The independent label by Willar Mateo, seven years in, is still perfect parts kitsch, camp and shamelessly expressive
Long before “more is more is more” became the main party line, Salad Day was already at it. For Willar Mateo though, the brains behind the fashion label, beating everyone else to the punch wasn’t at all the end goal. It was a fortunate coincidence, a pleasant indication that individuals who shared his brand of offbeat peculiarity––in his words: the magical swirl lint king in a sparkly checkered kingdom aesthetic––were now coming to the fore. “I myself don’t know what that means exactly,” he says, laughing. “But if you just get the abstract explanation, then Salad Day is dedicated to you.”
In serving a niche audience, Mateo shares that his brand doesn’t abide by rules typical of the fashion enterprise. As convention would have it anyway, designers must first find a need in the market then, find a way to meet it. But what this talented man had in mind was something simpler: to design clothes for himself and do away with having to shop elsewhere. “I found that I couldn’t afford the things I would have loved to wear,” he explains, pointing out that local fashion retail brands didn’t quite appeal to him when he was younger. “Expensive taste wasn’t cute on a broke person like me,” he adds, jokingly. “That’s one of the main reasons I started my brand: to make clothes for myself.”
With no rules, seasons, timestamps or strict age brackets in the world of Salad Day, the label has had a stellar run––consistent and true to its brand DNA––since it launched seven years ago. “My creative process hasn’t changed,” says Mateo, who admits to seeing beauty where people see tacky. “It always begins with me holding on to what appeals to me at a given moment, whatever excites me to make something.” What happens next is a form of engineering in reverse: the designer begins by thinking material before design, looking around him for existing material he can work with. (As a self-confessed hoarder of fabric, trims and other materials, Mateo has found a way to work his compulsion to his advantage.) Only then does he allow design ideas to come to him. It goes without saying that the output is a playful, memorable number or two.
Materials vary and sources of inspiration are vast (nods to anime here, a reference from childhood there), so the process of experimenting is one other constant for Mateo. “Whether it’s for a collection, a personal project, or something for my personal wardrobe, I make it a point to continually experiment,” he says. “It’s so I don’t get stuck in a loop.”
Today, Salad Day remains to be a form of self-expression that’s anyone’s for the taking, really, if only one is daring enough to let loose and overcome this sometimes self-imposed hurdle and what eventually follows is a refreshing reminder of how fun playing dress-up can be. A return to a carefree youth: complete with a who-gives-a-damn attitude and color, lots of color. “Celebrate your young spirit and energy,” invites Mateo. For the vibrant designer, doing so doesn’t require a fancy occasion or event. “I imagine the Salad Day guy or gal going anywhere––at home taking photos for the ‘Gram, going out for milk tea, meeting up with friends, spending a night out drinking and dancing. Anywhere.”
This is a feat that can be daunting for those who adore practical (and safer) style choices, but it’s something Mateo doesn’t mind walking anyone through. With this, he leaves us with the five fashion rules to dress by, live by and break according to Salad Day:
1. Surround yourself with things you love. Trust that from there, you will only attract the right energy.
2. People say mix and match, but I say mix and mismatch. Contradicting items are also propelling.
3. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed with seeking things that you don’t have. Work with what you’ve got. You can’t expect shopping to solve your problems.
4. Make something. Create. Try your hand at DIY embellishments, accessories, bags or whatever have you. In this day and age, big fashion retailers produce things en masse. You can’t rely on them to make you unique or make your outfit special.
5. There’s nothing wrong with being a “fashion introvert,” but expressing yourself through clothing can be just the liberating experience to put a spring in your step. Sometimes, the more expressive you are, the better.
Art Alexandra Lara