How Rocky Gathercole Went From Homeless Teen to Designing for Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears

Rocky Gathercole

Rocky Gathercole, the late Filipino celebrity fashion designer known for his avant-garde creations, was homeless for eight years before pursuing his calling. 

Humble beginnings: Gathercole told Phil Star Global that he left home to live on the streets when he was 14 because he was going through an “identity crisis” and “couldn’t tell his dad he was gay.”

  • He slept at the foot of the Quezon Bridge in the Quiapo district of Manila and earned a living by selling tapsilog (fried and marinated beef slices with fried egg and rice) on a cart. 
  • Although he began sketching designs at the age of 10, his dream at the time was to work as a janitor for ShoeMart. He was turned down because he didn’t have a high school diploma. 
  • Gathercole was on the street for eight years until he met a fellow Korean churchgoer who recommended that he work for their friend’s restaurant, according to his interview with Tag TV. He said that his life changed for the better once he became a born-again Christian.
  • During his three-hour work breaks at the restaurant, he would sketch designs at work. He studied fashion design on his own since he couldn’t afford to go to school. 

His career: Gathercole eventually befriended a designer who became his mentor and “paved the way for him to work” in Saudi Arabia. He disguised himself as a Fine Arts graduate and recalled his employer being impressed once Gathercole showed him that he could sketch a gown in five minutes. 

  • Due to the challenges he faced in Saudi Arabia, he referred to himself as an artist rather than a designer. He states in the interview that “fashion TV and magazines were not allowed.” 
  • After working for other employers, he saved up enough money to open up his own shop in Dubai.
  • He described Arab women as being “very fashionable” and noted that many Filipino designers were based there for that reason.
  • Once he started his career in Dubai, he became involved with Miami Fashion Week. His reviews from that show opened the doors for him to join New York Fashion Week, Los Angeles Fashion Week, Phoenix Fashion Week, to name a few. 
  • Gathercole revealed that he listened to Whitney Houston and Barbra Streisand while he worked. Streisand was one of his idols, and he dreamed of designing for her. 

His legacy: In New York, he was discovered by Jacob Meir, an agent who later became his manager. Gathercole’s career as a celebrity designer included clients such as Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani and Paris Hilton. 

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  • One of Gathercole’s first clients was Chinese American actress Bai Ling and his first design to be featured in a music video was Katy Perry’s gold ensemble in “Dark Horse.
  • Hilton’s black dress for the 2014 pre-Grammy party was one of Gathercole’s “most talked-about” designs. 
  • The designer was found unresponsive at his home in Manila when he was 54 years old. His assistant went to check on him and found him in his bathroom on March 3, reported ABS-CBN News. His brother, Mark Anthony Bernardo Almeda, disclosed that he passed away from “a stroke due to an enlarged heart.” 
  • Gathercole’s life is detailed in a 2017 episode of the Filipino show “Maalaala Mo Kaya,” titled “Sketchpad”.

Featured Image via Studio 10 (left), TAG TV (right)

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