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Where Constraint Meets Freedom |


Where Constraint Meets Freedom

Marella Ricketts - The Philippine Star
Where Constraint Meets Freedom
The constraints of Catholicism on Filipino women, swimwear ads from as early as 1910s, and the sculpture Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Layers of Underwear” influenced Jessan Macatangay’s award-winning collection.

‘Sculptural Sensuality is about making society realize that a woman is more than her body.’

MANILA, Philippines — Growing up in a predominantly Catholic society has its complications, with a culture of conservatism all too familiar to many. “Don’t wear that.” “Don’t act like this.” “Don’t show too much skin.” For the longest time, Maria Clara, one of Jose Rizal’s most iconic characters who embodied traits of being demure, religious and docile, was considered the ideal. Slowly, over time, society has started to redefine what this means in the modern world.

Central Saint Martins graduate Jessan Macatangay is one of these visionaries, launching his eight-piece collection, Sculptural Sensuality, at the most recent London Fashion Week. The collection highlights the female silhouette by playing with contrast: soft textures juxtaposed against geometric hardwiring, a neutral palette with pleasant pops of color. In conversation with the designer, one learns that there is more interpretation to this than meets the eye.

“This collection is about exploring sensuality using restrictive objects,” the designer reveals, citing his childhood observations as a principal driving force behind the conception of the collection.

Sometimes, all you need is a little distance for better perspective. Even if Macatangay is now based in London, he still feels very much connected to his roots. His inspiration for Sculptural Sensuality was, in fact, drawn from his personal observations growing up in Batangas. “The original inspiration for my latest collection was from observing the women I grew up with — namely my mother, my sister, and other family members,” he starts. “Their fashion sense was constrained due to the influence of Catholicism. I always felt that they couldn’t fully express themselves because showing flesh was considered risqué to them, as it was often frowned upon. I even remember seeing women putting T-shirts over their bikinis because of this. It was like an unwritten rule that everyone abided by then.”

In addition to this main inspiration, Macatangay was also drawn to old swimwear ads, initially discovering those from the ’90s and then researching earlier styles that date back to the 1910s. This eventually influenced some of the cut-out styles in his collection. The designer was also intrigued by Robert Mapplethorpe’s “Layers of Underwear,” a sculpture where soft fabrics were stretched and then imposed onto hardware.

“I merged the principles of sensuality and softness with harsh, restrictive materials, almost subconsciously creating a metaphor for the Filipino woman. I used soft crepe jersey fabrics while the hardware used to create structured forms symbolizes the restrictiveness of the Catholic church,” he shares. While he is deliberate in creating this tension, everything artfully flows together, highlighting the form of the wearer. “Clothes exist to accentuate the feminine figure and showcase it in its most lustrous light. Most of the frames in this collection are shaped into the woman’s body to highlight her shape,” he adds.

Macatangay’s current collection wants to give women the power to express themselves as they truly are, deep inside. “Sculptural Sensuality is about making society realize that a woman is more than her body. In a way, this project questions and challenges our deep-seated feelings of imposing restraints on how women dress in the Philippines. Beginning from this inspiration, this collection imagines the results when these cultural restrictions are lifted, and the joy that fashion can inspire in the wearer,” he shares.

He describes a woman who longs for the simple pleasure of relaxing on the beach with her swimsuit, legs and arms kissed by the sun. “Ultimately, I want to dress women who want to feel sensual, who are unafraid to show some skin. It would be their choice, not someone else’s imposed on them. I want to create pieces for women who adore sensuality without fearing sexuality. She does not want to cover up with a T-shirt on the beach. She wants to be free — free of restrictions and judgments,” he visualizes.

What he is talking about here is not showing skin simply for the sake of showing skin, but because we can. Because there is nothing wrong with this. Being able to express ourselves in this manner is, in a way, freedom. Isn’t this something that we’re all looking for to some extent?

“I want to develop my work with the ultimate goal of having my own brand,” Macatangay says when asked what to expect from him next. “It’s amazing to see my collection worn by models on the runway, but in the future, I want to see real women wearing my pieces—I think that would be even more amazing!”


For more information on Jessan Macatangay and his collections, visit his website,

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