16 April 2015

A Discussion With. Mara Reyes

Nowadays, being different is almost like a necessity. Having so much interests and looking the part have not been as accepted as it is today, but of course there are still those who don't understand that self expression is certainly the beauty in humans. The fact that we are a mishmash of characters and interests proves that we are as intriguing and as interesting as anything else in the world. That is what outliers keep on doing, providing the concept of beauty among millions of different things. And sometimes, it all starts with how we dress. Mara Reyes started pretty young when she found out that she was an outlier, it was in her early high school days when she was teased and almost hated because of how she presents her self. There are a lot more cases of young bullying, but we're not here to talk about that, we're here to listen to the story of a young designer turned prominent stylist in the local fashion and commercial industry. To also learn how her attitude towards life and her unique tastes in fashion has led her where she is now, and where she'll go next.

What do you do?
I dress up people for a living. I used to make clothes, and will probably do it again soon.

What inspired you to be in the fashion industry? Can you share to us how and where did you start?
I started working when I was 18 or 19 around ’04-‘05. I landed a job as a costume designer, I did some styling for network shows, celebrities, magazines and also a bit of production design as well. I was pretty active during my early 20’s since that was the stage where I was so eager to learn and try new stuff. I also started designing at an early age, around 18 [years old]. And then, I joined as one of the youngest contestants on the first season of Project Runway Philippines when I was 21. I was so clueless of what I was doing, the only thing I know was that I wanted to make clothes and do as much as I can while I’m still “young”. I remember some of the contestants bashing me, and even one of the judges telling me that if it wasn’t for my styling during the runway walks, I could’ve probably been eliminated during the first few challenges.

I think one of my biggest inspiration is music. For example, the grunge stage. If it wasn’t for all the Courtney Love, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins idolatry phase when I was 11, I don’t think I’ll ever be introduced to floral dresses with a contrast colored plaid button down worn across the waist, matched with Dr. Martens boots, weekend looks. What pushed me to start making my own clothes was the lack of resources during that time. I grew up shopping just at Defect and Havoc, that was it. My style was very limited into mixing and experimenting with what I can find there and a few other places where a 13 year old can go to. I got my first pair of Superstars before high school, and a lot of the girls just called me a tomboy. I get teased a lot, I hated it, but I learned to love and embrace it as I grew older, coz I knew I was different and at the back of my head I knew I could be better than all those girly bullies in school, who looked down on me because of the way I dress. I’m pretty sure one of them owns a pastel colored pair of superstars from Pharell’s superstar collection now.

Your style and taste in fashion is fairly uncommon in the local fashion industry, how has it affected your career?
A lot.

When I was starting out in the industry as a designer, it was pretty hard. I had a line for women then. I was young and daring, I didn’t care a single sh*t about the result of things. I knew I just wanted to make and sell clothes that I love and what I think can change the game in ladies' wear in the Philippines. Unfortunately, there was only myspace and multiply, so reaching out to a lot of people through the internet was pretty hard, and that’s aside from the fact that not so many girls were into “streetwear” at that time. If instagram and bloggers were such a hit, I think a lot of the stores and independent streetwear brands before could’ve made it up to this time, and probably hit worldwide. I really don’t know what to say about this part, but this says so much about us being [in a] third world.

Styling wise, I think it has progressed a lot. I mean, I’m just basing it with the way I get booked. People usually hire me, I think, because of my way of trying to make everything look “urban” when it comes to styling, or maybe that’s just me. I try to inject as much “streetwear” in any way that I can when I style for ads, campaigns or shows to tap that market and to show the flexibility of their products/clothes in terms of style.

It’s still hard for me since the streetwear industry in the Philippines is not as big as how it is in L.A. or Tokyo or Paris in comparison to other countries, like hello? were kinda just getting started. So even if I want to collaborate with local brands, there aren’t so much that I can work with.
For the past 3-4 years I just hibernated in a little shell because frustration has hit me hard. But now, I've been trying to go out and socialize and reconnect again because whatever happens, I know I have to push my other goals. And seeing so many new young hungry kids, I know I have to get back in the game.

What made you passionate about streetwear in particular?
I can’t say I’m really passionate about it, unless I reach a certain point where I can say I’ve achieved a certain big boss mode goal. People just perceive me as someone who likes it so much probably because of the way I’ve been dressing ever since, and because they think I know stuff about it, but I actually just read and observe a lot. I actually take time to read about labels and the people behind them, and the history. I like reading about history in generaI. The one strict rule I follow is, not to buy sh*t you don’t know about. Like my favorite pair right now are the NBHD x Adidas Shelltoes, I’m in-love with those shoes and they almost look like beaters because I wear it almost everyday. Aside from the fact that they are a nice pair, I got it because I’ve always loved Neighborhood and adored Shinsuke Takizawa as an innovator.

How would you describe our current streetwear movement in the Philippines?

What do you think should happen to keep the movement growing, and hopefully be at par with international communities?
Support. More demand, more suppliers. More suppliers, means more brands and more options and more thinkers. Bigger market, bigger community, bigger movement.

Going back to being a stylist, it seems like a lot view it as an exciting job, can you walk us through your normal working day? And why do you think people view it that way?
My day depends on the workload of a certain project I’m working on. If I’m working on a TVC (commercials), I’m on stand by 24/7, for revisions and feedback from clients. It’s pretty much a no mercy job for anyone in that environment since you have to be ready all the time for endless revisions. Working hours are extreme, usually call time is before sunrise. Workload includes at least 3-4 meetings, preparation for the clothes which can sometimes take a week or a day, fittings and shoot days. If it's for a show, the flow of things are pretty smoother, since there's more time to prepare, but on the day of the show itself, it feels like one whole week suddenly happens in a span of one hour behind the stage as it happens. Shoots for print is the easiest, usually takes half the day or the whole day and that’s about it. At the end of any god given day, I go home and do mommy duties. Work never stops. I get drunk on sleep and learned how to party with hi-5 on my spare time.

What do you think are the effects of social media on the fashion industry?
Social media has become a pocket guide. Where to buy things or how to create this and that, searchable instant photos to drive inspiration from, spoon-feeding us with so many things. Using pure imagination and being inventive no longer comes as a big challenge.

Moving on, let's talk about your relationship with your daughter. How has Maggie affected your life?
So much. When I had her I had to let go of a lot things that I wanted to do and make her my priority. I have been inactive in the “scene” and I detached myself from the circle. I found so much contentment on being a mother because I know now how heavy and important this job is, it kinda scares me that this thing makes me feel so content. It can't. I really have so much plans, and I hate how good motherhood makes me feel.

Given those changes, how different were you before compared to today?
I was really careless before. I was more ambitious, and I’d do anything to achieve what I want because I really didn’t think about the outcome, which was also good in a way. When I go to the club and see drunk people looking stupid, I see myself from ten years ago, with all those girls wanting their photos taken by the resident club photographer, all dressed up. In the morning when you wake up non of those hours spent dancing makes sense except for the hangover. I've grown up, to the point that I know how to make the right choices for myself. I only take jobs that make me happy or jobs that will help me and my team grow, and learn from the whole work process, not just because it's gonna earn me sh*tloads of money or earn me millions of followers on Instagram. I even had to let go of projects and clients because I know I am not growing or just because it doesn’t make me happy.
I have a problem of analyzing and observing too much, to the point that it doesn’t make sense anymore. I tend to overthink. I’ve realized how unimportant this industry is to humanity, that even if I become the greatest in this field, unless I find a cure to the ugliest disease or a solution to end all war, I’m not going to make sense in this lifetime. Growing up sucks.

Are there things that you were doing before, that you wish to do again? 
I wish I can be a bit more careless again.

Are there any future plans that we need to look forward to?
I’m currently working on a personal project right now, planning to launch it sometime this year. I would like to talk all about it, but I don’t want to jinx it.

Interview and photographs by Marvin Conanan


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