Designer Nicolo Perez Aspires To Be A Master of His Craft
Designer Profile

The Blue Print: Nicolo Perez Aspires To Be A Master of His Craft

Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

Fresh off his first runway show, Nicolo Perez charts a future in fashion guided by high school sketches and childhood dreams.

Nicolo Perez is on season two of the reality series Selling The OC. More specifically, he’s midway through the pilot when Vogue arrives at his studio, a two-storey house just east of Metro Manila. The designer is seated on a bar stool, arms resting on a cutting table large enough to accommodate his laptop, a cream utility overshirt, a tray of buttons, and a heap of miscellaneous items: measuring tape, thread, pins, rubber bands.

Propped against three large windows are two sewing machines, where his in-house seamstress Rose is typically stationed. From where he sits, she’s directly within his line of sight. “I’m a micromanager,” he confesses, chuckling as he gestures to his view. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Nicolo has delegated the piecing of a garment together to Rose but insists on finishing each one himself. She might attach a sleeve to a bodice, but every button, tag, and decorative stitch is accomplished by his hands alone.

“I really aspire to be a master of this craft,” the designer, pictured above, asserts. “I never want to stop learning.” Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

It’s a slow process that prizes refinement above all. Perhaps his eye for clean construction was subconsciously picked up at an early age, when he grew mesmerized by runway shows he voraciously consumed on the FashionTV channel. He recalls being struck by Alexander McQueen, the only designer that comes to mind when asked about his fashion heroes. “Fashion is a dream,” he recalls thinking, as he watched the British designer’s shows. “I want to do that too.”

The passion, however, was eclipsed by his parents’ career dreams for him. Nicolo was encouraged to take up law or medicine, which is how he found himself enrolled in Ateneo de Manila’s psychology program with the intention of pursuing an M.D. During his undergraduate years, Nicolo freely satiated his creative itch as part of the props and costumes and makeup teams of the university’s theater organization. In his senior year, he took an elective on costume design instructed by scenographer and costume designer Gino Gonzales, knowing then and there that fashion was what he wanted to do for a living.

“Pick Me,” Nicolo’s debut runway collection for Bench Fashion Week, is an ode to flowers as a symbol of romantic yearning. Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

When Nicolo finally decided to pursue fashion design, he sought formal education from the SoFA Design Institute. Though he joined design competitions as a student, it wasn’t until two years post-graduation in 2021 that he launched his first collection of future-oriented technical wear titled “Shoot 4 the Moon.” The structured jackets and relaxed polos were core brand foundations since day one, and they figured consistently throughout his succeeding three collections—most prominently, in his latest assemblage “Pick Me,” which marked his runway debut via Bench Fashion Week.

Inspired by the feeling of yearning for someone, the central motif was flowers, a gift you give to an object of affection. Anthurium and orchid-inspired blooms were appliquéd onto the brand’s favored sheer and denim fabrications, adding novel textures to familiar shapes. Amorphous, symmetrical splotches of color immediately register as Rorschach inkblots, an overt nod to the designer’s psychology background. Multi-pockets, curved hems, and zigzag stitches are present throughout; grounding elements that characterize a Nicolò piece.

Each garment is pieced together by the brand’s in-house seamstress Rose, but it is Nicolo who takes care of finishing, from sewing on buttons to appliquéing shapes and patterns. Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

Producing a 22-look collection was challenging for the designer, who obsessively pored over each detail again and again. He nearly backed out a day before the show, overwhelmed by the number of unfinished pieces and the nagging feeling that his collection wasn’t good enough. In the end, the positive reception he garnered was reassuring. His Bench collection was the closest he’s ever gotten to feeling satisfied with his work.

“I really aspire to be a master of this craft,” Nicolo emphasizes, “I never want to stop learning.” For him, the first step is investing in his team. He and Rose run all operations at the moment, but he’s hoping to welcome another seamstress or two to their mix. His plan for this year is to fine tune his skills in pattern-making in order to pass on this knowledge to Rose and the rest of his team. He hopes to arrive at a point where he can be mentored by his pattern-makers, seamstresses, and finishers, too.

Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.
Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

Mid-conversation, Nicolo leaves the studio and makes the 10-second walk to his childhood home. He returns with a hefty brown envelope in hand, eyes shining as he lifts out a thick stack of blank and scratch paper, canvases for couture designs he conjured up as a high school boy. He gingerly lays them out one by one, not without a short backstory for each. Then suddenly, a burst of hearty laughter. He sets down one of many colored drawings: a girl with her arms wide as if expecting an embrace, her left leg in passe. A long braid cascades down her right shoulder, and her gown, a fiery, sweeping bejeweled number, is captured by red, orange, and yellow pencils mid-movement. “Katniss Everdeen by Nicolo Perez,” he declares through laughs, half cringing but half proud.

Photographed by Koji Arboleda for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

Revisiting old sketches reels him back to a long-standing dream. One day, when he and his team have sharpened their skills, he wants to create couture. “I want to reach that point where I’m fully satisfied with our work. That’s the ultimate dream. I want it to be bigger than me, the brand. Bigger than me as a designer.”

He approaches this goal and all others with pragmatism; he knows that working toward it is going to be difficult, because it already is. But that’s the thing. He just can’t imagine himself doing anything else.

Vogue Philippines: June 2024 Issue

By TICIA ALMAZAN. Photographs by KOJI ARBOLEDA. Styling by NEIL DE GUZMAN. Vogue Man Editor DANYL GENECIRAN. Makeup: Don De Jesus. Hair: Miggy Carbonilla. Model: Elio Brylle, Vince Marcelo of Mercator. Producer: Anz Hizon. Photographer’s Assistant: Joey Alvero. Stylist’s Assistant: Ticia Almazan.
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