Photographs from Kelvin Morales
Words by Nelissa Hernandez
Published on May 20, 2022
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His eponymous label brings fashion forward without forsaking the artisanal traditions of the past.
For his Penetration collection — an ode to the magtataho street hawker that offers a well-loved Filipino snack — Kelvin Morales took six months of research alone to get the details right. He spoke to historians to ensure that his embroidery, patterns, and the nostalgia that his clothes would evoke stay true to how locals remember the everyday man. This is the kind of respect towards traditions that informs and is imbued in every collection from Kelvin’s eponymous label.
The 25-year-old Manila-based designer admitted that when he came into the fashion scene straight out of university in 2018, the market seemed to favour glam, pageants and weddings. “Filipinos tend to invest more on gowns than everyday pieces,” he says. He couldn’t find a label that suited his personal ethos, so he created one himself.
His thought-provoking collections not only fulfil a gap in the market but also offer a contemporary take on wearables, stamped with Filipino identity. “Clothes are not just about using fabrics; you can create your own ‘textile’,” he explains. “You can use different materials to create a piece of clothing”.
That’s the first thing you’d notice in Hazard Blue, his latest collection, whose narrative puts forth a macabre world reshaped by climate change. Unexpected materials give more dimensions to the pieces’ simple silhouettes.
“When I’m designing my collections, I want it to have a story, a focal point and a setting,” he says. “What would you wear in a dystopian world?” he asks; his responses came in the form of water-repellent materials that ward off toxic waste, accentuated by 3D-printed facial exoskeletons for protection.
While Hazard Blue presents vignettes of a distant future, Kelvin has the ability to seamlessly weave Filipino touches into his ensembles that hark back to the past. He proves that it is possible to look and move forward without losing one’s heritage. One of his most iconic pieces to date is his interpretation of the Filipino barong. To elevate this local menswear staple, he works with local embroiderers who manually stitch his phalaenopsis prints—a flower design reminiscent of a local orchid species—into semi-sheer cocoon silk.
To bring his concepts to life, Kelvin collaborates with local designers and artisans from different parts of the country. His creations also feature surprises – colourized human hair, masks made from beads, and embroideries that mimic tattoos. He has produced ensembles that provoke and stir people’s thinking on the topics of today’s zeitgeist such as climate change, pollution, and being comfortable in our own skin. But for his upcoming collection, he’s taking it all inwards; his and his late brother’s childhood.
When asked about his earliest creative triggers, Kelvin fondly recalled his younger days spent with his brother at their grandparents’ house, sketching their wild interpretations of fire and water, drawing human silhouettes, and glueing fabrics to their toys to imitate the fashion choices of mavericks like Lady Gaga. These memories are his next ‘muse’.
Beyond his clothing label, Kelvin also has a brand of soy candles, and is currently conceptualising a sculpture series made from acrylic glass. If his current pieces are anything to go by—fusing rich Filipino traditions with a peculiarity that points to the future—his next childhood-inspired creative pursuit is certainly something worth waiting for.
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