On the 20th year of his career, Jun Escario shares thoughts on his personal and professional evolution, and an outlook that has made him a staying force in the fashion industry. As he presses forward, he takes a more minimal design aesthetic and now subscribes to a lifestyle that he declares monastic.
Much has been said and written about Jun Escario, which isn’t at all surprising considering his impressive tenure, which includes many high fashion editorials, awards like the Best Philippine Designer from the French Concourse International in 2002, and a loyal roster of clientele that boasts names often seen on the best-dressed list. But he sees no point in talking about the past here.
Twenty years in the fashion industry has turned the once enfant terrible poster boy into today’s heir to the throne of luxe. After partying hard and taking in the intoxicating highs of the fashion world, Jun has admittedly turned monastic—and by monastic, he means staying home more often or walking his cuddly Chihuahuas Flick and Georgie on Sundays. It seems life has taken on a more leisurely pace, his spot on the dance floor has turned over to others too young to remember his gyrating days. Now, Jun’s version of luxury has turned into something simpler: solitude in the midst of the chaotic world of fashion, silence against the voices of trends and caprices, and permanence versus the ever-shifting plates of personal taste and preference.
That’s not to say he’s completely disappeared off the radar. When in Manila, his time is divided between shuffling between his shop in Greenbelt 5 and his atelier at the LPL Towers, and attending social engagements. After all, visibility is key to being a top player in the glam world of the Philippine capital. “So much of my late afternoons and evenings are spent hopping from one event to another, a rather taxing social life that I enjoy no matter how limited my time is,” Jun explains.
It’s a busy schedule that makes Jun pray for a saint’s gift of bilocation. “I shuttle between Manila and Cebu every week,” he says. “I spend three days in Manila and four days in Cebu, and add to that Panglao Island in Bohol during the coming months. Can I divide myself into three equal parts?” he deadpans.
His shop in Cebu has since moved to the family residence, devoted to RTW production while catering to a reasonably healthy clientele that has stuck it out with him through the years. “These are clients who have seen me evolve as an artist through the years. In turn, I too have been a witness to their career changes, lifestyle choices and personal growth. They have become friends, almost family even.”
Jun takes pride in being part of his client’s personal moments, but weddings are extra special. “To me, wedding gowns are a joy to work on. To capture and fulfill a bride’s ardent wish to be most beautiful on her wedding day is a privilege that only fashion artists get to have,” he shares. “After 20 years, I am now in a stage where I am doing the wedding gowns of second-generation clients! So I’ve seen their rites of passage, and my diminishing hairline is proof of that. But my body hasn’t aged a bit,” Jun laughs, tickled by his own narcissism.
Jun’s take on glamour and sophistication is unaffected, as if it’s a concept that comes all too naturally with him. “There are many who equate sophistication and glamour with being cold, distant and unreachable. That is so untrue,” he negates. “Real sophistication is warm, approachable and very personal. One does not wear glamour, one lives it.”
Such is the philosophy of Jun Escario that he finds it imperative to know his clients on a more personal level. “An artist needs inspiration,” he explains. “Each person has that innate sense of sophistication and glamour. My job is to let that out, until it exists confidently on its own in a very casual and natural manner.”
His ability to create dresses that fit to his clients’ lifestyles might ultimately be the reason why many have been patronizing his designs for years. “I make dresses that my clients will feel good and be comfortable in,” he says. “I start by looking at my client’s shape and personality before even making a sketch.”
Mirroring his newfound appreciation for the laidback life, his clothes now show a crisper side to his design philosophy. “I used to do body-hugging shapes with stretchy fabrics,” he shares. His former collections that highlighted feminine curves was never gauche though; in fact, a telling sign of Jun’s degree of tastefulness is his ability to create plunging necklines and thigh-high slits that are more charmingly alluring than completely risqué. “It’s something I can still do, but it would depend on the situation. I want to do more mature and cleaner cuts, but of course, it will still be sexy.”
His years of experience have given him the tools to keep up with the changing industry. “It’s about loving your craft and finding happiness in what you do,” he shares. “There are certain things that are important in being a designer, like making sure to communicate with your client, and staying current without being dictated by trends. But in the end, it’s about being comfortable with change.”
But perhaps the reason why Jun Escario remains such an influential force in Philippine fashion is creative integrity, which he insists is his staying power. “Take the Fashion Council, for example. There is true respect among its members who have individually made their marks on the industry, like Philip Rodriguez, Arcy Gayatin and Oj Hofer, among many others. These artists have worked hard to establish their individual styles and approaches to fashion. They have honestly paid their dues.”
Of course, there are some things about the local fashion industry that could stand a change. “There are quite handful of designers who make business out of being copycats. Their work is but cheap versions of another designer’s work. And what’s worse is that these already cheap versions have even cheaper mutations. Where is the integrity there?”
“The thing with the business of glamour is that there only two choices to make: either you copy or you make your own; either you follow trends or you set them; either you set your own individuality or settle for mediocre similarities,” he advises. “These designers should learn. It is okay to take inspiration from other artists, but to copy almost completely? That’s another story.” Jun, though, is the first to admit he’s had some missteps. “I also made mistakes along the way. And I guess the best lesson I learned in my 20 years is that nothing beats being your own man, being true and honest to your artistry. That’s a good way to make the news.”
It’s a philosophy that’s clearly working, with Jun being a relevant fixture in local design and showing no signs of stopping. His wilder days may be tempered, but there’s still a hint of feistiness that comes through, which makes his followers look forward to what’s to come. After all, if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed after 20 years, it’s that Jun can still do something completely unpredictable.
Monastic Marrakech “Solitude has become my friend. Silence is now a constant companion, and reverence is my state of mind. After 20 years in the fashion industry, I felt it was time to come up with a more quiet collection. I wanted the freedom to explore nothingness, to work with very little details and rely more in a fabric’s natural fall—how it relates to gravity and how it responds to movement. It is, to some extent, a form of fashion asceticism yet created for a cosmopolitan market. How do you become monastic in a place like Marrakech? How does an artist create in silence in order to inspire the noise of awe? This is what my 20th year collection is all about.”
Jun Escario celebrates his anniversary this month by partnering with Zee Lifestyle for a runway show that showcases a collection symbolizing his evolution as a designer. With the theme Monastic Marrakech, the show promises to present his clothes in a dramatic fashion and, really, his clothes deserve no less.
- by Shari Quimbo
- photography Dan Douglas Ong
- modelAR Dueñas (M.A.C. models)
- fashion assistant Rei Escario
- hair and make up Gari Son
- creative direction Doro Barandino