StyleBible Preview

Julia Barretto Is the Master of Her Own Story

by Katrina Maisie Cabral | Sep 8, 2023

After darkness comes the light, and a new page awaits where new stories can be written. As a bright star in her generation, Julia Barretto is among those weaving her own tale.

There’s beauty in the wreckage that Julia Barretto finds herself in. Among the dirtied makeshift lahar, she, in white, stands as a pristine contrast. Like a peaceful fragment that shines in the dried-out mudflow, remnants of ruin long past. 

Garbed in an array of customized white creations from this year’s Preview Best Filipino Fashion Designers honorees—namely Cheetah Rivera, Chris Nick, HA.MÜ, Novel, and RandolfJulia is goddess-like among women. She sways in the center of dancers from Ballet Philippines, and the tableau before us is almost ritualistic. The symbols are all there: In the dark scene, the divine moon shines above those who dwell in the night. Water is poured into a river by white-clad holders, like telltale signs of purification across cultures. 

In the modern world, a clean slate is the needed aftermath following a global pandemic, with years of standstill leaving a mark on the world as we know it. In this year’s Preview Ball, the clean slate is symbolized in its white-dressed guests and white-filled halls, where new stories can be written in newer ink. But to do so, we return to our roots and face the beginning.

Julia Barretto for Preview September 2023

In the Beginning

When we move from the makeshift moon to the fluorescent of the dressing room in between photos, Julia’s eyes still light up in their own regard. She’s nodding in recognition when I show her her first Preview cover from June 2013, when she, fresh out of child star roles, was merely 16 years old.


On the cover, Julia is coming of age. Not with her debutante Michael Cinco gown years later, but with a denim jacket draped on her shoulders and a white pair of Doc Martens on her feet. A dark cherry red lip capped off the look, and it’s easy to see why the actress could vividly describe the shoot, even before I whipped the photo out of my camera roll. 

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“I remember feeling so cool and so different, and everybody expected me to look sweet and girly on the cover when we did the exact opposite of that,” she recalls. “That made me so excited, so looking back at it, it’s like, as early as 16, I always wanted to do something that wasn’t expected.”

Despite a decade of more acting credentials, experiences, and adult wisdom, this is one part that 16- and 26-year-old Julia can agree on. The actress talks about her upcoming project Forgetting Canseco, where she plays Jasmine Rodriguez, an outspoken budding musician. In the Denise O’Hara-helmed tribute to Filipino composer George Canseco, she plays opposite ’90s matinee idol Aga Muhlach, who fills the role of Michael Capistrano, the conductor of a renowned chorale. And as its creators would say, this is a love story.


In the earlier promotions for the film, most are quick to note the characters’ and the actors’ age difference. Others dubbed it as a “May-December” love affair, while its director highlighted that it’s a tale of love point-blank, age gap notwithstanding. To Julia, Forgetting Canseco was a project that deserved a resounding “yes,” especially with the chance to work alongside the revered actor. “You don't get that opportunity every day, so it’s really not something you can pass up,” she says. “It’s something that I'll be taking with me until I’m done with my career and it’ll always be something that I will be proud of.”


Not too long ago, the actress had plunged into so-called riskier projects in the form of 2022’s Expensive Candy, where she portrays the titular sex worker Candy, alongside Carlo Aquino as the lovestruck public high school teacher Toto. Like most artists who are serious about their craft, pushing boundaries is a necessity for creative growth—and it’s one Julia holds like a badge, considering that she treats acting as her “happy place.”


ON JULIA: Dress and Coat, CHEETAH RIVERA. Jewelry, TIFFANY & CO.

“I felt like I was happiest when I was on set when I was nine years old,” she admits, recalling the time when she starred in the 2007 ABS-CBN children’s fantasy series Kokey. “It’s absolutely an escape and an outlet, because in real life, I’m really not the type to express what’s really inside.”

In the mini retrospect of her filmography we shared that day, Julia points out a significant moment where things all clicked, like the eureka moment on why she leaned onto acting in the first place. More than bearing the last name of industry greats, the actress describes a time on the set of the 2015 teleserye And I Love You So, where she shared a scene with acting veterans Angel Aquino and Jay Manalo.

“In that scene, I really had no line, so I was able to see how they worked,” she says. “I think there was a shift in me after. It was because I saw so much passion in both of them.


“It really changed my perception. What inspired me was just watching the two of them—and they’ve both been in the industry for so long—and how they still carry the same passion for the craft. I was thinking when I grow up, and I’m still doing this, I want to be as passionate about it as they are.”


Eight years on and the passion takes shape in the creative “daring” risks she delves into, par for the course of her pushing the envelope as an artist. “That’s always the goal—doing something different from the last one that you've done, and always challenging yourself in each project that you do, even when it causes you to feel scared and nervous and unsure,” she explains. 

“I think I’m more drawn to doing something when I feel that way. I love being stretched because it’s the only way to grow.”

The Groundbreaker

In that pocket of reality outside of the studio’s otherworldly tableau, our conversation continues. As the epitome of the new Preview woman, the topic shifts to what risk-takers can often, if not always, be dubbed—trendsetters. 

Julia muses about the word. “That’s such a heavy thing,” she responds.

In the sense of fashion, Julia leans into the classics and quips that she’s “pretty basic these days.” She prioritizes comfort and timeless pieces, in line with her frugal lifestyle as someone who’s living on her own. Nonetheless, her leaning toward neutrals has its influence on the millions who follow her, as exhibited by a candid clip of her swaying to ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” and the little black dress that, too, gained viral status.


ON JULIA: Dress, HA.MÜ. Nubia II Boots, P7995, MELISSA. Jewelry, TIFFANY & CO.

A 13-year-old Julia would likely have been ecstatic, given that once, she dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. “I was in a bookstore, and I saw this ‘Learn How to Draw Your Own Dresses’ or ‘Sketch Your Own Designs,’” she recalls. “That’s when I kind of knew, oh, I like to create pieces for myself.”


These days, her individuality shines by not easily succumbing to the ever-changing tides of her timeline. “I realized I tend to veer away from what everyone else is doing and wearing. I always want to remind myself to go back to my core,” she says. 

“When you scroll and see a lot of people, it’s so easy to be influenced because you see it so much. Sometimes I find myself taking a break from seeing all these trends, because I want to remind myself of the things I like to wear, that I would wear, just to keep that individuality.”


Heavy lies the crown, indeed, as Julia continues to reflect on the “trendsetter” mantle. “I never think about it, because I feel when I’m dressing up, I’m always just being myself,” she says. “I don’t even advise people to copy it. But I will advise you to dress up according to who you are for your self-expression.”

And if anything, to Julia, the trendsetter title boils down to one crucial aspect. “Being a trendsetter is inspiring other people to express who they are, by wearing the things that will represent who they are. That’s what it is to me; it’s inspiring people to be themselves, and to have their own individuality.”

A Clean Slate

Beyond her first love of acting and fashion, her status as a trendsetter and a trailblazer transcends into another facet of herself as Julia Barretto, the entrepreneur. Helming the lifestyle brand The Juju Club since 2021, Julia has received her fair share of nuggets of wisdom, which can be applicable to life in the long run.


“Nothing in life really comes easy,” she says. “It might be fast and exciting at first, but it doesn’t mean it’s gonna be that way for as long as your business runs. The passion you put in in the beginning should be the same passion every single day.”


ON JULIA: Quine Racer Back Dress, P2649, THE EDITOR’S MARKET

Other than being a business owner, there have been big leaps and changes for Julia in the past few years, with her living independently as a large chunk. “I feel like when you find comfort in being alone, you just don't fear it anymore,” she thinks. “It gives you some kind of confidence, now you don't really have to depend on anyone and anything to feel comfortable.”

All in all—her craft in acting, her business, the slices of her personal life that she can readily show the world—they’re fragments of a story in progress, a story that she has been writing herself. 



The plot has taken unexpected turns and other characters have changed, but there are some parts that she keeps to herself. It’s one way for Julia to keep autonomy in steering her own story, too. “I love that I have that part of me that not everybody knows. I love that I get to keep that to myself, and to the people who are close to me and behind closed doors,” she says.

“I really don’t mind if people are not able to see who I am for who I am, because I feel like once people have decided who you are in their eyes, I don't know. I’ve just gotten to an age [that] I don’t even bother to think of what they think of me.”


ON JULIA: Dress, NOVEL. Jewelry, TIFFANY & CO.

And as with any story that has been written, the character’s journey is at the crux of it all, regardless of public perception. In this particular scene, the fluorescent lights of the dressing room would be soon switched off, and Julia is bound to return to our makeshift lahar, a vision in white in her bespoke clothes. A decade after her first cover, she fronts Preview anew in a different era, where stories like hers have started and continue to do so.


But before she turns back to the studio where the moon shines above make-do rock fragments, she thinks about the 16-year-old Julia of that cover years past. “So much has already happened then, but I think that’s still who I am like to the core,” she says. “But when I was younger, I’d feel a lot of pressure, because a lot of things would get to me. I’m a little more aware of the world and my surroundings now.”

“Now, I just let myself be me…” A quick pause. The scene is about to change, and in ways, a new chapter is about to start. “...And I let people be them.” 

After all, aren’t we all writing our own stories?

Produced and Styled by The Preview Team
Photographers: Cenon Norial III and Mav Bernardo
Creative Director: Bacs Arcebal
Movement Director: Madge Reyes of Fifth Wall Fest
Editor-in-Chief: Marj Ramos-Clemente
Production: Katrina Maisie Cabral and Jamie Lou Briones
Fashion: Marj Ramos-Clemente, Reg Rodriguez, and Isha Fojas
Dancers: Nicole Klaudine Barroso, Ysabel Bernardo, Olivia Bugayong, Danielle Kleiner, Clarise Miranda, and Jemima Reyes of Ballet Philippines
Makeup: Denise Ochoa, assisted by Janice Perdigon
Hairstyling: “Bee” Amarga Buangan
Nails: Mimi Luxury Nails
Set and Production Design: Rocketsets
Story: Katrina Maisie Cabral
Videos: Jana Jodloman
Social Media: Jamie Lou Briones
Shoot Location: Baked Studios
Special thanks to Ballet Philippines


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