Never jump to conclusions. That’s one of the more important things I learned this past month. When my first two sittings (back in August) as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography had turned out to be engagement sessions, you see, I’d thought, Oh, this is all we’re going to be doing, couples and stuff. (Not that I’d thought that was going to be a bad thing.) So imagine my surprise when Shutterfairy’s Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon sent me a Tweet saying she was going to be photographing the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (01, 03) for the album cover of her forthcoming release, and that she wanted me to do the styling! I was literally jumping up and down! This was massive for me, in part because it was an opportunity to think outside the engagements/couples box, but for the most part because it was a chance to rekindle old ties. Yes, Cattski and I, although that may sound to some like an unlikely combination, we go waaay back. (Don’t you just love how it’s a small world, after all? Mai is best friends with former Y101 anchorwoman Imma Fermin-Ongteco, who is best friends with Cattski; and both Imma and Cattski are best friends with one of my best friends Deo Urquiaga, who was responsible for hooking me up with this apprenticeship gig with Mai. Did I just use “best friends” four times in one sentence?)
It’s true for me, so I just assume it’s true for everyone: It’s nice to be reunited with someone you haven’t been in touch with for a long, long time. When Cattksi and I sat down for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts at the tail end of August, it turned out to be 70% catching up and laughing, and only 30% business—hey, I hadn’t seen this girl in 7 years! Funny thing, really, ‘cause it’s not like she had moved to a different place, or it was me who’d moved away—we’d been living in the same city the whole time, thank you very much. But, well, as she puts it now, “life got in the way.” I love that this woman has amazing recall of all level of detail—makes missing out a whole lot easier to endure. I was floored, for example, when she remembered how, back when I’d been editor for the (now-defunct) local counterculture e-zine Neoground.com, I’d proceeded to declare her “my own personal PJ Harvey.”
Well, now it looked like all she was going to be was my own personal dress up doll (she’s not going to like that term, though)! At first I’d thought that she wouldn’t be open to the idea of styling—I mean, it’s a fact that not a lot of local musicians are into that kind of thing (heaven knows the kinds of beef I got into when I tried to style musicians who were either performers or presenters during the first two installments of the San Miguel Beer Cebu Music Awards some ten years back). To my amazement, she was 100% down for it—and she pretty much gave me the free hand, too!
I’m sure most of you have seen Mai’s photos already (if you haven’t yet, click here). Killer, right? I’m tempted to talk right here and right now about how I came up with the styling, but I think it’s wiser to save it for when I am to post my own shots from that session (yes, I took a couple of photos, too). At least judging from Mai’s photos (and these behind-the-scenes shots) you will be able to tell that, yes, my inspiration was pretty much “ebony and ivory” (02), and that I used a couple of mannish items, like a Protacio smoking jacket (01). My own Bed Stü work boots (05) even made a special guest appearance!
Some of you might be wondering where we did the shoot. If that edifice behind Cattski in photo number (04) doesn’t look familiar, well, I can tell you now that is actually the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu. Yes, we shot at the hotel’s Grand Balcony, from where we had an amazing view of the Cebu skyline below. This choice of location was Cattski’s idea, after she’d been here one day at twilight and she’d had an epiphany of sorts while staring at the city as it had changed its face with every passing minute until it had become dusk. She told me the story of how, from that moment on, she’d become more contemplative, resulting in an inexhaustible kind of songwriting. That explained how it had only taken her less than two years to come up with this new album, her fourth (quite a feat, considering that it had taken her a good six years between her second and her third). It’s amazing to realize that inspiration can come from the places you least expect to find it—in this case, home.
I’m excited about this album. I’m excited to find out which of Mai’s photos are gonna end up in the album cover. Most of all, I’m excited for Cattski, and her fans. The inspiration maybe dusk, but I can only predict a bright outcome.
Those closest to me can attest that, yes, I do have “girl crushes.” For example, I am kind of crazy about Love Marie Ongpauco a.k.a. Heart Evangelista—for six or so months now, my Sunday evenings have been spent sitting in front of the computer and staring at her face in the short film Muse (created by actor-turned-director Albert Martinez for the designer Inno Sotto’s 30th anniversary gala). I am also kind of turned on by Zoë Kravitz, or at least by her role in Californication. And then, of course, there is Lauren Conrad. But, you see, these are only my fairly recent obsessions. The one that’s been the object of my fantasies for more than 15 years now is none other than the great Kate Moss.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had an obsession as intense as my fascination with the truly amazing creature that is Katherine Moss. I remember using her Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein Obsession for Men ads as wallpaper for my dorm room. While everyone else was lusting after Leonardo DiCaprio, I was decidedly all about Johnny Depp, just because he was dating Ms. Moss at the time. I remember hating on my cousin, just because he was the first to have a bottle of CK One, and to my mind that had brought him closer to Kate than I ever could be. When I was 17 or 18 and could not afford a coffee table book, I would spend 2-3 hours every Sunday sprawled on the floor of my favorite bookstore, ceremoniously devouring every single page of Kate: The Kate Moss Book—or just staring at the cover and praying, “Oh, God, please make me have those freckles!”
Yes, my girl friends were going crazy penciling on fake moles above their lips, in an attempt to copy Cindy Crawford’s “beauty mark,” but I was all about freckles. I guess that was what endeared Kate to me. She was perfectly imperfect. I had had enough of the impossible smiles, the vermillion lips, the unattainable curves, the outlandish gowns, the whimsical locations. Escapism was good, but didn’t quite go well with the soundtrack of the times. Grunge was on a rise like a bat out of hell, and it needed a muse to conquer the world with. The world needed, as how British curator Iwona Blazwick put it, “a truth located in the artless, the unstaged, the semiconscious, the sexually indeterminate and the pubescent.” And Kate gave us that kind of truth. Here was someone who was not afraid to slap on a silly grin, to not put makeup on, to eschew technical perfection, to misplace optimism, and to date Edward Scissorhands. In other words, she made fashion real and attainable. For you and for me. And that’s why she will always have a special place in my heart.
So please forgive me when I say that this month I broke a very important promise that I had made to myself—that is, the promise to buy more books, and no more magazines. I’d pretty much been able to stay true to that promise in the last couple of months, but I just had to make an exception this month. Why? Well, ‘cause it’s Kate Moss on the cover of the September issue of American Vogue (06)! And this isn’t just your regular Kate Moss cover—it comes with an exclusive coverage of her wedding to The Kills guitarist Jamie Hince!
I almost died for this copy. I went to Fully Booked on September 5, and they told me they didn’t have it yet. I came back September 11, still they didn’t have it. I was on the verge of throwing a bitch fit when I returned on September 15 and was told they still didn’t have it! How ridiculous is that, right? In the U.S. the September issues hit the newsstands and bookstores as early as mid-August! Ah, the pain of living in a…I shouldn’t finish that statement. On my fourth trip back to the bookstore on September 18, the girl behind the counter gave me a nasty look. “We [already] have the September issue, but you can’t have it yet—we haven’t unboxed any of our new arrivals.” Can you believe her? I was going to cause a scene, but thankfully this guy named Abner came to the rescue and offered to unbox the new magazines right there and then so I could have my copy. Thanks, Abner! You are super awesome!
Anyway, back to the magazine: I don’t think I’ve ever held a September issue that’s this heavy (then again, I haven’t seen the past 4 or so September issues, so what do I know). Perhaps the reason this one feels particularly weighty is ‘cause the cover story was written by my favorite writer Hamish Bowles, and shot by my favorite photographer Mario Testino. The beauty of Bowles’s text, alongside Testino’s dazzling images—I do not think a more formidable pairing exists. Their genius certainly gave justice to a truly momentous, one-of-a-kind event. I even love the little inset photo of wedding guest Naomi Campbell, and the funny little anecdote that tells of Naomi being fashionably late and Kate saying to her, “Trying to upstage me, bitch?”—to me, a celebration of friendship like no other.
My favorite photo of all, I must say, is that of Kate surrounded by her young bridesmaids, flower girls and pageboys, although I am also inexplicably drawn to this one black-and-white number of her and her daughter Lila Grace (07), done in the style of the ‘90s Calvin Klein campaigns that propelled Kate to superstardom. Needless to say, I am going to be putting these photos up a pedestal. Who knows? I might be asked to do a mother-and-daughter session one day—at least I will have something to look back on and slap against the mood board when that day comes.
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Another September issue I just had to get my hands on was that of local fashion glossy Preview (actress Anne Curtis on the cover, making her the celebrity with the most Preview covers to date, this one being her sixth). I’d always been a fan of the magazine, but I kind of stopped reading them in 2007, or 2008—can’t remember why exactly. The reason I picked up this issue, though, is’ cause my photo of Shandar’s Urgello wedges (inspired by Gayle Urgello) made it to their Fashion News section (08), to supplement a sidebar on Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez. Nothing huge, really—it’s all but a little 3.25” x 2”—but it’s huge to me considering this might be the only time a photo by me is ever going to appear in a fashion magazine. They forgot to credit me, though, not even in marginalia, but that’s alright. I’m just happy that Manila editors are starting to take notice of deign talent from this part of the country. I am so proud of Mark and of where he’s taken his little shoe line—everyone’s buzzin’ about Shandar Shoes, and it’s only been three months since he launched the whole thing! I told him to be prepared—now that Preview has ran a story on him, other fashion/lifestyle magazines are bound to follow suit.
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Of course, my itsy-bitsy photo is not the only reason I’ll be holding on to this copy of Preview for years to come—I also am happy to have stumbled upon this glorious print-on-print editorial called “Fly on the Wall” (09), photographed by Jeanne Young, modeled by Sanya Smith (Pepe Smith’s daughter), and styled by the fabulous Daryl Chang. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from the ever-innovative Chang: brave, fierce, and game-changing. She is always first to do what other stylists are too afraid of doing. I, for one, have been too timid to try mixing patterns. God knows how many times I’ve toyed with the idea, but I always end up dropping it cold turkey before I can even get to work. I keep thinking about rules, you see—like, should I mind the scales and sizes of the prints, so that teeny florals should be matched with, say, large stripes? or, should I stick to just two different patterns in one outfit? This editorial by Chang, though, has made me realize that I shouldn’t be caring about rules when it comes to this department. The very reason we do print-on-print is because we want to make a bold statement, right? And so, in the end, it really is a fearless approach—and a little bit of rule-breaking—that is going to do the trick. Total mood board material right here!
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From “girl crushes” we move on to “man crushes.” Laugh all you want, but, yes, I squealed like a little girl when I saw this photo of my “man crush” Carlos Concepcion (with Georgina Wilson) in the BOB of this month’s Preview (10). It’s not even that kind of crush, OK? Carlos here, although most of you might know this already, is a designer and a stylist, and has done a lot of great work for The Philippine Star’s youth lifestyle section, as well as for glossy titles like Garage and Preview Men. I admire him for the most part because of what he’s doing to change the way we look at men’s fashion in this part of the world—it takes a whole lot of balls to do what he’s doing. I mean, cropped jackets and above-the-knee skirts on men? I’m sorry, but he’s my hero. So it’s not that kind of crush, but maybe it’s the Single White Female kind of crush—i.e., I wanna be him. I don’t know if I am ever going to meet him in this lifetime, but if, by some wicked stroke of luck, I end up bumping into him, you know I am going to drop to my knees and plant a kiss on his feet. And I don’t even have a foot fetish. But I do have a shoe fetish, and the guy has some seriously pretty shoes, so there.
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Meanwhile, there was that one September issue I wished I could have but just couldn’t—I’m talking about that of French Vogue. Huge deal to me because this was Emmanuelle Alt’s first September issue as editor-in-chief, after she’d supplanted Carine Roitfeld in February of this year. Of course, I’d always adored Roitfeld (I’d give her a bear hug if I could); just that it had gotten to a point when I could no longer get her—I mean, she’d let Tom Ford guest edit the title’s December 2010/January 2011 issue, and allowed him to use 10-years-old girls and a geriatric couple as models! I’d read somewhere that Alt, who’d been under Roitfeld’s French Vogue wing as fashion director since 2000, was so far doing a great job breathing new life into the title by taking things more lightly, injecting a little “humor” and “positivity” into the scene—and what better way to see this for myself, right, than by getting her first September issue? But, alas, French Vogue wasn’t something you could easily find in this part of the world—hey, it had even taken three weeks for the American edition to hit our bookstores! Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a copy at the designer Protacio’s atelier a couple of days ago! My jaw dropped as I was scanning his magazine shelf and—wham!—there it was, Charlotte Casiraghi on the cover staring back at me with smoky eyes (11). “How is it even possible that you have this?” I asked Protacio as I clutched the copy against my chest. Although, of course, I’d known a long time he was fond of collecting all sorts of hard-to-find foreign titles. (Exactly the reason why I love visiting his shop in the first place, because it’s like a little fashion library to me—he even has a copy of the aforementioned controversial Tom Ford-edited December 2010/January 2011 issue [see same Instagram, 11, behind the Charlotte Casiraghi, with Ford and Daphne Groeneveld on the cover].) Indeed, Alt’s French Vogue was a joy to flip through. Still had that requisite European quirkiness and modernism, but presented in a whole new light—blithe, if you will, and not at all menacing. Just like that, two or so of the inside photos of Casiraghi went straight up my mental mood board. Yes, mes amis, it is that relatable now, even if you don’t speak or understand a word of French (I know I don’t)! Thank you, Protacio, for sharing! I will be back for more inspiration soon!
So I woke up in the afternoon (hey, I work afternoons/evenings Mondays to Fridays) of September 8 wondering why this blog was getting so many hits. Turned out earlier that day Mai had written a little something about me in her own blog (12), and that’s where all the traffic had come from! What a surprise! I know her site has a good number of followers; such an honor for some of them to be trickling down into mine. Now I gotta pay attention to what I’m posting on here, because I don’t just represent me now, I also represent Shutterfairy. And so I have to behave accordingly and try not to do anything foolish.
She wrote about how she doesn’t want to call me her apprentice, but, really, that is all I am for now. Until such a time that I’m confident enough with my own skills and with my application of all the things I’m learning from her, I don’t mind being the guy in the backseat, taking orders, taking down notes, even talking to clients pre-shoot. Which brings us to the something extra that I do for Shutterfairy: Mai, via the same blog post, has made it official that I am resident stylist. Which means that, yes, if you need help in that department, I’m the guy who’s going to sit down with you (Mai may or may not be present during these meetings) days or weeks before your session in front of the camera to help you out with your clothes and accessories (and even makeup and props).
So, OK, if it was the Shutterfairy blogsite that led you here, let me break it down for you: If you’re interested in a styled session with the Shutterfairy (engagement, portrait, family, etc.), simply shoot her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will then contact you to discuss scheduling and all the other high-level stuff. After which your contact details will be forwarded to me, and that’s how I get in touch with you for the pre-shoot styling/mood board development meeting. At the meeting, you will simply need to let me in on your, um, theme, your desired shooting locations, etc., and I will then proceed to build a mood board or two for you. I do house calls, too, just so you know—easier for me to look at items that you already have.
By the way, because I’m only apprenticing for right now, there is no separate fee for the styling. You just have to pay for the photo session, and that’s about it. So, what are you waiting for? Contact Shutterfairy now and let’s get to work!
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Some three weeks after I’d found out that my photo of Shandar’s Urgello shoes made it to this month’s issue of Preview, their “online counterpart” StyleBible.ph put up a gallery of my shots of all the other shoes from the shoe line’s premier collection (13). This gallery, and the accompanying article, marks the addition of Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez to StyleBible.ph’s venerable Designer Directory and Designer Spotlight, placing him side-by-side with the likes of such Filipino design greats as JC Buendia, Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Jun Escario and others. Click here to view the gallery, and here to read the article.
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Exactly how long can one be obsessed with something? In my case, more than 20 years. Yes, the video for Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” turned 21-years-old this past month (14). Shot in September of 1990, I watch it today and it looks like it was only shot yesterday. Thank you, Herb Ritts, for leaving us with such an amazing piece of art.
My fourth sitting with the Shutterfairy was for another non-couple session (15-19). When Mai told me she was going to be photographing a single mother of two boys, I said, OK, I gotta see this—I’d always wondered how she did things like this, you see, where there were children involved. Up to that point the only children I’d ever gotten myself to photograph were my own nieces and nephews, and even with that sort of kindred I’d never been able to make them behave during sittings.
Turned out that the reason Mai was so good at it was ‘cause, well, she was a mother herself! She knew how to command kids’ attention in a manner that was very natural, not at all domineering, and had little to no bribery involved. I am never going to be a mother (duh), but I picked up one thing that could come in handy when I am to photograph kids/families in the future: When doing pre-shoot research, don’t focus too much on the adults; take the time out to learn what the kids love doing and figure out a way to inject it into the sitting. For this shoot right here, Mai had found out that the little boy loved to play soccer, so when she saw that he was a little uncomfortable standing in front of the camera she asked him to take out the soccer ball and just have fun with it. Needless to say, the resulting photos were gorgeous. Click here to see Mai’s set from that session.
Couple of other things I learned that day:
- Don’t stress too much about the location. Yes, there is value in planning and in pre-shoot oculars, but there is potential in the unexplored. Mai had planned to shoot the family at the Mountain View Nature Park in Busay, but decided to shift gears the last minute and took us to Talamban’s Family Park—well, not the park per se, but a somewhat secluded area outside the park. She’d never been here before (neither had I, or any of the subjects), but she was curious. Turned out to be a beautiful place (16-18).
- Don’t stress too much about the props, too. Just explore the surroundings and, if you’re resourceful enough, you’re bound to find something that can be useful. I’d pretty much ignored this rusty wheelbarrow (15) until Mai called my attention to it and asked me to have the subjects play around with it. The resulting picture turned out to be my favorite (19)!
- Even when it looks like it’s about to rain, don’t cancel just yet—there’s a chance it won’t. It was 2PM when I met up with Mai, and there were dark clouds starting to hover over us, so I said, “Should we call it off?” She didn’t want to. I would learn later on that it’s actually a good thing when it’s a bit overcast in the mid-afternoon—the light is just right (not too harsh, and not too dim, either)
- Don’t be afraid of greenery—instead, use it to your advantage! See, always this had been my weakness—like, I’d always ask my subjects to stay away from the trees and the shrubs and all. And then Mai made me realize that it’s actually kind of gorgeous to have all those leaves distilling the sunlight into gorgeous, soft little rays (18).
- Mind your framing/cropping when it’s portraits. Never frame/crop in such a way that you’re cutting through the subject’s joints (i.e., wrists, knees, ankles).
- Most importantly: Do not waste your subject’s time by taking 100+ photos of one frame. Don’t chimp a lot, but be sure to check after, like, 20 or so shots. If you got a couple of winners, move on to the next frame.
I know it all sounds very elementary, but, honestly, these are things I never learned from other photographers that I talked to, or read about in basic photography books. Indeed, there are some aspects of the craft that you can grasp faster as an assistant.
It was my mom’s 52nd birthday last September 10. Because she lives in Ormoc with my grandfather (her father) and our youngest, I hadn’t had the chance to celebrate her birthday with her for the past seven or so years. I didn’t want to miss out anymore, so I asked her to come to Cebu and blow this year’s candles here with us (20, 24).
I love the birthday cake I got her (20, 21). I wanted something light and sort of pastel, and with candy-colored sprinkles, like the gorgeous lemon cupcakes that I’d fallen in love with at Magnolia Bakery some two years back—no chocolate, no devil’s food, nothing dark. It was my friend Rhia de Pablo who made it (she makes the meanest, moistest chiffon cake, and she got the lemon meringue buttercream right). You can’t see it, but the top of the cake says, “YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO.”
We also had habichuelas con chorizo de Bilbao (22). Earlier in the month I’d engaged in an online discussion with my good friend Kenneth Enecio, who comes from a family of cooks (mom Laura is a pâtissier, brother Eric is a chef), and the venerable Annabelle Tan-Amor (mom of my former co-editor Ina Amor, so I really should be calling her Tita) about what makes a good habichuelas. While Annabelle liked hers authentic, and served in stoneware (puchero de barro, if you will?) “to keep it piping hot,” Kenneth liked to be “adventurous,” adding in stuff like a little ginger and saffron “to give it a little color and aroma,” and even a little potatoes. In the end, we’d come to an agreement that, however you liked it, it was a must to add Bilbao chorizo. Now, I do not know where to get the authentic ones (and I wish I knew how to track down the guy who used to cook all these delish kinds of Spanish dishes for the Sunday brunches of my childhood at my great-grandmother’s), but the canned ones by Purefoods are pretty decent and are a good substitute. Whatever you do, do not use Macao chorizo. Someone I know updated his Facebook status once (or was it twice) to say he was “cooking habichuelas con chorizo de Macao.” OK, first of all, you do not say “chorizo de Macao” with the “de” because we all know that is not a type of Spanish sausage. Second of all, what was he thinking? I don’t know where Macao chorizos are from, but just in case they’re Chinese, then I do not need to explain how it’s all levels of wrong to add them to a Spanish dish. It’s like you’re watching, say, Abre los ojos and then it’s Zhang Ziyi as Sofía instead of Penelope Cruz!
Anyways, backpedaling to my mom’s birthday, yes, I made California-style sangria, too (23)! Sangria is really easy to make. For a recipe, see below.
So, OK, I know I’ve been going around telling people I no longer drink, and that’s still true. What I mean when I say I no longer drink is I no longer go out to bars or clubs and drown myself in shots, shots, shots, shots. It just isn’t for me anymore—the idea of walking around drunk (or, worse, of losing an entire morning the next day due to any level of hangover) frightens me now. I mean, sure, I’d still go to these places, if it were the only way to, say, catch up with long-lost friends; but the only thing you’ll ever see me cradling is a glass of Coke, or maybe orange juice.
I do allow myself the occasional relapse, though. And by occasional I mean a maximum of once a month, and only when there’s something extra special to celebrate. And nothing hardcore. Just sangria. And it has to be sangria made by me (29). That way I don’t get to leave the house and I’m not tipsy or anything in public.
I fell in love with sangria some two years back, when my best friend Chiklet dragged me to the Do-Over, and at the time the whole thing was still held at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down El Centro where they made sangria of the killer kind. I’d had sangria before, but it wasn’t until here that I was, like, Whoa! Since then it became sort of my official California drink, and everywhere we went—Bar Centro by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel, Lizarran in the O.C.—that was all we got.
Well, Bar Centro’s version is really of the blanca kind—still pretty good, but I like my sangria blood red (precisely why it’s called such, no?), never mind if it threatens to leave a deadly stain or two in your clothes.
If you wanna try making your own sangria, here’s how:
- Take a large carafe and mix 1 bottle of dry red wine, half a cup of brandy, half a cup of triple sec, and a thirds of a cup of simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water).
- Juice one large orange, two or three medium-sized lemons, and add the juices to the wine mixture.
- You will need another orange (28) and another two or three lemons (25), all sliced into rounds; float these slices into the mixture. You may also use lime, but the green kind of bothers me.
- Most people like to add maraschino cherries, but I go for seedless grapes instead (27).
- Let the whole thing sit in the fridge overnight.
- Add two cups of tonic water/club soda (26) just before serving—you know, for that fizzy effect.
If you’re pressed for time, you may skip the wine/brandy/triple sec/simple syrup mixture and go for ready-to-drink bottled sangria. Doesn’t taste as good, though, I have to warn you. Boone’s Sangria is pretty decent (and already fizzy so you can skip adding the club soda, too). Whatever you do, stay away from that brand called Eva.
Why are all the Nikkis leaving me for California? First it was my sister, three years ago, to marry her long-time boyfriend. Now it was Nikki Paden (31), just three days ago, to be with her father. She’d called me up beginning of this month to tell me that she was kind of sad about leaving, and so I’d asked her to join me at the Cattski album cover shoot (01-05) so she could help me style—and so I could convince her that it wasn’t exactly a bad thing to be moving to California. We’d spent hours after the shoot just talking about Melrose and Malibu, PCH and Pinkberry, etc. Apparently it worked because during the days leading to her flight out and as she was packing she was nothing but stoked—had reservations about leaving some of her stuff behind, but I told her, hey, a new city called for new style, so, by all means, yes, “leave it all behind.”
It got me kind of depressed looking at photos of her layover in HKG. Happy for her, of course (in just a couple of hours she was going to be hopping off the plane at LAX!), but sad for me. You see, if things had gone as planned, I would’ve been on the same planes and layovers. Yes, I was supposed to leave for L.A. three days ago. Well, the original plan had been for me to leave in May, but then I’d been asked to move the trip to September. And then September came, and they asked me to move it again. So hard to go on vacation these days!
Up to this day I am still in all sorts of pain. I’m looking at all these photos from happier times and all I can think of is, man, the things I’d give up to, say, be riding shotgun through the Santa Monica Freeway right now (34). Or, to be standing before Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside LACMA (32). Or, to be watching the sunset from Venice Beach (33).
Of course, all those are nothing compared to the biggest thing I am missing out on—I’m talking about the chance to see and hold my adorable niece Mikee (30) while she is still a baby. I mean, look at her! Isn’t she a darling? If things had gone as planned, she would’ve been in my arms by now.
My friends are, like, “It’s not the end of the world! Just go early next year!” If I have to be honest, though, I’m actually sick of people telling me that. Yes, I know, it’s so easy to move vacation dates, rebook airline tickets, etc. But has it ever occurred to them you can’t stop a child from growing? By January or February she’s going to start growing milk teeth, and that’s when babies start to lose weight. I’m sorry, but it would’ve been so much nicer to hold her now while she still has 10,000 creases in her arms and legs, you know? But, oh, well, it sucks to be me!
One of the most unexpected blasts of fresh air to hit Cebu this past month? A fashion school opening!
Fashion Institute of Design and Arts (FIDA) Cebu opened its doors last September 16, and I was lucky to have been there to witness the unveiling. It was the designer Dexter Alazas (36) who’d asked me to be his plus one, and, of course, I’d had to say yes—this was not your ordinary fashion event; this was a milestone!
Full disclosure: Growing up, I’d always wanted to go to design school. I’d had no plans of becoming a fashion designer, of course, but always I’d been curious about how things work in the creative industries. But, alas, my family had had other plans for me—and even if I’d had it my way there was no way it could’ve happened because nothing had been accessible at the time. So I’d ended up in med school, although the dream had never died—I’d catch myself fantasizing about going to Central Saint Martins in London, or Parsons in New York. Meeting people like, say, Stephanie dela Cruz, my art director at Zee Quarterly and a Parsons alum, had only fanned the flames—hearing their stories about their amazing teachers and internships, and, most importantly, seeing how precise and innovative they were with their work, their astounding facility of visuals, and their acumen in creative decision-making, I’d become more appreciative of design education.
At the launch, which also served as an open house/mixer to give prospective students a chance to ask questions about the school’s programs and curriculums, I remember looking at the young ones and saying to Dexter, “How lucky are these kids! They get to be of college age at a time when schools like this are becoming accessible!”
I got to have a brief chat with FIDA founder and headmistress Christine Funda (38), an alum of Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in L.A., and it was refreshing to hear her talk more passion than business. Always she’d considered Cebuano design talent to be topnotch, and for years it had been her dream to make quality fashion and design education available to Cebuanos. “I was just talking to a [prospective student] who said she’d always wanted to study fashion design, but she just couldn’t leave Cebu to go to Manila because she has to raise her young family,” she shared. It gave her utmost joy knowing she was bridging the gap between people like this and their dreams.
Nestled in the heart of the city, at the corner of Escario and Clavano (42), a stone’s throw away from Dexter Alazas’s atelier, FIDA’s pilot programs of study include a 2-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Merchandising, a 1-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Apparel Tech, a 6-month Certificate in Fashion Merchandising, a 3-month Introduction to Fashion Business short course. They’ve also enlisted an impressive lineup to comprise the faculty: Project Runway Philippines season one first runner-up Philipp Tampus (39) is set to teach industry sewing five hours a week; and Lord Maturan (41), winner of the Third Cebu Young Designers Competition, is set to teach fashion illustration. Ms. Munda stated they also intend to offer short courses in advanced makeup, hairstyling, fashion styling, and, yes, fashion photography. (Do I foresee a tie-up between the school and Dexter’s Stylissimo Sessions in the future?)
My stylist friend Mikey Sanchez, upon seeing these photos of mine from the launch, asked if I had plans of taking some classes. I wish I could! I wanted to ask Ms. Munda about one of their 1-year programs, but I had to stop myself. Not that I am not open to the idea of going back to school—it’s just that I have so much going on right now. But, who knows, in two or three years’ time, perhaps? Right now I’m just happy to have walked the halls that are to house the dreams of the future stars of Cebu fashion.
It’s kind of a funny story, how the proposal went.
Maricor Teves had absolutely no idea what was going to happen that evening. Well, she thought she knew, but she thought wrong. What she was certain of was that she was headed for a night of bacchanalia with her boyfriend Luigi Mangubat and his friends from high school. She was also certain that there was absolutely nothing to celebrate—no birthday, no anniversary, nothing. You see, in the eight or so years they’d been together, she’d pretty much gotten used to it all—the guys decide to get together, Luigi offers to host, and then his house turns into a virtual frat house, with beer overflowing, pizza slices flying at your nose, fifty different kinds of card games being played at once, and a guy named Jerry in one corner strumming the guitar and singing bizarre songs about, say, asthma and tuberculosis and stuff (no kidding). All this and more, while their girlfriends or wives sit on a couch, not allowed to complain. “I thought it was going to be one of those nights, so what I did was decide to go [plain Jane], in an old T-shirt, a pair of shorts that I usually wear to sleep—I didn’t even bother brushing my hair!”
When she arrived at the scene, though, one of the girlfriends was quick to jump her and grab her by the arm, blabbering something about being in all sorts of “relationship trouble” and desperately needing a fellow girlfriend’s advice. So off they went upstairs to Luigi’s bedroom, away from the crowd, locking the door behind them. But the girl never opened her mouth to speak—the only thing she got herself to open was a bag of cheese curls, or maybe they were cheese puffs. When it became very clear to Maricor that there really was no “relationship trouble” to talk about, and that all this was some kind of trick, she grabbed the bag of cheese curls—or cheese puffs or whatever—from her friend’s hands, made a mad dash for the door, rushed down the stairs, only to be stopped dead on her tracks by what she saw when she got to the landing.
There, staring up at her from the foyer, the parlor and the dining room, stood eight or so of Luigi’s closest friends and a couple of his male cousins, along with their girlfriends and wives. This wouldn’t have been a shocker, except everyone was awfully quiet, and had the same kind of half-smile. And everyone was wearing white. From head to toe. What kind of joke is this? was all that rang in Maricor’s head. She was pretty damn sure she hadn’t seen anyone in white when she’d stepped in just a couple of minutes ago—it had only taken them a blink of an eye to change their clothes and find their places! What was even stranger was that Luigi was nowhere in sight. She scanned the place, but couldn’t find his face.
And then it began. Friend number one stepped forward and started to tell the story of how he’d been there when Maricor and Luigi had first met, back in 2002. Friend number two spoke up, telling the story of how he’d been around during the couple’s wildest year, which was 2003. Friend number three followed suit, and touched on a rather sensitive subject: the couple’s first major breakup in 2004. That was how it all went—all eight of Luigi’s closest friends, taking turns in stepping forward and telling the couple’s love story, tracing the evolution of their relationship year after year after year. After number eight punctuated his snippet from 2009, there was a brief lull. And then they all stepped aside to make way for…Luigi.
If you think this couldn’t pass as a scene from a movie, consider: As all this was happening, they had some pretty good background music, too. And I’m not even talking about Jerry (no disrespect to Jerry, because everyone—myself included—loves him and his songs about asthma and tuberculosis and stuff). The score was courtesy of no less than young violinist Jake Juleous Gacang, of Pilipinas Got Talent fame. It was Luigi’s cousin Kyle who had commissioned the dreadlocked virtuoso to do this for them, and it was a haunting rendition of Ric Segreto’s “Don’t Know What to Say (Don’t Know What to Do)” that Jake played as Luigi made his entrance.
Like how the song goes, Maricor didn’t know what to say or do. Her jaw dropped, and that was about it. Luigi had been hiding in a corner the whole time! And now here he was, in a tuxedo that she’d never seen him wear before, walking ever so slowly, head down at first. And then he looked up at her and began to speak, breathlessly. With the past eight years having been covered by his best friends, there was nothing left for him to talk about but the present. Not a whole lot of words—it had all been said. To him, the here and now could only be reduced to ten words: “Are you ready to change your last name to Mangubat?”
To which she just shrugged and said, in the faintest half-whisper, “I don’t know.” And then she burst into tears. She cried like she’d never cried before. Luigi, of course, took all this as a yes, and then proceeded to grab her by the waist and give her a big kiss.
Just like that, the house was brought down. Everyone broke into laughter. The solemnity they very rarely saw was out the door, and in its place came the usual clamor. Beer bottles popped, greasy food was served, decks of cards were shuffled, and once again Jerry was back behind his guitar. Same old, same old. The only difference, of course, was that this time around they had every reason to celebrate.
So, did she really mean to say yes? I would ask Maricor this question a couple of months later. “Of course!” she exclaimed, laughing. “It was just that I was shaking the whole time, and so I couldn’t bring myself to say yes. But, of course, I meant to say yes! It was the most romantic thing! How could one not [mean to] say yes?”
She then went on to tell the untold back-story about the night of the proposal. Turned out that earlier that evening she’d had plans of skipping the party altogether. “My father was sick, and I was feeling pretty down because this was a first for us, for him—to me, [he’d always been] the healthiest man to ever walk this planet. And suddenly he fell ill, and we were so worried so we decided to take him to the hospital.” She’d ask Luigi if she could take a rain check, because she’d wanted nothing more but to stay with her old man. For some reason, though, her mom had offered to stay in the hospital, saying that Maricor could have her turn in watching over her father the next day. (Who can tell now if it was Luigi who secretly made arrangements with her mom—but to think the whole thing might have never happened!) And so, with a weary heart, Maricor had dragged herself to the party. And then he’d proposed. She’d cried for the most part “because it was like going from one extreme to the other. One minute I’m very sad, the next I’m very, very happy!” Her father would get better a few days later, and she was happy that by the time he’d checked out of the hospital she’d had nothing but sweet news to share.
No tears for her eight months later, though, on the day of the wedding. She wanted to cry, she could feel the tears building up behind her eyes, but she had to hold it all in. Why? Well, because it was her groom who was crying this time around! And she felt that if she cried along with him it would all look funny—you know, with the two of them crying at the altar. “He cried three times” was what it was. First, when his big brother Lawrence called to apologize about not being able to make it to the wedding as he was marooned in Manila due to flight delays. This came as a shock to Luigi because he’d thought that Lawrence, who lived in New York, couldn’t make it at all to the Philippines, but now it looked like he was able to take those flights after all—who cares if he couldn’t make it to the ceremony, as long as he was in the same country! Second was when he spotted his big sister Maia walking into the church—apparently he’d been made to believe that Maia, who was now based in Fresno, couldn’t make it, too, but now here she was, radiant as ever in her California tan and her bejeweled halter dress in slate gray, beaming at him. It was his mom Marilyn, who’d also flown in from California, who’d orchestrated for everyone to come home for the event—without telling him, of course, for that surprise element. The third time he broke down was when he saw his aunt Rose, the woman who’d been there for and raised them ever since their father had passed away. Witnessing all these crying spells, Maricor felt her heart balloon—here was a man who, on the outside, was at turns tough and comical, but on the inside was a softie and cared deeply about family. She knew right there and then that she was marrying the right person.
If she could do it all over again, would she? “I would probably change a few things,” she would tell me a few weeks after she officially became Mrs. Mangubat. “I mean, he was in a tuxedo the night he proposed, and I was in an old T-shirt? [Not to mention] my fingers were all yellow from all the cheese curls? I’d like to have a chance to wear a nice little cocktail dress, you know, to go with my engagement ring. Also, isn’t it the bride’s job to cry during her wedding day? He just had to steal the show!”
Of course, she was only joking when she said all this. Because the truth is—and she knows this in her heart—that she wouldn’t change a thing, even if she could.
* * * * * * * * *
As with more and more guys these days, there was nothing startling about Luigi admitting he’d had no plans for engagement photos. He’d figured, everyone was doing it, so he’d opted to play it down. He’d wanted to do things a little differently. “The plan was to film the proposal, show the footage at the wedding reception,” he shared. Wouldn’t that have been a lot of fun? As luck would have it, though, the guy he’d asked to film it had remembered to bring the camcorder…but forgot to bring the batteries! And so here they were, left with no choice but to do a photo session.
No convoluted mood boards for this couple. I mean, sure, we sat down and talked about the shoot perhaps two or three times, but in all these meetings we always ended up electing to keep things simple and straightforward. A lot like their relationship, if you come to think about it. The thing about Luigi and Maricor was that, together, they weren’t very fond of plans, or of fuss, and liked to keep things spontaneous. (Fact of the matter is that the night he proposed was one of the very few things he ever planned in his life.) They would go to sleep at night talking about staying in the next day, and then he’d wake in the morning and say to her, “Let’s go to beach!” and that was that. Or it could be the opposite: they’d talk about going to the beach the next day, and in the morning they’d decide to do nothing and just laze around and watch DVDs. This was exactly the kind of spontaneity-slash-leisureliness that they wanted their engagement photos to evoke.
People are gonna find it hard to believe that I agreed to do this kind of thing, knowing that I am nothing without my mood boards and pointless props and superfluous styling. But, hey, I had to give it to them—or not give it to them, as the case would be. When shooting real people I always remind myself: “This is not editorial, this is not an album cover…” Makes it easier for me to exercise some restraint, and keeps me from overstepping my bounds. Their engagement photos, not mine. Their vision, and, well, a little of mine.
I did give them a small list, though: “Just a few items I want to include in the pictures, if you don’t mind.” And that included a vintage sedan. The overall theme was road tripping, which was exactly the kind of thing the two of them would do whenever they woke up bored, and I figured, hey, if we were gonna do that, might as well do it in style. Thankfully they knew exactly where to get the kind of car I was looking for. Luigi’s uncle’s Volkswagen 1600TL fastback coupe turned out to be a beauty, alright—with paint the color of eggshell, plush leather upholstery the color of red velvet cupcakes, I was tempted to baptize it “Desire.”
Not that I had Brando and Leigh in mind—like I mentioned, there was no mood board involved. OK, OK, so I will come clean now: the whole “no mood board” thing, that was only as far as they were concerned. What they were not aware of was that the whole time I was shooting, I had a song in my head.
“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol is, to me, one of the most beautiful songs ever written in modern times. And it only bested itself, by all accounts, when it was covered by the British chanteuse Natasha Bedingfield in 2007. I picked the song as inspiration for this one shoot, in part because the idea had been hanging around my head for too long and I couldn’t hold it in any longer, but for the most part because no other song embodied the spontaneous, and at times laidback and languid, spirit of Luigi and Maricor’s relationship. It’s worth mentioning now that, because of this very nature of their relationship, some people had doubts that they would last, but by staying true to themselves and not changing a thing to live up to others’ expectations, they were able to see each other through and prove people wrong.
These photos you are looking at right here, these are just from our first session. This set pretty much covers the song’s main lines: “Let’s waste time/ Chasing cars/ Around our heads…” Yes, we had a second sitting, to embrace all the other beautiful lines from that song, and I hope to post the photos from that session on here in the next couple of days. Until then, please join me in celebrating the beauty of really going somewhere, even if it looks like we’re going nowhere.
Luigi Mangubat and Maricor Teves | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Mandaue, Cebu, on March 13, 2011 | Hair and makeup by June Sy | Creative Director: Roland Caballero | Special thanks to: Victor Francis Espina III and Kyle Mella
Could she be the most beautiful girl in, well, this part of the world?
That was all that kept ringing in my head the whole time I was behind the camera shooting Cielo Ramirez, the final of four muses that local accessories design house Shandar had handpicked to grace the catalog of their shoe line’s premier collection.
I’d never met the girl before, only read about her in Kate Torralba’s (now-defunct) StyleBible.ph-hosted blog, when the ever-effervescent designer/musician had proceeded to declare Cielo one of her “girl crushes.” Now, if Kate were a man, it would’ve been a totally different story—it wouldn’t have sparked the slightest bit of interest in me, or, quite possibly, in anyone. Something about girls admiring other girls for their sheer beauty, though, that gives it an exquisite, almost numinous kind of allure. It’s a kind of allure that’s meant to be esoteric at first, and then it snowballs into something bigger as more and more people take heed in an attempt to demystify it. (And I’m not even making all this up: historically speaking, it was when the legendary Diana Vreeland fell in love with Penelope Tree at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball that catapulted Tree’s career, and it was when Corrine Day fixatedly took photos of a gangly 14- or 15-year-old Kate Moss that elevated the latter from, um, plain Croydoner to crown princess of modeldom.) So it should be no surprise, then, that when Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez had brought up Cielo’s name, I’d felt a certain kind of thrill, and that here I was now on the day of the shoot, all sorts of enthralled and entranced. I couldn’t stop pressing my shutter-release button. Could it be that I was developing a little “girl crush” of my own here?
I mean, come on, look at that face. Eyes the shape of Caroline Trentini’s, a dainty little nose, and supple button-shaped lips perch on a delicately angular face. It’s the kind of face that makes you want to question, well, your genes. The makeup artist Hans Ferrer was on cloud nine: he didn’t have to spend so much time working his magic on this canvas as it was already a masterpiece by itself. Even if you took photos of her with her back facing the camera you’d still know she was beautiful. It made me ask: How was it possible that I was only seeing this girl for the first time?
Well, turned out it was my fault ‘cause I’d pretty much been living under a rock up to that day. The stylist Meyen Baguio was quick to point out that this wasn’t, for example, the first time Cielo was endorsing a shoe line—her appearance in the runway at the launch of Jandrick “Jumbo” Climaco’s Fushu brand a couple of months back was what had charmed Meyen and pushed her to pass a viva voce recommendation to the Shandar team. I would also learn that this wasn’t going to be her first catalog appearance, as she’d appeared in a couple of them in the recent past, most notably for the What A Girl Wants (WAGW) Pre-Fall 2010 collection catalog (shot by the talented Raleene Cabrera and styled by the fabulous Kryz Uy). I thought, OK, the girl had been around, which was good—it would be a shame to put a face like this to waste!
I could go on and on about her face, but I must not overlook the body. I think the reason why Cielo is so appealing to other girls (like Kate and Meyen) is because, while her face is that of a girl, her body is very much of a woman. (I think it’s the exciting contrast that does it, no?) During the days leading to the shoot I’d pictured her to be stick-thin or something like that (not that I have a problem with that), so imagine my surprise when I finally met her in person and it turned out she wasn’t what I’d expected her to be. I mean, sure, she was tiny, and this made her fit perfectly into sample sizes, but with curves in all the right places, you know what I mean? Needless to say, Meyen and the rest of the team had so much fun taking turns in dressing her up, like she was a dress up doll! (This is me trying to debunk the myth that only the gawky, tendril-thin girls are fun to dress up—it’s a little bit of sinuous curves that actually bring more life to an outfit.)
What was most amazing, though, was her attitude towards the work at hand. She was so polite and soft-spoken, and never complained. It was sweltering the whole time we were shooting—midmorning sun, the apex of summer (I think it was about 92 degrees out at the time)—but she was such a trouper, never asked for a break, tried so hard not to squint, even graciously declined our offers to fan her. The board had only called for three outfits, but when we decided the last minute to squeeze in a fourth one (because it was just so much fun dressing her up!) she gladly indulged our whims. It was her first time to meet most of us in the team, but never for one minute did she choose to alienate herself, or ask for her friends to visit her on set. How very different this girl was from most of the girls her age these days that I’d worked with, who were scared to stand one minute under the sun, would complain about having to do one more change of clothes, wouldn’t let go of, say, their cell phones, or liked to be surrounded by handlers or hangers-on! Of the four muses Shandar had picked she was the youngest—the team had reeled her in to make the product appeal to a younger audience—but this certainly didn’t mean she was the least professional. What we’d expected to run for five or so hours only took three, thanks to her dedication and hard work.
After we’d wrapped up she’d talked to us a little about her life, how she liked to travel (in a few weeks she was going to be in L.A. to visit family), her boyfriend. I can’t recall if we ever talked about her future plans, although I do remember Hans sweet-talking her into joining a beauty pageant. “You could be the next Miss Cebu!” Hans exclaimed, to which Cielo just laughed gleefully. Who could tell if that laugh meant a yes or a no? Whatever her plans are, I just know that great things are bound to happen to this girl.
* * * * * * * * *
To think I almost said no to this session.
It was Meyen who’d come up with the idea of shooting at an airfield/hangar, and at first I’d had reservations about the whole thing, arguing that it had been done so many different times by so many different people. But she’d remained relentless, arguing back that she’d put together a really good mood board, and had already pulled some strings to secure the location. The long and short of it was that I let her have her way, in the interest of saving time, and was smacked by a complete reversal of opinion as she weaved her concept into life before my eyes.
For one, I was floored by the styling. This was the session I gave her pretty much the free hand and chose not to meddle with her business. Turned out she wasn’t kidding when she’d said she’d had a strong mood board. She’d wanted to portray Cielo as a jetsetter, perhaps taking a cue from the girl’s love of travel, and proceeded to assemble outfits that were ready to take flight, pun intended. I hadn’t seen the actual mood board, but it looked to me like she was aiming for a twisted kind of Catch Me if You Can—like, this was what Frank Abagnale Jr. would look like had he been a woman. Mostly flight attendant silhouettes, without being too uniform-y. Nonchalant luxury, that’s how I would define the look. I particularly loved the ‘60s Carnaby Street-style brocade crop jacket in cosmic latte and apricot, and how she paired such a dainty little thing with Mark’s rather wild animal-print peep-toe wedges. Also loved how she paired a black-and-white polka dot maillot with a tulip skirt and topped it all off with a sequin beret. Those were not the only brave combos she pulled off that day—I also remember gasping as she took out a TSENG by Noreen Tseng armlet and handed it to the model. What’s so shocking about this? Well, nothing, really, except a few pundits would say never use an item from another brand when shooting one brand’s catalog. But Meyen is never one to care about rules—“If it gives the outfit more flavor, why hold back?” Of course, it helps that she’s close personal friends with Noreen, and that the competition between Noreen’s brand and Mark’s has always been healthy. A word to startup stylists, though: This kind of thing is not for the faint of heart, so think long and hard before trying it at home.
This has always been Meyen’s strength—the ability to put together unexpected combinations. It should be noted, too, that when the two of us were only starting out more than a decade ago, as two thirds of a trinity of stylists that included Clarissa Ouano, Meyen was the first to make the bold move of mixing high and low, of ready-to-wear/street/retail pieces with designer. I’d always been the scaredy-cat, you see, watching my every move and afraid to step out of my comfort zone, so if it was me doing a shoot I’d stick with one retailer, one brand, or one designer. It was Meyen who first broke that convention, and her act of courage inspired me and Clarissa to follow suit.
What was most special about this one job right here, though, was that Meyen assembled these outfits not just with the sleight of her hand, but also with a little help from her 14-year-old niece Mickey. I talked about Mickey in a previous post—about how she’s an aspiring makeup artist and how she likes to tag along whenever we have shoots so she can talk to the makeup artists and observe them in action. Well, looks like she’s starting to take an interest in clothes, too! Kudos to Meyen for passing the torch, so to speak, this early! I intend to do the same, too, you know, when my nieces hit early teenagerhood—maybe hand down my old books and my Vogues, encourage them to always tote a camera, take them shopping. This is something I always talk about during dinner conversations, and more often than not I get flak from people who think starting kids early is “kind of cruel.” Well, it’s not like it’s child labor or anything. I simply joke, you know, that, “Hey, you won’t always have youth, but you’ll always have the clothes!” Seriously, though, it’s not even about the clothes. It’s teaching them the value of figuring out what you love most and looking for ways to do it for a living. Now, as for where to get the funds to send them to FIDM or Parsons, that’s a different story altogether.
Cielo Ramirez for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Lapu-Lapu City on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano, Claire Elardo, Maria Elena Gabaya and the Aviatour team | Wisteria/thistle/rose quartz unishoulder bodycon cocktail dress with puff sleeve and Swarovski and tonal flower adornments, Ronald Enrico
Do I have a confession to make. When the folks at Shandar rang my house to tell me I was going to be shooting Christina Garcia-Frasco for the catalog of their shoe line’s inaugural collection, I got a little nervous. I hang up, and lost a little bit of composure. I mean, sure, Christina and I go way back—in a previous post I talked about how her co-spokesmodel Marjay Ramirez and I go way back, but Christina and I go more way back than way back, having gone to the same grade school and high school, although it was her older brother Paulo I’d been classmates with—but I guess that was exactly what I was nervous about. You see, the last time I’d spoken with her was some 15-16 years ago—well, we’d bumped into each other a couple of times in recent years, especially at dinner parties thrown by her younger sister Carissa, but we hadn’t had the chance to really sit down and catch up. I could still picture her schoolyard persona. She’d been the kind of sister who’d looked up to her brother, treated his peers as her own. Furthermore, she’d always been active in the student council, and as such had had a broader network. It had gotten to a point I’d become closer to her than to Paulo—we’d sit on the concrete bench underneath the flag pole, talking about books and our own writing (yes, she, too, had had a profound interest for writing growing up), among other things, while waiting for the class bells to ring. Flash forward to a decade and a half later, and here we were: I, who had no idea what I was doing, being new to this craft and all, was about to photograph her, who was quite possibly the most accomplished person I knew! To me, she was an apotheosis. Not only was she a hotshot corporate lawyer, she was also the daughter and right hand of the Governor of the Province of Cebu, and the First Lady of a booming Municipality (Liloan, some 45 minutes northeast of Cebu City). So, you see, this woman was kind of a big deal—I had every reason to be anxious. But, well, someone had to do the job, and as much as I was no stranger to wasted opportunities, I just knew I couldn’t afford for this one to be one of them.
Couple of days later I would graduate from nervous to the acme of panicky when the Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez told me that Christina had requested for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts, and asked me and the stylist Meyen Baguio to attend on their team’s behalf since they were going to be in Manila for an appointment with socialite-philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes that they couldn’t reschedule (they were going ask Tessa to host the launch party, a task that would later prove to be successful). Christina had offered to host the lunch meeting at a place called Politics Café, in her new hometown of Liloan, and our drive there became one of the longest rides of my life. For the first time in a long time, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. How were we going to do this? What was she expecting to get from this meeting? Was she going to ask to see my portfolio, which I hadn’t even put together yet? What if she wasn’t going to like our concept/s? I was going crazy in my head. Normally, you see, with other clients or subjects, the pre-shoot appointment would be one of the highlights of a stint, something I’d always looked forward to—something about the prospect of giving a good “sales talk” and presenting strong mood boards that gave it a great punch of oomph. This time, though, I just wanted to skip the whole thing. I was thinking, if this was some random girl whom I hadn’t met yet, or whom I barely knew, it would’ve been fine, because that nonfamiliarity allowed you to be a bit courageous, you know? But this was Christina—with acquaintance came a greater sense of commitment, and a greater dread of failure. I couldn’t decide whose stomach was twisting into more knots—Mark’s, as he was about to meet Ms. Prieto-Valdes, or mine, as I was about to lunch with Ms. Garcia-Frasco.
When we got to our meeting place, though, and Christina hopped out of her SUV in her Sunday best, all the bedlam inside of me got flushed out of my system. She flashed me a toothy smile and gave me a big bear hug like it was only yesterday that we’d last seen each other, and we found ourselves chatting up a storm before we could even slip into our lunch table. Turned out she was still the same girl from back in high school—cheerful, accommodating, ready to consider everyone around her as a friend. But, of course! How could I have expected her to change? If I ever faltered when I tried to speak it was probably ‘cause I was choking on, um, shame. Shame on me for expecting the worst when I should’ve known her better than that! We talked briefly about high school and family before getting down to the business at hand.
It turned out we didn’t have to convince her to appear in the Shandar catalog—she was already bent on doing it. No stranger to shoots, having been an endorser (her work for the jewelry brand Michelis a few years back is probably the best known of all her stints) and having been featured in fashion/lifestyle magazines quite a handful of times in the recent past, Christina isn’t reputedly selective in her appearances. Every chance she gets, as long as it doesn’t conflict with her hectic schedule, she is more than willing to contribute. But make no mistake—she isn’t doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s not that kind of opportunism—in fact, it’s not any kind of opportunism at all. Sure, she is into fashion and all, and she enjoys dressing up just as every woman her age does, but more than anything she is an avid supporter of local designers. “Anything I can do to help the local fashion industry [thrive],” she declared. To her, the logic is a rather simple one: The more you tell it, the more it resonates. In this case, the more you support local talent, the more they move up the value chain, and this only leads to more opportunities in the industry, and if it’s good for the industry, it’s good for the community. From that logic sprouts her motivation. As she went on and on about this I couldn’t help but be amazed—this was probably the most mature and sensible approach I’d ever heard in my ten or so (albeit off and on) years of working in fashion!
Christina approached the planning stages with the keenness and acumen of an editor. Like Marjay before her, she wanted to have a hand in all the other aspects of the shoot, and attacked the whole thing as a collaboration versus just a mere appearance. This got us real excited—nothing disheartens me more than a subject who just shows up on the day of the shoot and waits for instructions to be tossed their way. When we told her that we wanted no role-playing involved—i.e., she was going to be photographed as, well, herself (in Mark’s shoes but just being herself)—she was thrilled. At least three sets, that was what the concept had called for, each showing a side of her that people who knew her or knew of her could relate to. “But I wear so many hats!” she laughed. In other words, the possibilities were endless, and that wasn’t exactly a bad thing, now, was it?
We decided for to the first set to showcase Christina the attorney, for the most part because she was at this very moment shaping up for a breakthrough chapter in this area—in just a few weeks she was going to be appointed as the Resident Associate of the Manila-based Lex Mundi firm Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles, as the firm was about to inaugurate their Visayas branch office (this decision to set up camp in Cebu had called for a dependable associate to oversee local operations, and Christina was the natural choice for the job). As it turned out, this set was going to be hitting more than one bird, because not only was she a lawyer, she was also a professor at the University of San Carlos College of Law and at the University of San Jose Recoletos College of Law (teaching private international law and moot court argumentation, among others)! I wanted an office type of setting—desk and paperwork and big law books and all. In my mental mood board: the uberdecorator Mica Ertegün in her chic and stately office, photographed by Mario Testino (for the August 2011 issue of American Vogue, if I am not mistaken). We couldn’t shoot at her home office because Sundays were the only time I was available to shoot and we didn’t want to interrupt the peace and quiet enjoyed by their household on that particular day of the week, so we agreed on simulating her place of work right here at Politics. Another thing I learned was that, with Politics, a cozy little, well, political-themed restaurant (framed black-and-white portraits of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and JFK, among others, hang in the walls, while quotable quotes from Winston Churchill and even her own mom stare back at you from the back side of table cards) that transforms into a swanky saloon by night, Christina had added businesswoman to her résumé—as if she wasn’t busy enough already! And so it was perfect that we were going to be shooting here at the restaurant. Did I already say “more birds with one stone?”
For the second set I wanted underscore Christina the First Lady of Liloan. For days what we’d envisioned was a sort of a romantic setting, guest-starring Duke, her hubby the Mayor—sunset, at Liloan’s hundred-year-old lighthouse, him in a biker jacket and on a big bike, her in a frothy little cocktail dress, with champagne flutes in one hand and her Shandar shoes in the other. But, alas, charming as it sounded, that idea was fated to be axed. Christina offered politely that that wasn’t how she wanted to be portrayed in the catalog. Besides the fact that they’d already done the lighthouse shot in the past (for their engagement photos, by Jim Ubalde), she felt she needed to show the world “the bigger picture.” Sure, they were very much in love, and up to this day still loved to go on dates like they’d just met, but her being First Lady didn’t stop at being a wife. She talked about how she also played an active hand in the affairs of the town, acting as the Municipality’s legal consultant, providing pro bono services, and more importantly as women’s and children’s rights advocate, establishing programs and projects for women and children in need—the latter something she was deeply passionate about. “I love being around little children,” she enthuses. Just like that, the groundwork for the second set was born. “I can gather ‘round a group of children to play with during the shoot,” she proposed. On our plea to convince the hubby to be part of it, though, she said, “I won’t be able to get Duke in the same picture ‘cause he’s leaving to visit his family in the U.S. on the day of the shoot—but I can wear my campaign shirt that says ‘MISIS NI DUKE!’” What a cute idea—who were we to say no?
She would open herself up a bit and allow us to tap into something deeply personal for the final set, though. At a dinner party a couple of months back I’d met her fuzzy furball Gelato—an adorable little Chow Chow (well, little is not exactly a fitting term because this one over here was huge) who was as composed and genteel as his master. I asked her if we could do a fun, laid-back set with the doggy, to which she exclaimed, “By all means! Oh, and he has a brother now, by the way.” The newest addition to the family was named Espresso—another Chow Chow, ‘cause Christina just couldn’t get enough of those fuzzy wuzzies. I imagined a picnic type of setting, Christina in white, flanked by two huggy bears, and it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Flash forward to two weeks later, and she was on a roll. If the Shandar team were to give an award for well-preparedness it would definitely go to Christina. She took care of all the props—the table, the books, the pens, everything!—and all we had to bring were the shoes and some clothes. Even when things threatened to go off-kilter, she always managed to come up with some sort of antidote. For example, when it turned out that some of the dresses we’d brought were a tad too oversize for her, despite the fact that they were sample size (how could we have forgotten that she was tiny?), immediately she called on an assistant to haul in a rack of clothes she’d picked out from her own closet for Meyen to choose from. Normally this would pose as a threat to the pre-worked mood board, but the woman, true to her lawyer form, had done her research—“I looked Mica Ertegün up to make sure we’re on the same page,” she quipped—and plus she had an unmistakable eye for style, and so you didn’t have to worry about a thing. For the “office”/Politics set Meyen pulled out Christina’s personal favorites: two knee-length sheaths, both from Arcy Gayatin, the first in a structural peplum silhouette in sand, the other in a simple hourglass contour fit with a bateau neckline, in dark turquoise. “I love the clothes that Tita Arcy makes for me,” she raves. “From afar they look simple, but look closer and you’ll see these immaculate little details.” She handed me the first dress so I could marvel at the cut-and-sew, subtly boned bodice. Both dresses went really well with Mark’s orange-red ankle-strapped wedges with floral-pattern sequin appliqué detail. I was kind of thankful the dresses we’d brought didn’t fit. The Arcy Gayatin numbers did a really good job in bringing into light the Christina that we wanted to portray. Sheath dresses always have a way of working wonders, and I’m not even implying that they’re fail-safe. Think Kate Moss showing up at the Cannes in 1997 in a no-fuss Narciso Rodriguez gray sheath. Understated elegance coming into play for maximal impact.
In her SUV on the way to the Frascos’ farm, where we were going to be shooting the second and third sets, we got to talking about her shoe sensibility. We were worried, you see, that she was going to have a hard time wearing Mark’s shoes on uneven terrain, to which she assured us she was going to be just fine. “I have about ten of these,” she said, referring to the shirt she had on that had “MISIS NI DUKE” emblazoned across the chest. “For months, on the campaign trail, when Duke was running for office, this was all I wore. I was dying for some variety, but the shirt was non-negotiable. So I decided to ditch the running shoes. I started showing up in heels, and Duke was, like, ‘You have got to be kidding me!’” She had no qualms admitting she was more comfortable in heels than in anything else, no matter the terrain. True enough, she had no trouble moving around and playing with the little kids in Mark’s 4- or 5-inch wedges for the second set.
I was happy with how that set with the kids turned out. In my mood board I had plastered a photo of TOMS Shoes founder and designer Blake Mycoskie goofing around with South African children during one of TOMS’s “shoe drops” (the term they use for the pursuit wherein they visit different countries all over the world to donate shoes to children in need), and we managed to pull it off. If the pictures don’t look contrived, that’s ‘cause not one bit of role-playing was involved—when we asked Christina to play around with and exchange stories with the kids, she did exactly that, and most genuinely, too, it was as if we weren’t there taking photos of them. The little ones adored her. They took turns in singing to her songs they’d learned in school, and telling her stories of what they wanted to be when they grew up. They all got so caught up in the moment that they almost forgot that it had to end somehow, and it got to a point that it was almost embarrassing on our part having to tell them it was time to say goodbye so we could proceed to the next set. When I commended Christina on the way she handled the kids, she said, “Is this the part where you ask me if I have plans to have kids of my own?” Apparently a lot of people she knew liked to ask that question a lot. It was definitely something she’d always wanted, to have children of her own. For the time being, though, she was happy with her nephew Jules and her niece Izzy—and with her doggies.
Enter Gelato and Espresso, ready for their close-up. And fluffier than ever, too! Gelato had grown twice in size since I’d last seen him, and his little brother was way bigger than I’d expected him to be! Meyen had to squeeze Christina into a white Ronald Enrico cocktail dress that had this flouncy, voluminous rosette skirt, to give the illusion she was only slightly bigger than her pets, just so they won’t come off overshadowing her. At first I kept thinking what I would do in case one of these big boys tried to jump me, but luckily no such thing happened—they were the politest, most well-behaved creatures I had ever met! Even looked like they were trying to be extra careful not to trample on the picnic baskets and all the other props. They seemed to understand what I was saying, too, because whenever I instructed Christina to “not look at the camera,” they would do turn their heads away, too! They were so adorable, they definitely stole the show. It kind of made us regret putting them on the same frame as the pièce de résistance of the day, which were the shoes that Mark had named after Christina (the Frasco, peep-toe stilettos in raspberry/orange Thai silk with bow detail)—I mean, be honest now, when you look at those photos, do you even notice the shoes? We had to make room for a couple of frames of Christina sans the furballs, if only to put the shoes back in the spotlight.
Total comfort zone experience for me, the day of the shoot—a complete volte-face from what I’d undergone in the days leading up to that aforementioned pre-shoot meeting. From the very second we arrived at Politics for the first set to the minute the stylist Meyen Baguio called out “That’s a wrap!” after the final set, never once did I lose my cool. It was as if Christina’s composure had rubbed off on us. Well, that, and the fact that she was the quintessential hostess, a champion in making everyone feel at home. (Case in point: the make-believe picnic for the last set turned into a real picnic when she took out boxes upon boxes of treats—chicken/pork adobo rolls!—from the hundred-year-old family-owned bakery Titay’s.) As we gratified our post-shoot munchies she commended the team and I on the way we ran the session—“This is probably the most relaxed shoot I’ve ever been a part of in my life!”—before proceeding to share with me some tips she’d learned from working with other photographers and stylists. It’s always nice when a subject takes the time out to boost your confidence and push you. It keeps you motivated like that.
Of course, it helped, too, that makeup artist extraordinaire Emi Ayag was there. This was a real treat for me, because I hadn’t seen Emi in ages—I think the last time we’d worked together was for a Kate Torralba fashion show some three years back. It was Christina herself who’d asked for us to reel Emi into the team. This request, of course, had come from a special place, because apparently she’d had quite a history with Emi, with him being a part of every important moment of her life—from the night she’d met the man she was going to marry, to the day they’d become engaged, down to the day they’d tied the knot! And so for days I’d had to beg Mark to pin Emi down. I’d had my own reasons for wanting him, too—perhaps not as special as Christina’s, but Emi had also been there for me during my seminal years, a part of some of the most important shoots/shows I’d worked on as a startup stylist. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that he was able to find time in his hectic schedule to do this with us. Aside from the fact that his work was flawless and he’d gotten the job done quick (he’d memorized Christina’s face it well may be that he could put her makeup on with his eyes closed!), it was just nice to have him around, standing behind me, nodding at me whenever I needed assurance that I was doing things right.
I’m so lucky that I get to work people like Christina, and, well, Emi. There was a time a couple of months back that I was beginning to have doubts about taking the step up from styling to photography—I felt I wasn’t ready, didn’t have the time, didn’t have the resources. But looking back on shoots like this now, I feel that, really, I’m my own worst enemy and it’s all me saying it couldn’t be done, because there are definitely people out there who are more than ready to hold my hand. At least I know now that if I ever make it far enough in this craft, it won’t be because of me but because of an amazing support system in the shape of people like Christina and Emi. So to that end, thank you, guys, for everything that you do!
Christina Garcia-Frasco for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Liloan, Cebu, on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Emi Ayag (to book Emi, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano | Sand peplum sheath dress with cut-and-sew bodice, Arcy Gayatin | Dark turquoise bateau-neck sheath dress, Arcy Gayatin | White uni-shoulder cocktail dress with rosette skirt, Ronald Enrico
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Emi taking the requisite test shot of Christina’s makeup before sending her off to battle; Shandar’s Nestor Castillano loved to hold the reflector (don’t ask me why!); yes, I like to take photos from way up high, and sometimes I blame the photos, but mostly I just love to climb (LOL); the test shot that got everyone’s vote and eventually made it to the catalog. Middle row, L-R: The team setting up the “picnic” set; we got to nibble on Politics Café’s delish Presidential Oysters Rockefeller in between sets; Emi inspecting the rack of clothes that Meyen and Christina had assembled; the stylist Meyen working her magic. Bottom row, L-R: Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez overseeing the shoot from the sidelines; Emi being fabulous while standing by for retouches (notice his quick-fix apron bag); Gelato and Espresso ready for their close-up; me taking photos from atop a tree deserves a second take—hey, you gotta give me credit for giving new meaning to “taking it from the top.” Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of Emi Ayag.