The Brutalist touch

A DEBUT SHOW by a 21-year-old fashion designer pays homage to a favorite architect and his life story.

Deep Japanese nuances can be found in the clothes of Ellis Co, who presented his first fashion show late last month at Whitespace, naming the collection “Memoirs of the Future” under his label, Archives. Violinists from the Manila String Machine performed Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Concerto No. 2, Summer III, while dressed in the designer’s clothes. They later accompanied the designer’s own music (in the past, he had produced underground rap).

His designs have a strong flavor of Yohji Yamamoto’s early work, favoring the style of Japanese urban avant-garde. That meant there was a lot of angst and shapelessness in his work. We saw a lot of kimono pants and black coats with their lapels cut to look like flames, or bat wings. A first line, one done almost all in black, looked like clothes worn by animé gangsters in the 1990s. The ambiguity of the models’ figures under the clothes contrasted with the sharpness of detail, from the sharp points on the aforementioned lapels flowing gracefully into cocoon-shaped coats, or else the just-so crumpling on huge hats worn over trench coats. Another line saw clothes in gray and brown, making the models appear as if they were in sepia.

The Japanese influences are no coincidence; however, instead of Japanese fashion, he said that his influences come from Japanese architecture, specifically, the Brutalist work of Tadao Ando, who won the 1995 Pritzker Architecture Prize (called the Nobel Prize of the architecture world).

“A lot of his Brutalist architecture actually kind of look like my designs. I try to bring Brutalist architecture and some of his designs and apply it to my clothes,” said Mr. Co.

Brutalist architecture, meanwhile, sees buildings with an eye towards the sharp, sturdy, and modern (once a favored style for low-cost housing, universities, and buildings by totalitarian regimes). That explains the drab color palette.

“It focuses not on the variety of materials, but on the quality of the materials,” the young designer said. For this show, he had used suiting materials and pigskin for the leather pieces, echoing Brutalism’s preference for raw concrete. He did, however, change his collection three times, eliminating prototypes, for example, that were made all in leather. All in all, he counts that the work running up to the show took six months to do, keeping 88 pieces from a total of 350 samples.

More than Mr. Ando’s aesthetic sense, it’s his life story that draws in Mr. Co.

Prior to becoming a self-taught architect, Mr. Ando had worked as a boxer, and that was why some of Mr. Co’s models wore boxing gloves and headgear to the runway. The autodidactic nature of Mr. Ando’s work appeals to Mr. Co as well. “I’m actually a dropout. I’ve never had any formal education in fashion. In a way, I kind of see myself in him,” he said. “From sketching, I just did it myself. Every time I had time to go to my factory, I would sketch and then I would just make clothes for myself, until it came to a point where people started liking my clothes, and I started getting projects.”

And all this at 21.

“Of course, a disadvantage is a lack of knowledge. Experience is the best teacher. The older designers are more experienced,” he admitted.

On the other hand, youth does have its virtues. “New designs, new concepts; it’s fresh. We’re from a different culture, with a different energy.”

Visit Archives’ official Instagram page @archives.galerie. — Joseph L. Garcia