Designer Profile

Joey Samson: Lessons From A Lifetime In Design

Joey Samson. Photo by Sharif Hamza

The acclaimed designer shares his advice for aspiring young creatives.

When it comes to modern interpretations of the barong, there’s no doubt that one of the first names that come up is Joey Samson. The designer’s “cage terno” shot to fame over ten years ago and has since remained one of the hallmark pieces of 21st-century terno dressing. It features the signature butterfly sleeves, yet rather than being rendered in yards of fabric, finds its form as a geometric crinoline cage that can be worn over different dresses.

The fantastical design has since been recreated countless times for those seeking a new proposition to the historical garment. In an interview with Vogue Philippines, Samson tells us that to this day, he gets requests for his seminal creation.

Designers of any caliber will know that there is no one-cut formula or design process that will work for everyone. Samson’s keen eye for fit and fabric stems from what he’s learned from his two mentors, Ben Farrales and Danilo Franco. “This is what I learned from them. You’ll only be able to execute it well and arrive at what you had in mind with the right fabric and the right fit,” he says. “Those are the two most important things. With the wrong garment and the wrong fit, we won’t get anywhere. 

In terms of creating the garments and perfecting a fit, the designer tells us that he prefers “ad hoc draping,” playing around with the final materials on a mannequin to get a feel for how the fabric will fall in a way that a toile would not be able to capture. “I rely on my instinct with ad hoc draping, and I rely on my gut feel…rather than being very technical about it,” he explains.

Joey Samson designer collection
Photo by Sharif Hamza

This year, during the third edition of TernoCon, and the first since the pandemic, Samson was tasked with both mentoring this year’s batch of finalists and creating his own rendition of the balintawak. The lineup was then immortalized through an amorous editorial by photographer Sharif Hamza in the April issue of Vogue Philippines.

Samson’s own collection for TernoCon was a 16-piece body of work entitled “Ang Mga Pag-Ibig ni José Rizal,” which drew inspiration from the loves in the national heroes’ lives and five versions of himself. TernoCon artistic director Gino Gonzales called the collection his “most compelling work,” infused with historical references.

“My work always has romantic undertones,” the designer explains. Whether intentional or not, this romanticism and penchant for drawing from pieces in history imbibe a deeper meaning within his work.

“I don’t try to stick to one formula,” Samson explains of his design process. “For this particular one, it was the first time na [that someone presented] menswear…Gino felt strongly that it was about time daw that we show the audience that we’re not only focusing on women.”

“I need to stay true to what I believe in because it will continue to set me apart, be it my generation, the generation before me, or the generation to come after me.”

He tells Vogue Philippines about one of his looks, inspired by Rizal’s Japanese girlfriend O Sei San. “It was an old, old kimono and obi set that I got from Japan from one of my trips. I had been keeping it with me for the longest time,” he says. Samson describes being unable to part with the beautiful silk taffeta piece.

It was something that fellow mentor and designer Inno Sotto said that sparked the creation: that the right moment will come when you think it’s time to use a fabric or detail that you’ve been keeping or working on. “You’re working on a detail or technique, but you always seem to put it aside, parang hindi pa siya ready, it’s not the right time to put it out,” he expounds.

“I transformed the kimono into a shift dress, not full length. And then the obi I transformed into a stylized alampay,” Samson describes of the final design. “Then I said at the time that it can’t be a fully Japanese fabric. Kasi parang importante na yung culture of O Sei San and Rizal is together. So I used four panels of piña for the train.”

As a TernoCon mentor, Samson learned as much as he taught. “It was a very inspiring process and experience for me,” he says. The designer’s experience with the finalists brought back memories of his own start as a young designer, leaving him with this thought: that one must find the balance between listening to your seniors while also remaining firm in your own aesthetic and vision. “As much as they need to listen to you, you need to listen to them also,” he says.

“Surround yourself with things that make you a better creative. That’s what I always tell them,” Samson says, referring to his students and mentees. As a creative, what you consume and experience informs your work. Shaping your own values and distinct identity can be the key to longevity in an ever-changing industry.

“How do I keep up with this generation?” Samson has been pondering. “Because of course, I’m getting older, and then the taste of the market changes also. I need to stay true to what I believe in because it will continue to set me apart, be it my generation, the generation before me, or the generation to come after me,” he reflects.

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