Jo Ann Bitagcol marks five years of purposeful, intentional design with her first showroom

Aside from the Poblacion workshop, the indefatigable artist also launched a new collection that explores piña fabric as canvas.

Jo Ann Bitagcol’s journey as a designer began five years ago. She remembers, “I would watch my friends who were designing and selling their merchandise and thought to myself, ‘I want to do that, too.’”

The model, fashion icon, and photographer then went through outtakes from the Fashionable Filipinas by Gino Gonzales and Mark Lewis Higgins. Images she took of the vintage garments and accessories were then translated onto silk scarves. And thus, saw the birth of Bitagcol’s maiden collection, Baul.

Banner photo from Jo Ann Bitagcol; photo above from her Instagram
Photo courtesy of Jo Ann Bitagcol for Fashion and Market

In the five years since debuting her first collection, Bitagcol has established her identity as both a designer and artist. Her signature digital prints on satin silk have consistently presented a contemporary point of view on Philippine culture and traditions. Succeeding collections like Burda, Tao, Alaala, Tamis, Padron de Kolor, and Barong offer a glimpse into local life, as seen through the designer’s lens.

From silk scarves, Bitagcol has also explored other garments as a medium. These include boxy shirts, aprons, terno tops, skirts, malong pants, and sweaters. The designer ponders, “When I create, I’m always looking for something that can be worn everywhere, by everyone. I’m also drawn to objects that have multiple functions or limitless possibilities. This is what informs my designs.”

Bitagcol, the brand, at the Bench Fashion Week 2024 last March. Photos from Bench TM and Bitagcol’s Instagram accounts

Piña as her canvas

To mark her fifth year in design, Bitagcol launches a new collection that explores piña fabric as the canvas. Digital printing, when done on a delicate and diaphanous fabric like piña, affects a subtle tint of color.

Eight barong photo prints by Bitagcol leave hints of the traditional national dress on piña shirts. “It’s still digital prints,” says the designer, “But this time on a different fabric. I added beadwork to further define the shapes and details of these vintage prints. This gives the pieces a more elevated, dressed up look.”

Milestones and a showroom

After Bitagcol presented her first ever fashion show at Katutubo just this March, clients began to clamor for a showroom. “Immediately after the show, people were asking me where they could see my pieces and try them on,” she remembers. Admittedly, Bitagcol had initially only wanted to secure a small office space. “But like most things in my journey as a designer, it evolved and grew and the needs of the brand changed.”

A commercial space close to her residence, which used to be a school, opened up. “It was a perfect fit from the start,” she intimates. According to Bitagcol, it was sized to accommodate the needs of the design atelier, and its interiors required minimal work. “I was scared at first. It felt like a huge commitment. It was Tito Rhett (Eala) who really encouraged me to take the leap. I think it’s in moments like these that angels speak to me and guide me through those who are around me.’

Like the designer, the Bitagcol showroom in Poblacion, Makati is warm, decidedly simple, and punctuated by modern Filipino design elements. Multi-functionality also consistently informs the design and configurations of the space. “Most of the objects found there are things I’ve had for years. Instead of shopping for furniture, I also began to explore new avenues or mediums for my digital prints.”

An apple box, something that Bitagcol has used throughout her career as a photographer, was reimagined through color and prints from the Tao collection. “Like the type of clothes that I make, these exploratory objects continue to showcase my signature prints. They are also multifunctional. I can use the box as a chair, for storage or table.”

Instead of building an entire dressing room, she also opted to create a divider featuring her very own digital prints. “The coromandel is something that I designed to address my need for a changing area in the showroom.”

The path leading up to Bitagcol’s fifth year in design has been paved by a spirit of exploration, breakthroughs, and discovery. “New milestones are unfolding in the most unexpected ways,” the muse, fashion icon, designer and artist enthuses. “In the past five years, the brand has been expanding and evolving wonderfully. No one knows for sure what the next few years will bring, but I have faith that it will be beautiful.”

The new lifestyle.