For 37-year-old Jill Lao, starting her brand, Studio Jill Lao, was entirely unexpected. “I got into fashion very slowly,” Lao told TheDiarist.ph, “I had very little exposure to the fashion industry growing up, and was not aware that it could be a career or business.”
Her first job was as management consultant, and she shifted to being a merchandise assistant in a retail company. Though her job made her handle figures, budgets and forecasts, she recalled, she was exposed to the world of fashion—an auspicious start. “There were creative sparks in deciding which designs the customer would respond to, and discerning how to translate international campaigns to the local market.”
She then helped out in her family business for three years before finally deciding to plunge—with eyes open—into fashion. She worked as assistant stylist to Sidney Yap. “This exposed me to different careers within the fashion industry and introduced me to more people than I ever met before. I vacillated between fashion and non-fashion jobs, but fashion won over.”
She moved to New York in 2014 to study Fashion Merchandising at Parsons. “After taking a basic design class in my first semester, I fell in love with craft and construction, shifted to fashion design, and never looked back.”
In 2017, after she finished her studies, she came home and started accepting custom-made work, but it was in 2018 when she did her holiday collection that she realized a full vision of what she wanted her brand to be.
“My design ethos is relaxed, feminine, easy elegance,” Lao said. “The women who wear my pieces live their lives to the beat of their own drum and don’t follow trends blindly. They have their own sense of style and love mixing their wardrobe pieces.”
Her current collection, called Amelia, was inspired by voyager Amelia Earhart and Enola Holmes—one a historical heroine, the other fictional. “Both were smart, strong, confident women who flouted society’s dictates on what women should be. Both were also feminine and charming, and used their wit and skills to champion other women and lift them up,” Lao said.
“I wanted to allow women to move freely without sacrificing style and comfort,” Lao explained how freedom and movement are the key to this collection featuring light, airy fabrics such as organza, lace, and broderie anglaise, and adjustable details such as drawstrings and gathers. Her collection is marked by free-flowing silhouettes, from cut-out trench dresses, oversized Paige Boy shirt dress, Bonnie shorts, to drawstring camisole dresses and skirts.
As the world slowly opens up, Lao is building on the creative discipline to produce two collections a year. She will launch her latest collection at Rockwell PowerPlant and in her website, www.jilllao.com in March. “We’re very excited about these as we interact with more customers and learn about them.”
She is also open to doing dressier pieces like evening wear and bridal ensembles again. “I look forward to creating those again as the world opens up.”