Filipino Designer Kermit Tesoro On What Avant Garde Artistry Is

Filipino Designer Kermit Tesoro On What Avant Garde Artistry Is


In an exclusive interview with MEGA, Berlin-based designer Kermit Tesoro ponders and reflects on the conscious familiarity of his avant-garde artistry

In a Berlin studio, silence remains a stranger. It doesn’t whisper or wail, it refrains from roaring or rallying. It steers clear of discourse and refrains from sparking contemplation. It abstains from chores, neither tidying nor neglecting, forsaking culinary pursuits and bed-making duties. It abstains from these obligations for the simple reason that silence, in this space, is a phantom—a nonentity. Instead, only the clamor of hammers hammering, the dance of screwdrivers twisting and turning, the wood’s weary sigh as it’s scraped and molded, and the exasperated, exhausted grunts and groans of a creator reverberate. It is a world of relentless noise, an auditory experience alive with purpose. It’s perhaps why designer Kermit Tesoro finds solace in the elusive embrace of silence.

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Traditions are deeply etched into the very fabric of society, each strand forming a vital part of our shared history. Yet, amid the resonance of established norms, Tesoro shines as a light of ingenuity. His avant-garde designs possess the uncanny ability to disrupt the fashion world’s rhythm, compelling it to momentarily pause and engage in contemplation. Amid this dynamic landscape, one cannot help but muse on the silent revolution he orchestrates. What, one might wonder, fuels his relentless passion for stretching the boundaries in an industry often characterized by its adherence to convention?

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From the new capsule collection, Leucistic Observations

Conscious challenges

“The thing is,” Kermit muses, “we all have conscious familiarity with fashion, and we grew up knowing how they appear, and what clothing or footwear looks like.” It’s this very familiarity that acts as a catalyst for his unconventional approach. Designers, each with their unique methods, find their inspiration in various aspects, be it technical or personal. For Kermit, his imaginative impetus is the product of observations and curiosities, an inquisitive blend of the known and the uncharted.

The challenges he encounters are the flames that keep his visionary furnace burning. Many of the materials he employs in his designs are far from traditional or practical choices, often stretching the limits of what is deemed suitable for clothing. “The intention has always been to be true to my elements,” he admits, “these elements are repeatedly dogged by my creative and personal demons.” His creations, born of such relentless perseverance, push the boundaries of fashion to unforeseen realms, a pursuit he sometimes regards as a reward, or perhaps even a curse.

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Inside the Berlin studio

Surreal self-expressions

Much like all artists, there’s inevitably that noteworthy instant, a memory that etches itself into their imaginative venture. For Tesoro, it’s the release of his work into the public eye that consistently forms a profound impact. “Each time I release a work in public,” he reflects, “that’s always an impactful event.” These impactful moments serve as guideposts, leading him through each new project. It’s the residue of these memories, the scars of past endeavors, that help him navigate the conflicting waters of the creative process. The stress and turmoil that accompany his work, he acknowledges, are essential in shaping his path.

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The Berlin-based designer crafts and creates

Tesoro’s avant-garde designs have graced the bodies of celebrities, adding an extra layer of complexity to his process. Designing for high-profile clients, he explains, often involves collaboration with stylists, directors, and management. The process typically begins with visual cues provided by these influential figures, along with a timeframe within which he sketches and experiments, guided by supplied mood boards. “Inevitable revisions take place,” he notes, like the verses of a poetic dialogue that metamorphose with each exchange. Some of whom he’s worked with have proven candid and amiable, making the process a dynamic and engaging one. He doesn’t just design for them but alongside them, allowing their unique visions to fuse with his artistic ingenuity. Just ask Lady Gaga.

His designs are renowned for their surreal and imaginative elements, which beg the question: what inspires these otherworldly concepts, and how does he breathe life into them? “It all depends,” he ponders. The surreality of his designs finds its roots in the most unusual of places: unpopular topics, offbeat experiences, fetishes, taboos, childhood fixations, and even dreams. The initial spark for these creations begins with a simple “What if?” question. From there, his demons take over, crafting hypotheses and scrutinizing ideas until they evolve into tangible works of art.

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Kermit Tesoro contemplates and reflects

Fashion is often seen as a form of self-expression, and Kermit’s designs empower individuals to express themselves in the most unique ways. He believes that the connection between his works and the wearers is deeply personal. “It’s like meeting a stranger with whom you share a rare and specific music genre,” he describes, “and it’s the commonality in the psychological sense that makes the person feel familiar and empowered when wearing my pieces.” While not everyone may immediately grasp his ideas, when that connection is established, it sparks a conversation, a shared understanding that transcends the boundaries of fashion.

“It’s not common for people to get my ideas, but when someone does, it’s a conversation.”

Kermit Tesoro

Organic growth recurred

Sustainability is an urgent concern in the fashion industry today, and the designer is conscious of his role in addressing it. His most recent project and others preceding it have been meticulously crafted with the idea in mind. His latest capsule collection, for example, features a plethora of ecological materials: pineapple woven fabric, banana fiber, rattan, bamboo. These raw materials are not only sustainable but also sourced ethically, with a strong emphasis on their Philippine roots. However, in a twist, he also employs Mahogany wood for shoe platforms, despite it being a non-native species in the Philippines. For him, this choice is a means to control the spread of the bio-invasive species, turning a challenge into an opportunity.

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Octopus shoes from the Polypodis collection

Kermit’s process is a journey from the germ of an idea to the realization of a final product. With each project, he finds himself embracing a new narrative. While the questions may be recurring, they serve as milestones in his personal and creative growth, constantly evolving and reflecting the ever-changing landscape of his creativity. What remains a consistent thread is the organic nature of his artistry. Like sowing a seed, he allows the idea to germinate and grow organically, without micromanaging its development. He firmly believes in the theory of “learning by doing” and the power of immersion.

Shaping perpetual evolution

With designs that blur the line between fashion and art, Tesoro navigates a terrain where balance is a perpetual challenge. He admits, “I’m not sure if I know how to balance art and fashion, the idea itself is already squaring for me.” He edits and retracts, challenges and embraces. The one constant is that his creations must speak to him before they are shared with the world. The belief that “there is no agitation, without provocation” guides his work, allowing the audience to reflect on his creations from their own perspectives. The result is often a mix of reactions, from admiration to repulsion, but what truly matters is the emotional resonance his work ignites in the conscious being.

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Kermit Tesoro starts his process

With digital technology and virtual experiences becoming increasingly prevalent, Tesoro takes a somewhat laid-back approach. He confesses to being a bit lazy when it comes to digital technology. While he initially engaged with social media enthusiastically, his personal usage has dwindled, reducing it to a platform for staying in touch and sharing thoughts and images deemed relevant. Yet, his digital endeavors have yielded unexpected results. Sharing his “skull heels” via Lookbook in 2010 led to a sudden influx of inquiries, eventually sparking the interest of stylists and celebrities. Posting his work, Polypodis, also led to unexpected virality, opening doors to remarkable opportunities, including participation in various fashion events, notably the Philippine Fashion Week. While the physical experience of a live audience remains intense and beautiful, the reach of cyberspace amplifies the impact of his work, evidence of the power of the internet in shaping modern fashion.

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The designer shows his intricate craftsmanship

Ever-changing entity

Tesoro leaves aspiring designers with some thought-provoking advice. “It’s all about being true to yourself,” he emphasizes, “knowing your strength, and utilizing it.” He acknowledges the importance of recognizing one’s flaws and imperfections, for one’s identity is a dynamic entity: ever-changing. The key is to establish a visceral connection with one’s creations, ensuring they are not external entities but extensions of oneself, whether as a designer, an artist, or simply a human being.

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Kermit Tesoro experiments

Silence is but a facade, forever reverberating with concealed notes, in vibrations that elude our ears. And of those we do grasp, they bring forth sounds. In the world of Kermit Tesoro, surreal concepts become reality, boundaries fade away, and fashion transforms into art. It’s a world where dreams, nightmares, and the unexplored merge, where creativity knows no bounds, and imagination reigns supreme. We ask, “What if?” and all we can do is listen and then answer. 

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