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How Cecile Van Straten Began Collecting Comme des Garcons

She and Joane Laygo talk about the art of collecting.
How Cecile Van Straten Began Collecting Comme des Garcons
IMAGE Jeanne Young
She and Joane Laygo talk about the art of collecting.

It’s the first time Cecile Zamora Van-Straten and Joane Laygo are meeting each other, but they’re talking like old friends. They’re quizzing each other on brands they like, the stores they go to; laughing at each other’s witty one-liners; and talking about their respective fashion collections.

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IMAGE Jeanne Young

Cecile (a.k.a Chuvaness) collects Rei Kawakubo’s Comme des Garçons. Joane, a head choreographer and stage director (The Voice Philippines, X Factor Philippines, Binibining Pilipinas, etc.), collects statement shoes from different designer brands. For Cecile, it’s an obsession that dates back to high school, while Joan started her shoe collection fairly recently. "How did you start collecting shoes?" Cecile asks her. "Wala, bumili lang ako," Joane laughs. All the joking around, it seems, is an attempt to mask how they really feel: nervous, hesitant to talk about a topic deemed materialistic by most. Joane justifies her collection by saying that she works hard for each pair (aside from doing choreography and stage directing, she’s also in training as a TV director, under Mr. Johnny Manahan, no less) and considers each purchase a reward. "That’s true," Cecile concurs. "For you, ha. Because I don’t work hard."

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CECILE: How did you start collecting shoes?

JOANE: Wala, bumili lang ako (I don't know, I just started buying). I started collecting in 2010. I just saw a Christan Louboutin pair in Lane Crawford, I think. It was a long time ago. It was black and I needed a basic black pair so I bought it.

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IMAGE Jeanne Young

C: Did you know the brand or did you just like it?

J: I knew the brand. When you say Christian Louboutin, it connotes "sexy"—and I felt sexy naman when I wore them! (Laughs)

PREVIEW: What’s in your collection?

J: Different kinds. Iba-iba talaga (They're all so different). 

C: What are the brands you like?

J: I love Alaïa.

C: Top five brands?

J: I have no top five. Just really Alaïa.

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C: Why? Is it hard to buy Alaïa?

J: I like how it looks. I haven’t seen anything like it. 

P: Do you follow the collection obsessively? Make sure you have the new pair when it comes out?

J: No, no, I don’t. I’m too old to make abang (be on standby)! 

C: I like that statement! 

J: Buying things is not my priority. Only when I see it and I like it that I buy it. My work is my priority.

C: Me, when I was in high school, in 1984, my batchmates wanted to look sosy, so they liked Ralph Lauren and Lacoste. Suddenly there was this designer [Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons] whose collection was all black and butas-butas (full of holes). Today kasi, butas-butas is normal; before it was different. They called it the beggar look then and I was fascinated. I don’t like the rich look eh; I like the poor look. (Laughs) I got my first piece in 1985; I was already in college. It was a sweater. My dad bought it for me because I couldn’t afford it. He bought, like, the cheapest sweater, which was JP¥9000. But at the time, it was considered super mahal (expensive). And feeling ko, ang sosyal ko. There were only two of us who had Comme in college [College of Fine Arts, UP Diliman]: me and a gay guy. Pero mas marami siya.

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P: What about Comme des Garçons excites you?

C: It’s a lifestyle. I think there’s an intellectual person behind it. You know how, when somebody wears Comme, you feel like you know each other? There’s a connection. It’s usually a creative person, a thinking person. I guess it’s the same with you, Joane, if you see someone in an Alaïa pair… like Victoria Beckham?

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J: No, Victoria Beckham is too beautiful. (Laughs)

C: But do you feel that, when someone wears the same thing, you’re kinda similar.

J: Yeah, parang same taste?

P: Why do you collect what you collect? Do you feel a sense of fulfillment? Do you collect so you can pass it on to your children? Cecile, though, you have sons.

J: For me, I just buy because I need it and I like it.

C: Me also. It’s a necessity.

J: For one, my daughter is a size seven. I won’t be able to pass the shoes on to her.

C: What size are you?

J:  I’m a six.

C: Wow, that’s easy. Me, I’m an eight. 

J: Also, I just feel happy. And I feel like I deserve it because I work hard.

C: For me, it’s not like sinadya ko to collect. It was really just a dream of mine to wear it every day. I couldn’t afford it before. I could only get like one piece a year and then when I got older, I told my husband, "I want to wear Comme every day." Na-achieve ko siya when I turned 40.

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P: Can you quantify your collection?

C: It’s weird. When I look at my collection, it’s pare-pareho (the same). Like 10 jackets… [Looks at Preview Fashion Director Daryl Chang.] You saw it, right?

DARYL: Yes, it’s like 10 of the same skirts, but just different fabrics…

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C: Like the skirt with suspenders? I was thinking, "Should I still buy it?" I have six na

P: So did you still buy it?

C: Yes! Because it’s still different. Iba ’yung tela, iba ’yung bagsak… (the fabric and fit are different...)

P: Do you only have Comme in your closet?

C: I have other brands like… Old Navy? I like John Patrick Organics. I have Limi Feu, COS, Margiela, pero hindi marami (but not a lot). 

P: Do you collect other things?

C: I also have bags, shoes and hats, mostly Maison Michel

J: Me, ref magnets. (Laughs)

P: How do you "house" your collection?

C: I’m a mess. I have to remodel our dressing room; it’s falling apart. I’m not that careful. You, Joane, I’m sure you’re careful.

J: I am. I fix my own closet. I arrange everything by color, so I already know what to wear. 

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C: Are your shoes enclosed in glass cabinets with lights?

 J: No! Ano 'yon, si Papa God (It's not like an altar!)? I’m not that pathetic! (Laughs)

P: So you wear every piece in your collection?

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C: I wear it. I’m tamad (lazy). I don’t have time to dress up. Like for what I wore to the [portrait] shoot, we were panicking for 10 minutes in the house earlier. "Asan na 'yung scarf ko?! (where's my scarf?!)" But that’s it. Sometimes when I dress up, I’ll go, "Okay, this looks baduy (tacky)," then take it off. I find it’s easy to [mix and] match if it’s the same designer.

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J: That’s true. I wear my shoes with anything, and I have very simple clothes. I’m pretty laid-back, I guess, also because I’m a dancer. I have like 60 to 70 pairs of shoes, but only 50 are designer brands. I have high-street brands as well. 

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C: Are you particular about the brand? 

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J: No, just anything that I like or catches my attention. I hate going to the mall, unless I’m going to eat.

C: I go to Japan at least once or twice a year. I go to the "temple". (Laughs) It’s only worth going to the Japan store. It’s cheaper and they have the complete collection.

P: You go to Japan just to shop for Comme?

C: No. I go to Japan because I’m Japanese.

J: Hahahaha! 

C: Also because I can’t shop here. I just feel like most of the brands, I’m too old for them. (Laughs)

J: I shop for shoes in Biondini and Galeries Lafayette in Paris. I also shop online, in Luisa Via Roma and Net-a-Porter. When I travel, I usually have two days to shop, like in the US for example, I go to Barney’s and Neiman. Then for clothes, I do it online because I don’t like walking around in malls.

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C: I also shop online. I only shop when there’s a need. 

P: What is your go-to look?

J: I’m such a "plain" person. I don’t like wearing accessories. 

C: Me too. I don’t own jewelry. I don’t like accessories. 

J: They’re too heavy, and you have to think about whether your earrings match your watch. So I just finish off the look—or complete the look—with shoes. It ends there. 

C: I'm a tomboy. I dress like a boy. Because I'm built like a boy. I'm not a girly girl. I don’t wear heels. Kapag nag-heels ako magkaka-earthquake sa Samar (If I wore heels it'll trigger an earthquake in Samar)! Promise! I bought Louboutins before but I just sold them to my cousin.

J: You don’t wear heels? So what do you wear at… weddings?

C: For my wedding, I had a gown made in London, and I wore wooden platforms.

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P: Are you still adding to the collection? Do you think you’ll ever stop?

J: If I see something I like and can afford it, yes. Will I stop? Probably when I’m 50! (Laughs) Shoes are a part of me—literally—every day. I need them, so it’s a no!

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C: I just bought four pieces in Tokyo yesterday.

This article was originally published in Preview's July 2014 Best Dressed issue. You can download back issues of Preview here

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