Rising Designer Laurence Sabrine On How Vivienne Westwood & Filipino Folklore Shape Their Style

By Madeleine Crutchley
Laurence Sabrine, wearing Laurence Sabrine. Photo / Jas Sabrine

Laurence Sabrine is a Pōneke-based designer and stylist with a unique fashion sensibility. They have found inspiration across many spheres — from Disney shows to New York Fashion Week and Filipino folklore. They talk to Madeleine Crutchley about their distinct style and the role of clothes in self-expression.


“There’s a Westwood piece up there. There’s a Gaultier two-piece, which is a denim suit with faces over it.”

They point to various ensembles that decorate their space, explaining the origin of each unique piece. Laurence would rather be immersed within their wardrobe, “instead of posters”. They prefer the distinct sense of closeness and the potential for provoking memories.

Some of Laurence’s pieces are also on display. Though the designer skips an explanation, they’re easily recognisable.

For their eponymous label, Laurence frequently experiments with the overlapping and joining of tartan, plaid and other print fabrics. The loud mix and distortion of patterns and colours is an eye-catching trademark. Often, pieces are inventively re-worked from other garments to become new forms — a technique of re-use that’s unapologetic in aesthetic.

Laurence often executes this combination with their ‘Mash’ mini skirts. However, they’ve also extended to other cuts (think frilled boxer shorts and tiny crop tops).

They’re playful pieces, bright, statement-making and, also, easily transformed. An ultra-mini skirt can become a belt; an apron can tie to become a shoulder sash. It’s a design habit inspired by another skill Laurence has been honing.

A model dressed in one of Laurence Sabrine’s plaid pieces. Photo / Jas Sabrine
A model dressed in one of Laurence Sabrine’s plaid pieces. Photo / Jas Sabrine

“Working as a stylist opened my mind to wearing things the wrong way. It’s been interesting to experiment with how garments can be worn a different way.”

Since finishing their fashion studies, Laurence has been involved in all sorts of experimentation, working within various collectives to create clothing, jewellery, short films, music videos, runway shows, shoots and exhibitions.

Last year, Laurence joined other Filipino makers in displaying and selling pieces in a buzzy and popular pop-up shop on Karangahape Road, called Sama Sama Space. They showed pieces on the runway with New Life Studios, an emerging organisation highlighting the work of young artists based in Wellington. The designer has also found inspiration closer to home, working in collaboration with their sibling Jas, styling their engkanto collection, which was inspired by creatures from Filipino folklore.

Following a year of collaboration and creative experimentation, Laurence considers some of their favourite pieces and a multitude of cultural inspirations (including a formative painter and sparkly, secretive pop star).

Can you describe your personal style?

It’s been a long time developing it. I like dressing up and I wear a lot of colours and a lot of patterns. I feel like I often dress to specific ideas, like a pirate or someone from the 70s [laughs]. I feel like it’s really broad and there’s a lot of variety.

What is your favourite piece of clothing?

Does a bag count? I’ve got this YSL bag with a metal horn handle. I think it’s the Mombasa bag from 2007. It was my auntie’s. I remember going to visit her in New York and seeing this bag in a beautiful box that she kept in her closet. She was like, “One day you will have it.” It’s hanging up on my wall. That’s probably my favourite thing that I own.

Tell me about your self-titled label. When did you launch it? What are some of your influences?

In terms of where it started, I was at Massey studying. In my last year, I was gathering resources for what to do for my grad collection. It was this amalgamation of my Filipino culture and being queer — so DIY was kind of this meeting ground. That’s where the secondhand and recycled materials came into it.

Laurence has referenced these paintings by Justiniano Asunción, which were made in the mid-19th century.
Laurence has referenced these paintings by Justiniano Asunción, which were made in the mid-19th century.

The plaid has a little bit of punk and a little bit of traditional Filipino garments. They’re deconstructed to create different things.

One of the things I do look at a lot is traditional illustrations of Filipino life in the 1800s but also fashion photographs from the 70s and 90s — I’m kind of modernising that in a way.

It’s really about self-expression. I’ve been quite creative ever since I was little. There was no way I was going to go into a job that wasn’t creative. It was a natural progression.

You studied fashion design at Massey and sent a collection called Pop Couture down the final runway. Tell me about studying fashion and how your design has changed since.

My grad collection was about seven different bodies and they were all archetypes, pop culture archetypes. They were filtered through a queer, Filipino perspective. They were things I remember seeing, or things that, as a queer person, were very iconic figures. Like, the cowboy, the goth and the It girl.

Back then, I did a lot more freeform, patchwork, whereas now I’ve wanted to refine it a little bit more. I feel like it naturally shifted because, in my first year out of university, I didn’t have [access to] machines or anything. So, I wasn’t creating new garments all the time. Then I started styling, and things shifted and changed in terms of how I visualised them.

Laurence Sabrine x Banshee shoot. Photo / Lewrece Cruzat
Laurence Sabrine x Banshee shoot. Photo / Lewrece Cruzat

I think I’ve become a bit more mindful. I love using patterns and prints and colour, but I’ve been more intentional with how I use everything.

Does your work as a stylist/designer adjust or change the way you approach each creative pursuit?

Finishing university and then going into styling was very interesting. In my head, as a designer, there was a specific way of putting things on.

But, it has also made me appreciate designers who allow things to be adjustable — where you can change things according to how you want. I’m trying to find the medium of that in my work. Now, I’m always keeping in mind the people who are just putting on clothes and heading out, but also the stylists who want to experiment a little bit more.

Who are some of your favourite local designers and makers?

In Wellington, I’m in a studio full of creatives — not necessarily just fashion designers — but there are a few studios like this popping up around the city. It’s cool to see designers [in spaces like that] around the city.

Emma Jing and Taylor Groves, I’ve always found their stuff quite interesting. I went to university with both of them, they were incredible and seeing their work progress from when we studied together is very nice.

Frances [Clothing The Body], their stuff is very clean and tailored, which I don’t do, so I always find it interesting. It’s so precise.

I think it’s more so the people that I’ve surrounded myself with, which is really cool.

And designers abroad that you find yourself turning to?

Maroske Peech is a brand that I have looked at for so long. I love, love their work. It’s very fantastical and fun. There are a few of their pieces I look at all the time.

A model walks the runway during the Ottolinger womenswear spring/summer 2024 show. Photo / Getty Images
A model walks the runway during the Ottolinger womenswear spring/summer 2024 show. Photo / Getty Images

Ottolinger is always really interesting to me, as is Vaquera, who usually show at New York Fashion Week. Both are very different, but extravagant in the way they present their stuff. Those are the ones that I usually look to.

But, when I’m working, I try to gather research and then stop looking at anything. Then, whatever comes to mind is what has obviously stuck with me. I won’t look at those moodboards while I’m working.

Do you have a dream fashion collaboration? Who would you love to work with?

I want to think of someone who does really different things to what I do. Maybe Ib Kamara, the stylist. His stuff is incredible. I think it would be interesting if he were to style my work. I’d love to see that visual.

Pieces from Laurence Sabrine, shot prior to a collective Karangahape Road pop-up. Photo / Sama Sama Space
Pieces from Laurence Sabrine, shot prior to a collective Karangahape Road pop-up. Photo / Sama Sama Space

What was your relationship with fashion like growing up?

From childhood, I’ve been playing with and making clothes with my sibling’s dolls. I also drew a lot — I would watch Hannah Montana and draw her outfits on mannequins, pretending that I was designing them [laughs].

But, it wasn’t until I was at uni that I went back to the idea of designing garments again. I think the in-between was trying to figure out what I liked wearing and what my style was — not so much making clothes.

I went to university doing graphic design, and not fashion. At the end of my first year, I did a random fashion paper and I realised I was a little bit bored with the graphic design stuff. I found fashion more interesting because it was hard to do and it made me think. At the end of my first year, I changed my major.

What has been one of the latest shifts in the way you dress? Why?

I feel like I’m always doing different things. I’ve been trying not to buy or make new stuff myself, because I have so many clothes.

Laurence Sabrine. Photo / Jas Sabrine
Laurence Sabrine. Photo / Jas Sabrine

Accessorising has been an important aspect to how I dress, because there’s no new things that I’m styling. I’m recalibrating my brain to make an outfit interesting even though I’ve had it for five years.

Lots of belts, chunky belts — though I’m also trying to stay away from the trend situation. That’s a tricky thing to dance around.

What has fashion taught you about yourself?

That I can do whatever.

You know, I change my hair all the time. It’s really about expression. I think also being queer in a religious household, it was very interesting that my mum allowed me to do all this stuff — which in my head now, I’m like, this was a lot and I don’t know how she just let me do it.

Clothing and style are so important to me. Whenever I see garments in my closet, I can pinpoint why I bought them and what was going on around that time. It’s a timestamp, essentially.

I think that’s maybe why I have all this stuff on the walls. To remember specific memories and situations.

A model wears a mash mini skirt, with matching bandana, by Laurence Sabrine. Photo / Jas Sabrine
A model wears a mash mini skirt, with matching bandana, by Laurence Sabrine. Photo / Jas Sabrine

Laurence Sabrine is stocked at Bizarre Bazaar and Monty’s.

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