Diaspora: Audie Umali and Danilo Hess Highlight The Influence And Impact Of Filipino Models Around The Globe | Fashion
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Diaspora: Audie Umali and Danilo Hess Highlight The Influence And Impact Of Filipino Models Around The Globe

Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown.

Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown.

71 portraits of some of the top Filipino models are featured in the series.

From the ancient Greek words dia speiro which means to sow over or scatter, the word diaspora has come to mean many nuanced things to the Filipino people. We are after all a culture that for decades has moved to various domains in search of proverbial green pastures, while still maintaining a strong sense of nationalism and pride in one’s identity. It is something that creative director Audie Umali and photographer Danilo Hess are quite privy to, with both New Yorkers being children of the immigrant experience. 

“Danilo and I have collaborated together for several years now, [and] being Filipino ourselves, we have always made it a mission to do projects that are Filipino-centric, and create opportunities that highlight Filipino models, whenever we can,” narrates Umali in an exclusive interview with Vogue Philippines

Their latest and most ambitious endeavor is the portrait series they have named “Diaspora” an intimate and yet powerful collection of images of more than 70 models working abroad, each one stunning, and all a unique representation of what it means to be a Filipino. 

From a bevy of mixed-race talents navigating their many worlds, to those born and raised in the Philippines who have found resonance overseas, and even those with a Filipino heart despite never having set foot in the country—the project explores the varying ways in which one clings to home. 

“I think the genesis of Diaspora was to showcase that we all hold a piece of the motherland within is, [and] I felt it was my role as a photographer to capture this through image,” declares Hess, sharing how he had endeavored to tell each and every model’s story through his lens. 

Courtesy of Audie Umali.
Courtesy of Danilo Hess.

Of Power in Diversity

The project had simple beginnings according to Umali, “to highlight each model’s unique, individual look, while overall showcasing the diversity and beauty of our people.” But as the duo went along, the endeavor took on a life of its own, burgeoning into grander undertaking that has created layers of meaning for those involved.  

It for one had led the pair to uncover, along with Casting Director and fellow Pinoy Eric Cano, that there were a lot more Filipino models out there than they realized. “This discovery made Danilo and I, expand the scope of our project, motivating us to shoot every single Filipino model we could find in all the relevant fashion markets,” shares Umali. 

In cooperation with key agencies in the US and Europe, they organized multiple sittings with the legion of models they had uncovered, shooting in New York, Los Angeles and London. Styled by Stacey Cunningham, the team chose fashions that would best complement each model’s natural beauty and persona, whilst still having an air of timelessness. 

Part of this impressive body of work are familiar names like Victoria’s Secret model Kelsey Merritt, Sport’s Illustrated cover talent Leyna Bloom, beauty queen Aya Abesamis, and of course Chloe Magno from Vogue Philippines’ maiden issue. 

High fashion favorites are also in the mix, like Charlene Almarvez, a first runner-up winner in the Ford Supermodel of the World contest who has walked for Diane von Furstenburg, Sophie Theallet, and Peter Som, Troy Untalan who has modeled for Dior, and Maddux Callaway who will front Phillip Lim’s Pre-Fall 2023 campaign. There were a lot of relatively newer faces, but also pioneers like Valerie Celis who had been modeling since the ‘90s and has walked for brands like Chanel, Fendi and Yohji Yamamoto. 

Hannah Locsin, who’s strutted for Gucci, is like all the others, ecstatic to be a part of this series. “This story means a lot to me because it’s more than just a random fashion story. It highlights Filipino diversity, showcasing how unique we all look – and that’s something the world needs to see and realize,” she shares. 

Hess concurs noting how the spirit of bayanihan is alive and well, “I loved the opportunity to create a supportive community, and to introduce other Filipinos [to each other] in the industry, as we are one of each other’s greatest resources.” 

Creating a Community

Beyond the portrait series being a way to amplify the impact of Filipino models in the international stage, what has really struck a chord is how Diaspora has become what Umali calls a “catalyst for connection.”

“We have all forged an immediate friendship, and our interactions have grown far beyond the walls of a photo studio.  We see each other regularly for dinners and social outings. London models are hosting New York models when they visit; seasoned models are coaching younger models on their runway walks; models are photographing each other to help build each other’s’ portfolios.  This project has really created an expanded family that crosses state and continent lines—a true support group that knows no boundaries,” narrates Umali. 

The Beauty of Representation

“Growing up in a multicultural household as a Filipino-American, I did not see people like me represented in the fashion and art world,” Hess narrates. He recalls a fun childhood where his Filipina mom would make friends in the local Pinoy community wherever they lived, hosting potluck parties where Filipino food, language and culture, took centerstage. “I wanted to recreate this feeling of community cultivated by my mother within my own work,” Hess shares. 

It is a sentiment echoed by Umali, “I think you are constantly in search of people that look like you; role models in society that you can relate to.” 

To be seen, and to see yourself in the world are both fundamental desires that are highly influential in our hankering for connection, and our articulations of identity. With the fashion world having once been extremely homogenous, Umali is pleased at how things are gradually changing. “In the past few years, we have seen a significant shift in the industry, with more of an emphasis on diversity and inclusivity,” further nothing how this pertains not only race, but size and gender as well. “It’s not perfect yet… [but] the industry is the most diverse it’s ever been,” notes Umali.  

Filipino at Heart

While the title of this series does indeed refer to the dispersion of people, what is paradoxical about what Diaspora has achieved is that it has come to symbolize the opposite—that of the draw and power of community. 

Hess cherishes the opportunity to use his skills to represent such a beautiful loving culture, and to find kindred spirits in each and every kababayan. “[There was] one memorable shoot when all the models spoke Tagalog, it was amazing to hear this spoken on set in NYC,” he recalls. 

“I think when you’re a Filipino living abroad, and you meet another Filipino, there’s an immediate connection,” Umali shares. Despite varied upbringings, and personal histories, the creative believes shared values—what he considers “gifts” from our parents and our heritage—bind us. To Umali, “It is our way of being, [that] gives us a common understanding of one another. It is our Filipino-ness… that unites us.”

Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. Kelsey Merrit in Balmain.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. Charo Ronquillo in Attico, Pilar Cruz in Balmain, Andrew Troy in Dries Van Noten, Leyna Bloom in Laquan Smith, Nico Geyer in Nina Ricci, Nikita McElroy in Lanvin, Kristian Buhl in Saint Laurent, Marga Esquivel in Balmain and Pia Kristine Cruz in Versace.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Chloe Magno in Fendi, Jasmyn Palombo in Comme des Garçons, Noah Carlos in Christian Dior, and Valerie Celis in Gucci by Tom Ford.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. Maddux Callaway in Oscar de la Renta.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Hunter Daru in Y/Project, Terence Alcantara in Isabel Benenato, Maya Nazarae in Attico, Justin Mae Biticon in Balmain, Harrison Vidamo in Rick Owens, Mariel de Leon in Jean Paul Gaultier, Anna Kanehara in Gucci, Jana Stuntz in Nanushka & Saint Laurent, and Nicholas Maculam in Dion Lee.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. Danica Magpantay in Saint Laurent.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Merille Raagas in Alexandre Vauthier, Manuela Basilio in Jean Paul Gaultier, Cole Micek in Moschino, Sandra Diola in Gucci, Troy Untalan in Gucci, Hannah Locsin in Louis Vuitton, Angelica de Jesus in Off-White, Alexander Maculam in Versace, and Cathrina Torres in Halpern.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Charlene Almarvez in Comme des Garçons, Michelle Krumov in Comme des Garçons, Janine Tugonon in Junya Watanabe, and Aya Abesamis in Comme des Garçons.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Ella Eiveren Lubag in Balenciaga, Jaychelle Yamanoha in Gucci, Jacob Michael in Marni, Connor Marceline in Prada, Trenton Ramsey in Marine Serre, Glorietta Reantaso in Roberto Cavalli, Elvin Galarza in Prada, Diana Carl in Loewe, and Rhey Ramirez in Raf Simons.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. Sharina Gutierrez in Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Tommy Ros in Dion Lee, James Feliciano in Acne Studios, Joshua Smoot in Yves Saint Laurent, Ambra Gutierrez in Prada, Marizza Delgado in Retrofete, Christall Reign Quinto in Tom Ford, Kay Galarza in Saint Laurent, Gayeanne Hazlewood in Area, and Raya Pascua in Fendi and Drome.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Skye Daru in Laquan Smith, Katriel Kapahua in Bottega Veneta, Diego Scanlon in Saint Laurent, and Dave Lilja in Dries van Noten, Prada & Sacai.
Photographed by Danilo Hess at Ray Brown. From left to right: Christian Bootle in Raf Simons, Zeus Rocancourt in Prada, Bailey Militar in Sies Marjan, Kaprice Imperial in Gucci, Bea Enrico in Prada, David Lim in Gucci, Jasmine Hollins in Gucci, Jullian Culas in Gucci, and Monika Sta. Maria in Off-White.

Photography: Danilo Hess of Ray Brown. Stylist: Stacey Cunningham of See Mgmt. Creative Director: Audie Umali. Casting Director: Eric Cano. Makeup Artists: Kevin Cheah of Kramer + Kramer, Chichi Saito of Art Dept, Ann Benjamas of Holly Corbett, Michael Chua, Michelle Dacillo. Hair Stylists: Tomoaki Sato, Chika Keisuke, Jojo Torres, Chika Nishimaya of 87 Artists, Yukiko Tajima of See Mgmt, Jason Goh, Ami Fujita, Yu Nakata of 87 Artists. Photographer’s Assistants: Michael Stewart, James Yarusinsky, Diego Bendezu, Ruby Jun, Kim Tran. Stylist’s Assistant: Zarina Humayun. Written by Mariane Perez.

Models: Alexander Maculam of Kev Mgmt. Ambra Gutierrez of W360. Andrew Troy of Heroes. Angelica De Jesus of Kev Mgmt. Anna Kanehara of Click. Aya Abesamis of Ford. Bailey Militar of Crawford. Bea Enrico of Kev Mgmt. Cathrina Torres of Nomad. Charlene Almarvez of Ford. Charo Ronquillo of Wilhelmina. Chloe Magno of The Lions. Christall Reign Quinto of Anti. Christian Bootle of Nevs. Cole Micek of Wilhelmina. Connor Marceline of Nymm. Danica Magpantay of The Source. Dave Lilja of Soul. David Lim of Wilhelmina. Diana Carl of Muse. Diego Scanlon of Wilhelmina. Ella Eiveren Lubag of Nevs. Elvin Galarza of Wilhelmina. Gayeanne Hazlewood of Industry. Glorietta Reantaso of Marilyn. Hannah Locsin of Supreme. Harrison Vidamo of W Model Mgmt. Hunter Daru of One. Jacob Michael of The Outfit. James Feliciano of Amck. Jana Stuntz of Elite. Janine Tugonon of One.1. Jasmine Hollins of La Models. Jasmyn Palombo of Industry.  Jaychelle Yamanoha of Supreme. Joshua Smoot of Major. Jullian Culas of M Mgmt Paris. Justine Mae Biticon of Ford. Kaprice Imperial of Women. Katriel Kapahua of Nomad. Kay Galarza of Apm. Kelsey Merritt of Nomad. Kristian Buhl of State. Leyna Bloom of Caa. Maddux Callaway of Elite. Manuela Basilio of Muse. Marga Esquivel of Photogenics. Mariel De Leon of True. Marizza Delgado of One. Maya Nazarae of Nomad. Merille Raagas of State. Michelle Krumov of Supreme. Monika Sta. Maria of One. Nicholas Maculam of Kev Mgmt. Nico Geyer of La Models. Nikita Mcelroy of Elite. Noah Carlos. Pia Kristine Cruz of 777. Pilar Cruz of Nevs. Raya Pascua of J’adore. Rhey Ramirez of Named. Sandra Diola of Vision. Sharina Gutierrez of Lipps . Siobhan Moylan of Wilhelmina. Skye Daru of One. Terence Alcantara of Supa. Tommy Ros of State. Trenton Ramsey of Wilhelmina. Troy Untalan of Wilhelmina. Valerie Celis of Ford. Zeus Rocancourt of Next

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