Fashion Designer, Television Show Host, and PhilanthropistFashion Designer, Television Show Host, and Philanthropist

Rajo Laurel

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His fashion awes fans globally yet it is seen daily by the common man. From the catwalks of New York where supermodels strut in his haute couture creations, to the streets of Manila where the Philippine National Police proudly don uniforms of his design daily, Laurel is everywhere. On television and on magazines, he and his work can be seen. The busy designer reveals where in the world he gets his inspirations.

Besides the esteem you have earned among the world’s fashion elite, and the renown you have garnered among the populace for your designs and your work as a judge in Project Runway Philippines, you have also reaped respect and admiration for your advocacy, Rags2Riches—a project which empowers former garbage scavengers by giving them a livelihood crafting the most stylish of bags using up-cycled, locally sourced materials. What are the design challenges in crafting goods with so many ethical, environmental, and business considerations? How did Rags2Riches’ proponents come together to uplift the less fortunate? Tell us about your most memorable moments with this endeavour that involves the entire spectrum of society, from the very rich to the very poor? How has your involvement with this advocacy influenced the rest of your business and design choices?

The challenge of working with Rags2Riches is inherent in the materials. The rags undergo a constant drive for innovation in order to bring something new, yet ultimately sustainable. Striking a balance between the two is the biggest hurdle for me. But, for the most part, working with my nanays (women of Rags2Riches) have been a truly fulfilling opportunity and I thank God that I am able to give back this way. It’s very close to my heart.

As you may already know, Rags2Riches began as a student project led by its current president, Reese Fernandez-Ruiz. I applaud her for what she has brought forth into the world of sustainable fashion, and of course, for what she has given to these women. I was particularly touched when the nanays sent me a token of their appreciation, a scrapbook detailing our journey together.

Ultimately, for someone like me who is blessed with opportunity and resources, I always make it a point to give back. To be able to change the lives of a person (for the better) in any shape or form is our duty as human beings. I treat it as my biggest responsibility. This is how I was brought up and giving back is effusive in and of itself. I am looking forward to continuing my journey with my Rags2Riches family.

You are also a patron of the arts. You have an eye for spotting up-and-coming talent. Who are your favorite artists and why?

For the visual arts, my favorite artists are John Marin, Mari Taniguchi and Eugenia Alcaide. I really respond to artists who have a strong point of view.

You’ve gained recognition in fashion events across the globe: from Bali to Shanghai, from New York to Sydney. How has travel influenced your designs? Where are you taking your designs next? Who has influenced your designs the most and why?

Travel has always been a part of my creative process. It opens up all of my five senses to newness; it’s always been a trigger that sets off my design philosophy. I find inspiration in anything and everything, basically. Inspiration stems from everywhere.

I just finished designing my Transition (Pre-Fall) 2013 collection and we’re working on the release of our Holiday 2013. For this season, I’m taking inspiration from Diana Vreeland. And in her own words, she tells us that the Eye (always) Has to Travel. I’m very much excited to flesh this out.

What are your favorite places and events to travel to and why?

Japan will always hold a special place in my heart as our family has a long-standing history with the country. I draw very much of my own aesthetic from the zen and balance of Japanese culture. But again, for me travel is all about newness. New things to see, new sources of inspiration.

What are the worst and most common fashion crimes travelers and tourists make? What is your advice for travelers on how to stay both fashionable and functional abroad?

Certain fabrics travel better than others—stay away from the obvious no-no’s like organza and taffeta. A neat trick to looking chic on the go is staying with knit fabrics that travel well. Be it a double knit jersey dress or a fabulous stretch cover up, you can’t go wrong.

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