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The Long Way Home

Martin Yambao - The Philippine Star
The Long Way Home
Yoya Gueco: “It’s meant to be practical but at the same time, there is a subtle humor to these clothes, also a sense of sexiness.”

Canada-based designer Yoya Gueco comes back to Manila to launch a collection of practical co-ords with an offbeat sensibility.

It was 2006 when designer Yoya Gueco found her start in fashion as Rajo Laurel’s shop girl. As Rajo was about to launch his then new ready-to-wear boutique, Yoya found herself employed for the first time. In fashion, no less — meeting clients and servicing the sales floor at House of Laurel.

“My tenure with Rajo is the single most defining moment in my journey in fashion,” writes Yoya in an email, “it was there that I knew fashion was where I wanted to be.”

Up until then pursuing fashion wasn’t really in the cards. But encouraged by Rajo’s operation, moving her way up from a sales associate position, to then store manager, to in-house design, and eventually becoming Rajo’s right hand as creative assistant, Yoya spent weekends at her grandfather’s tailoring shop gleaning everything she could about design. Courses on tailoring and patternmaking soon followed at Central Saint Martins in London. With a few styling stints here and there (counting Ruffa Gutierrez as one of her clients), an eventual move to Canada in 2010 led her to explore a different side of the industry.

“When I moved, I knew that whatever fashion experience I had in Manila would be zilch. So, I decided to create these belts made of agate and snakeskin to showcase myself. I would actually take the belts with me to interviews and I would show it as my résumé. It worked!” shares Yoya. Moving to the other side of the world, she worked as a personal shopper for Holt Renfrew, one of Canada’s premiere department stores, and as service lead for Burberry. But after almost eight years in Canada with a few short visits in between, Yoya Gueco decided to come back to Manila to pursue her first love. 

Yoya Moda is a collection of practical co-ords (clothes women want to wear whenever and wherever) with a palpable offbeat sensibility. There’s print-on-print meets substantial (but not heavy) approach to detailing; see the topstitching on sleeves and waistbands, the covered buttons. There’s a demi-couture feeling to be embraced in these pieces — matched with a fine eye for fabrics (rich knits! expensive brocades!) and there’s a lot to discover in this collection.

“The tone for these clothes is quirky. Prints. Colors. Even the way the fabric was treated was a little different,” writes Yoya. “I employed tailoring details to fabrics that drape, adding volume to pleats. I wanted my pieces to be both luxe yet utilitarian. It’s meant to be practical but at the same time, there is a subtle humor to these clothes, also a sense of sexiness.”

On taking the long way home, and right after a very successful first trunk show at Au Courant last weekend, YStyle checks in on the designer to talk shop. 

YSTYLE: Hi, Yoya! I understand you’ve only just recently come back to the Philippines. How would you describe the feeling?

YOYA GUECO: I came for a short visit three years ago and there was just something about how Manila has evolved that pulled me back and intrigued me. Canada is a beautiful place to live, everything is organized, clean and efficient — it’s totally the opposite of Manila, but I missed the chaos. There’s just something about that, it’s a city that allows you to carve your own path.

I am amazed at how Manila has evolved into an animal on its own, how it’s thriving and full of this creative energy. The feelings of trepidation were not entirely absent. Being gone for so long, it made me a little anxious because now I have a family. There always was the question of whether this would be the best place for me to raise my children. But when I ask myself that question, I know that taking the risk and following your passion is something I would like to teach them. Moving back would be the best example of that.

How would you describe Yoya Moda to the uninitiated?

Working closely with different women on the shop floor in Canada and also with Rajo, it allowed me to understand the intimate relationship of women and what they want to wear. It allowed me to see the grace and strength that women gain from wearing clothes that make them feel good.

I want Yoya Moda to enable women to play all the roles that they have in their lives without restriction. Fashion doesn’t have to be cumbersome. The modern woman doesn’t change her clothes for every single occasion; it’s about clothes that move with you. Yoya Moda allows you to do just that, in style and having fun while doing so.

Can you talk to us about your pieces?

We spent many hours figuring out the notions that go into our clothes. From the thread to the fabrics. For me, it’s all about the little details and the unexpected surprises that delight me about clothes. It excites me when someone admires the piece in its entirety, noticing the little details that add value to a garment.

What do you love about designing? What motivates you to make clothes?

Making clothes is such a creative process and that’s what makes me love the whole discipline. Experimenting on what the fabric can do, the pocket placement, the buttons and then the combination of prints and patterns is what I love doing the most.

It’s easy to make clothes now or to have a brand; I want to be known for the subtle details and the quality of the clothes that my team and I have painstakingly worked on. When the wearer appreciates that, it brings me so much joy.

Who’s behind Yoya Moda?

The forces behind Yoya Moda are my partners and family, my relatives who have supported and believed in me to pursue this endeavor. It’s never a one-person show, and without them the clothes we produce would not be what they are.

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