Pilar Cruz, the Filipino model from Vogue Philippines’ stellar Class of Fall/Winter 2023, found success in grit and perseverance.
Pilar Cruz still remembers the frenetic energy on set the day of the Top of the Class, a fashion editorial shot for Vogue Philippines’ September 2023 issue. Conceptualized by photographer Brendan Freeman and stylist Caterina Ospina, the idea was simple: nine models from different cultural backgrounds coming together to celebrate the beauty of diversity through fashion. Pilar was one of the nine.
When she logs onto our call a few months later, she’s still reeling. “It was funny. I was asking everybody—I was like, ‘Are you Filipino? Are you Filipino?’ And they’re like, ‘No,’ you know, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I’m the only one! I’m so proud,’” she laughs, eyes shining. “This is exactly kind of why I wanted to get into modeling in the first place. Back in the day, when I was young, I think looking at magazines or pictures or whatever, there weren’t many of us—tan-skinned, Asian.”
Pilar grew up in the diaspora, migrating to Canada from the Philippines. She was born in Quezon City and raised in Pasay City until she was ten (“I went to St. Scholastica,” she chuckles). Throughout her childhood, it was rare that she saw someone in the media who looked like her, even in the Philippines, she says, as fairer skin was prized at the time. Back then, a shoot the scale of Top of the Class was something she could only ever imagine.
She remembers the moment she learned she wanted to be a model: watching Miss Universe for the first time, then tuning in again every year after. “I don’t think you’ll ever meet a Filipina who has watched Miss Universe and has never felt so proud to be Filipino that day. It’s a few hours of just being shown how Filipinos are. How smart they are, how beautiful they are,” Pilar mused. “So I think that was one of the reasons why I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be a part of that kind of thing,’ you know? I want to be able to showcase my country to the world in a way.”
No room for self-doubt
Deciding on something was one thing; making it happen was another. “I never actually got scouted by anybody,” Pilar shares. “No one ever told me, ‘Oh, you should be a model.’ I was actually the one that was like, ‘I’m gonna be a model.’”
For a while, her own words were enough motivation to live on. At fifteen, she mounted her first test shoot despite seemingly having the odds stacked up against her. “I was a bit chubby growing up because I loved food. My lolo would cook the most amazing food, and I would eat it all,” she recounts of her grandfather. “So, you know, I was not your typical model that was very skinny. I remember my dad paid for the test shoot, and he was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ And I mean, I still did it at the end, but no jobs really came at that time. And, you know, they weren’t looking for a Southeast Asian model anywhere.”
This didn’t even phase her. When she tried applying to agencies again at twenty-two, her voice rang as crisp and clear as if she were telling herself the way she did years ago: “Hello, my name is Pilar. I want to be a model.”
“And then they said, ‘Okay, we’ll sign you.’”
Since then, Pilar has worked in South Africa, Germany, Hamburg, Barcelona, and Lisbon before settling in London. “London was the best for me because I’ve been here for six years, and I’ve been working here ever since, so I’m grateful for that.”
When asked what’s kept her enamored with her career all this time, she answered without hesitation. “Creating a beautiful scene,” she said. “Creating emotions through being able to translate that photo—I think that’s my favorite part. Seeing the result, seeing literally the big picture. Everyone putting their blood, sweat, and tears into it is amazing to me because it’s not just an image. There’s a whole crew behind that, and you get to be the face to show it in a way.”
She gives a small smile, adding, “And I’m not gonna lie, the clothes. I love the clothes.”
More on the horizon
Nearly a decade into her career, the model is still passionate about growth, connection, and expansion in the industry. At the moment, she has her sights set on Los Angeles. “It’s funny, I’ve always said, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t want to go to North America anymore because I lived half my life there,” Pilar shares. “But as a model, I think you have to do Europe, America, and, like, all of that. So I have done Europe now for so many years that I have to go back to America.”
But with the whole world ahead of her at this point in her career, what she’s really excited about is to one day find the right opportunity to return to the Philippines. “My whole family lives there,” she says. “So I think being able to be a part of the community, being a part of the Philippines as a model. That would be such an amazing opportunity for me. So I think I’m hoping in a few years’ time, you know, I’m able to create something—a connection there.”
With Pilar’s natural disposition, nothing seems impossible. For young models starting out in the industry, she says that believing in yourself is really all they need. “You can go further in life because it doesn’t matter what anyone says. It doesn’t matter what people say to you, what comments say to you. As long as you know who you are and you know what you’re worth, you can get far.”