Paolo Roldan on Navigating The Turbulent Waters of Fashion
Vogue Man

Paolo Roldan on Navigating The Turbulent Waters of Fashion

Paolo Roldan dives headfirst into the fashion industry, steadfastly maintaining his fitness journey and uncovering the subsequent steps for his career.

Paolo Roldan was going fast, starting strong as a Givenchy exclusive in 2010, had the world talking about his Marcus Piggot shoot for French Vogue in the same year, taking a step to a long held goal to create his line with a Bench Body collaboration in 2017. 

“I’d land in Toronto then get a call, you have a flight in five hours, and I would just unpack, shower, repack, and leave,” he recalls.

He felt unstoppable, like anything was possible, even taking on the basketball court again for the first time in eight years since tearing his Achilles. He didn’t become the professional basketball player he dreamed of being yet he’s reached heights since—unprecedented ones as the first Filipino male supermodel and paved the way for Southeast Asian representation previously dominated by his female counterparts. His fame has been compared to Anna Bayle in the 1980s. Making a career out of modeling for men, especially for anyone who didn’t fit the mold, was unimaginable back then. Yet here was Roldan, 20 years in, full time for 15.

Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

But hitting the court again after so long was a different story, setting him back in 2019 with an injury.

“With that sort of thing you have to be able to play all the time to just jump right in. My Achilles couldn’t take it,” he shrugs off.

One thing about Roldan is that he is mentally resilient. But having the injury just as the lockdowns started was challenging. 

The athlete in him persisted. He took on his physical therapy as a challenge to win. With this down time, he managed to get back to working on his fashion line. Even while away from New York, his vintage Americana collection doubled; he was wearing one of his turquoise rings during this interview, linked by the Navajos to protection and health. 

“I had to learn how to walk again. I was scared, very scared,” he admits. “It was the worst injury you can get in sports. I still feel a little of it until now but like with anything, if you hurt it that badly, you have to sit it out. You won’t be able to do the same as before.”

NICOLÒ shirt, VIN ORIAS trousers. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.
VIN ORIAS shirt, ELEMENTARI necklace and rings. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Philippines.

The fashion industry was never the same since the pandemic. With progressive societal norms came a fashion consciousness among men, leading to menswear’s robust growth in 2022. The pause has also taught the ruthless industry to be more empathetic with collaborator’s schedules; last-minute calls were one quick way to get canceled. Models weren’t making rounds the way they used to, there were no after parties to network, and a lot of the casting mostly had to be done remotely. And even then, brands just weren’t staging shows just yet.

Back in Toronto, Roldan was feeling the hit. While the industry has dead months, this was going on way too long.

“I distract myself and just keep doing my job. I do the things that keep me in the game–staying fit, staying positive. The formula isn’t that difficult,” he says, now 46 years old. 

LOUIS VUITTON jacket and trousers. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

He starts his day without an alarm clock, letting his body wake up naturally after eight to 10 hours of sleep. After warming up with a cup of coffee, he starts doing air squats using bands, push ups, then he walks to the gym, clocking in 5,000 of the recommended 10,000 steps a day. He then stretches for an hour, goes on a stationary bike, does sprints, and weight training for another hour to two, depending on how he feels that day. 

Then he’s off to a park for another 5,000 steps and shoots some hoops. “This isn’t sustainable, but this is part of my job,” he says. “This is me putting in my eight hours. Even if I’m not working, I’m working.”

He eats a big meal once a day during a window from 6 to 9 p.m. and has a dinner of unprocessed food like his favorite nilaga [pork soup]. He takes the potatoes and makes mashed potatoes out of it with a lot of butter. No rice; only cabbage. Sometimes he’ll sneak a cookie in and that’d be his processed food intake. “I like eating like this,” he says. “I look forward to it.”

ELEMENTARI necklace. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.
LOUIS VUITTON shirt, BITAGCOL trousers. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

It’s these habits that make Roldan who he is. “After a while, being in the industry, you have no other responsibility except being physically ready, always. I just enjoy it,” he says.

Toward the end of 2022, Roldan was back on the runway for the first time in years, reuniting with Riccardo Tisci for his Spring/Summer 2023 collection for Burberry

In the summer of 2023, when the live shows were making a full comeback, Roldan was top of mind for Louis Vuitton and Brunello Cucinelli. “I keep my faith in it because I’ve been doing it for so long. Everyone has their place,” he shares. Quebec-based Le 31 shot him for their ads and Kith for their lookbook.

“Looking back in my early years, people would say, hold on, things aren’t going to change,” Paolo reminisces, thinking of the times some have doubted that there will truly be a place for models that looked the way he did. That modeling isn’t something you do long-term. But he loves fashion; just seeing the clothes excites him. And just like fashion, change is constant. “Things shift. Doesn’t mean you lose your space, your spot. It just changes. Seasons change, and your season comes back.”

JOEY SAMSON cape. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.
RAJO LAUREL top, DONA LIM trousers. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

Roldan used to spend months just making his rounds in Europe and the States. At this stage in his career, with his distinct look and strict work ethic, he is booked directly by people he has worked with through the years through Next Models in Toronto. “There’s a big difference, being away from the scene. In this industry out of sight, out of mind,” he explains.

But toward the end of 2023, New York-based stylist Matthew Henson, known for working with Pharrell and other big names in the music industry like A$AP Rocky and The Weekend, got in touch with Roldan through Instagram. They’ve only followed each other, checking out each other’s work. When he got the call to walk for Pharrell’s debut collection as Louis Vuitton’s men’s creative director, it was a no-brainer. But for Henson, it was a long time coming.

“Things shift. Doesn’t mean you lose your space, your spot. It just changes. Seasons change, and your season comes back”

“When I finally got to the job, he told me he used to watch me when he was younger, starting in Givenchy. And that one of these days, he will put me on board. And he did,” Paolo shares. “It’s that connection. You admire someone you’re like, ‘aw, I want to work with them.’ All of a sudden, you’re working with them.”

The waters are calm in this season of Paolo Roldan’s life. “I’m going to keep a low-pro,” he says, flying back to the Philippines quietly to get away from the harsh Toronto winter. “My interests haven’t changed. Maybe my own line, maybe my own brand. But right now, I’m just enjoying things,” he says, sipping on his iced coffee. After this shoot, he’s off to Boracay and then Siargao.

He’s catching up with friends like Bench’s Ben Chan and rediscovering the Philippines all over again. He left when he was nine years old and has only been on seasonal visits since, his last trip here was seven years ago for Bench Fashion Week. He’s raring to explore the vintage fashion shops here the way he dived into those in New York with friends like the designer Philip Lim. Now that he enjoys the privilege of flying out for projects, moving to the Philippines might just work, but is aware that the industry is dominated by actors and actresses more than models.

RAJO LAUREL top, DONA LIM trousers. Photographed by Renzo Navarro for the June 2024 Issue of Vogue Man Philippines.

Not one to back away from a challenge, he’s tried acting. He did American Gods in 2017. “That was the first time I really gave it a shot, and I was like, yeah I can do this,” he looks back.

Models progressing to acting isn’t new. Roldan’s friend and former roommate Charles Melton is a rising star in Hollywood and got his start as a model.

Roldan recently filmed a Filipino independent film shot in Montreal and Ontario about our diaspora experience. He can’t disclose much, but he hints it’s a drama, “with slight comedy because it wouldn’t be Filipino without it.” 

He’s taking his time before he makes his next move. He’s still putting in his hours working out, eating right, whatever this season in his life throws at him, ready to catch a new wave—or start one. 

Vogue Philippines: June 2024 Issue

₱595.00
By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA. Photographs by RENZO NAVARRO. Vogue Man Editor: DANYL GENECIRAN. Grooming: Janell Capuchino. Talent: Paolo Roldan. Producer: Anz Hizon. Photographer’s Assistant: Dominic Pamatmat.
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