His love for fashion sprouted during his early teenage years, and he’s been chasing his dreams since then. A graduate from Polimoda in Florence (Italy), Gianfranco Villegas founded his label, called Self Made, straight out of university because of his success in a retail store in Japan. His feelings are what drive his life and creations, an attitude that makes us think of him as a romantic. But don’t be fooled: he’s a workaholic trying to find the balance between running his own business and presenting collections season after season. Meet the half Italian half Filipino mixing hip-hop culture with traditional tailoring.
First of all, who is Gianfranco Villegas? How do you define yourself?
It’s a normal guy living between Paris and Florence, with a passion for art and travelling. I’m pretty obsessed with working, constantly doing research, sketching, saving images, taking pictures of things that attract me; I’m never not doing anything, I’m always moving and I love that feeling.
Your mother emigrated from the Philippines and went to Italy when you were really young. Do you still feel connected to your roots or do you feel totally Italian? Or is nationality not something that plays a big part in your identity?
I normally don’t think about it a lot. I’m feeling what I am now and what I’ve been, what I’ve lived and what I’ve felt. I’ve grown up in Italy, so of course I’m Italian mostly, but at the same time, my family is fully Filipino, so I’m also used to Filipino food and culture. I then lived abroad – in Antwerp and Paris – for the last four years, so I have gained international feelings and ways of thinking.
How does that play into your inspiration?
It’s really at the centre of my inspiration because every season what inspires me the most is what I’ve felt, what I’m feeling and what I will feel inside. I’m constantly living in the present, without stopping, so each time it depends on where I’m living during those months. I’m inspired by what surrounds me, what I see on the streets, clubs or the metro. But mostly, I like to explore my oldest origins, the Filipino one, because I lived there for only a year – when I was seven – and I still remember everything, from the public transport to the food.
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I read somewhere that your interest in fashion began at the age of fourteen. What is it about fashion that captured your attention? And what made you truly decide to continue this path?
It’s something that came really naturally, because at that age I started to be interested in mentors like Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane. When I was looking at their shows or listening to their interviews, something special moved inside me, emotionally. Then I decided to study fashion properly at Polimoda, and then everything started.
If it weren’t fashion, what would it have been?
It’s a hard question, honestly, because I cannot imagine myself without doing what I’m doing now.
Why did you decide to start your own brand? How do you feel your previous experiences have shaped the way you built your brand today?
It came really automatically because right after graduating from Polimoda, my graduate collection captured the attention of a big store and distributor in Japan, so they decided to buy some pieces. Then they saw that it was going well in Japan, so they decided to continue, and that store is still one of our biggest markets. Lately we’ve started to expand to other places, that’s why we decided to keep going. My previous working experiences of course helped a lot, because after school you can gain a lot of experience and you gain a better understanding of how the fashion system really works.
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What is the reason behind naming your brand Self Made?
It’s something really personal, so it came spontaneously. I worked hard and I’m still working hard to get to the point I want to reach. I started working at the age of fourteen to start satisfying my dreams; even when I was studying, I was always working multiple jobs at the same time.
How does your character or personality shine through your brand and collections?
Self Made as a brand is totally me. It’s what I have been, what I am and what I will be. It is my personal diary.
Was Self Made created based on a specific vision that will always be inherent in all the collections? Or do you see it growing and evolving into something beyond?
Self Made was built on the proper meaning of the words. Being self-made is something that you can only understand if you grew up in a certain way. That’s why lots of my customers are people who can identify with it and find themselves identified with the meaning of the brand. It could evolve in the passing of time, but it will never lose its essence: based on being self-made, struggle, pain, love for art, Filipino and Italian cultures, and love for hip-hop.
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Your latest collection for Spring/Summer 2018 took place in a Paris nightclub and consisted of a lot of juxtapositions: fusing American pop culture from your childhood in the Philippines alongside premium Italian tailoring, as well as the title of the collection: Don’t Believe the Hype/We Got Soul. What is the meaning behind fusing these two phrases and all the other contrasts?
I wanted to give a strong message focused especially on this historical period, where it is all about being hyped up, cool, and knowing the right people to succeed. Me, and the people that are a part of my Self Made family/team are real people, with soul, and we are doing what we studied long before and not capitalising on being cool. Then, as my other past collections, it is based on mixing Italian tailoring with the American/Filipino streetwear and hip-hop culture. But this season we were inspired by the ‘70s, which is where we got the phrase “We Got Soul” – from the funky movement.
Why do you choose to present your collections in Paris rather than somewhere closer to home, like Milan? What does Paris offer that other cities don’t?
Paris is really special to me. I spent my last four years working there so I love the city and I think that it is still the most important city for fashion.
Your work falls under this new category in fashion that people are calling ‘luxury streetwear’. How do you feel about this term? Do you agree with it, or would you consider it something else?
As I said before, I’m just doing what I love and always have. You can identify it as a streetwear brand, but only because I’ve grown up with hip-hop culture. You can call it luxury because I’ve grown up in Italy and I’ve been used to Italian tailoring and taste for luxurious fabrics and finishings.
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How do you balance between your creativity and running a business?
It’s pretty hard and intense because, at the same time, you have to think about both sides, both aspects are equally important. But I’m still trying to keep my identity even if sometimes the market is looking for something else.
Your work is mostly made by hand and produced in-house. Do you feel that the industry puts a lot of pressure on young businesses like yours to meet the same demands as those of well-established companies? If yes, how do you deal with it?
Yes, exactly, unfortunately. Especially when lately you see the rise of cheaper brands; people and stores cannot understand or accept T-shirts whose retail cost is a hundred and sixty euros, even if that garment is fully handmade in Italy and with special handmade embroideries, because the most important thing is the price. It’s not important anymore how it is made and where. But as I said, I’m going to keep on doing what I like and feel without losing my identity.
What can we expect from Self Made in the seasons to come? Any other personal projects in addition to the brand?
Lots of changes and plans but stay posted and we will see!
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