Philippine Eagles in all their glory, crests fanned out or flattened, glared from hooded and mandarin-collared jackets, kimono-inspired tops, bustier, tent gowns, butterfly-sleeved cloaks, peplum skirts and cheongsams.
Eyes, feathers, beaks and wings, mirrored and multiplied as in a kaleidoscope – first in black and white then in rich cinnamon, copper and gold, paraded on the catwalk.
I was peeking into high tech, high couture – John Herrera’s latest 30-piece “Aguila” (eagle) collection inked on Epson’s Digital Textile Printers at the Shangri-La Mall Grand Atrium two days ago – before it goes to London.
First, John assembled the eagle pictures and had them digitized to his specs. Once the layout is done, he numbered the images based on his actual clothing designs to determine which goes where.
Epson formatted the images, shrinking and resizing as needed, before transferring them from paper to fabric by heat pressing in dye-sublimation digital textile printers – the SureColor SC-F9270 and SC-6270
“Of course, there’s a big difference between what you see on the computer screen, what you see on the printed paper and what actually comes out on the fabric,” he noted.
But the moment John had everything down pat, he sewed the outfits.
It was much simpler and faster this way, he discovered, more economic and liberating too, for a creative artist.
In the past, his choices were limited.
A designer either works with printed fabrics available in the market or paints them by hand. Too often, he designs a garment based on the print.
And there’s the matter of speed. For his “Aguila” collection, John had just one month to prepare. “Without the Epson digital textile printer, it will be impossible to do.”
Interestingly, digital printing on fabric, once the domain of high-end industrial printing, is the equivalent of 3D printing in product manufacturing.
Instead of using large cylinders to layer colors on the textile the traditional way, you run the cloth through a giant printer. The print nozzles deliver ultra-precise control of ink droplets producing vivid prints.
Famous British couturier Alexander McQueen was among the pioneers of digital printing in high fashion.
John himself believed that fashion should harness technology although initially, the latter posed a challenge for him.
While he can sew – he’s proficient at designing, pattern drafting, draping and garment construction, he’s no techie and can’t photoshop to save his life, he admitted.
So, when Epson Philippines chose him as its newest Brand Ambassador, “I tried to learn digital design overnight” – until he realized he does not have to do everything.
He started discussions with Epson seven months ago. Owning a particular print, being free to control and create images appealed to him despite the fact that his printing experience was limited to messy manual silk screening.
By contrast, digital textile printing was neat and precise, with almost zero wastage. “We use the exact volume of fabric. Instead of wasting 5 yards of fabric to do a layout for a dress, we use just one and a half yards of digitally printed fabric.”
As for his Philippine Eagle theme, it’s typical John Herrera “Biomimicry” – copying things in nature via fabric manipulation techniques.
Strikingly, it’s not as eerie, outrageous or avant garde as his past “Aswang” collection – a tribute to the female shape-shifters of local lore who devoured babies inside their mothers’ wombs.
Nor was it as playful and shockingly neon as his “Bioluminescence” show – his personal take on the corals and marine creatures he met (he’s an avid snorkeler) which bagged for him the London Emerging Designer (LED) Award in 2015.
Before, the boundary between fashion and costume blurred in the dramatic outfits he showcased. But his “Aguila” collection is more somber in terms of its palette – a play on black and white and earth tones, pronouncedly unisex and more wearable –– though not many women can don a corset bustier with winged tops or a tent gown with a dangerously scooped out neckline.
Already, a member of the audience, TV host Tim Yap, sported one Herrera “Aguila” suit – printed black and white jacket and pants, during the fashion preview.
“My work is only relevant when people actually wear them,” John acknowledged. Furthermore, he wants his outfits to be accessible to everyone – the younger demographics included.
And now that he has captured the country’s iconic endangered raptor in his latest collection, he aspires to bring other native exotics, such as the civet cat (“musang”) or the elusive mouse deer (“pilandok’) to the catwalk.
He’s likewise keen on experimenting with 3D printing.
Indeed, John has gone a long way from dressing dolls in his childhood and reworking his own clothes to wear something unique.
He achieved his dream of breaking into the international fashion scene – though he doesn’t want to rest on his laurels.
“Every triumph presents a new challenge to make yourself better.”
He regards himself as his greatest competition. But his twin brother Paul, who died in 2014, continues to inspire him.
Paul was designing to the very end. Unable to get out of bed, Paul kept the wedding gown he was working on in his room. After his twin passed away, John completed the outfit.
“I wish the same for myself. Designing will be the last thing I do before I go.”
After everything is said and done, fashion is his profession, his life, his happiness.
“I have fun everyday doing this.”