Many Filipinos find success in New York but there are actually very few who become the first Filipino to do this, or the first Filipino to do that. My long-time friend Vin Servillon is the first Filipino ever to be commissioned by Saks Fifth Avenue to paint six of its iconic store windows right on Fifth Avenue. For New Yorkers, consumers, and fashion folk alike, this is quite a feat because the legendary department store only features two to three artists a year and it being New York, the pool of artists they choose from are, quite literally, the most select and most talented in the world.
So yes, it is a big deal that a Filipino gets to share his art for all of the Big Apple to see.
But who is Vin Servillon? And how did he land this career-changing gig? He talks to me, exclusively, for #RatedG3 on how this break happened.
A Serendipitous Opportunity
“(When I landed in NYC 3 summers ago or so), I remember having the best summer, a lot of fun, just coming back from a great long summer in Spain with good friends,” he shares. “The high from that trip faded quickly as I loaded my bags in the back of a yellow NYC cab. I started crying. I felt so alone. Even if I had friends in the city, I still felt sad. The cab I was riding passed this row of huge store windows, with lights and colors, bursting with creativity. I was in awe. They were the Saks Windows on Fifth Ave.”
He then adds, “I told myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be so insane if they feature me in a small teeny window in any part of this store?’— I laughed at myself and figured I was just sweating out all the wine I drank that summer.”
But little did Vin Servillon know that the universe was listening.
“Cut to today, I was commissioned to do six windows, right on Fifth Avenue, such a coveted space! There was a Valentino art installation before me. And they also commissioned two huge murals around 20 plus feet inside. It’s nuts!” Vin was beside himself with excitement.
Vin Servillon, An Inspiration to Artists
When asked about how Vin feels about being given this opportunity, he says that “being the first Filipino to be commissioned (to my knowledge and from what I have been told), it felt like a win.”
“It felt like I am representing Filipinos and Asians in general. Being self-taught, learning everything mostly by feel and practice, felt like an accomplishment. Seeing my name all over their windows and inside the store made me tear up.”
“I have never been good at “being looked up to” or to be thought of as ‘inspiring people’, but I hope my work and my story will be good enough,” he continues. “I just wish and hope someone can see it and read my story and be inspired to chase their dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem. I want them to know that it won’t be easy and that the nagging feeling of ‘you’re not good enough’ and self-doubt will always be there…and that’s okay.”
Vin Servillon even gives some real artist talk. “Artists who stop doubting or questioning their work, will (in my opinion) stop growing. A healthy dose of doubt won’t hurt that much. LOL!”
An Experience Unlike Any Other
Vin Servillon went on to explain the creative process. “Saks just wanted me to do me—to do what I wanted to do and that was so freeing, especially for an artist commission. I started painting the huge murals first, I’d come in around 8 PM after they closed, and it was so cool being inside this store, without people, alone…quiet. Just me, my paint and my music. I painted the murals for a few nights and it was exhausting. But it was definitely very satisfying to have finished them beautifully.”
“The feedback has been amazing but wow, it was exhausting! I was only given a few nights to finish them, when some, or most murals take more than a few nights. But I did what I needed to do and I am happy I delivered,” Vin sighs in relief as he recounts those events.
“I was given six windows. I had to paint on the floor for windows 1 and 6. And four huge paintings hanging in the middle showcased great designers like Dries van Noten, Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, and the like. The four huge paintings were the most enjoyable for me as I love working on large-scale canvases. Collectively they took a number of weeks to finish,” Vin explains.
“This project also felt like some kind of a validation stamp—they only feature two to three artists a year, as I’ve been told, and I’m one of them! This made me feel like I am being seen as an artist in New York City!”
An Art Style That’s Free and Uniquely Vin Servillon
If we’re talking about Vin’s art style, it’s actually very contemporary and I’ve been following his art on Instagram for many years since he left Manila. I saw how he started out with sketching, painting, and then interpreting shows on paper and eventually, on canvas. It was truly fascinating!
“I wouldn’t know what to call my painting style,” he tells me. “All I know is (that) it’s my own.”
“I can actually paint and draw in the ‘realistic’ looking realm but I choose not to,” he adds. “It’s just not me. I usually just listen to the saddest songs while I paint and that’s how I usually start. I use everything from oil to acrylic, and everything in between. I really just go by feel, but (I’m also) mindful of some art rules and principles I have learned and studied myself. (And then) I let the colors and the music in my head lead the materials I use.”
However, Vin Servillon confesses that he didn’t paint as freely as he was now. “I used to paint for other people, I used to paint what will get ‘likes,’ but I learned how that can eat you up and affect your work. The painting turns to—’this is about someone else’s approval.’ So I corrected that, (and) now I just paint for myself.”
And rightfully so! After doing his art purely for his own enjoyment, appreciation for it from others soon followed.
“That’s how I started painting again just a short time ago, in this journey of painting for myself,” Vin says. “And the intoxicating, unrealistic, unsustainable, short high from ‘likes’ or to please my audience that was affecting my work ended. It didn’t seem genuine. I realized I was only seeking validation—validation from people, some, I don’t even know. So I really had to correct that, (and) slap myself almost.”
A Love for New York City
The pressure of succeeding in a city like New York is very high because even if you have the talent, you’re going to need so much more than that to stand out and be chosen.
“There are so many possibilities here,” Vin tells me. “NYC has some kind of magnet, (and) once she captures you, it will be hard to let her go.”
“I even miss the city when I’m traveling! You might say I sound borderline obsessed, but I believe a big chunk of New Yorkers, even tourists that come here, will tell you the same thing” he recounts wistfully. “It’s hard to explain, really. My move here was a career move more than anything. Although I have visited NYC so many times before moving here, I still cried in my early days in the city. As big and busy (as) this city is, NYC can get pretty lonely, but she hugs you tight. And once you find your groove, and your people, you can be golden.”
As Vin Servillon is enjoying his “golden moment,” he proclaims his art as proudly Filipino.
Going on to explain about his roots, he says: “I moved to NYC about 3 years ago maybe, from Southern California, to chase my dreams of being an artist. My friends, my chosen family, have all encouraged me to move to NYC, as it truly is the center.”
“NYC is a huge beautiful city, so much culture, so much diversity, so much energy. I love that I can walk eight blocks and would have heard eleven different languages. Being a Filipino in NYC is a part of my identity, a big chunk of me, it sets me apart and I am so proud of that. I am a proud Filipino, yes, but I am also a proud American, I think it’s a good balance of the two.”
A Glimpse of the Star-studded NYC Life
Vin started getting noticed by fashion brands when he started posting his paintings—interpretations of iconic looks from shows every season.
“I focused on fashion early in my career because I was genuinely interested in it. I was never really into fashion until I started painting it. Style yes, fashion not really,” Vin confesses. “I also didn’t know what I was doing to be completely honest. I have not painted or focused on fashion for a long time now. I have moved from fashion to portraits, and now I’m in the realm of an abstraction binge. It’s like I’m watering (creative) plants. There is progression and (there is) growth”.
And progress and grow he did indeed! In the industry, even the biggest names in fashion started to notice him. Names like Marc Jacobs, for example, who even invited him to his wedding!
“I am fortunate enough to have been invited to some of the biggest NYFW shows in the past seasons and have seen tons of celebrities,” he says proudly. “I have been to a party with supermodels Bella and Gigi (Hadid). I have developed a friendship with some fashion icons, including the Marc Jacobs, who is also one of the nicest, humble, kindest human beings out there. I went to dinner with him and his then fiancé (now husband) at a Chelsea restaurant owned by a friend here in Manhattan, (and when) people were stopping him to say hello, he was so kind to everyone. Zero ego. (Now) that’s an icon.”
“I really do not get star struck at all, but when I got invited to his wedding celebration here in NYC, I was just so mind-blown. I knew it was going to be the party but I didn’t expect how star-studded it was. I was in line to enter the venue, in line with me was Cristina Ricci, Bette Midler just to name a few. I remember being in a huddle talking about something I can’t even remember, with British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, Grace Coddington was there. I was standing next to Naomi Campbell once and I even complimented her gorgeous dress. I was in line to the restroom and Lizzo was in front of me!”
He gushed excitedly. “Every designer I could ID was there. The champagne was Cristal and Dom Perignon from what I can remember, and never stopped pouring! I danced the night away amongst stars. It was such an experience! I sat in the same table as makeup legend Pat McGrath and we just talked about random things. She (Pat) has been my Instagram friend for a while so sitting down with her and just chatting was so nice.”
“A lot of people from fashion I’m also Instagram friends with, (I don’t like saying “follower”). From legendary hat designers Stephen Jones and Philip Treacy, to Creative Directors from Lanvin, Bruno Sialleli to Zegna’s Alessandro Sartori, to trending hot designer Tomo Koizumi, I’ve hung out with a few times here in NYC. From Vogue Australia Editor-In-Chief Edwina Mccann to Business Of Fashion’s (BOF) Tim Blanks. Most of them I have met in person. And I’m probably forgetting some people. I truly don’t keep track—but all of them, at least based on my personal interactions, are kind genuine people,” Vin Servillon narrates being welcomed into this illustrious world.
A Blooming Career
After having his art showcased in six of Saks Fifth Avenue’s iconic display windows, only more good can come to Vin Servillon in his career as a Filipino-American artist in New York.
“There are future projects in line that I cannot talk about yet cause I don’t want to jinx them. LOL,” Vin shares with me. “My goal is to reach even more people with my art, to inspire even a single soul to pick up a paintbrush. To let people know that no matter the cards you are dealt—even if they are bad cards—things do and will get better.”
“I am proud of being Filipino because Filipinos are strong. The Filipino spirit is courageous and resilient. You cannot beat the compassion and the ability to see the humor in the darkest of days of Filipinos. Also, the food is amazing! And these alone are motivations for art.”
You may follow G3 San Diego on Instagram for more profiles and see more of Vin Servillon’s art on his Instagram, too.
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