INTERVIEW by MATTHEW KITCHEN | BR!NK PHOTOGRAPHY by ZACK DeZON
What were you doing at 22? Unless your name is Ryan Jordan (or possibly Doogie Howser), your story probably won’t impress us. Truth is, Jordan — a Filipino fashion designer — was styling shows as a teenager for years before heading to study at New York’s famous Parsons design school. There, his carnal senior thesis, Sexual Sensory, included some of the hottest looks chosen by singer and fashion icon Lady Gaga for her “Born this Way” promotional tour. Always looking for the next project, Jordan is prepping to start his own label and take over the fashion world, much like his idol, Tom Ford. But give him some time — after all, he’s only 22.
How did you come up with the ideas in Sexual Sensory?
It was my personal exploration of what sex means to me and how I perceive it in women. How I want to see it. I was taking this melodrama film class and we watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo. There’s this stark, eerie feeling to the film that I was really drawn to, and this contrast to Kim Novak and the way she dressed and the way she acted. That was a big influence. I was also watching Barbarella over and over again, and I loved how naïve and open she was with her sexuality and how women were accentuated in the 1950s and 60s.
Sounds like Lady Gaga’s style. How did she reach out to you?
I had devoted a year of school to Sexual Sensory, and honestly, it received pretty mediocre reviews because it was a little more out there than my classmates. It was what I wanted to do and I was happy with it, but I was thrown off and had doubts, so I just threw it in the closet. When I came back to New York after some time at home in San Francisco, I got an email from Nicola Formichetti’s assistant that said “Request for Lady Gaga,” and right away I was like, “My thesis! Where is it? I need to steam it. I need to make sure everything is okay.” They wanted my whole collection to borrow because she was traveling around the world promoting “Born this Way.” She wore my corset in Australia while coming out of her jet and a python skirt in the German magazine, Stern. That was really exciting and boosted my confidence a lot. It was confirmation that I’m heading in the right direction.
What have you done for Lady Gaga since then?
I directed and designed the Viva Glam Masterpiece project with Nicola, which was documented in an abstract piece shot and edited by Ruth Hogben, who did all of Gareth Pugh’s early fashion films. I also did a few custom pieces for Gaga under Mugler and a medieval motorcycle jacket, a hat, and teddy bear that were showcased custom pieces for Nicola’s Pop-Up Shop in collaboration with Schott, the leather company.
What was the fallout for you after designing for Lady Gaga?
I was in American Vogue and featured online by Interview Magazine, Rolling Stone, and a couple other publications. It’s amazing to see your name in magazines. It might be a tiny caption, but it’s a big deal for me. It’s like, “Woah!”
Is there a fear of being a one-hit wonder?
Always, and it’s important to be aware of that. It’s good to be realistic. The months since I designed for Gaga have been crazy, but you can’t just live on this one thing. You have to keep asking, “What’s next, what’s next?” and you have to keep going if you’re in this industry. You want to appreciate the moment, but always be thinking ahead.
What originally drew you to fashion?
I grew up with strong, stylish women. My mom went to FIDM and my grandmother had a dress shop in the Philippines, so they were both very fashion-conscious. Watching them come out of the house in what they’re wearing was incredible. Not even brand names, just style. Being around strong women definitely influenced me in wanting to dress women right away. I came out at a very young age, 14, and to come out that early and have so much support from my family, that’s allowed me to do what I want to do. I think that’s the key thing with my roots. I wouldn’t be where I am without them.
How do you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to style?
I honestly don’t think too much about it. I’m just always aware of what’s going on. I always try to stay true to whatever I’m attracted to. What seems fresh? What’s been done? What can I contribute? When I was in school, my teachers were always paying attention to what’s going on. For a lot of designers there’s a moment that creates a movement. It’s kind of magic in a way. You don’t know how it happened, but people are on the same wavelength. You have to pay attention to what’s happening in pop culture, politics, and everything, because it’s really present in fashion, too.
How has pop culture recently manifested itself in fashion?
It seems really simple, but with the economy, it’s about bringing optimism through fashion. In the 80s all the women were going to work and they needed suits. They really wanted to have a presence in the office that said, “I’m serious and I’m here.” They had these strong shoulders and power silhouettes and wanted to stay away from being noticed for their bodies rather than their minds. That’s a direct translation to fashion.
What’s next for you?
Money is always an issue, but I told myself I had a good foundation for press and a presence in fashion enough to start something of my own in five years. Things that are a little more wearable and accessible and just going full-time at it. Until then, I just don’t want to lose it. I don’t want to be irrelevant after Sexual Sensory, so I’m looking to do capsule collections, maybe five or six looks at whatever pace I want to go at. I’ll target Gaga and other celebrities so my name doesn’t go away. It’s tough trying to find a backer, and I don’t think I’m ready yet. Plus, I just want to enjoy my youth.
Finally, how can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Just getting my name out there. I recently published a website that I’d love for people to check out. We have a Facebook fan page and all that, which is updated with the editorials and press I’ve been getting. I’m an open book, honest about who I am and what I do. I don’t mind that someone adds me on Facebook or messages me about work — internships and articles and everything. I learned through working for Nicola that it’s all about collaboration these days. The idea of connections is powerful and worth pushing. Learning from each other and working with each other. Why not help someone? There’s always time to meet and collaborate. I want to know who’s out there.