The brave, the bold and The Blaq Mafia
By Deneb Batucan
THERE’S a beautifully clad gang in our midst. Cebu has become a vibrant playground of this creative collective whose body of work can be summed up as nothing short of urban glam with a dose of gothic romance. To say that these three ingenious creatives have style is an understatement. To them, style is a lifestyle and image is instant language.
Calling themselves The Blaq Mafia, the styling group hailing from the Queen City of the South has been creating waves in the Cebu fashion scene since 2013. Edward James Castro, Ching Vilar and Axel Que are the brains behind these creative pursuits, synchronized by their love for fashion and all things beautiful.
Edward, Ching and Axel all come from different backgrounds before they became The Blaq Mafia. Edward finished a medical course in the University of San Carlos, while Ching graduated from Silliman University with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication, and Axel graduated from the University of the Philippines with a degree in fine arts major in industrial design.
But even when the three took different paths then, one thing that they have in common is their fascination with art and fashion even as kids. Fast forward to 2013 and this fascination led them to a fashion show where all three met and decided to do a collaboration.
“A few weeks later during the shoot (we collaborated in), we talked about forming the group and making it into a business,” Edward said. And that they did.
And yet a styling group as loud and unique as theirs was quite unheard of in the Cebu fashion scene that time. Edward shared how on their first year as a group, no one really took them seriously. “We were often shortchanged. Over time we slowly gained momentum and people started to notice us and pay us properly. The rest is as you say, history,” he said.
Initially, what sparked the interest of many was how The Blaq Mafia delivered their craft with much guts and gusto. Determined to never be the cookie-cutter-type of group, Edward, Ching and Axel mixed the drama of romanticism with European Goth and urban chic. Dark and darker tones of black are often the poignant aspect of their creations. The reason to this is because black represents ambiguity and strength.
But as the years progressed, The Blaq Mafia plays it up, taking inspiration from various icons like Steven Tyler, Sex in the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, Rumi Neely, Taylor Hill and among others. To be well-versed in all types of styling is what the Blaq Mafia aims.
Since The Blaq Mafia started out as friends, working together seems like clockwork. Fine-tuned and synchronized, the creative coterie find themselves in a similar trope when it comes to work. But always they consult each other on the totality of their work.
As for conflicts within the group — “We talk about it and not let it affect our personal relationship,” Ching said. Work is work and it shouldn’t complicate their friendship. “Conflicts are pretty normal, whether it be business or personal relationships, it’s always there,” Edward said. “We deal with it.”
For the years to come, The Blaq Mafia has a lot in store for the fashion scene not just in Cebu but the Philippines. They dream of having styling firm with a huge convertible in-house studio filled with clothing, shoes and accessories for the convenience of their doting clients. “And maybe collaborate with Vogue,” Edward said. “Maybe get into merchandising?” Ching said. “…and be famous!” Axel quipped.
Finally, each of the three heads of The Blaq Mafia has this to say about style:
EDWARD: Style is an unspoken language that speaks volumes of who you are.
CHING: Style is a representation of yourself.
AXEL: Style is art.
(Connect with The Blaq Mafia on Facebook for updates and inquires about their unique and elegant styling creations.)
Photos: Jon Unson
Make-up Artist: Carlo Damolo
Hair Stylist: Jerwin Bastatas