Designer-Milliner Tracy Dizon On The Filipiniana, The Omnipresent Maong, And Commute-Proof Outfits
In case you haven’t heard, one of our very own, Tracy Dizon (born and bred in Manila, by the way, and isn’t half-anything), has recently showcased her collection Pinoy Pop Life at Fashion Week Brooklyn in New York. And she also just happened to close the show.
The funny thing is, it’s Tracy’s second time to debut a collection in New York, and can you guess how many times she’s done a show in Manila? Surprise, surprise—zero times. “Manila was more brutal to me,” Tracy says with a laugh during her ANC interview for the Early Edition, when she was asked how her collection was received by New Yorkers, who are supposedly the more critical ones of the fashion industry. On the contrary, Tracy says, “Fashion Week Brooklyn? They’re like family.”
PHOTOS BY TRACY DIZON
When I first met Tracy, I immediately felt her strength and spunk. For twelve years, she’s been entering competitions, and only got her first big break last year—and at New York at that. She’s never gotten any real recognition in her homeland, save for that one time she was a contestant at Project Runway Philippines. Her journey as a single mother with her son Atreyu isn’t one easy feat either—having had to go through pregnancy on her own, staying in a shelter for single mothers, and discovering her son’s brain tumor. And that’s all while having to make a career as a struggling designer.
Yet she fills the room with so much positivity and color. She powers through in spite of everything—and how can you not respond to that?
“When I enter the room, I light up the room daw. And I think hindi lang ‘yon because of me. I think it’s because I’m a Filipino and masayahin ako,” she says. Tracy always tells me she’s stressed but doesn’t look it.
In case you haven’t seen one in person yet, let me tell you how impossible it is not to feel sheer joy and wonder when you chance upon a Tracy Dizon creation. Her designs are quirky, playful, fun, brave, mood-bending, and, well, *pink*, if possible. And while her first collection, Miss Hanoi, was borne after a breakup; her latest Pinoy Pop Life is homage to her colorful life in Manila, notwithstanding her darkest of days.
New life for the Filipiniana
One look at her Pinoy Pop Life collection and I’m at once enamored. I can very much relate to the sorbetes-inspired fascinators and the denim dress with jeepney signs made into patches. Tracy also draws inspiration from the sampaguita, our national flower, and the bougainvillea—“I don’t even know if the bougainvillea is locally ours but it’s really part of our childhood, you know, walking everywhere and seeing them falling to the ground. Just look around the neighborhood—ang daming ganito! It’s also a bit of nostalgic, in a way,” she says. The collection, after all, tells the story through the designer’s eyes, growing up in Manila.
All these are part of my own memories growing up—and maybe yours, too.
“You know how back in school, we were required to wear a Filipiniana for Buwan ng Wika?” she tells me. “Even at that time gusto ko maging mukhang fashyon parin!” she adds with a chuckle. And I could totally relate to that wanting to become fashyon in all ways, always.
Tracy Dizon imagines high school and college students wearing her Filipiniana-inspired tops from Pinoy Pop Life, instead of the old-looking and dated ones they might find in the baul. She wanted to revive the look, tweak the Filipiniana and make it into a modern design that the younger girls would appreciate, would want to wear, and proudly so!
PHOTOS BY TRACY DIZON
And as for a twentysomething tita like me, who’s been out of school for years, I’d gladly wear them to the streets! Tracy recalls a time in Japan when she witnessed girls walking down the streets in their traditional yukata, and it was quite a sight seeing them wear the lesser opulent version of the kimono as their daily garb. It certainly made Tracy want to bring back that experience to Manila. “I’ve really wanted to do this for a long time—to create something na masusuot ng younger generation on a daily basis. You can still have fun in daily clothing!” she shares.
And all I can say is, yes, please!
The maong, every day fashion, and the Manila commute
RUNWAY PHOTOS BY MICHAEL MANIAGO
But what exactly is the role of fashion in the every day lives of the average Filipino? Tracy, ever-the-observant designer, tells me shares, “Hindi pwede tanggalin yung reality na hindi priority ng Filipino ang fashyon,” she begins. “And it’s not really an issue of hindi afford, but mainly the comfort… and the reality of the commute naman! Kasalanan talaga ng commute if na-ddowngrade yung outfit mo!” she exclaims, and I definitely agree.
Dear fashion-loving friends from Manila, we found our voice in Tracy Dizon.
She then talks about how wearing maong seems to be a staple among Filipinos, which is again, a common choice for its durability and versatility. “May isa akong look na dedicated dyan—yung denim dress! Kasi sa Filipino, denim talaga lahat!” she recalls, referring to one of her looks from Pinoy Pop Life. Although she is quick to point out that the surge of fast-fashion brands have also given Pinoys more options, it has rendered upsides and downsides for the local fashion business.
Filipinos aren’t as brave or bold, she observes, and the average Pinoy would prefer to keep it simple and would rarely experiment when it comes to fashion. “Ugaling Pilipino yung dapat simple ka lang. Or kung ano lang kinasanayan, that’s the pattern,” she says of the typical Maria Clara image we Filipinos are often expected to embody.
Tracy suggests that even if you pluck out a top or a skirt from her Pinoy Pop Life collection (or even from Miss Hanoi), and wear it with your usual maong or shorts, it’ll make all the difference. It gives character and added personality to your everyday, casual look!
“You’ll see in my looks that I made sure to use fabrics that are more often seen for casual clothing, but the cuts are different to make the pieces more flexible than the Filipiniana,” she says. “It’s like translating—wearing—your heritage into your daily life!”
Proud to be fashionista
But in Manila where cat-calling is common, and so are the side-eyes and SMHs one gets from dressing too OTT for the norm, what advice can she give those who want to express themselves through their personal style and are feeling kind of restricted to do so or… perhaps judged?
“Well, first and foremost, I dress up because I like it. I’m not dressing up because I want to impress anyone, like ‘oy suot ko ito! I dress up because this is what makes me happy. I had it along in myself for years back,” she says with conviction. “I always tell my interns that fashion is an extension of yourself,” says Tracy. “And if you cover up yourself with things na you want to be dictated by the norm, then that’s a bit sad because how you dress is also how you stand out.”
BEHIND-THE-SCENES PHOTOS BY ATREYU DIZON
She again refers to a Japanese study that says teenagers in Japan are considered one of the most hard core ones when it comes to street style because it is through clothing that they are able to release their repressed expressions. (Tracy, by the way, is also a guest lecturer for Japan studies in UP Diliman, in case you’ve been curious about all the Japanese references!)
“It doesn’t mean you have to rebel—clothing is also just a release of those kinds of restrictions,” adds the designer, who also mentions that she grew up in quite a conservative environment. “Anything can be a means to that, and I just use fashion as a tool now because I’m designing clothes!”
Myself a believer in the power of fashion, I also felt multiple things after seeing the video of Tracy’s Pinoy Pop Life collection launch, which was of course accompanied by apl.de.ap’s anthem for Filipino pride. For one, it made me excited, it made me sit up and watch. Second, with everything that she had to endure and go through to get to where she is, I just genuinely felt so proud and happy for her.
And lastly, I really felt how her designs were empowering—to the models who got to wear it; to the designer, Tracy herself—who’s literally had to make miracles happen just to be able to showcase her work; to her son Atreyu—who has witnessed it all in-the-making, yet was still astounded as it was showcased; to us Filipinos who are admired for our spirit; and well, on a personal level, to me as a girl from Manila who would brave the commute in her everyday fashion choices. It’s literally a breath of fresh air taking in all the fancy and color of Pinoy Pop Life and seeing fashion *win* over memories of life in Manila—in all its commuting non-glory.
Mabuhay ka, fashionista!
COVER PHOTO IS SHOT BY MATTHEW CISCART