We arrived at The styleList, inc. studio early afternoon, standing before two floors of what has become a huge name in Philippine fashion styling, all excited to see the other side of the forces behind this celebrity-trusted brand: Stylist to the stars Rex Atienza and his partner, Jay Sarmiento.
At first glance, one would think Rex and Jay are all work: Checking clothes, reading emails, filling out forms, and answering client calls left and right. But when we asked them to pose for the camera, that's when the cuteness started. The laughs in between shots were very telling of their natural chemisty, as Rex would either hold onto Jay or turn to face him as we clicked the shutter.
It's been around a decade since life brought together these two, who were then making names for themselves in fields different from celebrity styling. But you know what they say, you know, that cliché: The things that are meant to happen always find a way to happen, both in life and love—just ask Rex, whose loyal clientele now includes John Lloyd Cruz, Maja Salvador, and Bea Alonzo, among others, yet was actually set on a very different path early on in his life.
Rex initially planned on becoming a marketing manager or VP of a big corporation, but this changed as soon as he graduated college. After completing his degree in Marketing Management from De La Salle College of St. Benilde, he met a guy who convinced him to work for local retail brand Tyler. He eventually became the brand’s Operations and Merchandising Head but then realized he wanted a career that was more involved with fashion.
As fate would have it, Rex left his prestigious Tyler in favor of a much smaller (think editorial assistant) job with (now defunct) Metro Him magazine. Even so, his start at ABS-CBN still proved beneficial, as this gave him the chance to meet and tap celebrities as personal clients for styling.
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Along the way, it became clear to Rex that he needed to put up a styling company to better standardize the system of getting clients and provide job security to other stylists. As if pioneering such a venture isn't difficult enough, he also had to convince a partner to get on board. That partner came in the form of his (now) fiancé, Jay.
Jay, then, had been working for a skincare brand for three and a half years. When the two got together, Jay would occasionally help Rex with his styling gigs. The exposure was enough to learn how delicate and time-consuming professional styling is. It also didn't help that his former bosses were also a couple. "I would always tell myself, gosh, I can''t imagine myself [like them]. Like I would know they fought right before they went to work and they wouldn't mind each other during the day. I would think, 'Oh my gosh I can't imagine going to work with my boyfriend or with my partner, and then go home and discuss the same things'," recalls Jay. Even so, these didn’t deter his ultimate decision to help put up the first ever styling company in the country, styleList, inc.
At styleList, inc., no day is ever the same. Still, Rex and Jay try to maintain a regular morning schedule. “We wake up at 5, jog at 6, eat breakfast at 7, prep and coordinate between 7 and 9 at home, play with our fur babies (they have two cats and one dog), and require everyone to come in at 10,” says Rex.
Like Jay's former bosses, Rex and Jay sometimes argue about work. Part of this, it seems, has to do with their personalities. "It took some time to adjust because Rex is a risk taker. I'm really not... But now at least we understand each other more. The bickering is still there but it's working. It's part of having your own business with your partner," reflects Jay.
Rex sees the good in it. "It's an interesting dynamic... He would question things when we make decisions. I feel it's healthy and mas mahihimanay yung problema. For example, I would propose something to him and he would question it to death. And sometimes I would do the same. Then mas magiging maganda yung decision in anything that we do," he adds.
They're pretty much on their feet 24/7, but on rare days when they can afford a break, the two enjoy planning out-of-town trips. "Every time we get to travel, it makes us really happy,” says Jay. Last year, Rex and Jay visited Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Hong Kong, and New York. The trips were memorable, as some of those countries were the first time either of them had been there. This year, they intend to travel around Europe and go to a beach in Maldives. If they can’t leave Manila, they’ll spend their free time having dinner with their celebrity friends and weekly pampering seshs at The Aivee Clinic and beauty salons.
Rex and Jay getting a gold facial at The Aivee Clinic
They say that opposites attract, and in the case of Rex and Jay, this holds very true. Rex is more the risk taker, especially with fashion choices. He’s also, as Jay puts it, “a control freak,” “impulsive shopper,” yet “goal-oriented.” And if Rex were to be called the brains of the company, Jay is the heart. He’s the people-person between the two, and likes to evaluate everything before making a decision. Even the way he dresses is different from Rex. Jay prefers basic pieces, but will sometimes be inspired by Rex and pair what he’s wearing with bold accessories.
The beginnings of their love story is as serendipitous as the career breaks they've gotten, yet also the product of their hard work as much as styleList, inc. is. “Everytime I’d go to the store, I’d see him,” recalls Jay. “I told my now ex-boyfriend that I had a crush on him, and he was super understanding.” They would go so far as to visit Tyler not just to browse through the clothes but to see Rex. After he broke up with his ex, Jay told a friend (who also worked in Tyler) to hook him up with her single gay friends (a.k.a. Rex). Coincidentally, Rex and his boyfriend had also called it quits. By New Year, Jay managed to Rex’s number and texted him, and they've been together ever since.
The weeks and months ahead will be an especially exciting time for the pair as they plan for their wedding. Getting engaged was one of the biggest highs in all their years as a couple. And when asked about the engagement, Rex will proudly show off his ring [an heirloom from Jay’s father and "the greatest gift" he's ever gotten]. “We announced it on TV," recalls Rex. It happened while they were filming their E! reality series, The styleList, inc. "And when he proposed, I didn’t expect it."
What they aren't surprised about, though, is the controversy that surrounds gay marriage, which doesn't really faze them. "It’s no joke to share to the world that we’re of same gender and we want to get married; People will say it’s too risky and that Philippines is too a Catholic country. Getting married amidst all of that is just very sweet. Our engagement is one for the books,” he says.
REX AND JAY IRL:
Other passions besides fashion: Taking care of their plants, reading, and collecting fashion magazines and fashion books for Rex. Painting, traveling, and collecting Barbies for Jay.
Worst Habit: Social Media
Favorite Movies At The Moment: La La Land and Edge of Seventeen
Favorite Movie Genres: Hard-to find indie films and horror for Rex. Chick flicks and feel-good films for Jay.
Favorite Cuisine: Japanese for Rex. Filipino for Jay.
Drinks: Fruit juices and Prosecco for both.
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Photographs by Jana Jimenez