Rajo Laurel is undoubtedly one of Philippine fashion’s most iconic designers, whose name has become synonymous with luxury and outstanding craftsmanship. This year marks his 25th year in the industry and he fondly looks back on his journey with some treasured memories: from giving Barbie makeovers and being captivated by regal theater costumes to his very first fashion show.
In this special edition of Style Stories, Rajo gives us a peek into his day at the office and shares insightful tips for fashion entrepreneurs.
On how he discovered his passion for fashion design: “My first encounter with fashion was in the theater. I was a young stage actor for Repertory Philippines, which my grandmother founded, and I was one of the children in the play ‘The King and I.’ In that environment, you can really see how costumes play a very important role in the musical. I was mesmerized with all the costumes and I think that was my very first memory of what fashion could be.”
On his younger years leading up to his first fashion show: “It’s my 25th year this year so I have lots of memories. When I was young, I would steal my sisters’ Barbie Dolls and give them a makeover, working at night and then secretly return them back. My sisters would wake up and cry because their dolls suddenly had a green mohawk, eyeliner and leatherette ensemble made from scraps. My other memories include making the prom dresses of my classmates - going to Divisoria then having my grandmother's seamstress make something for them."
"While I was in college, I would organize fashion shows for our organizations and having mini fashion shows with friends. My very first fashion show was a baptismal of fire because it was the 10th year anniversary of PMAP and I was a very young designer, barely over 21 years old, and I had to come up with a collection of 200 pieces. These contributed to this wonderful journey and brought me to where I am today.”
On his fashion philosophy: “The guiding principle of being in fashion is to seek joy. Fashion is supposed to be fun. It’s not rocket science. We’re here to give a sense of happiness to whoever comes through our doors. What has also guided me is the quest for individualism and the respect that everybody has their own individual style and to be able to cultivate that with my clients and with myself.”
On how he has evolved as a designer: “It’s a constant fine-tuning of my design philosophy and vocabulary. I’ve always been a firm believer in romance and luxury. Those are the two words that are always on my mind when I create clothes and every opportunity to do so is a refinement of that mindset. Apart from that, I also believe in dualism or paradox. I like fusing two adverse elements together: dark and light, hard and soft, bitter and sweet. I believe that mixture creates something thought-provoking.”
Pieces from Rajo's latest collection called "Eden"
Models wearing Heyjow pieces exclusively made for The Rajo! Store, which match Eden's botanical theme
Heyjow's exclusive collection for The Rajo! Store include earrings in organic shapes and natural elements like seashells
Rajo's "Eden" Collection draws inspiration from the life of a horticulturist, interpreted in petal-like silhouettes
On what a typical work day looks like: “I’m very process-oriented. I like systems, regiments and procedures. I’m actually a little bit obsessive-compulsive with how my day is laid out even to how my pencils are sharpened and my pins are arranged. I’m one of those people who thrive in order so I try to create a system. I’m a morning person so I try to wake up as early as I can then I try to be at the office by 8AM, start meeting clients by 9AM and every hour after until 6PM, exercise then be home for dinner or meet friends for a drink or two. I try to pack my days as much as I can.”
“I’m also a firm believer of multi-tasking – I’m doing this interview in my office while I’m having 3 fittings just outside. I’ve trained myself to multi-task. It’s something people need to do nowadays. You have to be many things to survive and thrive.”
Inside House of Laurel, Rajo's boutique located in Makati
On finding inspiration: “Inspiration is not a finite recipe. I usually find inspiration when I’m out of my comfort zone. Travel is a huge source of inspiration. Meeting new people and interacting with them is always inspiring. I think it’s all about perspective. Inspiration is looking at one thing and seeing it from another angle. One of the tips I can give on how to stay creative is always surround yourself with young people or a diverse group of people. I read somewhere that if you’re the smartest person in the room then you should leave it.”
On balancing creativity and business: "You cannot be one or the other. The quest is about being able to satiate both elements. You must be creative but still think about the bottom line. You must be practical and put yourself in the client’s shoes. I always ask my team ‘will you buy this? Will you be impressed if you saw this on our racks?’ In this day and age of fast fashion, everybody is competing with each other and there’s a lot of white noise. The goal is to rise above it by coming up with something pure and authentic and sustain that in a way that also feels real.
What’s next for him: “I’m preparing for my 25th anniversary gala on October 27 and I’m doing a collection to celebrate my banner year. I’m also looking forward to coming up with another store soon. I’m also building my beach house, which has been a dream of mine and now it’s nearing completion.”
Follow Rajo on Instagram: @rajolaurel
Follow House of Laurel on Instagram: @houseoflaurel
Photography by Sheila Catilo (@sheilacatilo)