Sassa Jimenez shares sage advice on fashion, business, and evolution

Art by Mags Ocampo

It’s long been established that fashion is a fickle industry. As the famous Heidi Klum quote goes, “One day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” It’s hard enough to break through the throngs of young designers out there, but it’s even harder to stay in the game. Which is why when a designer is able to celebrate 10 years in the Philippine fashion industry, they deserve to celebrate in only the best way possible.

That’s exactly what Sassa Jimenez did. To celebrate her decade in fashion, she transformed the massive, blank space of Riverside Studios in Makati into a whimsical, dark and dreamy treasure trove that showcased her design signatures in 10 new looks.

Simply titled “Ten,” the presentation featured individual installations for each of the looks. Sassa’s signature ruffles, frothy tulle tiers and curve-hugging frocks were set against industrial-looking sets by the production designer Princess Barretto. Highlights included a teal tulle sea of a skirt hoisted up in the air with old-style incandescent light bulbs; a one-sleeved cream-colored column peppered with beaded appliqués dispersing from the top and bottom, standing out against an artfully messy stack of black chairs; and a slinky white number with a good mouthful of ruffles attached on sheer sleeves, floating among wire panels and lit like that iconic Emma Thompson scene in Angels in America. The presentation also included a fashion film by director Adrian Calumpang, featuring models in a flurry of lights and sequins, moving gracefully while literally floating and then lying on the floor of the Philippine International Convention Center. Spell major.

But here comes the million-peso  question: How does one get to this milestone in the first place? We caught up with Sassa on the days leading up to “Ten” and asked for advice for those who want to get all up in this gig.

As Sassa Jimenez’s signature whimsy enters its second decade, she shares some sage advice for the next generation of fashion designers.

YOUNG STAR: What was it like when you were starting out? Did you always want to become a fashion designer?

SASSA JIMENEZ: I grew up with very creative parents so I was always interested in art and design. I never really thought of fashion as a career until I was a teenager. I started out quite young and got my fashion degree in the US so I was not well versed in the fashion industry landscape here when I began. I had to go through a lot of trial and error early in my career.

 

At what point did you feel like you made it? Was there a specific moment that became a turning point for you?

I’ve never really thought of myself as someone who has “made it” especially since the nature of my job is hinged on how well you do on a daily basis. You don’t always do well; I have a lot of off days, which is an incredibly humbling experience considering fashion is viewed as something that’s always so glamorous.

 

Now that you’re 10 years in, what is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself and your craft?

The greatest thing I’ve learned is that I can’t do everything on my own. It takes a lot of people to create beautiful garments, to manage a business, and to keep clients happy. It’s nice that I get to do something that enables me to collaborate with other creatives in different fields.

How would you say your design has evolved over the years? How have your experiences in the industry — and in life — changed the way you make clothes?

I think I never used to make function of comfort a priority when I was starting out. Now, it is one of the key elements I keep in mind when I’m designing a garment. I always have to ask myself certain questions like: Can the wearer sit in this? Is it breathable? Where will she put her cellphone?

 

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Accounting! It is such a big part of running a business and that’s something I didn’t get to study and focus on in my 20s. I also learned that taking criticism in a positive way will always work to your advantage. A bad critique isn’t supposed to end your career; it should propel you forward.

 

“The greatest thing I’ve learned is that I can’t do everything on my own.”

 

Something fashion students struggle with is knowing the business side of things, like handling overhead costs, production, mounting shows, etc. How did you learn about those things, and what advice would you give these students?

With regards to running a business, I was very lucky to be taught by one of the best business owners I know: my mom. She was always very pragmatic about cost and production and that really prepared me for the difficulties that were ahead of me. There was no special class or special time for me to learn about mounting shows or keeping a full production calendar in the studio. It’s something I’m still perfecting and learning today. I guess experience was one of the teachers that really ingrained in me what I needed to know after 10 years.

 

Any practical advice for fashion students or aspiring designers who want to launch their own line?

No matter how many people say how good or bad you are, there will always be room for improvement and you will always need to do better. The best thing about being a designer is the journey to perfection, not perfection itself. The little nuances between all our successes and failures is what makes your body of work beautiful.

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