Norman Rene Devera shares his journey as a Filipino designer breaking into the global fashion industry

A Bengal cat gives me a warm welcome as I enter the Upper East Side apartment for the first time. “Her name is Manila,” says Jonas Pescettini, proud cat parent and Norman René Devera’s husband. “Manila Luzon,” he adds as he flashes a smile, “like the drag queen.” He gives me a quick tour as I wait for Norman René to finish dressing up. The apartment is fabulously designed but well-lived. Intricate details like a couple of crystals and a massive Céline campaign print perfectly framed in the living area are notable; they’re also very telling of the man I am to finally meet. The space exudes joy and pride — in how Norman René disrupted the global fashion industry without letting any of his preexisting disadvantages weigh him down.

Art by Mano Gonzales

“I never grew up thinking I was going to work at Louis Vuitton, Céline, or any of the big fashion houses,” he says. He had his fair share of internships at the likes of Vivienne Westwood and Giles Deacon, but he must have done something right to have earned a seat at Céline when he was just 23 years old. At that time, Phoebe Philo had just started carving her legacy as the brand’s creative director and, under her realm, Norman René created and headed the first Global 3Dimensional department. He led a team in experimenting with techniques to create new shapes and silhouettes for each season, making it a career-defining six years in Céline, to say the least. Later on, he pursued a career at the houses of Lanvin and Louis Vuitton in Paris as senior designer for womenswear. These days, you’ll find Norman René in New York City as Calvin Klein’s senior designer, even after the departure of Raf Simons. To say his credentials are beyond impressive is an understatement, but it also didn’t come without its own challenges.

As an openly gay Catholic Filipino born and raised in East London by a single mother, Norman René had the odds stacked against him. “It wasn’t all fashion from the get-go,” he reflects. “I grew up in a poor family and my mother would always push us to work hard. Being gay, I also grew up thinking the only way my mom was going to accept me is if I’m successful.” Of course, that’s not how he thinks anymore. He has found a way for his religion and identity to go hand in hand, without losing the core aspects that make it a spiritual and fulfilling experience.

 

“There’s always going to be something against you, that’s inevitable. For me, it was more about accepting how I’m different from those around me and making it work in my favor.”

 

Despite being born and growing up in London, he still has a deep connection with his Filipino roots. Norman René grew up in the area of Stratford that’s brimming with Ilocanos , and he credited his understanding of the Filipino culture to that proximity. Much like any true Pinoy living abroad, it was instilled in him that “success is achieved when we give back to our family.” And he has done a lot of that.

But Norman René muses that it’s more the struggles he has within himself that he finds more difficult to overcome. “There’s always going to be something against you, that’s inevitable,” he says. “For me, it was more about accepting how I’m different from those around me and making it work in my favor.” He points to the birthmark on his face, for one. “At the beginning of my career, I didn’t think I was going to be accepted because the fashion industry is all about beauty. But some people actually remember me for my mark in all its glory, and then they take the chance to know me and my work.”

At the young age of 23, Norman René joined the house of Céline under former creative director Phoebe Philo. He created the first 3Dimensional department.

When asked about success in his career, one can almost hear a small crack in his confidence. “Yes, maybe I’ve worked at some of the best houses, headed by some of the world’s greatest creative directors. But I think I’ll still suffer from imposter syndrome, even if I have my own fashion house one day.” However, this doesn’t arise from self-doubt as much as it comes from his genuine intention to continuously challenge the aesthetic, relevance and direction of his work. Even with everything he’s accomplished so far, Norman René still finds the most value in the process. “I really enjoy it when I see people walking around in things I have designed or taken part in,” he muses. “It’s like seeing my creative ideas come into true fruition.”

In more ways than one, Norman René has represented multiple minorities without intentionally doing so. First comes his excellence at his craft, and everything else genuinely emanates from a kind heart, guidance from his faith and respect for his mother and her heritage. He’s always believed that everything in our lives play a part in defining our sense of fulfillment. “I don’t come from a perfect background, and I think that’s what made me hungry for success.”

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