In these times where we and all our information are accessible with just a click of a button, it is so easy to take one look at a person and decide who they are. Open up Kermit Tesoro’s social media sites and get inundated with photos of cats, carnivorous and dangerous-looking plants, Japanese rope bondage, and will you look at those shoes! Immediately peg him to be some arm of the devil, some deeply disturbed and complex individual, someone who never cracks a smile. He is bemused with the amount of attention his own person gets, how people so easily attach the names, places, and things he is associated with without room for the gray: Kermit as Lady Gaga’s Little Monster, Kermit the skull shoemaker, Kermit the anti-christ. But the Kermit that faced us is not a product of a carefully-curated life. In reality, Kermit is Kermit as you or I are uniquely you and I. He works, he has off days, he connects and withdraws from the world, he creates his pieces to please his sensibilities and yet worries it will not make any impact outside of himself.
He is known for his high platform shoes, but it was never his intention to brand himself as such. A graduate of Visual Communication Arts at UP Diliman, he was even then as a student fascinated with taking things apart and putting them back together. This is reflective of his work to this day, where he still prefers to take found objects and repurpose them; putting actual human bones and teeth in Felmaxillary, a shoe that appears quite harmless from the front but presents the skull and gaping maw of a sabertooth tiger from the back. There can be countless interpretations just for this one shoe, is he being deliberately macabre, is he being practical, is it a critique of man versus beast? The beauty of this artist is that he allows the viewer to make their own connections to his pieces. He does attempt to pop the fantasy bubble by reminding that there is no deep-seated drama behind his work, that they, in the end, stem from his attempts at revisiting his childhood fascinations: plants, cats, science fiction stories, dark pop, music, and many-legged creatures. The footwear- some for actual wear, some as museum showpieces- are the result of his homage to his childlike wonder, and he encourages everyone to take from them as they see fit.
The journey into the world of fashion took him from weaving his own fabric at Sagada, Mountain Province, to the art of making bakya in Paete, Laguna, to creating sky high heels inspired by John Galliano, to participating in Philippine Fashion Week, to providing pieces for pop artists such as Gaga, Robyn, and Nicki Minaj.
His latest creation, Polypodis, brings alive his love for the Kraken, Ursula, Cthulhu, and Davy Jones, mixed with influences from the plant kingdom and experiences in his travels. The shoe makes the foot delicate, engulfed as it is in the eight limbs that seem to constantly move depending on which angle you look at it from. This time however, it is not meant to be worn, not produced for overconsumption, not meant for anything else but his enjoyment. He has created only two pairs, already with designated museums and artists in mind.
Despite how the largely anonymous internet has received him, he does acknowledge that they have helped take him to where he is now, a creator who is both loved and loathed, at times misunderstood by the Filipino market, but widely-embraced by his international audience. He is wary of the drama, of the immediate association and reduction of his entirety as a shoemaker, a fashion designer, or the product of Lady Gaga, but his eyes still widen at the prospect of collaborating with Bjork or Marilyn Manson. He is at the point where he works with the artists that he is inspired or influenced by, and is comfortable enough in his own skin to create whatever makes him happy without having to be responsible for however someone feels about it, and it is in this place of certainty that he has found his people.
Text- Jenette Vizcocho
Interview- Jenette Vizcocho and Dane Raymundo
Photography – Cris Legaspi