some point. It’s like at a certain age it becomes immature to admit you’re still in awe of the world because you’re too busy coping with the mundane.

I’m not a big fan of cynicism (although I have had some of being horribly cynical). From time-to-time I still get blown away by tiny things like other people’s conversations and I find it hard to talk about this, because it feels like at a certain age it’s imperative to pretend you’re no longer blown away by running into the same stranger twice. You’re gripped by this whole notion of professionalism and capability that involves pencil cut skirts and signing papers, and it all gets very dehumanizing at some point.

I’m also beginning to find it difficult to be inspired by fashion, especially commercial fashion. Maybe it’s the working environment at both of my internships, maybe it’s me running out of ideas, maybe it’s the dress code.

Everyday we have two color choices, black or white–no prints. I understand that this is an opportunity to use your imagination, that there’s a lot you can do with solids that can’t be achieved with prints, but I prefer the flipside. I like that there’s a whole spectrum between black and white.