Rajo Laurel Reflects on His Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition

Rajo Laurel Reflects on His Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition


Explore the impact of the MEGA Young Designers Competition as this interview offers an intimate exploration into the early career of esteemed fashion designer Rajo Laurel

The MEGA Young Designers Competition has played (YDC) a crucial role in emphasizing the significance and growth of Filipino design, presenting distinct perspectives that mirror our diverse identities. In its first year in 1994, several designers emerged as notable figures, both at home and abroad. One figure stands proud and prominent, a designer at the forefront of Filipino fashion. YDC Runner-up Rajo Laurel reflects on his experiences as a budding competitor, unaware of the prestige he was set to become. 

RELATED: Notable Alumni of the MEGA Young Designers Competition

Rajo Laurel's Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition
Rajo Laurel celebrates the 125th Philippine Independence Day at Malacañang Palace

Youthful aspirations

Laurel takes us back to a time when he was a 21-year-old rookie navigating the local fashion industry. His initiation into the MEGA Young Designers Competition was a serendipitous moment, fueled by the invitation from former MEGA Editor-in-Chief Sari Yap herself. “I was already working for MEGA as an illustrator, but I joined the competition, and she asked me to make a dress for her,” he reminisces. “But this is really the start of many brilliant, wonderful things. MEGA just started. The whole industry was sort of really trying to grasp [that] we were moving away from that particular world of the older world into the new world.”

In the company of fellow designers like Michael Cinco, OJ Hofer, Erni Kwan, and Furne One, Laurel found himself not just in a competition, but also in a tapestry of shared experiences. “We became very fast friends,” he says, emphasizing the bonds formed during breaks and meals, and highlighting the camaraderie that blossomed among designers who spoke the same dialect.

Rajo Laurel's Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition
The designer’s three-layered sheer dress with circular rings from the June 2016 issue

The impact of the competition

The designer found himself navigating the uncharted waters of the fashion industry with nothing more than a singular vision and a dedicated sewer by his side. It was a time when his atelier was a rented basement, creating an ambiance that was both spartan and humbling.

“As I look back at my past, this is really part of my journey—and it began there,” Laurel reflects, his words resonating with the profound significance of those foundational years. The simplicity of the setting becomes a poignant backdrop against which the seeds of his remarkable journey were sown. In this retrospective view, the basement atelier became a symbolic space where creativity thrived amid humble surroundings.

Rajo Laurel's Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition
The designer at his studio

However, the journey wasn’t solely about the physical space, but also about the pivotal role played by the MEGA Young Designers Competition. Laurel acknowledges the competition’s significance as a vital component of his early career, not just as a contest, but also as a gateway that introduced him to a world where international luminaries generously shared advice.

Rajo Laurel's Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition
June 2023 cover star Bea Alonzo wears a Rajo Laurel dress

“The competition is a very important, vital part of it, primarily because we were almost introduced to all these incredible international people who were giving us advice on what to do and what not,” Laurel expresses with gratitude.

While he didn’t claim the top prize, the competition propelled him into the limelight. “I felt validated. I felt seen,” he shares. Winning, in his eyes, wasn’t confined to a trophy, but manifested in the recognition that followed. The competition served as a catalyst for success, with designers receiving orders and diving headfirst into the bustling world of fashion.

Kathryn Bernardo in a green dress by Rajo Laurel for the October 2017 issue

Reflecting on the opportunities that arose, Laurel describes the period as “exciting” rather than challenging. The young designers, untainted by the weight of commerce, reveled in the freedom to explore and express. “It was just you, your voice, and your work,” he muses, capturing the essence of a time when every endeavor felt like an adventure.

Influences beyond the runway

Engaging in the MEGA competition wasn’t solely about presenting designs as it served as a pathway to meaningful encounters with industry icons. Meeting the likes of Annie Flanders, the founder of Details Magazine, and model-editor Anna Bayle profoundly influenced Laurel. The sheer surrealism of conversing with once-distant figures, now tangible mentors, left him utterly amazed.

The designer takes on an avant-garde approach in this look from the October 2018 issue

In the absence of today’s digital immediacy, these interactions surpassed mere ephemeral moments. Instead, they became enduring memories that contributed significantly to the evolution of Laurel’s career. “They were just magazines, they’re still images, and then all of a sudden, you get to talk to them, you get to actually hear their voice,” he remarks. “They literally jumped out of the page of your fantasy and became true.”

Rajo Laurel's Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition
The Chrysalis collection was featured in the August 2023 issue

Guiding light

As MEGA Young Designers Competition makes a comeback, Rajo Laurel expresses his enthusiasm. “Competition is always very healthy,” he affirms, recognizing its potential to spotlight emerging talent, ignite creativity, and elevate the industry. The recurring rhythm of these competitions sparks his enthusiasm, heralding an anticipation for a fresh wave of designers poised to make significant contributions to the industry.

To the aspiring designers contemplating entry into such competitions, the designer imparts timeless advice. “Enjoy. Have fun. Don’t rush,” he encourages, emphasizing the ephemeral nature of the early career phase. His guidance to embrace authenticity, fearlessness, and unapologetic uniqueness resounds through the avenues of his distinguished trajectory. “Once you become an older designer, more established designer, you’ll realize that there’s so much more pressure involved. And lastly, be authentic, be you and and be crazy, and that the crazier you are probably the better it is. Because people will want to see the odd things, the different things, and new things.”

Rajo Laurel's Journey With the MEGA Young Designers Competition
Rajo Laurel at the dinner announcement of the MEGA Young Designers Competition

In the progression of the designer’s journey, the MEGA Young Designers Competition stands as a pivotal moment—an apex that jumpstarts an extraordinary career. Aspiring designers would do well to heed his words and embrace the chaos, the excitement, and the sheer joy of creating in a world that’s waiting to be draped in their vision.

Photos: RAJO LAUREL (via Instagram)
Featured Image: MEGA ARCHIVES

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