The Next-Gen Men Changing the Way We See Fashion
In a recreation of school picture day, these five individuals demonstrate what we only hope to see more of in the future: style and sensibility, no doubt, but just as important? Unbridled self-expression and the ability not to take oneself too seriously
It’s no longer necessary to point out that next generation is made of multihyphenates. It’s something that comes with the territory: as self-expression among the empowered youth is championed, information is democratized online and people are encouraged to forge their own paths in life. When it comes to the way individuals choose to introduce themselves to the world, by way of fashion most especially, one pleasant outcome is the shattering of stereotypes. Gone are the rules in menswear that dictate what should and shouldn’t be. The need to display masculinity, outright, is outdated. The lines between getting dressed up and playing dress-up, blurred.
Style speaks. But for the five gentlemen invited by Wonder to dive further into that concept, it’s more about enjoying every bit of the unique identities that they’ve come into (from one who has taken on a fashion design track and modeling career in a one-two punch to the other with studies, his own music production company and career as a recording artist on his plate at the age of 18).
Things are constantly changing for these next-gen men, who, in turn, are increasingly self-aware. (There’s an impressive level of self-mastery among Abraham Guardian, Johan Kyle, Fern Tan, Julio Del Prado and Necole Almerekhi that cannot be chalked up to age.) Still, this doesn’t mean they don’t know how to let loose. If anything, taking societal expectations with a grain of salt is what brought them here: diverse when it comes to style, but even more so when it comes to perspective.
Wonder: Thanks for making time for us today. What were you up to anyway before this?
Necole Almerekhi: I was at my COL-REND class or Color & Rendering. I’m currently taking up Fashion Design and Merchandising in Benilde.
W: How perfect is that? You can one day model and wear your collection.
NA: And my focus is on menswear, too, so it really is!
W: How many more years of school do you have left?
NA: This is my last year. I’ll be graduating in 2020 at the next Benilde fashion show Sinulid.
W: Very excited for you! What is it like juggling your modeling career and your academic career, though?
NA: It’s not so much a balancing act with the two, but more of going with the flow. There’s no real formula or plan for it other than knowing that top priority things always go first. That, for me right now, is school. The modeling will just fit into wherever it can after that.
W: Which one came first: your desire to be a fashion designer or a model?
NA: Fashion design, definitely. In high school, everyone would be paying attention in class and I’d be there sketching dresses. That’s how it started. Then I told my parents that I wanted to take up fashion design in college. I was happy that they got on board.
W: Given that trajectory for you, how did you become a part of the SM Youth family?
NA: I had been following SM Youth Go-See since the beginning. I tried auditioning in the second season, but unfortunately didn’t make the deadline. For season three, I tried out, got into the live audition and then didn’t make the cut. After all these attempts, my friends forced me to still try out this year, but I was like, “No, I’m not a model. Look at me! I don’t have the face or the body they’re looking for.” But they kept telling me to just try, to just do it. So we bought clothes from SM Youth, took photos, submitted them and I got in!
W: Working as a model, can you give us the handiest styling lesson you learned while on-duty?
NA: Oh, accessorize. A single, very basic or ordinary article of clothing can go a long way if you experiment with accessories. I wish men tried that out more, too. Wear a necklace…or two…or three…or four! That’s what I learned about making any outfit look better instantly or more thought-out.
W: Now, tell us about this look you put together for the shoot.
NA: I was in the mood for something in earth tones today. I don’t know why I wore this though [points to padlock necklace]. (Laughs) I was excited to channel earth tones, because as we approach the “ber” months, it’s expected that we’ll be moving into darker color palettes. I consider this my way of easing into that. I thought the green tactical belt was a nice finish, too.
W: We chatted a bit about accessorizing earlier and talked about trends. If there is one look or trend you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing, what would it be?
NA: PVC plastic see-through pants. That’s…a big no for me. I mean, I sweat a lot so…nope! I don’t want my clothes to be steaming! (Laughs) A jacket I saw earlier comes to mind. It was at Zara and the back part of the garment was made of plastic. I just thought, “No. I don’t know about this trend.”
W: People often say “feel good to look good,” but the reverse scenario is also true. Would you agree?
NA: Well, I believe in “go hard or go home.” So if you’re going out, might as well go all-out. But the other night, I went out in a look that was pretty dressed down and my friends reacted and told me, “Are you…sick?” Like, who is she?! She’s wearing corduroy shorts and a black hoodie! (Laughs) But I believe that how you carry yourself matters more. If you can carry a look with a little attitude, no matter how simple it is, why not? Keep it simple, but look good? Imagine the boost of confidence from being able to pull that off; that can definitely make you feel good.
Wonder: In a time where streetwear brands are king, what has it been like working at a tailoring company?
Julio Del Prado: People have this idea that once you say the word “tailoring,” it’s immediately something stuffy or very formal. People always associate tailoring with dressed-up events like weddings or prom and, as you get older, business meetings or what have you. But you can do suits in cotton, you can do suits in linen, which are always cool and more relaxed.
For one, we don’t have a very strict dress code at the William Lee shop. And since I’m the one who’s there the least––I only come in three times a week––I’ve gotten away with wearing some very dumb things to the store.
W: (Laughs) Okay, define dumb.
JDP: I like Comme des Garçons and a lot of the Japanese designers, so I have an array of pants with super low crotches. Then I’d throw on really big shirts and put a blazer on top––like this. But hey, even this is technically a suit. The jacket’s a little loose and there are zippers here and there, so it’s not the suit that instantly comes to mind. But that’s the whole point. I like the idea of this kind of suiting––casual suiting––which is something I’ve been leaning more into.
W: Interesting concept. I mean, this isn’t at all an in-your-face kind of suit. But I see that the key pieces are there: jacket, trousers. Can you tell us about the ones you’re wearing?
JDP: These are from a Japanese brand called Nonnative, which I would describe as casualwear with nods to military staples and streetwear. I got this jacket first. And then when I did research on it, I found out they had it in pants in a matching fabric. Got that, too.
W: Would you say that this is your uniform?
JDP: Lately, it has been. It’s a recent development, this entire casual suiting thing. I have another casual suit in cotton. It’s trim with slim trousers and when I wear it out, people think I’m really dressed up. It’s not even that formal a color, but I guess here, people think once you have lapels on and the pieces fit in the traditional, trim way, pormang porma ka.
W: But there’s definitely nothing wrong with elevated casualwear. When did you move your personal sense of style in this direction? When did you start being more thoughtful about dressing up?
JDP: I think it’s been a long time coming. I guess as I got older, I started to realize I was getting tired of not thinking about what I was wearing. I mean, I thought about it, but it was always along the lines of: which colored jean? Which shoes and what t-shirt? And if I didn’t want to bother, I’d always just grab the first thing I saw or whatever was on top of the pile of clothes.
When I was in my second or third year of high school, my older brother started working in Greyone Social. He and I were close, so I started to drop by the store and hang out. At that point, SUPRA’s were like “SupaFresh” and that would be the word people would use, right? Steve Aoki was new. MISBHV and Cassette Playa and all these early, early streetwear brands were there. I very distinctly remember wanting a pair of SUPRA with an extra-padded tongue. That’s when it started.
W: What were some of the style phases you went through? Anything you regret?
JDP: I don’t know if regret’s the word; it’s more…I’m happy that I outgrew them. Because at the time, when I was wearing what I was wearing––be it all those streetwear graphic tees or bugbog Marvel t-shirts––at the time, I was happy. I’d think, you know, “This is fine!” That was just the general baseline. To look back at it and cringe is…not a reaction I’d have. Although, if I were still dressed like that, I’d probably be disappointed in myself. (Laughs) I mean, I’m getting older! And the older I get, I do believe to some extent in dressing for my age. I just don’t think there’s only one way to dress your age if that makes any sense. There are ways to look a little older, more mature, more put together, but still have fun with it.
Wonder: Before we jump into anything style-related, how’s it been navigating your senior year of high school with your brand OJK thrown in the mix?
Johan Kyle: I feel like I’ve gotten better at it. Back in the day, I’d wake up at 6AM, go home after being dismissed at 4PM, head to my office to paint, work and brainstorm on the next campaign. I would only sleep until two or three, because I’d have homework, still. And this was my routine every day.
W: That’s quite a lot for a 14-year-old.
JK: I think I’m undermining how tough it was. (Laughs) I was able to get a little stricter with my schedule since and I learned how to say no. I realized that agreeing to everything isn’t healthy. But after I’ve dealt with what I’ve done before, which was that horrendous schedule, it’s like nothing can faze me anymore.
W: What kept you going?
JK: That I’m doing something I enjoy. Because I can’t imagine working in a cubicle every day. I’d ultimately go back to the messages I receive from aspiring designers asking for advice––people who’ve studied fashion in college, who haven’t dressed an artist or who haven’t done a runway show yet. There I’d be complaining about how tiring this job is…when I should be lucky to even have this opportunity.
W: Can you tell us about your school picture day look today?
JK: Because OJK revolves around the rebellious youth, I got a varsity jacket, a school wardrobe staple. Though I think this is the most sexual garment I’ve ever made because what I make usually isn’t this vulgar. This time, I didn’t really mind. I have a lady here with botched plastic surgery and her ass hanging out. Here, I have people making out. This is just an overall fun look and I watered it down by dressing up like a formal student.
W: Last year, we put you in our roundup called “5 People Who Made Fashion Extra Exciting This Year.” Can you name five people who have made fashion exciting for you so far in 2019?
JK: Hm. The thing is: I unfollowed every international designer on Instagram. Just because I don’t want their creations to subconsciously become pegs in my mind and trickle down to my work in that way. I do feel like, in the Philippines, some designers are so fond of copying what brands from other countries are doing––with rip-offs that aren’t as good as the original and campaigns that are just as bad as the garments. I try to keep my sources of inspiration independent from fashion. And I rather that it come from a film I just watched or from something I saw walking around. But back to these five names, Alessandro Michele and Alexander McQueen for fashion. And since I get more inspired by those in music and movies, Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan and Kanye West.
W: What’s the best thing about being a creative in 2019?
JK: I think in the Philippines, it’s the open-mindedness of the audience. Because back in the day, if I had been doing this, I feel like it would be too strange, too weird. I don’t think it’d be as well-received. I think there’s no better time to be a creative because of social media, too, which is a great way to show your work and because of that, it’s such a gift. It’s a balancing act also because it’s a little easier for mediocre work to be seen.
W: Would you say that’s the worst thing about being a creative in 2019?
JK: Back in the day, you needed to have this high standard of art, workmanship and craftsmanship for your work to even gain attention. Social media wasn’t available to grant artists the free publicity they could get now. You had to be deemed credible enough to become part of a gallery, for example, or to have your work be published in print. I think, overall, it’s a good time. But I do miss the challenge of getting exposure, I will say that. It’s like what Naomi Campbell says: back in the day, she had to earn her stripes as a supermodel as opposed to the Instagram models we have now (not hating on them though).
W: What can the fashion crowd expect from OJK in the near future? Anything you can let us in on?
JK: OJK, the brand itself and my campaigns, has slowly gotten bolder. It used to have this energetic, youthful vibe, but now I think it’s getting a little darker, more mysterious. OJK at the end of the day is just my name: it’s what I feel. And that changes all the time. I can come up with things in a snap and things can always change overnight.
Wonder: Let’s kick this off by talking about how school and your music career are going together? How are things?
Fern Tan: I can’t tell you anything yet because I don’t know what it’s going to be like this time. (Laughs) It’s only because last term, things were easier. I was pursuing only music and school at the time. Just this summer, I put up my own company that does music production for ads called Kindred Productions. So, I’ll find out soon how juggling the three things will go.
W: Now, why this look for the shoot?
FT: It’s representative of my style, which, to me, is whatever I feel like wearing, honestly. The thing is: I don’t want to stand out too much because of what I’m wearing. I hate it when people look at me. I feel like something’s wrong with me when they do. (Laughs) That’s why I don’t like anything too flashy. I love jewelry, though. Jewelry’s my thing. But usually, I’m just in jeans and shirts like these––oversized––and then Converse. I have a Charriol ring here. Some of these are my mom’s. And here, my dad gave me a Roley. They…love me. I’m an only child. (Laughs)
W: Do you have like a lucky article of clothing you wear to gigs as part of like a pre-gig ritual? I mean if you believe in that.
FT: No eh. I’m Chinese, though. (Laughs) so I believe in the weirdest stuff because of my parents.
W: Really? Like what?
FT: Like you can’t cut your nails after six or your parents will die. So when it comes to stuff like that, yes. Oddly enough. But no, no gig day superstitions and no lucky shirts. I guess that’s also because I don’t like repeating outfits for performances in particular. I feel like everyone’s going to be like, ‘Oh, he wore that last time.’
W: When did you start leaning into styling yourself this way? With accessories most especially?
FT: I would say around the time I started performing. Because I feel like you can’t avoid it––that people will start looking at you as much as I personally don’t like people looking at me. I mean, when you’re up on stage performing, where else are they going to look though, right? (Laughs) I’ll admit I kind of got self-conscious. I used to perform in black jeans, a white shirt and that was it. I looked so boring.
W: Still on jewelry, which seems like your key styling element: what are you most fond of when you put a look together?
FT: Earrings! I don’t know why, but for some reason it’s earrings. I want to get another piercing nga eh and I want to get a tattoo. But back to earrings: I like to switch it up between studs and dangling earrings. I don’t care what people think when it comes to the way I accessorize.
W: What would you get though as a tattoo?
FT: Chinese characters that go down the side of my neck: a repetition of the word “lucky” in Chinese.
W: When did you feel like you were coming into your own in terms of your personal style?
FT: When I stopped getting stylists. Damn, I hope I don’t get shit for this. No shade though! (Laughs) Because management, as any label would naman, will encourage artists to hire a wardrobe stylist. It’s all part of it. And it’s so hard to say no because they work so hard and it’s like, “oh fuck” if I say no…it might suck. (Laughs) So, I would just have to wear what they told me to wear even if I wasn’t really comfortable with it. I mean, there was this one article I saw that brought up my sexuality––questioning it––only because a stylist put me in something feminine.
W: That’s so lame…and backward-thinking.
FT: I know, but it’s one of the risks of stepping outside the box even if it means not stepping that far out.
W: Now, can you name the top three stylish musicians you look up to?
FT: Matty Healy of the 1975, because he’s super chill lang, Frank Ocean and A$AP Rocky.
W: On the music production front as a recording artist yourself: what can your fans expect in the near future? Anything you can let us in on?
FT: Well, I’m going to release an EP called “Loveless” on October 5 with a launch happening in 2020.
Wonder: How is 2019 looking for your brand HA.MU? Any favorite moments so far?
Abraham Guardian: I think this year was the year of more exposure abroad. I remember 2017 to 2018 being more about collaborating in the local space. This is the time we’re getting more involved outside of the country. Mamuro [Oki] and I are also focusing on saleability by creating a diffusion brand for HA.MU.
W: Exciting! Moving on to your look today: what were you going for?
AG: I’d say this says a lot about my current style; I have ethnic elements meshed together with a twist of streetwear, something wearable but still experimental in terms of prints and texture. And since I work [in an office] as well, I’m trying to balance out my outfits for that setting. I just I don’t want to put my clothes to waste, so I wear similar looks to the office, still.
W: What do you wear to your office?
AG: This…but with sneakers. (Laughs)