Making her mark in the fashion mainstream
Carla Sta. Cruz has built up an impressive portfolio that anticipates a promising future in the international fashion industry.
After studying fashion design at Parsons School of Design, Carla interned with notable designers such as Vera Wang, Marchesa and Hugo Boss.
Recently, her internship at American Vogue left her with a no-nonsense approach to the business of fashion. After all, it’s not always glamour and sparkling lights—a concept that is all too absurd if you work behind the scenes.
Carla’s fashion inspirations have spanned different genres of design and art. “My heart skips a beat when I look at the creations of Marchesa or Alexander McQueen. I’m also a fan of Colleen Atwood, Tim Burton, Riccardo Tisci, Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano,” she says.
She cites local designers such as Paul Cabral, Cary Santiago and Joey Samson as gifted designers. “I personally think they are better than their foreign counterparts, but they are not as known,” she says.
“My love affair with fashion design started with this class in art and costume history. I love how clothing or fashion reflected every aspect of life—from economics and religion, to politics and social structure. I encountered the cerebral part of fashion and I was obsessed,” says Carla.
But before working her way up in New York’s fashion industry, Carla almost walked down the road to medicine at La Salle. “I always convinced myself that I was destined to be a doctor or a researcher, and fashion was just something I was obsessed with. As a nerdy kid growing up, I always pigeonholed nerds as future doctors, lawyers or corporate magnates.”
But instead, she became a nerd for fashion. “I went to Parsons with a keen interest in the academic side of design, and from that point on, I realized I was meant to be in this life.”
The shift to fashion was a new start for Carla. There were a lot of moments when this driven designer had to swallow her pride and develop thicker skin for criticism. “I had to get used to people not liking my work and being openly criticized for it, even when I worked on it nonstop for two weeks. It’s always about the work and nothing personal,” she explains. It was one of those character-defining moments that allowed Carla to focus on being better at her craft.
Carla has applied previously at the Condé Nast group (the publishing group of luxury magazines like Vanity Fair, GQ and Vogue) several times but never got an internship—until recently. “Luckily, the creative director saw my portfolio during finals week, and she offered me an internship at Vogue.”
Despite our preconceived notions of a work environment similar to the film “The Devil Wears Prada” or the documentary “The September Issue,” Carla never discusses any gossip and humbly keeps her Vogue talk to a minimum. She states that her roles were kept to the internship duties, and that she was able to absorb a lot of information in that environment, especially with regards to working professionally.
Working inside fashion’s most powerful media company has taught Carla the importance of quality. “Marketing can only take you so far; if your design is so-so and your quality is not impeccable, it will reflect on your sales,” she says.
Late last year, Carla officially launched her eponymous bag collection. “I was fixing some immigration paperwork in Manila before my move back to New York. Since my life revolves around New York, I found myself unemployed again, and I had too much pride to ask for money from my parents. I applied in a lot of publications, couturiers and retailers, but I wasn’t hired anywhere. I was even applying to be an intern at this age, which was mildly embarrassing,” she says.
This experience taught Carla the importance of taking the leap to create one’s own opportunities. “I guess this situation led me to do something I always dreamed of but never had the guts to do so, which was to start my own line.”
Using leather imported from Italy, Carla’s first collection came about in a small rented factory in Marikina. “We don’t have high-tech machines found in the studios of LVMH, so I learned to use their makeshift tools, some of which you can even find in your pharmacy or hardware store. At first, I found it silly that I was suddenly using things that we would normally use to do our nails, but hey, it works very well!”
Based on her Parsons portfolio, Carla’s first collection was called the “Kubo collection.” It was conceptualized during winter in New York, a time when Carla was deeply homesick. “I designed a line of accessories that reminded me of anything Filipino, Kapampangan or my home in Wack-Wack. I was inspired by banig, dried leaves used in rural thatched roofs, bamboo, woven furniture. I took cues from Kenneth Cobonpue, Fernando Amorsolo and rural provincial art,” she says.
Her second collection was inspired by pop culture and is called the “Gilt collection.” “It was inspired by watching Rihanna’s video with Slash, and reading ‘The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo,’” she says.
“My New York experience was harrowing yet rewarding, especially in fashion and the New York job market. I felt I had to arm myself, hence the grommets, chains, spikes and hardware.”
For her third collection, “Animalia,” she chose to take inspiration from “Game of Thrones.” “I wanted to do something different, something feral, something savage. I used horse hair and I did a lot of embossing on cow leather to resemble a python, to channel the erotically animalistic.” The vast differences in her collections have shown Carla’s versatility and range in working with leather goods and accessories.
With just a few weeks of launching her Facebook page, she has already amassed a loyal following of more than 8,000 likes—and it’s just by word of mouth.
Currently back in New York, Carla is working on growing her business. “I’ll be meeting up with some retailers. I actually just got a proposal to sell some of my accessories in San Francisco, as well,” she says. “I really have to discuss with my partner what our plans are, and the direction of the brand for the next five years. There’s a lot of time and money, and even blood, invested in our work so we really have to strategize,” she explains.
The past few years have cemented the right foundation for Carla’s future. Her environment and mentors have instilled in her a new standard in her work. “There was never a day I didn’t thank God for it. Learning from the masters of my craft is something I can’t put a price on.”
PHOTOS BY PAM STA. CRUZ-BELLA