As we climb the narrow stairs up to his atelier, I tell fashion designer Jonathan Christopher Hofwegen, “With stairs like these, you shouldn’t be coming home drunk.” Hofwegen laughs, reading my mind about the wild and glamorous parties that someone like him is regularly invited to.
“Oh, it’s manageable,” he chirps. “Socializing is part of the job.”
We reach the second floor of the house he shares with his partner Bart in Rotterdam. Here, he has a small reception area furnished by a worn out couch as well as a kitchen counter where he makes coffee for his guests. Then we notice the two open rooms –one full with samples and fabrics while the other, with patterns, mannequins and sewing machines. We enter his work station. On the wall above his computer are different photos and other images which Hofwegen says inspire him. Alongside the little works of “art” are self-help quotes touching on working hard and being original.
Destined for fashion
Hofwegen was born to a Filipina mother and American father. When his mother re-married his Dutch stepfather adopted him and took the whole family to The Netherlands. His exposure to fashion started at a young age, when he would see his mom dress up in stylish clothes and shoes. Growing up, his mom would always tell him to try to look his best even if his pockets were empty just so he would feel good about himself.
He never forgot his mom’s wise words –fashion can make anyone not only look good but also make them feel rich as well. So when it was time for Hofwegen to pursue a course in university, it didn’t come as a surprise that he would choose something that had to do with fashion. Hofwegen finished his bachelor’s degree in fashion and apparel design at the Willem de Kooning Academy. He then pursued his master’s degree at the prestigious Dutch fashion school ArteZ Institute for the Arts and became part of the Generation 12 class.
Even then, Hofwegen would be nominated for several fashion competitions in The Netherlands. He was most proud when he was chosen by no less than renowned fashion designer Marc Jacobs as the only non-German finalist for the Design for Tomorrow Berlin competition in 2011. Although he did not bring home the coveted 1st prize, he won the Henri Winkelman young creative entrepreneur award two years later in his home country.
“I don’t have to be a celebrity designer but I consider my designs as couture. I only make one piece for each of my collections and they’re all handmade. I use high quality materials,” notes Hofwegen.
At 26, Hofwegen has his own label aptly named Jonathan Christopher Homme. The clothes under this line are already being retailed at the K11 mall in Hongkong. Dutch celebrities including Jandino Asporaat have sported his designs. Hofwegen believes that designer clothes should be wearable. So much so, that even their creators will want to put them on.
“I only want to create clothes that I will wear myself. I don’t get it how some designers can make things that they won’t wear themselves. I find it a waste of money and materials,” observes Hofwegen.
Hofwegen’s designs can be described as androgynous. He mixes and matches contrasting fabrics, uses solid colors and highlights fluidity in his sillouettes. He goes as far as experimenting with different materials like wood to incorporate with his fabrics. His inspirations can be as
diverse as the anatomy of insects to create pieces, which can transform into different looks when exposed to light. Jonathan also uses traditional Philippine fabrics made of pina and banana fibers.
“Philippine fabrics, especially those made of banana fibers, are very good raw materials. They have great potential in the fashion industry especially in Europe. If only they are developed and promoted more here,” laments Hofwegen.
Entering the fashion world
Hofwegen admits that it is not easy being a young fashion designer in The Netherlands. To gain experience, he worked for the Dutch fashion designer Franciso van Benthum for almost a year before taking his master’s degree. He also worked for fashion store Sophie#1234567+ as both production managemer and assistant. In some of his designing gigs, he was not even paid for his work. Now he is working for Karl Lagerfeld in Amsterdam.
Having his own label, says Hofwegen, is not all it’s cracked up to be.
“Sometimes, I do not earn much with my pieces because I buy my fabrics which are of very high quality,” confesses Hofwegen. To augment his income, he designs clothes for other fashion houses.
“Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do,” says Hofwegen.
While he understands that networking is a crucial part of his job, Hofwegen sometimes finds it difficult to combine partying all night and working on his designs the next day.
“If I were younger, I wouldn’t mind. But now I feel tired easily after doing an all-nighter,” the designer laughingly shares.
Having good business sense
Recently, Hofwegen has partnered with a friend to launch a ready-to-wear collection for women. These clothes will be sold in over 120 shops in The Netherlands.
“I have become more business-minded since the first show in Berlin. At one point, you will realize that you have to have income,” says Hofwegen.
As an entrepreneur, Jonathan is very hands-on. He prefers meeting with clients than conversing with them through electronic mail. He is practically a one-man show, doing everything himself –from looking for sponsors to marketing and managing his finances.
He was able to start his business thanks to his savings plus a government grant that especially offers financial assistance to artists like
Hofwegen’s multicultural background, he says, has helped him to become more creative and entrepreneurial. He is quick to add that growing up in a Dutch household has influenced him to become business- minded as well. Hofwegen advises aspiring entrepreneurs to read a lot, especially when it comes to subjects on finance. It is best, he says, to be surrounded by people who know how to handle their money well. Ask for advice on how to make your hard-earned cash grow.
Networking is also key to having success in business. You just have to be willing to spend time and money.
“Having a business is a lot of work and a lot of investment. Sometimes you have to work 20 hours a day and it can get really difficult. You have to have passion otherwise you will not survive,” ends Hofwegen
Hofwegen will be launching his new collection at the Mercedes-Benz Amsterdam Fashion Week this month.
This article was first published in the 3rd edition of The Filipino Expat Magazine. CLICK to read or download back issues