Fashion designer Colene Yap.
Colene Yap:In a New York state of mind
UPTOWN DOWNTOWN - Joanne Zapanta-Andrada (The Philippine Star) - June 16, 2019 - 12:00am

To pursue fashion design in a fashion capital like New York, Paris or London can be daunting.

It’s not easy to leave the comfort of family, friends and a stable job in Manila, or to start a career trajectory that couldn’t be more different than the family business. It takes a special person to go at it with full force.

Three years ago, Colene Yap, daughter of Tarlac Rep. Vic Yap, left Manila to obtain her Associate’s Degree in Fashion Design from the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York. Colene, who finished with honors a degree in Business from the Ateneo, was leaving behind a career as the youngest manager in Zalora Philippines at the time.

“Everyone who knows me knows that this has always been my dream. I’ve never seen myself doing anything else,” she says. “It was just a question of when. I was actually accepted into Parsons a year before I left, but I loved my job, and was scared to leave.” Despite being an only child, her parents were extremely supportive and urged her to make the move.

Most of us might imagine fashion design in New York to be ultra-glamorous. “A lot of people say I’m living the dream. And I am. I’m living my dream but it is by no means dream-like.” Colene describes her time in Parsons as the hardest thing she has ever done. Requirements were intense, as so was the pool of talent. She learned every technical skill from sewing, draping, pattern-making, to sketching and making technical drawings. “I didn’t feel like I had a life for two years despite being here. I was in the studio at 9 a.m. on Saturday to secure a spot where I could work, then would go home at 2 a.m., and repeat the cycle the next day. There was a time I was there for 48 hours straight without sleep.”

On top of all this, Colene found time to intern for couture brand Marchesa, where she mentored under the head designer for Marchesa Notte, who was also Filipino. She spent six months sewing beads and lace onto the most beautiful gowns. “Before moving here, Marchesa was the one company I was dying to intern for. I didn’t apply anywhere else.”

To relieve all that stress, Colene would work out in different studios every day. Eventually, working out became too expensive, so she worked part time at a yoga studio. “I cleaned the bathrooms every Friday to do as many classes as I wanted for free. You have to hustle to survive here!”

Before moving to New York, Colene wanted to specialize in bridal and couture. She chose that specialization for her thesis class, applying what she had learned at Marchesa. But she is no one-trick pony. On her last semester, she wrote a letter to the dean to allow her to take two more thesis classes, whereas most of her class only took one. In addition to couture, she specialized in lingerie and activewear as well. These two classes led her to join competitions where she won first place in the Oxidized Glamour design contest by the New York City Underfashion Club, and first runner-up in the Bandier x Parsons design competition. Her hard work also led to graduating with honors, and departmental honors at the top 10 percent of her graduating class.

Part of the prize for the Bandier x Parsons design competition included a six-month design internship. Bandier, arguably one of the coolest activewear stores in the US, curates pieces from multiple brands, and is a favorite of celebrities, models and fitness instructors. The store founded by Jennifer Bandier in 2014 does not only carry popular brands like Nike or Adidas, but also cult favorites like Ultracor, as well as its own private label brands like All Access and We Over Me. To really tie fitness in, their stores also have a fitness studio, where celebrity instructors host their classes. “I’ve danced alongside some of the Victoria’s Secret Angels, and done burpees behind James Franco!” Colene says.

Now a year into the job, Colene has designed several collections for Bandier’s private label We Over Me, which are all dropping this year. She works with the design director to come up with concepts, color direction, and designs for the brand. What she loves most is being part of a female-founded company, run by a female CEO, where everything is designed by a woman. She says, “It’s so inspiring! The fashion industry in New York is so tough. A lot of my peers are in jobs they hate, or work for brands they would never actually wear, just because competition is so tough. I’m lucky to work with people who really inspire me and create products I love.”

Colene says she lives fashion 24/7. “If I’m not at work, I’m in Brooklyn hunting for vintage finds, or sewing at home. This city has contributed so much to the way I connect with clothes. If I didn’t come to New York, I would’ve probably thought the only way to be a designer was to design gowns, but I didn’t feel any sort of emotional connection to these long formal dresses. Activewear, vintage clothes — that’s what I wear every day, and that’s what I get excited to design.”

As it seems more and more millennials are inclined to leave home and chase their dreams, it also seems there might be a fear hindering most. While it can be very scary to leave the comfort and familiarity of home behind, Colene says, “You just need to go after your dream, whether it is something you have been planning a long time, or something new that you can’t stop thinking about. And if that dream is fashion, I can tell you now it is extra tough, but it is the best experience you will ever have.”

COLENE YAP
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