Tessie Sy-Coson — Fortune magazine named her as one of the world’s Top 50 Influential Women. But long before she gained her mark in international business and became an icon in Philippine retailing, banking and finance, Tessie was SM Department Store’s fashion merchandising boss. She would be at SM, checking out the window displays (which were the most fashionable eye candy then), creating trends (her “sensational slide,” the off-shoulder top, is unforgettable) and brainstorming with designers. It was Tessie who nurtured local designers in the ’70s and ’80s and launched RTW lines for many Filipino couturiers. Today, SM does not only mean shoes and RTW. SM means fashion, beauty and global chic, as the mega retailing empire is forever growing with new foreign brands like Forever 21 that had the young, fashionable set queuing for days after it opened. In an interview with Time magazine, the forever-working Tessie said: “Life and work become one. My father would love that. He hoped we would be his clones. We do have our own lives.” One thing is sure: Tessie has this natural gift for fashion merchandising. Expect her to be working for more mega brands to come in at SM malls.
Nedy Tantoco — People know that Nedy is heiress to Rustan’s, the department store that invented luxury retailing and impeccable customer service in the Philippines. But few people know that she is a workaholic who is busy checking/working on her retailing projects until the wee hours of the morning. And that she was a nerdy student (cum laude in business, Assumption; magna cum laude, Colegio de Sta. Maria del Camino in Madrid) who got her best schooling, though, from her mother, Glecy Tantoco, founder of our local version of Sak’s Fifth. With support from her father, Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., her siblings Rico Tantoco, Marilou Pineda, Menchu Lopez, Marilen Tantoco, and Maritess Enriquez, and her children Anton, Catherine and Michael Huang, and the rest of the third-generation Tantoco retailers, Nedy has steered Rustan’s towards becoming the country’s premier retailing empire that owns the franchise to top international fashion and luxury brands, from Acca Kappa to Gucci to Hermes to Prada to Zegna. She stays true to Glecy’s vision of bringing in the best of the world, while offering the best of our very own. Transcending business, Nedy has become an art and culture patroness, working closely with the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Philippine-Italian Association to present concerts and exhibits. Maybe she can teach our institutions a thing or two about cultural retailing.
Ben Chan — At a time when it was aching for one, the Philippine retailing industry got a maverick when Ben Chan, back from years of marketing studies as a long-haired student at the University of California in Berkeley, and a fashion design course at the Pacific Fashion School in San Francisco, opened a small men’s T-shirt store 24 years ago with new actor Richard Gomez as endorser. It was a pioneering move — the use of celebrity endorsers — that led to other much-copied moves: the use of giant fashion billboards and the production of the much-awaited Bench Uncut show every two years.
The billboards may have recently made some people cross-eyed, but nothing can change the fact that Bench is the number one T-shirt and underwear brand in the country. On top of creating 17 local brands and carrying 15 foreign brands — from the chic Charles and Keith to the foxy Fox, and the luscious La Senza to the delicious Patchi, Bench also produces Pinoy pop culture books and regularly creates shirts with nationalist-inspired themes. Inspired by his visionary brother Carlos Chan, Ben revisited his roots and set up Bench stores in China, with Chinese superstars as endorsers.
With sister Nenita Lim and brother-in-law Virgilio Lim helping Ben carry Bench towards more pioneering retailing feats, Bench has become the benchmark in the fashion and lifestyle industry. And to think that Ben’s first job was manning the ticket box office of a movie house in San Francisco, earning US$2.50 an hour. Now, Ben can afford to build movie houses, but he remains a humble, hardworking and unassuming icon.
Virgie Ramos — Event planner Rita Neri refers to the workaholic Virgie (at right with Mr. Kunihiko Tsuji of Sanrio) — she with a fierce eye for fashion detail and a penchant for efficiency (“Do it today, not tomorrow”) — as her marketing icon. Like many others who have worked under Virgie, Rita considers her experience as career-defining, hon- ing her for future challenges. “If you survive Virgie Ramos, you survive everything,” Rita states. This topnotch retailer is credited for bringing into the Philippines the Hello Kitty and Sanrio experience, regaling generations, many of whom nostalgically admit they haven’t quite outgrown these childhood loves. Now, Virgie regales the hip market with Swatch — amazing for its endlessly evolving line of timepieces from Switzerland that mixes precision, excellence in design, fashion, artistry, culture, and philosophy. A perfect product to be marketed by someone who is always in the fashion loop, with that rare gift of youthful verve. She matches her Yohji and Comme outfits always with a Swatch — be it an old fave or the latest best-seller. Now, the Swatch is hot as the academe’s emblem of choice, much like a school ring, starting with Ateneo de Manila University, which was the first to have a school watch by Swatch. This resulted in Swatch Philippines donating a million-peso check for the ADMU Scholarship Fund. This gave birth to Virgie Ramos’ “Love School, Love Swatch” project which now has programs with University of Santo Tomas, University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, St. Scholastica’s College, Assumption College, Immaculate Conception Acad- emy, Xavier School, San Beda College, St. Paul University, Miriam College, and St. Theresa’s College.
Robina Gokongwei-Pe — Robina first made news in 1981 when she was kidnapped on her way to school and later rescued by a police officer named Ping Lacson. Rewind to 2000 when the movie Supercop had Angel Locsin portraying her and Robina remarks: “I wasn’t wearing a midriff on my way to UP, I didn’t have the body to wear that outfit and never will.”
According to urban legend, Robina had a twin sister snake, and now, with the rumor dispelled, Robina laughs, “I think she was turned into a snakeskin wallet.” A third misfortune happened when Robina, a journalism graduate of Columbia, convinced her dad, tycoon John Gokongwei Jr., to buy the pre-martial law Manila Times. The UP student in her envisioned publishing a newspaper as “an effort to be an instrument of meaningful change in society. “Unfortunately, then President Joseph Estrada didn’t like a headline in her newspaper, and so, she opted for a less turbulent life. “Ay naku, magtitindera na lang ako.”Now, she is the very hard-working and conscientious president of the Robinsons Group, which includes not only Robinsons Department Store, but also foreign-franchised shops like Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Trucco, and Warehouse. The young and fashionable set who adores these brands should probably thank Erap.
Eman Pineda — What kind of a retailing boss would pretend to be an ordinary salesman in his store and serve his customers, even kneel at their feet to help them try out pairs of shoes? Only a young, fearless and passionate natural-born retailer like Eman Pineda would do it. Even if he is jetlagged from a buying trip to Europe, or wearing his spiffy blazer that makes him look more like a GQ model, the tall and handsome Eman will do this in Adora, the newest and most adorable boutique-department store in Greenbelt 5 where coveted brands like Harry Winston, Givenchy, YSL, Lanvin, Anya Hindmarch, Missoni, Chloe, D&G, Pedro Garcia, Rimowa and Becca make it the mecca of the truly fashionable set.
“I need firsthand, raw feedback from customers where it matters the most. Customer service is as impor-tant as the merchandise we sell,” explains Eman. He adds that Adora is simply guided by a mantra ingrained in the 350-employee group: We love to buy and we love to sell.
This Ateneo economics graduate opened his first shop, Tyler at 27. It was a hit, and couldn’t miss in terms of merchandise and service (he hired only Ateneo graduates for his sales force). He recently sold Tyler “so I can focus on a singular force called Adora. “It is the only store in Manila with a beautiful powder room with mirrors for walls, and its interiors evoke a dream modern palatial residence in Paris, but Eman refuses to use the word “luxe” to describe it. The multi-awarded Retailer of the Year hall of famer would rather say Adora is a “world of everyday wonders.” Certainly, Eman makes sure these wonders never cease.
Bernie Liu — This six-footer towers in the mass retailing industry as the Cebuano architect- entrepreneur who built a RTW empire starting from graphic-designed T-shirts under the Penshoppe label, targeting the 13 to 20 age bracket. Now, his Golden ABC Inc. has other brands like Oxygen, ForMe, Memo, Regatta, Red Logo, and Regatta. His latest acquisition, Tyler, reflects his desire to expand his market to include fashionable A-listers. Guided by deep moral values, Bernie believes in the dictum pray hard, work hard. “I never leave home without a rosary and my scapular,” he once said. He combines this piety with a keen vision — to be a most admired Asian brand –and values-filled work ethic.
Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng — Fresh from Ateneo University where she finished comm arts, and a stint with the family’s short-lived Manila Times, Lisa went to Columbia University for her journalism masters. While in New York, she fell in love with magazines and the first thing she did upon coming home was create a fashion mag, Preview, which today remains the fashionistas’ bible.
“I had no long-term vision then,” Lisa admits. “But then in 1997, Hearst was looking for a partner in magazine publishing.” And Lisa’s Summit Publishing was it. The rest is glossy history. Today, Lisa has 23 magazine titles which include best-sellers YES!, FHM and Cosmopolitan, and its latest acquisition, Esquire, with brilliant journalist Erwin Romulo as editor.
A Nielsen Media Research shows that eight out of 10 favorite magazines chosen by respondents are from Summit. Lisa is the formi-dable brains and leader in the Philippine magazine publishing industry. Mixing journalism ideals (she values principled journalists like Jo-Ann Maglipon and Myrza Sison) with a cerebral vision, a keen radar for trendspotting, and a sharp business sense, Lisa continues to put Summit on top by establishing niches in digital space as well.
Inno Sotto — He reigns as Manila’s Prince of Fashion, a title he has richly deserved the past three decades. An Inno creation evokes a certain elegance that looks fragrant, clean, and well-crafted. These past many years, his breathtaking fashion shows famously covered by Elsa Klensch of CNN, his beautiful bridal gowns, his penchant for simplicity, talent for editing and restraint set him apart from the fashion heap.
As president of the Filipino Designers Group and the Fashion Design Council of the Philippines, he assumed the inevitable role of mentor in the industry. His 30th anniversary show, “30 20 10” at the Cultural Center of the Philippines last November was a testament to his timeless works. As creative direc- tor of Rustan’s, Inno breathes fresh insights into the retailing business.
Dr. Vicki Belo — The country’s most popular beauty doctor had a dream: To make the Philippines more beautiful, one person at a time. Soon, her name, voted by Reader’s Digest as a Most Trusted Brand, became synonymous with the latest scientific techniques in slimming, beautifying, and anti-aging. Belo has put the Philippines on the world beauty map, making the country a beauty and medical tourism destination, with her Belo Clinic as a must-visit. She also recently opened a branch in Los Angeles. Vicki has empowered a lot of women — and men — by enhancing their physical image, raising their self-esteem, and making it naturally acceptable to declare that they have just had a lipo or an eyelift.
Sari Yap — She is a magazine diva who is now creating electronic versions of glossy magazines. First, Sari launched Mega, the pioneering glossy fashion mag in the country — and certainly one of the thickest. Armed with her media management course in Spain, and a professional publishing course at Stanford U, Sari came home with a dream to put out a world-class fashion mag in Manila.Today, her Mega Publishing Group carries 10 titles — all local yet all successful, each with a target niche. Aside from Mega, there is Lifestyle Asia, Lifestyle Asia Travel, Meg, My Home, BluPrint, Condo Living, Appetite, Inside Showbiz, and Celebrity Living. Last year, Sari conceived of bringing lifestyle reportages, trends and yes, fashion competitions on television by way of the Generation Mega TV shows which aim to carry out one of her passions — nurturing a new breed of fashion designers. Sari is one stylish dynamo who constantly develops new fashion designing superstars and brings reinventions in the lifestyle scene.
Pepito Albert — He is a truly talented designer with consistent strokes of brilliance, originality, and fearless innovation. Unfortunately, he has chosen to be semi-reclusive and selective, designing only for a circle of truly stylish women like Kaye Tinga, Ching Cruz, Patricia Panlilio, Irene Marcos Araneta, Fe Rodriguez, and a few brides like Korina Sanchez. Still, Pepito commands the respect of younger fashion stalwarts like Rajo Laurel who says, “I adore him.” The fashion trends he has created and still cre- ates make him an in- fluential though rarely visible fashion force.
Jessica Zafra — Her fans range from teeny boppers to white- haired adults, which is perhaps why her columns in STAR first appeared in Young Star, before it became a Sunday Lifestyle regular. One of the most prolific writers in the literary scene, this Palanca Awardee has produced nine volumes of Twisted, the National Book Award-winning bestseller, as well as humor collections Chicken Pox for the Soul and 500 People You Meet in Hell. Her movie reviews have been compiled into Twisted Flicks, while the joys and aggravations of her travels — including those she took with the Eraserheads as their manager — have been put together in Twisted Travels. She has done radio and television talk shows, and now she communicates with her audience via JessicaRulestheUniverse.com. Her BFFs range from Jaime Augusto Zobel (real) to Roger Federer (imaginary), and her current favorite beat is sports — sports personalities, that is. She has chronicled the trials and triumphs of the Philippine Rugby Team, but after a real or imaginary LQ with a member, she has decided she will focus now on other sports heroes as sports writer for the hot, hot, hot Esquire magazine coming out in September.
During the STAR’s January events featuring favorite books and writers, the lines were longest for those wishing to have their book signed by Jessica Zafra. If you want her autograph, it is easy to find her. Look for the ponytailed woman with huge cat’s eye sunglasses, almost always wearing a knotted scarf, heading towards the National Book Store or her favorite Wild Ginger restaurant in Rockwell.
The Zobel Family — Their patriarch Jaime Zobel de Ayala, chairman emeritus of the Ayala companies, is renowned for his artistic eye in photography. His regularly changing photography murals in Greenbelt 3 are always thought-provoking, truly something to watch for. (Check out his current one, captioned “Today, a somersault. Tomorrow, a leap into their dreams.”)
His vision of promoting Philippine art, history, music, photography, fashion, literature, and other aspects of culture through the “Bravo Filipino” series at Ayala Malls is admirable. Assisting him in this project are his wife Bea who finds time from her pet project of providing homes and livelihood to the Mangyans; daughter Bea Jr. who is also active in cultural revival and restoration projects in Bohol; and daughter Sofia Zobel-Elizalde who brings culture to the malls via her Steps Dance Studio where she provides dance scholarships to aspiring ballerinas.Brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando mix business with philanthropy via advocacies such as providing quality education for the underprivelege and the Habitat for Humanity, which helps provide homes for the underprivileged.
The Antonio Family — Headed by the pioneering real estate whiz Joey Antonio, assisted by sons Jigger, Marco, Robbie, and Carlo, all brilliant and educated with honors at Wharton and Stanford, theirs is the company — Century Properties — that defines and spearheads fashionable and luxury condominium in the Philippines. Joey made condo living attractive to an elite market with the opening of Essensa, an award-winning hi-rise project that remains one of the best in the country. They were the first to offer fully-furnished condos via their SOMA project at the Fort, as well as the SOHO Central and Grand SOHO Makati condos. Rising soon are the Century City in Makati, the Versace-designed Milano Residences which is the first local condo designed by an international fashion house, and the Acqua located right after the new bridge linking Rockwell Center to Mandaluyong.
The Syjuco Family — Here is a family that creates, inspires, and rocks! Cesare A.X. Syjuco is a prizewinning painter, poet, and art critic whose latest work is a 15-track CD album and book featuring his avant-garde pottery and music. Wife Jean Marie Syjuco, the foremost exponent of performance art in the Philippines, is also a painter and installation artist. The children were all well-bred in the arts: Michelline is a sculptor and jewelry artist; A.G. Syjuco is a musician and composer of the band Faust!; Beatrix is a performance and video artist who co-hosts an art and culture talk show with Krip Yuson; Maxine is a poet, visual artist, and art teacher in her school, The Little Picasso; Julian is an aspiring artist. The Syjucos are not only an extremely talented force in the local art and culture scene; they are also such a good-looking family.
Impy Pilapil —Certainly a most cerebral sculptor whose works are always thought-provoking and beautiful, Impy is a passionate artist whose modern works bear both a global mind as well as a nationalist heart. She got her art education at UP, Accademia Italiana, and Pratt Graphics Center in New York, and her works have been exhibited and acclaimed in countries that are too many to mention here. The Asean Plaza Landmark and the Heroes Memorial Landmark feature her sculptures, as do several buildings in Metro Manila. She has done works that reflect her concern for the environment, and projects that benefit the underprivileged. She also does furniture that look like functional artworks. Impy has made the experience of receiving awards a pleasurable art reward as well, by designing glass trophies that are more coveted because they afford one the ownership of an Impy Pilapil artwork one can proudly display on the shelf.
Ramon Orlina — Orlina likewise does sculpture in glass and steel, and has exhibited in so many galleries here and abroad. What makes him different is his affinity to the Singapore art scene, having lived there and met his wife Lay Ann. Thus, his sculptures are seen at the atrium of Wisma Aria on Orchard Road and the Marina Park of the Singapore Outdoor Stadium, among others. His most recent work is “Quattro Mondial,” a 10-meter-high cast bronze and carved glass sculpture unveiled for the 400th anniversary of the University of Santo Tomas, his alma mater. Art critic Cid Reyes exalted the masterpiece as “monumental … it captures the idea of the university as an institution of learning that has survived 400 years and is still looking towards the future.”
Bencab — Art patron and gallery owner Sari Ortiga considers Bencab “the coolest” Filipino National Artist. Acclaimed as the bestselling painter of his generation of artists, Bencab combines deft strokes with a passion for very Filipino imageries. This UP fine arts graduate moved to London where he reaped recognition as an artist. Back in the Philippines, Bencab eventually embraced Baguio as his home. After the 1990 earthquake in Luzon, Bencab organized ArtAid workshops for children traumatized by the disaster. He also helped create a refuge for local artists seeking a nurturing environment at the Tamawan Village. His BenCab Museum in Baguio has become a must-see attraction featuring the works of Filipino masters, as well as highlighting the culture and arts of the Cordilleras. Bencab is an artist who combines his passion for art with a nationalist consciousness. Perhaps that is what makes him cool.
Lor Calma and Ed Calma — Lor is a pioneer modernist in the Philippines whose furniture designs and architectural works remain timeless. His sculptures are proud landmarks in the metropolis, a testament to a multi-awarded artist with a vision. His architectural works include the Metropolitan Museum, National Museum, and several hotels here and abroad. His son Ed Calma — with academic schooling at Columbia University, Pratt Institute, and the University of Rome — is one of the leading lights in Philippine modern design. He did the country proud by winning a gold medal for design for his Expo 2008 in Zaragoza, Spain; as well as his Expo 2005 design for the Philippines in Japan, both projects done under the aegis of his father. The Calmas are a formidable duo who are defining the future of Philippine design.
Margarita Fores — This culinary princess had to work hard even as she was born with the proverbial golden spoon — or was it a golden ladle in her hand? When her grandfather, Don Amado Araneta, chose to live in New York after martial law, Gaita became an eager New York student, imbibing everything she could in the city where eateries seem never to sleep. Her work stint at Valentino stirred her interest in everything Italian. From there, she moved to Florence where she learned all she wanted to know about Italian cuisine from two Italian cooks. Back in Manila, she debuted as a guest chef at Hyatt Regency. She wanted to open her own resto, but her parents, thinking it was just a whim, didn’t take her seriously. So she borrowed money from her mom, Baby Araneta Fores, and launched Cibo. Of course, she was able to pay back every cent, and thereafter created her Café Bola and Pepato restaurants, a highly acclaimed catering service, and her own flower shop Fiori di M inside Adora at Greenbelt 5. This year, Gaita celebrates her 25th year as an exponent of Italian cuisine in Manila and as one of the most hardworking and creative chefs in the country.
Claude Tayag — As painter, sculptor, furniture designer, chef, writer, and book author, Claude is a rare multi-talented personality in the lifestyle scene. He spent years as an architecture and economics student at UP, but learned volumes about Phil-ippine art and culture from his mentor, the legendary writer-artist-gourmet E. Aguilar Cruz. Mixing his gift for art with a nationalist passion, Claude produced works inspired by Philippine festivals, land- scapes, and religious images. This multi-awarded artist who has had countless exhibits here and abroad, is now a full-time chef at his by-reservations-only restaurant Bale Dutung in Angeles, Pampanga where he offers his five-way lechon. A much-copied dessert he created, Claude’s Dream, is a best-seller at the LJC chain of restaurants. He also invented his now-famous Pan de Bagnet. Claude is a man who can design anything. And cook everything.
Cecile Zamora van Straten — A Parsons-trained fashion designer who opened her edgy brand of fashion in shops called Defect, Store for all Seasons, and Grocery, Cecile has made her mark in fashion. Today, her creations are available at the Bleach Catastrophe, one of the best-designed stores in Greenbelt 5. From style maker and trend spotter, Cecile has become a restaurateur as well, partnering with her handsome husband, chef Jeroen Van Straten, to open Pepper Lunch, the only restaurant in Manila where diners form long lines every day in places like Rockwell, Greenbelt 5, and Robinson’s Ermita. Cecile is also a popular newspaper columnist, but to her millions of readers, she is better known as Chuvaness, the country’s most influential and powerful blogger. She writes about a product she fancies, and the next day, her readers rush to check it out. Whether she writes about her discovery in a museum that Jose Rizal was barely five feet tall, or raves about her favorite Comme or Yohji finds, Cecile’s every little gasp or gushing is talked about.
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde — She is undoubtedly the foremost ballerina in the Philippines who has dedicated her life to dancing and mentoring aspiring ballet dancers. She danced her way to stardom after earning a scholarship to the Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad where she graduated at the top of her class in 1984. She became the first foreign soloist at the renowned Kirov Ballet, where she was principal ballerina in The Nutcracker, Don Quixote and Giselle. Back in Manila in 1986, she became the CCP’s first artist-in-residence while dancing with Ballet Philippines. With the Philippine Ballet Theater, she starred in major local productions and guested in foreign ones as well. Her dream of promoting ballet in the country came true when she set up Ballet Manila, her company where dancers get training from her and ballet master Osias Barroso in the highly rigorous Russian method of classic ballet. Lisa brings the art of dance more accessible to the masses nationwide, and even nurtures a relationship between the Filipino audience and artists through her awardwinning radio program, Art 2 Art.
Raul Sunico — From an internationally acclaimed pianist who has won medals in various piano competitions, and who honed his musical skills at the Juilliard School of Music and the NYU, he has come home for good to take a bow at the CCP not as a performer, but as its president. Now, it is his turn to help Filipino performers reap applause in this venue just like he used to, and to promote Philippine art and culture. That is a difficult task considering that this and past governments have other budget priorities. But do it he must. And in his own way, this concert pianist, composer-arranger and music educator has been doing his share by producing more than 40 CDs, 15 of them on Filipino music, and doing a 10-book series for elementary students called Musika at Sining. He is also dean of UST College of Music.