We knew we were in for a treat when EIC (Editor-in-chief)-turned-writer Myrza Sison agreed to open up her closet and model for us some of her cherished clothes. It turned out to be a treat on so many levels as Myrza recollected her storied career and gave us a sneak peek of her upcoming fiction (!) over a delectable spread of Vietnamese fare, which she so graciously prepared.
We know that you've transitioned your career a few times, from a programmer to a model, then an editorial director, and now a WRITER! With each transition, did you always have to work hard to get where you wanted to be?
Alas, it's been my fate to have been brought up to always exhaust all means possible to do my absolute best in anything I commit to, often to the point of overwork and burnout. Blame my tiger parents, but I can only thank them for instilling a solid work ethic in me.
Being a computer programmer and systems analyst at SGV & Co. was grueling but it taught me discipline, grit, and perseverance. It was not uncommon to work through holidays, such as one entire Holy Week when we camped out at the office and never went home! I was only 19 when I started working there, but I guess I had adapted to the age level of my peers in terms of maturity and responsibility.
Modeling might seem like just preening and posing to most, but its rigors demanded skills and smarts on a whole different plane. The transition was a huge challenge for an introvert like myself. I needed to learn how to perform in front of others and move with grace on the runway, execute imaginative poses that created beautiful fashion photography, and harness my emotions to create believable facial expressions and moods. It’s also a very fast-paced, highly competitive dog-eat-dog profession where a high EQ is essential, as well as great social skills, charisma, and charm. I had to develop a thick skin to succeed, what with all the rejection and criticism models face but need to not take personally to be able to power through. Modeling also has a very short shelf life, so as my expiration date drew near after seven years, it was time to find a new career.
Editing magazines was the culmination of all my passions and work experiences, combining my love for the written word, fashion, and photography. Having worked with computers also trained me to think logically, which helped me become a better writer and editor. I threw in 100% of myself heart and soul in this new career with no idea I would last 25 years in the business, the last three years of which focusing on digital. No matter how burned out or overworked I often got, I was very happy up until my very last day of work.
What attracts you to writing vs. editing other people's work?
I love cleaning, pruning, tweaking, and shaping copy ‘til it sings. Especially when the material has so much potential but just needs to be presented in the best way possible. It’s not always pleasant when the copy is terrible, but there’s still a sense of satisfaction when you can salvage something bad and make something good out of it!
Now that I have the time and am forcing myself to write again, I am re-discovering that writing (or at least attempting to write well) is truly more agonizing than editing! And the more I learn about what constitutes good writing, the less I want to write! But because, as Victor Hugo once said, “A writer is a world trapped inside a person,” I am compelled to write. I have many worlds inside me that I would like to share, some real, and some make-believe.
Not all writers make good editors, but to be a good editor you need to at least know good writing. And not all good editors make the best writers, but I can imagine that good editing skills can only help your writing.
Care to share any details on the short story you are writing?
It's called "No.64," and it's about an eight-year-old girl named Krishna who covets somebody else’s Crayola 64-color box of crayons, among other status symbols in her 1970s grade school existence. It explores some very familiar feelings and sentiments we’ve all had about fitting in, standing out, and just reconciling being raised one way but having to live another. When you’re a child, anything about yourself that makes you different feels like a stigma when noticed by other kids and even adults in your environment, especially in the 1970s Manila setting of my story.
(Mixed fabric wrap skirt by Initial)
What's your relationship with fashion like, and how has it evolved over the years (through your modeling and then magazine editing years?)
Fashion has always been a very good friend. Not my best friend, but close enough! My mother loved dressing up, and as a child, her closet was my playground. I remember not just playing dress-up with her clothes but even getting away with wearing some of her clothes to school! I went to a Montessori School where no uniform was required. One day, when I was nine, I wore her Nina Ricci dove-festooned, multi-colored T-shirt over my P.E. shorts. They were, of course, too long and covered the shorts entirely and looked more like a dress. I felt that it lacked a waist so I borrowed a red skinny belt and attended soccer practice! I got a lot of stares and teasing, but I suppose that prepared me for a lifetime of creative self-expression through fashion.
Fashion is what attracted me to modeling, having grown up with fashion magazines. As a model, the fashion industry made for a new playground. Not only was it our job to wear the latest fashions, but easy access to this environment certainly provided myriad options to work with for the evolution of my personal style. This continued during my life as a magazine editor, only this time, my job had evolved from being the vessel on which to showcase fashion to being the curator for the kind of fashion that we thought could inspire and benefit our readers.
(Myrza in her Martin Bautista evening gown)
If you have to choose ONE most memorable fashion moment so far in your life/career, what would it be? What (and which designer) were you wearing?
Too hard to pick just one, so I'll go with a very recent one, which was the 2020 Ternocon at the CCP in January. I've admired Jojie Lloren's work for decades, but had never worn him until then. He terno-fied a beautiful gown (from a previous Red Charity Gala collection) inspired by artist Gus Albor's work featuring an intricate formation of laminated thread. I collaborated with MAC senior makeup artist Alexandra Lisbona, hairstylists Jasmine Lisbona and Anton Toa of Hairworks Salon to create an overall 70s retro-ish look. I loved the photos taken by Inna Cristobal of Grafik Giraffe in front of the CCP main theater, which look like they were really shot in the 70s.
(Myrza with designer and Project Runway Philippines’ mentor, Jojie Lloren, at the 2020 Ternocon)
Where do you stand on the J.Lo/Shakira halftime show controversy? Are you in the "if J.Lo can do it, I can do it" camp or are you a believer in letting your body age naturally? :)
What does “aging naturally” mean anymore? Longevity proponents have now been pushing the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify “aging” as a disease. Strides and developments in science (and I don’t mean just cosmetic surgery!) and health throughout the decades have paved the way for humans to function, feel, and ergo, look younger and younger as time goes by. Who’s to say anymore how humans are supposed to look at a certain age? And expecting them, especially women, to behave in a certain way that has been deemed by society as “age-appropriate” (a term I dislike!) is not very progressive, and even misogynistic. Who gave a hoot when Adam Levine, 40, did the same thing last year, gyrating half-naked down to his “sex-cut” hipbones and butt cleavage? Mick Jagger is 76 and still sexing up audiences.
I love defying limitations of any sort, so I loved how these two have become the current pop culture paragons of transcending perceptions about not just how women their age are supposed to look but also what the human body can do. They are in peak physical and mental condition and are exemplary specimens of almost-athletic abilities. They obviously have worked extremely hard not just to be able to display such physical prowess but also to get as far as they have in their careers to achieve the sort of stature needed to be given that opportunity to shine. How can one not admire that?
(In a red gown by Vestito, which she wore in 2014 to Cosmo's International Editors Conference in Buenos Aires)
Any practical advice on staying stylish in your 50s? (Only cuz you are killing it!)
Know who you are without closing up your mind to who you can still be. Resist getting stuck in a rut and merely falling back into the comforts of safe and efficient dressing when you can use fashion and style as a means of creative self-expression and as empowering armor to inspire and motivate you to live life to the fullest. Of course, be physically comfortable—no use being a slave to stilettos if they immobilize you, but do keep abreast of what’s current. It doesn’t mean you have to jump on every trend bandwagon but do know what is of-the-moment versus what could be making you look dated. With style, as with everything, open your senses to what is going on around you and don’t cocoon yourself in a world of the safe and the familiar, and this goes not just for clothing but also friends, lifestyle, experiences, and environments!