Up Close and Personal With The Faces of Mindanao

Photographed by Clarence Sayman

Photographed by Clarence Sayman

Get to know the second set of models selected from its Davao casting call, who were shot in a landmark collaboration by renowned fashion photographers Neal Oshima and Mark Nicdao.

“I felt seen,” remarks Krystahl Guina. The 20-year-old Talaandig-Manobo performer is one of the seven faces handpicked by Vogue Philippines to highlight Mindanao beauty, joined by co-models Abdur Balono, Alyannah Gutierrez, Pamela Myco Agustin, Romechelle Escrin, Criza Mae Gallardo, and Kurt Vicencio.

In a two-part beauty editorial, photographers Neal Oshima and Mark Nicdao set out to capture honest portraits, framing each model’s natural beauty in contemporary light. To craft timeless iterations of Mindanaoan traditional dress, beauty editor Joyce Oreña orchestrated a meaningful collaboration between Davao-based hair and makeup duo Colleen Ariel Sandoval and Ivan Lopez and fashion director Pam Quiñones and stylist David Milan.

Vogue Philippines sat down with the remaining models featured in the second volume of the Mindanao Issue to uncover their stories.

Pamela Agustin

Photographed by Clarence Sayman

A native of Mati, Davao Oriental, Pamela Agustin’s favorite thing about her hometown are the beaches. The ‘City of Beautiful Bays’ houses a stretch of fine white sand that Agustin shares she loves to frequent. The 19-year-old carries a traveler’s mindset, keeping an eye out for all things new in town, whether that be in the form of beaches, springs, lakes, mountains, or simply unexplored coffee shops. To her, exploring is a way to get to know herself better. 

“When I was young, I used to get bullied and would lock myself away from the crowd because I was afraid of being discriminated against again,” Agustin shares. “But as I get older, I’ve learned to love myself, be myself no matter my skin color, and always strive to be true to myself.” 

Agustin is a second-year business administration student, majoring in real estate management, a field she also now works in. A proud member of the Mandaya tribe, she recalls being unable to contain her excitement in the office restroom where she first received the invite from Vogue Philippines.

“Almost 400 people auditioned, so I didn’t think there was a chance I would get in,” she shares in Bisaya. “[Being in the shoot,] I felt a deep sense of responsibility and pride knowing that I was chosen to showcase our heritage. It was more than just a personal achievement; it was an opportunity to honor my family, friends, and fellow Mindanaoans.”

Krystahl Guina

On Instagram, Krystahl Guina’s love for home is infectious. Snippets of a spirited daily life color her stories: self portraits amid lush green mountains, stolen clips of friends and family gathered around live music and upbeat tribal percussion, and an abundance of vigorous dancing, colorful garments, and resounding laughter. 

Hailing from the Talaandig-Manobo tribe of Mount Kalatungan, the 20-year-old tribal music composer and performer traveled six hours from Bukidnon to participate in the shoot with Vogue Philippines. “When Vogue messaged me, [I knew that] this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to showcase me, all parts of me,” Guina shares.

A proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, Guina introduces herself as ‘The Doll’, a queer term that refers to trans-feminine individuals. She shares that she had always dreamed of posing for a magazine as a little kid who often played pretend-model growing up.

“I grew up with my gay uncles and gay kuyas so I [got this] energy from them ever since!” she quips. “In my hometown, most of the locals have so much respect for the indigenous people [like us] that it created a safe space for us to embrace our culture and identity, and I became comfortable with myself when I was little because [everyone] supported me and my friends in our very colorful, gorgeous, and out of this world ideas and personalities.”

Guina’s found ease and confidence in self-expression is evident in her declared love for doing her own makeup and dressing up as if she was walking the runway. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in History, Guina says she is passionate about photography, music, creating art, and travel. But above all, she is determined to make her culture known.

“My heritage deserves to be shared to the world,” Guina remarks, quick to note that it was the efforts of her ancestors and the Talaandig-Manobo community that ultimately paved the way for her to be where she is today. “It’s an honor to represent and celebrate my community. We [as a people] are very rooted in our culture. And I believe that once you go back to your roots, that’s when you find your most authentic self.”

Romechelle Escrin 

Photographed by Clarence Sayman

In the mountainous grasslands of Loreto, Agusan del Sur, 22-year-old Romechelle Escrin cultivated her passion for pageantry and modeling through joining various pageants and signing on to a modeling agency. “People knew I was a model, so they encouraged me to join the Vogue Philippines casting call,” Escrin said. “I ended up joining just to try my luck.” 

Growing up half Manobo, Escrin says she appreciates her province’s beautiful sceneries and the heritage of their ethnolinguistic group. Escrin recalls how, despite modernization, Manobo rituals are still being practiced especially during the Umajam Festival, a vibrant celebration of bountiful harvest and economic progress. “I admire the way our leaders preserve our traditions ensuring that they get passed down to the next generations,” Escrin says. She highlights the importance of showcasing the various products, talents, and skills of her people from Loreto, and hopes that her inclusion as one of the models for Vogue Philippines’ Mindanao issues push forward for further representation.

“During the photoshoot, I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know who the other models were— everything was very confidential. I also didn’t know how working with the Vogue team would be like,” Escrin reflects on her experience during the photoshoot. “When I met my fellow models, we instantly clicked because they were all so friendly. The tension eased too because the team that we worked with hyped us a lot.”

Despite being in her third year of college studying Civil Engineering in Davao City, Escrin plans to finish her studies and continue following her path in pageantry. “After I graduate and pass the board exams, I’ll focus on modeling and pageantry,” Escrin plans. “I feel like my engineering career can wait, but while I’m still young, I want to spend the next few years chasing that dream and establishing my name in the industry.” 

Admittedly, Escrin is a shy and reserved person, but she credits the people around her who believe in her for following her dreams. She shares advice for young Manobos who want to follow her path: “Modeling is about prioritizing yourself and your dreams over your imperfections,” Escrin says. “It’s also about finding at least one person who believes in you and boosts your confidence.”

Kurt Vicencio

Photographed by Clarence Sayman

Initially reluctant and uninterested in modeling, 23-year-old Kurt Vicencio was convinced by friends and family to give the Vogue Philippines casting call a shot. A surreal dream about a photo shoot further nudged him to take the leap. “I went to bed and had a dream that I was actually in the photoshoot already,” Vicencio says. “So I took it as a sign to go ahead and join the casting call.”

Vicencio, who spends most of his time with a variety of hobbies including martial arts, meditation, and traveling, says that the photoshoot for the Mindanao issue was his first time as a professional model. “I heard that Vogue had a good sense of the stories they pursue, which intrigued me,” Vicencio says. “It’s nice to learn more about expanded art and culture and how various people interpret it.” 

Meeting the other models was a highlight for Vicencio. “It was quite refreshing because it’s a new set of faces,” Vicencio says. “This is not your typical commercial, standard idea of beauty. We were given the chance to shine, and others normally wouldn’t expect it in a highly commercialized and competitive fashion industry.” The camaraderie and cultural exchanges enriched his understanding of fashion, making his first modeling experience both memorable and transformative. 

Vicencio reflects on his hometown in Agusan and calls it an enchanting place. According to Vicencio, the province is a place thoroughly nourished by nature with spirituality and tradition enriching it. Vicencio, who spends time between Agusan and Davao City, draws the comparisons between how life differs in the province. “Back in the city we find out what we are, our place in this world,” Vicencio says. “Here in the province we find who we are, our place in life itself.”

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