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Young Filipina makes it in NY fashion with ‘non-frilly,’ minimalist designs

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Young Filipina makes it in NY fashion with ‘non-frilly,’ minimalist designs

Antonia Martel SPRING/SUMMER 2012 collection

All that glitters isn’t always gold. In fashion, sometimes the most minimalist cuts can be the most exciting. This, in a nutshell, is the fashion philosophy of Antonia Martel.

I first met Martel in a friend’s house. I was overjoyed when I saw her beautiful contemporary pieces, all in ivory shades hung on the rack. I found her designs very refreshing and easy to wear.

What I was most happy about was that they could be worn by any body type.


Martel’s loose-fitting pieces are intelligently constructed, and can be layered and worn however one likes.

Her label, Martel, has been making waves in New York.

Martel’s are designs with which one can express one’s style.

Another strength is the mix of quality fabrics she uses. According to Martel, they are sourced from Italy, France, Australia, Spain and Japan. However, production is done here in the Philippines.

When did you realize you wanted to design clothes?

Apparently, when I was a little kid, I enjoyed designing clothes. I had a kiddie fashion design kit that had a lightbox and some stencils that I loved to play with. I ended up revisiting this hobby later on when I ended up in a temporary job assisting buyers for a major department store in NY. I realized the buying side wasn’t for me, but I still wanted to stay in the industry. I’ve always loved clothes and fashion in general.

What inspires you?


The Fall collection was inspired by nuns, monks and straitjackets.

Your clothes are the type you can layer and the colors are all neutrals.  Any reason for this?

This job keeps me constantly traveling, so I like to produce clothes that are convenient and versatile and work well together for someone like me who’s constantly traveling. But it’s not just for those who travel out of the country—it also works well for someone busy and always on-the-go.

Layering is ideal for that lifestyle. As for the colors, I’m personally all about texture, fit and silhouette, and I believe that a less complicated palette of neutrals helps bring more attention to that. I tend to shy away from graphic prints and harsh colors because I feel that too much color can drown out all that natural beauty [of the fabric and of people]. It’s also easier to mix and match.

What type of girl wears your clothes?

Someone bored of the overly colorful and frilly. Definitely not the over-the-top, “look at me, look at me” girl who is the center of attention when she steps in but that you eventually get bored of. More like the cool girl already sitting at the back of the place, whom everyone is just drawn to. Aside from that, I believe there is something for almost everyone in the collections I produce.

Do you sketch a lot?

I doodle on everything, everywhere. I always have to bring a pen and small sketchbook in my purse to quickly sketch ideas because I have a habit of sketching on cocktail napkins. They aren’t the prettiest, but they serve their purpose of getting the message across.

When are you most inspired?

Quite randomly, while hanging out somewhere and usually at night. I can’t make myself just sit down and design. It ends up looking too forced.

What school did you go to for design?

I didn’t go to one. I don’t want the “rules” of fashion/design schools to affect my design process, which is very organic and unconventional. I did, however, attend a couple of seminars at Parsons and FIT just to learn some technical design basics to help me properly communicate my designs with the sample makers and seamstresses.

What did you find out about your aesthetic?

I’m more of a minimalist than I thought I was.

Who do you look up to in terms of design?

Rick Owens, Jil Sander, Helmut Lang, Issey Miyake, Alexander Wang, Haider Ackermann, Proenza Schouler, Reed Krakoff, Damir Doma, Raf Simons and Phillip Lim.

Among the classic designers, I like Balenciaga, Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Madame Grés.

What do you think of fashion in the Philippines?

I’m happy to see more and more individuality, style-wise. A few years ago, everyone was guilty (self included) of dressing like clones of their friends.

What was your biggest break abroad?

Hasn’t happened yet. I like to dream big.

What are your fave fashion books?

I love picking up fashion photo [coffee-table] books from Taschen and Rizzoli.

Would you ever do made-to-order?

For friends.

Where do you see yourself in five years as a designer?

I’d love to expand to accessories—jewelry, shoes, bags—either by myself or for a collaboration.

What’s your biggest accomplishment?

Aside from all the press I’ve received so far, being included in Refinery29’s 15 Hot New Designers for 2012 last March was pretty cool.

What are five things a woman should have in her closet?

Just five? Okay, a crisp basic white long-sleeved shirt; skinny black pants; a few perfectly fitting basic tanks in neutral colors like white, black, gray and beige [to wear underneath or alone]; a slouchy (not baggy) knit sweater; and a nice leather jacket (or a lightweight blazer for warmer climates).

Fashion don’ts?

Knock-offs. Ridiculously low-rise bottoms. Clothes that don’t fit right. Over-accessorizing. Wearing athletic/yoga clothing outside—please change to normal clothing before you leave the gym. Rubber flip-flops, if not on the beach, by the pool or getting a pedicure. Flat sandals do exist and there are so many fun ones to choose from, too! Leggings with short tops—they are not pants.

What is a well-dressed woman?

I think “appropriate” should be the key word. She should always pick clothing that is appropriate to her surroundings or where she’s going, without compromising her aesthetic. The clothes shouldn’t wear you, or overshadow you or your style. It has to make sense. And it has to fit.

What’s your thought on wearing fur in Manila?

Ridiculous. It’s too hot!

Fashion icons, and why?

Right now, I’m channeling Winona in the ’90s when she was with Johnny Depp. Too cool. Both of them! I know this is such a cliché, but Coco Chanel. Her attitude toward life and fashion and personal style is on-point.

Dream client?

Kate Moss, the Olsen twins and Suri.

Your clothes are not body-hugging and yet very sexy. Is this your goal?

Always. I love how a looser garment hangs on the body and moves with you. It’s just a more natural, effortless look.

What can be expected of you here in Manila?

Martel will be sold at Univers (One Rockwell) this Fall (last quarter of 2012).

Where else are you available?

Online, on

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TAGS: Antonia Martel, clothes, design, fashion, Lifestyle
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