Clear Whisper: Seph Bagasáo Follows His Intuitions


Reading time : 6 minutes

Photographs by Colin Dancel
Words by Jacques Pantazes

Published on December 1, 2020

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The designer opens up about his cerebral creative process, ignoring fashion norms to produce emotive yet pragmatic clothing.

Seph Bagasáo

Most fashion designers will likely recount the same story of the origins of their career paths: cautious parents suggesting they might pursue a career in any field other than fashion. And Seph Bagasáo is no exception. Only after studying to become a nurse, then completing a degree in psychology did Bagasáo finally land at the Fashion Institute of the Philippines. Hedging purely on intuition, Bagasáo’s trajectory in fashion saw him receiving distinguished recognition as early as his first degree show. In 2011, he was awarded “Designer of The Year.”  

“Growing up, I remember being captivated by fashion well before knowing what fashion is,” says Bagasáo, citing his impeccably groomed grandmother as an early inspiration. The rich cultural patrimony of the Philippines, heavy with sartorial traditions, shaped his formative years. From a young age, the designer was paying close attention.

Seph Bagasáo
Setting the tone amidst noises of uncertainty, Bagasao’s latest drop, Collection No 4.5 centers around clarity, cohesion, and subdued elegance. Doing away with frills, Seph Bagasáo filtered his ideas and emotions into a clear sartorial direction. Tending toward the visual realms of the intricately introspective, they are at once purpose driven as well as inherently livable and climate specific. While never basic, or insipid, the word practical will often come to mind: Cotton twill is preferred to satin or lace. Sturdy Japanese denim is heavily featured. Nothing is overly delicate or prone to tear, catch or disintegrate. Embroideries and embellishments feature prominently yet are masterfully woven into the garments’ construction and purpose. Straight away, we notice the pragmatism of a designer that has given an appropriate amount of thought to ventilation and heat retention; mundane details most would prefer to simply ignore.

Seph Bagasáo

Today, with admirable conviction, Bagasáo defines his guiding principles, “What I create will always be the result of my upbringing, my values, and my struggles as a Filipino designer.” Bagasáo’s commitment to his craft paid off. Between 2011 and 2016, he attracted more local distinctions, and in 2016 he represented his country at Amazon Fashion Week in Tokyo.  

Bagasáo’s journey from a young, emerging talent to a working designer was swift. His first apprenticeships occurred over the course of a peripatetic period when he worked closely with New York – based designer Josie Natori. During his tenure there, Bagasáo’s natural penchant for distinctive volumes and tailoring was challenged by the idea of fanciful embellishments inherent in lingerie. Bagasáo remembers, “I had little interest in the usual appliqués some designers rely on.” Further musing on his past, Bagasáo acknowledges his influences. “Working with Mrs. Natori allowed me to develop an affinity for handiwork and embroideries. When it came time to create my own brand, these novelties became a part of its DNA.” And so the vision came to fruition: in 2016, he founded Bagasáo.

Seph Bagasáo
Classic garment construction is sometimes thrown completely to the wind, as illustrated by his signature trouser. Side seams get re-positioned back to front, allowing for a cunning centre-leg slit that just may serve to reveal a surprising choice of shoe. Pockets appear everywhere they should, deep enough to actually hold more than the tops of the fingers. Flairs and flourishes on skirts in flattering lengths spring out exactly where every woman would want them, that sweet spot just below the high hip. 

A study in subtlety, the brand’s decorative penchants are highly controlled. Rather than beads, pom-poms and plumes, we find demure ladder stitching, labour-intensive self-fringe, and clever seam allowance re-enforcements in the guise of decorative hand-stitched thread-work details. Ingenious use is made of darts and seam positioning to mould and sublimate the body. Tucks and flairs appear in all the right places. 

Seph Bagasáo

“Since the inception of our brand, I have questioned the movement of the industry,” declares Bagasáo. “I have always found the punishing and frenetic pace of Western fashion to be out of step with reality. Nothing of the fashion industry’s incessant push to casually consume ever sat well with me, or with my team. This is what inspired us to produce our own calendar, move at our own pace.” Bravely eschewing the idea of traditional seasons completely, Bagasáo prefers to give his small, composite collections numbers. Cunningly, each collection naturally compliments the last. “This non-thematic approach allows our clients to consciously build a wardrobe, rather than feeling compelled to frantically curate a new look every season.”

With a palpable air of conviction, Bagasáo adds a feat of derring-do to his mission statement: “What we aim to create is never ephemeral. Mostly, we strive for a true, meaningful, and emotional connection with our clients. We spend so much time sourcing our fabrics, perfecting our garment patterns. We labour tirelessly for the comfort and ease that only a flawless fit will provide. We never intended for the finished pieces that leave our atelier to be treated as disposable commodities.”

Seph Bagasáo
His subtle colour sense is seemingly effortless yet never predictable. Much use is made of the always-appropriate classic khakis, inky blacks, and crisp whites, yet these are all applied in surprising ways that prod the wearer to joyfully mix and match with abandon. Surprisingly, ivory and optic white are paired in the same ensemble. A mass of sensibly ashy olive-drab is enlivened with secret tucks revealing a stunningly novel hyacinth blue, or a surprising front panel cut inexplicably in vibrant tangerine. Breaking every chromatic rule with aplomb, oceanic blues are paired with black, sometimes in the same garment, further enhanced by popping spring green. 

Seph Bagasáo

The strong intuitions, singular artistic vision and, beyond all else, the bravado of unerring ambition paid off. In 2018, just two years into Bagasáo’s operational business, Isis Briones of the much-esteemed US TEEN Vogue opines, “Seph has a way of seamlessly pairing disparate materials, like denim and knits.” Continuing on, Briones states, “The designer already represented his country at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, but we have a feeling he’s only just getting started.”

Briones was right. Between 2018 and 2020, Bagasáo has grown into its own, cerebral incarnation, carefully and cautiously expanding its plethora of styles and following a rhythm of its own invention. True to its vision, Bagasáo is now a fully functional fashion house. It is a force to be reckoned with in the growing markets of South Asia and the world. “I started the brand with the vision of eventually taking it global,” says Seph. Today, it would appear things are indeed heading in that direction. 

Hair and Make-up : Hanna Pechon
Model : Nidhya Kumar

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