Fashion, probably more than any other industry, celebrates uniqueness. Along with its relentless desire for evolution, it is also sprouting out a new crop of talents into the scene. Paving their own paths, and in their own terms, they are driven to become the modern innovators of the industry. A brand new age of fashion is upon us, and it is as exciting as ever.
Highlighting individualism and artistry, this is a series where I talk to Filipino talents from the fashion scene today. Exploring it as both an industry and art form, we get to see it all through their own unique eyes. From inspirations to aspirations, Fashion Chika with… celebrates their devotion and craft—all fueled by their passion for fashion.
Womenswear designer-turned illustrator Justin Teodoro is the renowned artist redefining the symbiotic world of art and fashion today.
Originally from the fashion design world, NY-based Canadian and Filipino artist Justin Teodoro is one of the industry’s top illustrators today. Combining his love for fashion and art in his own, unique and playful style has made the 41-year old artist a notable, high profile and in-demand figure in the business. Creativity in electrifying and vibrant effects are abundant within the singular, inspiring world of Justin Teodoro.
What or who got you into having a passion for fashion?
I first discovered fashion through my Mom. She’s a very stylish lady and loves fashion and design so I just absorbed all that from her growing up. I really remember her magazine collections. She subscribed to all the magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W—when it was still in newspaper format. Back then in the 90s before social media and really the internet, that was the only way to really “see” fashion as an outsider. So getting those magazines every month was the biggest thrill for me. I just memorized all the editorials and learned who every model, photographer, editor, stylist, hair and makeup person was.
I also grew up reading comics and cartoons with superheroes, so graduating to fashion with supermodels was like a natural next step. I really did learn how to draw a lot from copying all those editorials and supermodel poses. And from then I discovered shows like Fashion File, Fashion TV and Style with Elsa Klensch. I was just so enthralled and fascinated by this glamorous world that I was hooked.
Is there a moment when you told yourself “Okay, it’s time to pursue fashion”?
I don’t think there was a specific moment to be honest, but rather an eventual buildup to it. I always knew I wanted to do something creative but never really knew what that was exactly. Fashion was always in the back of mind, but it just seemed so far out and impossible to get into. After I did my undergrad and had a few years of “figuring things out,” I had this life changing opportunity to go to New York City and study fashion at Parsons. That moment felt right and I knew I was ready to take this chance and just go for it and make that dream a reality.
After an amazing 8 years in fashion design working for brands like Tuleh under Bryan Bradley, you shifted into becoming a full-time fashion illustrator. So similar to my previous question, was there a defining moment during that time when you told yourself that it’s time to pursue illustration?
Looking back on my time in fashion, I really had an amazing experience and career arch. So when I stepped away from designing, it felt like the right time for me. Honestly by then I was just burnt out by the industry. My last job was the most corporate and I learned and did a lot. But at the end of the day, fashion is a business and there are a lot of demands on you as a designer. It became not so fun for me.
Around that same time, I remember I started drawing for myself again. I was always drawing when I was working, but that was different. I forgot what it was like to draw for pleasure. So I think those two things somehow came together at that same right moment that it made sense as my next step. I really got into fashion with drawing to begin with, so when I rediscovered my love of illustration it was like full circle. I saw that I could find my voice and point of view more through my drawings than just designing. And it was also more fun for me to draw and illustrate my ideas this way. So I kinda took a leap of faith and made this plunge into being a full time illustrator and have never looked back since.
Art has always inspired fashion, and there have been a handful of figures that really defined its profound symbiotic pairing throughout the years. If the 80s had Keith Haring, and the 90s had Thierry Perez, then today we have you, Justin Teodoro! So for you, how important is art to fashion, and fashion to art, as one of the most important names in those two worlds?
Wow—that’s very kind of you to put me in the same category as these legendary artists! I think art and fashion are forever linked—art drives and inspires fashion and its creativity. I mean a fashion design starts from a sketch, a drawing. I think art doesn’t have to necessarily mean just a painting or drawing because it’s really how you look at life and what is around you—from nature and travel, to people and their stories and interactions. All these things can inspire fashion and I think you can tell when the best of fashion comes from this place of inspiration.
Sources: Pinterest and Instagram
Over the years as a celebrated fashion artist & illustrator, you have worked with and been recognized by a lot of fashion giants such as Hugo Boss and Cher! What are your most favorite works that you’re proud of?
I’ve been lucky in that I think every project I take I have enjoyed and gotten something out of. Of course the Hugo Boss collaboration in 2020 was amazing as that was my first global campaign. So to see my work on such an international scope was really exciting.
My two most recent projects this year have been amazing too. I did a collaboration with Nespresso designing artwork for mugs in support of a wonderful organization—The Ali Forney Center that houses and supports homeless LGBTQ+ youth. When I can do a project that is not only a great & creative partnership but also has a worthy charitable element to it, that means a lot to me.
And more recently I did a collaboration with the Italian design firm Fantini Mosaici where they took my artwork and reimagined it in their amazing mosaic technique. I always love to see my work in a new context. So to see this translation was really stunning and beautiful.
As one of the leading artists in fashion with a long list of accolades, what’s the best advice that you can give to anyone that wants to pursue either fashion design or fashion illustration—or both?
Stay true to you and your voice—authenticity is so important nowadays. The photograph William Klein has this great quote: “Be yourself. I much prefer seeing something, even if it’s clumsy, that doesn’t look like somebody else’s work.”
And for the final question, what’s next for Justin Teodoro?
I think right now I’m taking a little reboot moment for myself. There are a few personal projects I’ve been working on to get off the ground that I’m looking forward to getting back into. I think I’m going to take the rest of the summer to also just draw and make some art for myself. Simple plans, but something I’m looking forward to.
The world of Justin Teodoro highlights the symbiotic relationship of fashion and art through iconic figures and moments that have inspired him throughout his life and career. Madonna, Linda Evangelista, David Hockney—to name a few—all fuel the bright and bold fire that operate his world. And as one of fashion’s most influential artists today, we can only expect more amazing things from this modern-day visionary.
A fourth-year fine arts college student in the University of Santo Tomas, majoring in advertising. Nathan usually does extensive research on fashion and runway history, film, music and pop culture, with a strong eagerness to learn more.