Why Tony Labrusca Is More Than What We Make Of Him



He is right, in as much as we want to root for someone, there is something irresistible about peddling hate, whether you like to admit it or not. Making a move to a future of his own, Tony Labrusca shows us why he is not who we think he is.

No matter how careful one is these days, the chances of being misunderstood or getting lost in translation (and we don’t mean that in the strict linguistic sense) is obscenely great that in a vacuum of opinions, thoughts, or fleeting statements, there exists a need to set a precedence or affix an insulating conjugation to cushion the potential impact. It’s like every waking moment is a frustrating game of Minesweeper, that popular pre-mainstream internet pastime in the 90s meant to mimic history’s atrocious relationship with landmines in a crude 8-bit render.

In the single player puzzle, the objective is to clear the board of hidden mines without detonating them, very vaguely clued only by the mysterious squares across and steered by heavy strokes of luck. While I still do not get the point of the computer game, where I mostly spent my time away haphazardly clicking through squares, hoping it wouldn’t explode or in a fit of safety, just marking each one with a flag and call it a day. Nothing much has changed in the presumable contemporary version, except that this time, the board has evolved to social media and well, real life, and the bombs are prejudices and judgments we constantly have to be careful of not setting off.

White Buddy Lee-printed shirt by #LEEXSKETCHBOOK3, denim jeans, and bandana by LEE; On page left: Denim Jacket by #LEEXWINDANDSEA

And much like the many walks of landmines across still challenged nations, no soul is spared, especially where Tony Labrusca is concerned.

“You know what, looking back now, what goes through my mind is that I think everything is starting to make sense to me. Do you know what I mean?” he begins as we break away from the cacophony of the room into a tucked away corner that was frankly much more peaceful and conducive for conversation. “I was reading this thing and it mentioned 10 things not to say in a conversation. And one of them was: everything happens for a reason. I can see why people don’t want to hear that sometimes, but I think it’s a good thing that you tell yourself that, you know what I mean?”

It becomes apparent that Tony Labrusca is being careful with his words. This isn’t to say that he isn’t saying what he wants to or he’s being the least truthful, because on the contrary, the young man is considerably and pleasantly open, letting his guard down in the progression of this interface. Just as anyone has a verbal predilection, he has a penchant for the phrase, “Do you know what I mean,” which only means one thing: that he wants to be heard and taken seriously.

Yes, that much.

I, Tony

Oversized denim jacket, denim buttondown, and denim jeans all by LEE

“Looking back this year, it’s been full of blessings, and it’s definitely been an up and down year for me, you know? I can’t help but think that this year has just been abundant in blessings and teaching me about life, humanity, and humility. And it’s been a test of character for me, and I feel like this year was also really kind of like a pivoting point for me, where God was really asking me if this is what I really wanted,” he says.

Unless you have been so far removed life, you would know how Tony Labrusca has had quite the past few years, this one especially. In as much as it charted a high of highs, with milestones such as starring in films such as Glorious and Ang Henerasyong Sumuko Sa Love, as well as in teleseryes like La Luna Sangre and Sino Ang May Sala: Mea Culpa, there have been an unprecedented low of lows, too.

Denim jacket with corduroy collar and printed shirt both by LEE

“This definitely feels like the year where God is giving me two choices, because I feel like he’s literally offering it to me, showing me how I am able to bounce back up, even after whatever happened. It is as if he’s telling me: ‘If you want it, it’s right here. But you have to want it, you have to put in the hard work.’ I mean, this industry has given me so many blessings, and it has allowed me to provide for myself and my family, and more. However, it’s definitely gonna have to require my 100% commitment now,” he explains. “I’m starting to realize now that I’m ready to do this for myself, because this is what I want, this is what’s going to make me happy. I know that this is going to bring so many opportunities for me, and one day, I know I’ll be able to call the shots, you know what I mean? But I have to kind of go through a baptism of fire and all that, blood, sweat, and tears before I can get there. This is kind of like my rite of passage.”

While it is a test of character, one that has required many heroes in literature to rise above the circumstances of their expositions, often throwing them so far off in the playing field, it is this same back-breaking context that will essentially build one up to hopefully be a more mindful, more aware, and better human being.

Neon-detailed denim jacket and boxy jeans both by #LEEXHOOLYWOOD

“At some point, I felt like no one believed in me. I know no one believed in me anymore. There’s this great line in that figure skating movie, I, Tonya, and Tonya Harding says, ‘You know, everybody wants somebody love, but what they want somebody more to hate,’” he says, before taking a moment to pause in recollection. “When people find somebody to hate, it’s kind of like a mutual understanding for everybody to just attack that person. Just because people think that it feels better, and it’s easier to hate somebody, you know what I mean? So, I was at a point where I felt like no one believed in me; I felt like people around me didn’t believe in me. And therefore, I stopped believing in myself. You know, I had to take a step back. And I was like, wait, what am I doing? I realized that I had two options again: I can have like, a boo-hoo attitude for myself, or I can show them what I’ve got, you know what I mean? I can still prove a point.”

Neon-detailed denim jacket and boxy jeans both by #LEEXHOOLYWOOD

There was definitely a lot going on, and it seemed like the world was against him, invalidating any success he’s had or even the amount of hard work he put in, which can leave a serious dent on a person, and Tony isn’t shying away from this matter of fact. “If you focus your attention on all of the hate that’s being given to you, then yeah, it’s mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting, honestly. I mean, if you take time out of your day to read the comments, I mean, you know, I mean, that’s tiring. And also, it’s not good for your mental or emotional health. I noticed though, as you progress in the industry, you kind of get used to it in a sense where you know yourself enough to figure out what bothers you and what doesn’t, you get to pick and choose your battles. And at the same time, at the end of the day, we’re only human, you know what I mean? I don’t think there’s ever going to be a point in your life where you just decide not to have feelings anymore,” he explains. “I told myself, Tony, you can either feel sorry for yourself, prove everybody that you’re not worth it, that you don’t deserve this, or you can literally man up, accept the challenge, and go against everybody else’s odds. You know, I mean, the odds are against you, but you know you can do it. You’ve done it before, you can do it again. So that’s exactly what I did. I drowned out all the noise around me, and I focused on again, my lane instead, staying on my path and doing my job despite what anybody else said.”

With all that was said and now done, was there anything left for Tony Labrusca to believe in himself?

“Yeah. I mean, I do,” he assures, mostly to himself. “But I feel like, I’m still in a process of growing right now, you know? I’m definitely more positive and I know that if I put my mind to something that I can do it, then I can definitely can.”

Make A Move

Ombre denim jacket, chambray button-down, and patched jeans all by LEE

Having had to not only map out, but to navigate all of the pits that society has dug up for him, it can said that in his life thus far, he’s had to draw out many movements to get to where he is: not necessarily unscathed, but humbled in strength. 

“You know, the greatest decision I’ve ever made was honestly, moving back here to the Philippines. After I experienced, like the winter wonderland type of feeling, like the next year, it just wasn’t that great anymore. And the rest of my time in Canada just didn’t feel like home necessarily,” he shares. “But coming back to the Philippines when I was 15 to 17, everything just clicked, you know what I mean? This was where I met my friends that were like my family, I got in touch with my culture, which I was away from for so long being in Canada. And I realized, ‘Oh, snap, the Philippines makes me happy.’”

But just like any home, it isn’t always the way it is portrayed in generic stock images or archaic Hallmark movies, because those aren’t real. What’s real is that a home, for all its comfort and nurturing will roof disagreements and disappointments.

Ombre denim jacket, chambray button-down, and patched jeans all by LEE

“The Philippines used to be my sanctuary, and now my vision of that has completely been morphed. As sad as that is, I feel like that’s kind of just how life is. Despite how precious I see the country as, suddenly and to put it bluntly, there’s a huge portion of people out here that just don’t like me or would want me deported,” he discloses. “But again, it’s taught me a lot about humanity. It’s made me more sensitive, it’s made me more vulnerable, and as cliché as this sounds, this life experience is something that I can definitely use in my work. With everything that’s happened to me and all of my struggles, I feel like I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I feel like all of these struggles kind of just accumulate to kind of form a catalyst within you, and that’s never-ending. You know, you learn something new, and then you’ll go through another catalyst where you become a different person. So, it’s just all about, picking and choosing, but kind of just always keeping in mind, the constant growth that you can have, from all these experiences, you know what I mean?”

This is level-headed, more aware, and pleasantly more mature point-of-view is precisely what formed the genesis for his striking partnership with heritage brand, Lee—one that is celebrating its 130th year of innovation, collaboration, and never-stop-moving imagination.

“I just I’m so grateful that Lee was willing to invest in me. Like, when we were talking, they were saying: ‘We know what he’s like, he’s a new artist, and we want to grow with him. We want to see him grow.’ You know what that means? For me, it was like, wow, I love that. It’s always good to be around brands that believe in you and that want to see you shine,” he says, beaming. “You know, I love working with Lee. I love my relationship with them. I’m so blessed to be part of the global brand. I mean, everywhere I’ve traveled to, there’s Lee. You can go to Japan; you’ll see people in the street wearing Lee. So, for me, it’s such a blessing to be part of this brand, and at the same time, it’s so amazing that I’ve come at the right time that they’re about to celebrate, you know, such a huge moment for them. I’m so happy to be part of it.”

For Tony Labrusca, his collaboration with Lee has been nothing but a crazy adventure, one that he swears has been a good move for him. “I’m definitely a sentimental person and Lee is part of my story,” he says. “Remember that jacket in Glorious? That was Lee, how cool was that?”

For All Intentions

Dark blue bomber jacket and blue hoodie both by LEE

With everything that he’s been through, it wouldn’t be surprising if he just decides to up and leave. Escapist and easy, sure, but if that is what the spirit merits, then it’s only for him to decide. However, Tony Labrusca wasn’t raised and reared to be a quitter, nor does he ever imagine himself entertaining at the very least. 

“This industry shapes you into a different type of soldier, as a person. Like, I feel like all of our jobs equip us to be a certain type of way, and help us view the world in a different type of way. But being an artist in this cut-throat industry, it just takes so much dedication, so much practice, so much craftsmanship into it, you know what I mean? In this industry, you meet some of the best people or some of the worst people, just some of the most interesting people, and for me, this is something that I see definitely being part of me for the meantime. I feel like I would be a damn fool if I was to just let everything go now. So, I mean, opportunity is, right in front of me, I might as well take it,” he elucidates. “When you just take a step back to think about how far you’ve gone, you start to inspire yourself, you know what I mean? Without even thinking, you’re doing all these things that you never thought you could have done. So, aside from that, I feel like, maybe just keeping in touch with myself, and never completely losing myself and my journey would probably be one of my goals for myself. I hope I never reach a point where I look in the mirror and don’t like the person that I see or I don’t recognize myself anymore. You know what I mean?”

Ombre denim jacket, chambray button-down, and patched jeans all by LEE

This daily ritual is not only getting your bearings to face a new day ahead, but it is a moment of affirmation of the person that you are. This begs us to ask, did Tony Labrusca like the person he saw in the mirror that morning?

“Well, I didn’t have my contacts on, so I couldn’t see,” he says, cracking a laugh that despite everything is not one bit hollowed by circumstance, but is still bright and buoyant, much like the view of life he managed to keep intact. “I was like, you know what, I just got a fresh cut. So, I’m looking good. I’ve had this shoot today, and then I have a premiere later, like life is amazing right now. So, that got me thinking: Tony, you’re a good guy, and you’ve got good intentions. No matter if nobody believes you, as long as you know it for yourself and God knows it, then that’s all that matters. You know what I mean?”

Yes we do.


Photography Toff Tiozon
Creative direction Jann Pascua
Styling Angelo Ramirez De Cartagena
Grooming Jay Herrera
Shoot coordination Thea Martin