“I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much hyperflorals in one closet!” That’s what I exclaimed as I was rummaging through Michelle Gutierrez’s closet during my house call to style her and her fiancé Jerbie Domingo for their engagement photos. “Or this much Forever 21!” When I’d said during our initial meetings that I’d wanted hyperflorals, you see, she’d offered, “You might want to take a look at my closet; I think I might have a little.” Well, I don’t know what her definition of little is, but one whole closet of hyperflorals is not a little to me! And about 90% of them from Forever 21! (She would later admit that she’s a sucker for anything Forever 21—at the time of my house call the store hadn’t even set up shop in Cebu yet, and so most of her items she’d gotten during “shopping trips” to Manila and elsewhere.)
I love it when my clients allow me to do house calls—not a lot of them do, you see, and that’s a shame—because it makes my job easier by giving me a strong starting point. People tend to say things like, “But I don’t have a lot of stuff in my closet!” or “I don’t own anything you’re gonna be remotely interested in!” But I always say, “Who knows?” You may be tired of looking at your own clothes, but with a fresh pair of eyes by your side there’s a huge chance that you’re gonna unearth hidden gems—after all, I would say 90% of a stylist’s job is to make you look at something in a way you’ve never looked at it before. Some of the best styling jobs I’ve done (like for Rey Dauz and Sheryl Guzman’s “vintage travel”-themed engagement session, for example) turned out the way they did because my clients opened up their homes—and their closet doors—to me, and so they became collaborative efforts, you know? It’s like the “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde: “It works every time.” You just have to trust me on this one. (Don’t worry, you won’t be obligated to cook for me. LOL.)
Anyways, backpedaling to the story: It was a “springtime picnic” kind of feel that we wanted Michelle and Jerbie’s engagement photos to evoke. The idea for the theme came to us when my mentor Malou Pages-Solomon (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing) took me for a drizzy Sunday afternoon stroll up the Banawa Hills’ Tanchan-owned Celestial Gardens, and I fell absolutely in love with the place. I always talk about how I am not a big fan of vegetation in this part of the world, but this place right here was a different story altogether—it was like we weren’t in Cebu! There were parts where the foliage were manicured, and parts where they had this unstudied, unkempt appeal, and when you put them together it’s just bewitching. (There’s even a sweet little spot in there that overlooks Cebu City, it reminds me of the Getty’s Lower Terrace Sculpture Garden that overlooks Los Angeles! Just breathtaking!) What’s more, it was discreet in architecture and artifice—it was, like, 85% nature. And even in the rain and the fog it was beautiful—how much more so when the sun was shining? I wasted no time in telling Malou that I wanted to have a shoot in that very place, something with a picnic theme, and that was when she suggested, “Why don’t we do that for Michelle and Jerbie’s session next week?” Just like that, we got to work. Luckily for me, the couple welcomed the idea. There were minor hitches in trying to book the venue at first, especially after two of the custodians said that photoshoots were “not allowed” in the area, but we were able to pull some strings, and so we made it happen.
During our initial discussions around wardrobe, Michelle had expressed interest in flowy, diaphanous dresses in white or off-white, kind of like the wedding dress that Amanda Seyfried’s character wore in the Mamma Mia! film, but Malou was quick to discourage us from pursuing this look, pronouncing that using white dresses in engagement photos was a tired, old rule that she wanted to steer clear of. The idea for bright hyperflorals (and patterns) came to me when I thought about the place we were going to be shooting at and what it lacked, and it occurred to me the Celestial Gardens were all green and had very little flowering plants. Why not let Michelle be the flower to lend a burst of color to the place? I thought. People often ask me what hyperfloral is, and how that’s different from the regular floral, and I wish I could do a better job at explaining things like this (yes, contrary to popular belief, I am not about to write a doctorate paper on styling), but all I’ve really got to say is it’s kind of like chintz—varying floral patterns rather than just one, and in a melee rather than in an orderly sequence. Think Peter Copping for Nina Ricci Spring 2012 Ready-to-Wear—or, better yet, think the works of textile designer and artist Zina de Plagny, who was the central inspiration for that collection.
Of course, I didn’t want it to be all-floral, so I decided to throw something with an ethic print into the mix—more specifically, a cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress. I don’t know, but at the time I kind of had a feeling ethnic prints were going to be huge in the coming seasons (flash forward to today, and, voila, we see a lot of Aztec prints in, say, Topshop’s new collection), and plus I’d always been fascinated with them (I have Navajo-print bedroom curtains, and a couple of tank tops in Ikat-inspired prints). A friend of mine who observed as I was I was putting together these outfits for Michelle commented that she was “relieved” that I was able to restrain myself from injecting a little grunge into the picture—“For once you’re doing something really girly!” she exclaimed—but that only goes to show she wasn’t paying close attention, because if you take a closer look you will see that the dresses I picked were all in babydoll silhouettes, that I managed to throw some leather jackets into the mix, and that for one of the sets I had Michelle ditch the ballet flats in favor of 1460 8-eye Doc Martens! Trust me to always have a little bit of grunge sneak up on you, even if the situation doesn’t call for it!
It was my idea to put a TV set and a couch in the middle of the frangipani garden (I love frangipani, especially when they’re in clusters—their knotty, spindly branches have a way of slicing sunlight into gorgeous little rays that add a dramatic dimension to your frame). Just because the theme was picnic didn’t mean they had to be sprawled on the ground the whole time, you know? Besides, an outdoor couch potato set was in order, especially since I wanted some of these photos to reflect Jerbie’s personality—for what was Jerbie without his TV (he’s a self-confessed TV and film buff; he works for SM Cinemas)? I would’ve wanted a vintage TV set, though—like something from the ’50s jet age—and a bigger couch, but, well, sometimes you gotta work with what you have.
As gorgeous as the photos turned out, I’m afraid they kind of do not do justice to the day they were taken. It was such a charming day, despite the fact that it was sweltering (I had to pile sunblock on three times!) and that we were up to the neck in enormous props. The atmosphere was serene; the grass so soft we couldn’t resist lying on it like cats; and there were birds that wouldn’t stop chirping! And how about that creamy sunset? The day had a certain feeling to it; it was the kind of day fashioned for a romance novel. Add to that Michelle and Jerbie’s playful, childlike chemistry, and you have the makings of a photo session that you don’t want to ever end (our timetable had called for us to wrap by 4PM, but we kept shooting well until 6PM, anyway)! It was as if we were in a daydream! I love it when all the elements of a shoot come together to create one big perfect moment. It makes me sigh dreamily and think to myself, There’s work, and then there’s this.
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I am currently in Los Angeles, CA, on vacation, so please forgive me if I am unable to update this blog over the next couple of weeks. To those who’ve been sending me messages asking me to style their sessions, please check with Malou Pages (firstname.lastname@example.org) for available dates (I will be back in Cebu soon).
Jerbie Domingo and Michelle Gutierrez | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on December 11, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s set) | Hair and makeup by Owen Taboada | White hyperfloral babydoll dress, cobalt blue/orange-red Navajo-print dress, and Palatinate blue hyperfloral baby doll dress, all from Forever 21 | Blue cardigan, Primark/Atmosphere UK | Chamoisee biker jacket and desert sand bomber jacket, all from Forever 21 | Red cardigan, Charles 1/2, Urban Outfitters | International orange lightweight summer shirt, American Apparel | Multi-colored striped zip-front sweater, Esprit
The theme they chose was cowboy/ranch hand—Carl Bual, the groom-to-be, was a veterinary sales rep who’d grown up in Bukidnon surrounded by horses, and he wanted to relive that time in his life. And who was I to say no to an equine-related concept (those of you who’ve been following my blog will know I’ve become terribly obsessed with horses)? Aside from horses and stables and cowboy boots, I was also imagining throwing a big bad pickup truck into the mix. You see, I wanted a “gritty” feel, if you know what I mean. Something action-packed, and somewhat reckless, even. Especially after Carl made it very clear that “I don’t want anything cheesy—no hugging, no squeezing, no kissing.” This assertion took Malou Pages (of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing), the main photographer, by surprise, and I think we almost choked on our macarons when Carl said this. By the look in Malou’s face, I could tell she was thinking, But what’s an engagement shoot without the hugging, the squeezing and the kissing? But, well, as the saying goes, “To each his own.” Besides, what else were you supposed to expect from a guy like Carl, what with his stocky frame, thundering baritone, and hands the size of a giant’s? (I swear, at one point I caught myself thinking, I better give this guy what he wants, lest I want to end up being sucker punched in the face!)
Conversely, the fiancée RJ Serafin (first cousin to my good friend Ace, Vice Mayor of Tabogon, Cebu—what a small world, right?) didn’t want the whole thing to be too mannish. For one, she didn’t want her outfits to be too western-inspired. Incredibly soft-spoken and ever the lady (she’s a preschool teacher, after all), she wanted a little girly touch, a little romance. I told her the cowboy boots were non-negotiable, and so were the cowboy hats, but promised I was gonna stay away from dirty jeans or anything plaid and/or gingham. At first I was tempted to slap a little Gigi Mortimer kicking back at her country cottage in Harrington, NY, against the mood board—i.e., romantic equestrian—but immediately I scratched that as soon as I realized that chunky sweaters and traditional knee-high riding boots would be too much for RJ’s slight frame (yes, she’s pint-sized, the polar opposite of Carl’s colossus). Thankfully, I was able to dig up a couple of floral dresses from The Fab Grab’s archives. I particularly fell in love with this ‘90s-style black floral prairie dress. It reminded me of what Cynthia Geary’s character Kellie wore some 35 minutes into the movie 8 Seconds, when she approached Luke Perry’s character as he was forking hay in a barn, and then she uttered the most beautiful lines: “Nothing you could say or do would make you less in my eyes. I love you. You don’t have to be perfect for me.” (It’s my favorite scene from that movie, especially since, after that, Perry’s character replied, “You may have to prove it. Right now, [when] I’m covered in horse shit,” and then they kissed, and Karla Bonoff’s “Standing Right Next to Me” started playing in the background, and then it was fade out, and fade in to the wedding scene.) For this reason alone I knew I just had to get this black dress into the picture, to add a little touch of 8 Seconds to my work! I didn’t want RJ’s wardrobe to be all dresses, though, so I took this one dress—the green floral one, which was a bit sheer—and asked her to wear it unbuttoned in the front, like as an open robe/maxi cardigan, over a little boy’s tank top and a pair of denim Daisy Dukes. I was taking a cue from the latest craze that had been sweeping the Lookbook.nu and Chictopia communities, which entailed, well, girls wearing their sheer maxi dresses (most of them from UNIF Clothing) unbuttoned in the front, as maxi cardigans. (Before this shoot I’d also adopted this style for one of the outfits that the model Fretzel Buenconsejo was going to wear for the Gracie Q catalog—click here and look for the series of photos where she’s frolicking with little children.) Add a Swarovski-encrusted seashell-colored stretch-jersey gala gown by Lotte Delima-Edwards to the mix, and we were on our way to being a far cry from the hackneyed cowgirl look that RJ wanted to avoid.
Funny thing happened on the day of the shoot. You know the macho Carl who’d said that hugging, squeezing and kissing in photos wasn’t his style? Well, that was still the same Carl who hopped into the van that was to take us to our location—he wouldn’t even laugh at the makeup artist’s jokes, he’d just chuckle and shake his head! When we arrived at our destination, though, as RJ was having her hair and makeup done, he was reckless enough to grab a bottle of Red Horse beer before seeking to get acquainted with, well, the actual horses that we were going to be using for the shoot. At first I was a little concerned about this, and about how RJ just sat there and encouraged this foolhardy behavior, but it would soon prove to work to our advantage: after a few bottles, Carl suddenly became so invigorated and cheerful—and he was suddenly OK with the idea of hugging and squeezing and kissing in front of the cameras! He’s gonna hate me for writing this down on here, but, hey, people are gonna see these photos, anyway, and are gonna wonder what happened to all the macho, so better put the whole backstory out there, right? I still got what I wanted, though, in the form of a badass pickup truck, which was “gritty” enough for me—I’m sorry, but there’s something about mud and dirt and off-road wheels (and mud and dirt on off-road wheels) that make me feel, um, alive (guess there’s still some macho in me, after all).
We were going to do this whole thing in Bukidnon—this would’ve been my first out-of-town shoot (well, save for the occasional sessions in Ormoc) and my first time to visit that part of the country (i.e., Mindanao). But we’d ran into some scheduling conflicts (November last year brought in an exceptional run of green lights—click here to read about our jampacked schedule that month), which had left us with no choice but to do it a little closer to home. Thank God Carl’s good friend Marlo Causin, a veterinarian, had a ranch (that also doubled as a fishing pond) that was only an hour and a half southwest of Cebu, in Barili. At first I was kind of in a funk about Bukidnon not happening, but when we arrived at the Causin property I immediately thanked the heavens that it didn’t—one, Marlo a champion host (I won’t enumerate all the stuff he made us eat that day); and two, I got to meet and photograph the most beautiful horse I’d ever seen in this part of the world!
Sabina, that’s how they named her. Probably because she looked like a sabino-white. I say “looked like” because she’s not a true sabino-white—if you look closely (e.g., at her muzzle), you will see her underlying skin is somewhat grayish. Of course, goes without saying that this did not make her less stunning. She was so towering and regal, she reminded me of the Andalusians I’d met at the Kentucky Horse Park in the summer of 2010. And unabashedly affectionate, too—she was always trying to plant a kiss on Carl’s cheek, like she wanted to steal the show from RJ and be the bride-to-be!—and was a darling in front of the cameras, like she’d grown up around show business! She was just a joy to photograph that I didn’t want the set that featured her to ever end! Malou kept saying, “OK, next outfit! Next set!” but a lot of times I had to pretend not not to hear her, ‘cause I just didn’t wanna let go of Sabina!
The Causins had two other horses in the property: Venus, Sabina’s daughter, and a strapping stallion named Bravo. We’d been told beforehand that we couldn’t borrow Venus for the sitting ‘cause she’d been in a foul mood lately, so she had to be kept at bay (and true enough, when I went to see her, she kind of threatened to buck!). We were supposed to use Bravo for one of the sets, but then just as his caretakers were readying him we noticed that he had a nasty cut in his right pastern, and so we had no choice but to let him sit this one out. Shame, because he was a beauty, too, what with his shiny chestnut coat and all! But I’ll be back for you one day, Bravo (I hope)!
I love it when the theme is country or cowboy. And not just for the obvious reason that it allows me to be around and/or photograph horses, but also because it’s the kind of theme where my subjects can have a crazy good time and be spontaneous, you know? Like, they’re kind of in character, but at the same time they can just be themselves. No contrived poses or positions, no fidgeting because the outfits make them uncomfortable, no trying hard to borrow, say, Kristine Hermosa’s smile (swear to God, I can’t wait to see the day I’ll hear the last of couples wanting to “copy” the Kristine-Oyo engagement photos!). I guess this is the exact same reason why I love the grunge theme, too. It’s, like, there’s a theme, but it’s not there, you know? It stylizes your subjects, but doesn’t disguise them.
On our drive back to the city after the shoot had wrapped, Carl and RJ were discussing song choice—i.e., what song to incorporate in the slideshow of their engagement photos (to be played during the wedding reception). Although between the two of them they shared a couple of love songs that meant a lot to them, this time they wanted something from the country genre, in keeping with the theme. I was quick to dispense advice on the matter, just ‘cause two of the most beautiful love songs I’d ever heard in my life happened to be from that genre: the aforementioned “Standing Right Next to Me” by Karla Bonoff, from 8 Seconds (perfect, in fact, because didn’t they play it in the movie’s wedding scene?), and “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait. They’d never heard of these songs before, and I didn’t have my iPod handy, so I recited to them a couple of lines from both. Needless to say, they loved them, and Carl was quick to declare that, of the two, he liked the George Strait more. I don’t know if they ended up using either, but I sure hope they did.
Carlos Bual and Rachelle Jean Serafin | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Barili, Cebu, on November 20, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo and Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by JingJing F. Maching | Amaranth pink floral-print cotton-blend dress with cap sleeves, black floral-print button-front prairie dress, and hunter green floral-print button-front stretch-silk shirtdress (worn as maxi cardigan), all from The Fab Grab | White tank top, Forever 21 | Swarovski-encrusted seashell stretch-jersey gala gown, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Accessories, Gracie Q
There are those who let their so-called achievements, however insignificant, get to their heads. And then there are those who, no matter the high places their career has taken them, keep their feet firmly planted in the ground. Go ahead and count the model Fretzel Buenconsejo in the latter category. Modest to a fault—i.e., to a point of being self-deprecating—and never one to attract attention to herself, she would rather talk about her humble beginnings than, say, pull out her imposing portfolio, or joke about her flaws than brag about her good looks.
Such was what went down when she showed up for the casting call for the accessories design firm Gracie Q’s spring/summer 2012 catalog shoot. I kept nudging her so she would take her portfolio out of her tote and spread it out on the table, but she just sat there, beaming, and talking about her childhood. In my mind I was thinking, What is she so scared of? Why is she not sharing her book? Had I been in her place, the portfolio would’ve been slammed against the tabletop before I could even think of sitting down, the thickness of it enough to cause a thundering BOOM!, and so there would be no need for my mouth to do the talking. When I say she’s been to high places, you see, I really mean high places: After a 6-year stint in Cebu, she’d moved to Manila sometime in the mid-2000s, and that’s when she’d reached a really prolific peak, appearing in high-profile ad campaigns for the likes of Gatorade, McDonald’s, Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, even Pampers. Perhaps her best-known appearance was for a campaign for instant coffee behemoth Nescafé—one of my favorite stories to tell was how, standing the in Buendia station one day a couple of years back, I’d broken into goosebumps when an MRT train with Fretzel’s face (holding up a cup of coffee) plastered on its side had pulled up in front of me. I had to pull this anecdote out of my pocket that evening of the casting call because Fretzel couldn’t bring herself to do it!
Well, as it turned out, my story proved to be near useless, because all the Gracie Q team had ears for were Fretzel’s stories about growing up in a small town (Dalaguete), and about the little-girl antics that gave her this one scar on her elbow and that one scar on her knee (other girls would go to great lengths to hide their imperfections, but this girl is proud of hers!), etc. Gracie Q proprietor/head designer Grace Querickiol-Nigel was completely blown away by her modesty and sense of humor, and wasted no time in declaring, “We have found our girl! I want her for my catalog!” (And Malou Pages [of Shutterfairy Photography, where I am currently apprenticing], who’d been commissioned to photograph the whole thing, would later recount that something about Fretzel had given her “a warm fuzzy feeling deep inside,” and that “she’s the kind of person who could tell me stories all day long while I chase her around with my camera!”) Just like that, the search was over, and the team didn’t even bother looking at the other names the list.
For what it’s worth, I knew right from the start that they were going to pick Fretzel—I just didn’t know they would pick her for her “backstory,” and that the looks factor would only come secondary. When Grace told me at the onset of this project, you see, that the collection we were shooting was “inspired by all things Cebu,” I immediately thought, They’re gonna need a very Filipina-, very Cebuana-looking model, and so I wasted no time in contacting Fretzel (perfect timing, too, ‘cause she’d just moved back to Cebu to start a new business venture with her boyfriend Jeff). It wouldn’t be until later on in the production process that I would understand the message that Grace wanted to convey via this collection: “I want to bring out the island girl in the wearer. That’s pretty much the effect I want this collection to achieve. I want the Gracie Q woman to wear these pieces and—WHAM!—she is transported to another place in time, [that place being] our beautiful island of Cebu.”
The Cebu in her mind being the Cebu she grew up in—the virgin beaches, the windy hills, the colorful “jeepneys” (and not the tall buildings that you see now). Which was why Fretzel’s stories of her childhood in a small beach town struck a chord with Grace—Fretzel’s Cebu echoed a lot of Grace’s Cebu, the Cebu that the Gracie Q team wanted the world to see. The more I think about it, now the more it makes sense to me: Of course, it was only natural that they would pick a down-to-earth girl to represent a truly down-to-earth collection. It’s a match made in heaven!
Already wrote about this a couple of months back, but it’s worth mentioning again that, yes, Fretzel did me proud on the day of the shoot, too! And I’m not just talking about how she surprised me by bringing a copy of the book Filipina: A Tribute to the Filipino Woman (2004), which included a photograph of her by the great Wig Tysmans from a shoot that I’d styled more than a decade ago (yes, I can now safely say that at least one of my works have made it into a bona fide book!). She displayed utmost professionalism, arriving 30 minutes before everybody else, moving at a bullet-like pace, helping with the styling, dispensing invaluable shooting advice (like only a seasoned model could), and just being a lynch pin—all this while winning everyone over with her sunny personality, and allotting the right amount of goofiness to keep the mood light. What we thought was going to take two days to shoot only took one day (7 hours to be exact), thanks to her!
But enough about Fretzel. Let’s talk about Gracie Q. One of the reasons this project was special to me was ‘cause it gave me the chance to work with a fashion brand “with a conscience”—not only do they teach skills and provide opportunities to people who need them the most, they are also making noble efforts to be responsible stewards of environmental conservation, taking other manufacturing firms’ scrap materials and turning them into beautiful little trinkets. It’s an admirable feat, really, and truly one worth emulating. But don’t just take my word for it. Below I have included the note that Grace wrote to accompany the catalog. Read on and you will see why Gracie Q is something you as a Cebuano can truly be proud of.
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The Gracie Q journey began five years ago when an accessories designer friend instilled a passion for craftsmanship in me. She had asked for a help and I obliged, not knowing that one afternoon in her table would spark a fire inside of me. What an exhilarating feeling to find out I could come up with things of beauty with my own bare hands! I would soon run into the need for help myself, and, as I was commissioned by an outdoor furniture manufacturing firm to conduct skills transference classes to indigents (yes, I was a livelihood coach in a past life), that was when I discovered the joy of reaching out—i.e., of teaching people some skills, and of rewarding them in the end by giving them the opportunity to make their lives better with their newfound craft. Safe to say that that was how this microenterprise was born—by marrying my thirst for creating beautiful things with my desire to help my brothers in need.
Halfway through our ride, my team and I became conscious that we were missing a very essential ingredient, and that’s when we decided to embrace a commitment to environmental sustainability. Partnering with the aforementioned outdoor furniture manufacturer, we found ways to take their scrap and leftover materials to help reinforce their zero-waste/zero-landfill policies, put these very pieces in our own depots and drawing tables, and incorporate them into our own design methodologies and end products. No easy feat, but came with a sense of gratification like no other knowing that, in our own little way, we were contributing to efforts to protect the environment and to make this planet a better place for generations to come.
After five years, and having fulfilled three very important goals—to immerse our hands in the thrills of craftsmanship, to provide meaningful opportunities to those who need it most, and to be responsible to the environment—you’d think that Gracie Q is pretty much where we want it to be, and that we could not ask for more. Tempting as it is to stop and rest on our laurels, we felt we owed it to Gracie Q to give it some semblance of a brand—in other words, to go back and zero in on our creative direction, now that our social responsibility objectives had been carried out and set in stone. We wanted Gracie Q to be more than just an “exporter” (if you come to think of it, “exporter” was no longer a fitting term, anyway, as we were starting to make our products available locally, too)—we wanted to turn it into a bona fide brand.
And so here we are today, with a new creative team at the helm. We now have people who help us make valuable branding and image decisions, forecast trends, study the market, generate design concepts, and inject a little creative discipline into our operations. Whereas for the past five years our creative process took a rather haphazard route, relying mainly on whim and hasty bursts of inspiration, we now have instruments to funnel and filter all these to make sure the resulting messages/concepts are stylish without being inconsistent, and enduring without being stagnant.
The collection that you are seeing now via the catalog that is in your hands—and, if we may add, the catalog itself—is a product of this new creative process, a process that, although very painstaking and rigid, no doubt takes Gracie Q to new heights, which is no less than the plateau that it deserves. I will admit that at first there were reservations in my part, and the whole thing proved to be too overwhelming at times, but I knew it was all worth it when I saw that it only elaborated on rather than disguised the Gracie Q aesthetic. Think of it as a makeover of sorts. The same old Gracie Q, only this time with more discipline, more structure, and, consequently, more substance! People ask me, “But isn’t it like you’re starting over again?” Which was precisely the point. The walls have been built—the skills, the dedication to help others, the commitment to protect the planet—and so now it was time to go back to the foundation and strengthen it. It really is like coming full circle. A lot like coming home!
Speaking of coming home, that was exactly what we had in mind when we were designing this new collection. In the past, you see, we’d looked literally everywhere for inspiration—e.g., a certain collection would evoke a bit of Paris here, a little New York there, etc., as a result of me trying to encapsulate all my travel memories into one receptacle—and that’s probably why we’d never had a “structured” collection, ‘cause our references were too varied! This time, though, we decided to look at just one place—and we decided for it to be a tropical island paradise. Why? How? Well, it all started when we were thinking of a muse. What type of woman did we want to see these pieces on? Who did we want to design for? The quirky cool London woman who lived for Glastonbury, like, say, Kate Moss? The sophisticated yet mischievous Manhattanite editor who loved to hit the shooting ranges during her downtime, like Helen Lee Schifter? The preternaturally leggy Czech whose, as the song goes, “hair was Harlow gold,” like Karolina Kurkova? It was tremendously difficult having to pick just one woman when we wanted to do them all! And then it struck us: What did all these women have in common? We recalled a series of photographs of Ms. Moss kicking it at a beach in Phuket. Dug up images of the regal Ms. Schifter unwinding at St. Barth’s. Paparazzi shots of Ms. Kurkova in Ipanema. All of which led to the conclusion that, no matter what type of woman you were, and wherever in the world you were from, you were always going to be an island girl at heart. That’s how we came up with the idea of island-inspired pieces. And where better to look for inspiration than in our own backyard? Yes, to those of you who are not aware, Gracie Q was born and raised in an island paradise—that’s the island of Cebu to you.
Dubbed “Paradiso,” this collection boasts of hues inspired by our cool blue waters and, well, some of their creatures (the neon damselfish of Sumilon had a shade of blue that proved too irresistible), gradients that evoke breathtaking sunsets seen from a Lapu-Lapu beachfront, and textures that recall, say, afternoon hikes up the bucolic flower-growing hills of Busay. We have chandelier neckpieces that allude to Sinulog festival costumes, patterns borrowed from hand-painted native guitars, finishes that pay proper tribute the ever-vibrant “jeepneys” that roam our streets. But perhaps the most Cebuano of the bunch—our pièces de résistance, so to speak—are those pieces with accents inspired by the pusô, a native dish in which rice is cooked in a diamond-shaped packet made of woven coconut leaves. Really, when these little accents jingle-jangle around your wrists or against your collar, what other place on earth comes to mind? (What’s more, they are made from scraps of the material used to create hand-woven chairs—stylish and sustainable!)
Of course, there is one thing more Cebuano than even the pusô. 10 years ago I read a passage in a local magazine that said something to the effect of: “Few things are as redolent of that classic Cebu charm as…the Cebuana smile.” How very true! When I am in a different city or country and I see a Filipina woman smile in a way that makes my heart skip a beat, I immediately think, “This woman is Cebuana”—and almost always I am proven right! That was exactly what I had in mind when we were scouting for a face to represent this collection and grace this catalog. When the model Fretzel Buenconsejo stepped into our offices for the casting call, with a smile as warm as an island breeze, we knew right then and there she was exactly who we were looking for. Fretzel is the quintessential island girl—grew up riding bikes along the coastal roads of Dalaguete (a beachfront town some 50 miles southwest of Cebu City), a sucker for seafood and tropical fruit, and proud of her skin, which happens to be the color of brown sugar. She’s the kind of girl whose laughter tells stories of endless summers, whose laid-back, unassuming nature reminds you of sweet little siestas, and whose zest for life has that characteristic tang of a tropical fruit juice. In other words, she’s the kind of girl we hope every woman transforms into once they slip on a piece or two from this collection.
On behalf of the Gracie Q team, allow me welcome you to our island home. As one famous line from a movie goes, “Trust me, it’s paradise.” And we’re glad we have the chance to bring out the island girl in you and make you look the part.
Fretzel Buenconsejo for Gracie Q | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu, on November 19, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view some of Malou’s photos) | Hair and makeup by Joe Branzuela | Special thanks to Jeff Enecio and Vanity Salinana | Maya blue/grey unishoulder drape goddess dress, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Orange red/sienna/carrot striped top, Forever 21 | White jersey multi-way dress, EJ Relampagos | Persian green/lime floral-print silk chiffon kaftan with Indian silk trimming, Kate Torralba | Cyan/chartreuse zebra-print cotton/jersey blend keyhole-neck floor-length kaftan, Lotte Delima-Edwards | Black strapless corset minidress, EJ Relampagos | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar
How popular are Oyo Sotto and Kristine Hermosa’s engagement photos (by the great Nelwin Uy) to the just-got-engaged/to-be-hitched set these days? I swear, I must have had four or five couples come up to me and gush about them. And who can blame them, really? I myself (and I am not getting engaged or married ever) can’t stop thinking about, say, that scarlet flamenco-inspired bell-sleeved lace dress that Ms. Hermosa wore in one of the sets, or how ruggedly handsome Oyo looked (or, could it be the fact that some of the photos involved horses was what made me giddy like that?). Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon were no exception. In fact, they took their fascination to a whole new level—whereas other couples would just mention it in passing, the Oyo and Kristine photos were all Chito and Tuesday could talk about. And then it happened: they declared that that was the kind of theme they wanted for their own engagement photos.
My first impulse was to talk them out of it, because I seemed to know that there was no way anyone could top those now-semi-iconic photos. “I’m not that good!” I laughed, before proceeding to explain that Oyo and Kristine’s photos didn’t really have a particular theme—i.e., it was an eclectic mix of themes that was put into play, what with the abovementioned scarlet flamenco-style dress paired with Oyo’s mismatched plaid ensemble, a touch of neo-boheme here and there, plus some elements of folk, urbanite, even cowboy. Thankfully, Tuesday said she didn’t want an exact copy of each and every outfit—she just wanted the “playful feel” of it all. “Like little kids playing dress-up.” I loved her take on it. Just like that, a sigh of relief.
Not to say my nerves were completely out the window. I had every reason to be nervous about this assignment. You are going to laugh at this, but I’ve got to come clean that the nonlinear theme and eclectic mix-and-matching are no strong suits of mine—what I’m good at is finding one formula per shoot, and sticking to it. Over the years, when the occasion called for something eclectic, I would be quick to turn and pass the ball to my fellow stylist Meyen Baguio, who (and I talked about this in a previous post) was more able in this department than I could ever be. Unfortunately, Meyen had moved to Manila shortly after our collaboration for the Shandar catalog some six months back, and she wasn’t coming home anytime soon! I wasn’t completely out of luck, though: Meyen’s 14-year-old niece Mickey was still in town and wasn’t going anywhere!
I talked about Mickey in a bunch of previous posts. She’s an aspiring makeup artist whose idols include the celebrated Romero Vergara, and who loves to drown herself in Kevyn Aucoin and Bobbi Brown books (while all the other kids her age are reading, say, Harry Potter). Very recently, styling lured her interest, too, which was only natural considering she rarely stumbles upon dull fashion sense, having been raised by a grandmother and a mom who loved clothes, and by Meyen who was practically making a living off of it. The little girl had in fact lent a hand during one sitting for the Shandar catalog, and so now that I was in another styling dilemma and her aunt wasn’t around I knew that my best bet would be to call her for some input.
Needless to say, that turned out to be the best decision I’d ever made for this particular project, and so was asking her to tag along on the day of the shoot. It was I who brought the clothes, yes, but it was Mickey who put this and that together, and who called the shots in the footwear, legwear and accessories departments. The resulting outfits? Well, perhaps not as over-the-top stylish as Oyo and Kristine’s, but they were nothing short of whimsical. I guess that right there is the advantage of having an extra pair of eyes that’s fresher and younger—had I been on my own that day I don’t think I would’ve been able to produce the same results, owing to the fact that I tend to overthink rules. Moral of the story: Who best to recreate a “kids playing dress-up” picture than, well, a kid herself? (Although I really should stop calling her a kid—she’s in her mid-teens now and seems to be growing an inch or two a month!)
We were going to shoot at a traveling carnival, at the suggestion of Paul Calo (of Calography), and that had gotten me real stoked. Can’t remember if it was ‘cause we weren’t able to pull some strings or ‘cause we just couldn’t find the damn place (ironically, in this part of the world, the traveling carnival is not an easy part of town to find), but that plan got axed, and so we settled for second best: a little fishing village somewhere in Cordova, some four miles southwest of Lapu-Lapu City, and we also managed to stop at an abandoned building along the way. Turned out to be alright, because these places were so full of texture, but to this day I can’t stop thinking about the carnival idea, you know? How perfect that would’ve been, right, for a “child’s play” theme? Well, there are always other shoots.
Speaking of “child’s play,” it helped a great deal that our subjects were quick to slip into character once it was time to face the cameras. Pretty awesome, because during our first meeting only two or three weeks back they’d come off as the quiet, serious types, and here they were now, hauling out some crazy, goofy, childish stuff. Well, at first Chito was still kind of shy, but that was alright because it was exactly the kind of shyness that made him smile like a bashful little schoolboy, you know? As for Tuesday, who’d claimed earlier that she wasn’t at all camera shy, that day she learned that, funnily enough, she was still capable of blushing like a schoolgirl—you should’ve seen the way she giggled every time Chito put his arms around her or leaned forward to kiss her! It was refreshing to see them all grown up one day, and then act like little kids falling in love for the first time the next. It made me happy when Tuesday declared that this shoot sort of gave them a chance to relive their younger days, a time that was special to them because, well, that was when they’d fallen in love (they’d been dating since high school!). I could attribute it to the clothes, or even those colorful balloons, but, really, it was their childlike chemistry that made the whole thing such an exhilarating picture to paint. It was like we were shooting a modern-day fairy tale! Apparently, Frank Sinatra was right when he sang, “It can happen to you/ If you’re young at heart…”
Chito Delavin and Tuesday Cuizon | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Lapu-Lapu City and Cordova, Cebu, on November 13, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand and Charisse Calo for Calography | Makeup by Owen Taboada | Hair by Nan Castillo | Styling assistant: Mikaela Baguio | Vanilla crochet and lace gala gown, Philipp Tampus | Eggshell lace shirt, amber cotton chintz skirt, hyperfloral babydoll dress with bishop-style sleeves, all from The Fab Grab | Vintage wash denim jacket, multicolor mesh scarf, stylist’s own | Strapped wooden wedge sandals, Shandar | Flannel shirt, American Eagle Outfitters | Digi houndstooth-print dress shirt, Uniqlo | Chocolate brown blazer, Maldita Men | Plaid shorts and Madras shorts, Old Navy | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Red and white plimsolls, Springfield
Don’t you just love those New York Girls? I know I do. And I’m not just talking about those who have made me want to sing, “At the risk of sounding cheesy/ I think I fell for the girl on TV”—like the fictional but fabulous Carrie Bradshaw, for example, or the very real but too good to be true Olivia Palermo. I’m talking about the, um, regular girls, too: like the Lou Doillon look-alike who stood beside me at the Garment District Pret A Manger, and who ordered nothing but sparkling water for lunch; or, like the girls I bumped into at the Time Square Starbucks, cradling Caramel Macchiatos in one arm and a pile of fashion magazines in the other; or, like the middle-aged woman and her Chihuahua that I ran into near the Christopher St. station, who wore matching granny-style crocheted wool square ponchos; or, like the cool mom who grows her own vegetables in her Brooklyn backyard during the day, and at night squeezes her way through throngs of sweaty rock fans at Terminal 5 to watch Nine Inch Nails live in concert (I’m talking about my friend Anne); or, like the little girl who likes to refer to the Brooklyn Bridge as “the bridge from the princess movie” (Anne’s daughter Ellis, named after Ellis Island, and, yes, she is talking about the movie Enchanted). Yes, there is a certain kind of magic when you are looking at, talking to, or just simply being around a New York girl. It gives you a certain kind of thrill—something about the exuberance of their unrestrained actions, their whimsical wits. Inevitably, you find it extremely hard to keep your jaw from dropping.
One such jaw-dropping moment happened to me a couple of months back when we were photographing the New York-based Cebuana transplant Cherry de Dios and her groom-to-be Chris Beck. They’d just flown in from the Big Apple, decided to do a quick stopover in Cebu to see family—and to have their engagement photos taken—before proceeding to tie the knot in Ormoc City, Leyte. We were at some farm up the mountains in Carmen (some two hours northeast of Cebu City), and I was inside this quaint little cabin helping Cherry sort their outfits while watching her do her own makeup. She’d elected not to hire a makeup artist for the occasion: “For the actual wedding I’m going to have a makeup artist, of course,” she said (and she was talking about my friend Sheila On, who did the makeup for my very first solo shoot months back—what a small world!), “but for now I just want to look like me, you know? I don’t want to look like somebody else in these pictures.” At first I was skeptical about this decision of hers, but in no time she proved me wrong. And by no time, I mean, well, no time—she spent only 20 seconds penciling her brows, another 20 applying eyeliner, and then 10 seconds glossing her lips, and then another 10 combing her hair with her fingers! “You just gave new meaning to ‘in a New York minute!’” I exclaimed in awe. To which she just winked and said, “Exactly!” She knew what she wanted, she worked on it herself, and she worked on it fast. The very essence of a modern New York girl.
Asked why they’d chosen to have their engagement photos taken here when they could’ve done it in New York City (I was imagining Bow Bridge at Central Park, or those pretty little West Village sidewalks!), she said, “I thought about it, but it was Chris who said he wanted to do it here.” By here, she meant this very farm where we were at right now. Turned out the fiancé had fallen absolutely in love with the place when they’d first visited a little over a year back. And who could blame him? I looked around me and asked myself, what was not to love about this place? Towering pine trees, windswept shrubs, pretty little hiking trails—it was like we were in Baguio! Plus, stand on the porch of the main cabin and look east and you get a breathtaking view of Camotes Island (or, is it Leyte?). My favorite part would have to be how there were these charming little makeshift birdhouses atop each of the pine trees—and they weren’t there for decorative purposes; little birdies actually inhabited them! How was it possible that a place like this existed in this part of the country? Well, made possible in part by Cherry’s sister Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who took her predilection for all things countryside and bucolic to create the ultimate vacation home for when she and her family needed to shy away from the city life.
That was it! It was the perfect retreat from the frenetic pace of their big city lives! That was why Chris loved it here! I was watching him as he walked around the place, took deep breaths and blinked dreamily at every little thing he laid his eyes on. And it looked like that was all he wanted to do all day—soak up the beauty of the place—and it got to a point it was almost too embarrassing to ask him to stop what he was doing so we could start photographing them!
It would later turn out that this place wasn’t the only thing Chris loved about the Philippines. When it was time for lunch, served semi-al fresco style—i.e., at the porch—he was more excited than everyone else was about the food. It was an all-Filipino fare that Cherry’s sister had whipped up, and Chris attacked the table with much gusto. And when it came to conversations, both while in front of the cameras and in between sets, he displayed a heady kind of sensitivity towards breaking the language barrier, trying as best he could to speak in Cebuano. It almost embarrassed me when I told the team to “be sure to speak only English when he’s around, ‘cause he might get the wrong idea,” and Cherry was quick to disabuse me of such notion, saying that Chris was actually semi-fluent in Cebuano, and was passionate about learning the language more! And what a romantic way of reconciling their greatest difference, right? This was probably one of the reasons why Cherry knew Chris was the one.
As for what made Chris know Cherry was the one for him… Well, no one needed to ask, either. August can be a pretty sticky, sweaty proposition in this part of the world, especially when you’re running around outdoors—and, yes, even when it’s atop the mountains where the breeze is somewhat cool. This was why I was kind of hesitant at first about making her do the things we wanted her to do in front of the cameras. I mean, this was a New York girl we were talking about here—what was she going to think if we asked her to, say, remove her Calvin Klein strappy sandals, tread barefoot on prickly, rocky terrain, and chase the farm animals around? To our surprise, she obliged, and even managed to laugh about it. When we asked her to jump into the freshwater pool—you know, like, really jump, in order to make a huge splash—she winced at first, saying she’d never done anything like it before, but she rolled up her sleeves and went for it anyway. Such a cowgirl, I know! You should’ve seen the look in Chris’s eyes as he watched his wife-to-be do all these crazy antic—it was like he was getting more and more smitten every minute! Emerging from the pool, all flushed from her feat, she chuckled, to thundering applause from her family (her mother and her brothers and sisters, who’d decided to tag along for this session), “You see, these people are never going to let me live that down!” And then she jumped back into the water, proving that, to borrow a line from Ms. Bradshaw, “city girls and just country girls—with cuter outfits.”
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Apologies for the delay in posting these photos. No, I didn’t misplace them. I just had to wait ‘til the couple returned from their month-long (actually, I think it was more than a month) honeymoon in Italy before seeking their permission. I seem to know it’s kind of impolite to interrupt anyone who’s on a Roman holiday, for whatever reason.
This was my first session as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography, by the way. I didn’t take a lot of photos—I think I only took a little over 400—because I was too busy observing my mentor Malou Pages (and “second shooter” Charisse Calo, of Calography) at work. Couple of things I learned that day:
- Organize and clean your equipment the day before a shoot—not in the car on the way to the job, and especially not at the eleventh hour when your subjects are already getting ready to step in front of you. I must’ve wasted about 20 minutes and was only able to take 10 or so shots during the first set because I was still busy dusting my camera and my lenses while Malou and Charisse started clicking away.
- Just because your subjects ask for breaks in between sets doesn’t mean you have to take a break, too. You have to be in the moment, all of the time! Look around you and take as many detail shots as possible—of a flower, a farm animal, or whatever else catches your eye.
- Always carry your mood board around with you. I had brought mine to this shoot, but left it inside my bag, which I left inside the cabin the whole time we were outside shooting. Clumsy, right? I mean, what’s the use of a mood board when it’s just gonna sit in the dark? Malou saved her boards in her iPad (she’s techie like that), which she carries around with her to every nook and cranny, so it’s easy for her to check back on them when she feels she is straying from her vision and she needs to be pulled back in track.
- Strike up casual conversations with your subjects while you are taking pictures of them. When photographing people you’ve just met, you see, there is a tendency for us to appear, um, serious, and to keep our mouths shut, in an effort, I guess, to look professional and all. As it turns out: Stiff photographer equals stiff subjects, and the whole thing comes out very unnatural! I loved that Malou asked Chris and Cherry all kinds of questions while she was clicking away, even exchanged jokes with them. I was quick to adapt this style, especially upon seeing the effect it had on the subjects—they became more relaxed, to a point they forgot they were in front of the cameras. Cherry and I exchanged stories about our favorite spots in the West Village (including the world-famous Magnolia Bakery), and in no time we became, like, kindred spirits. I hope these photos show that happening.
Christian Thomas Beck and Joan Grace “Cherry” de Dios | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Carmen, Cebu, on August 17, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Charisse Darlene Calo for Calography (click here to view Malou’s photos, and here for Charisse’s)
My own personal PJ Harvey. That’s what I’d used to call singer/songwriter Cattski Espina, back when I’d immersed myself in the local music radar as part of my duties as editor-in-chief of the now-defunct alternative culture e-zine Neoground.com (where I’d worked with Sonic Boom Philippines founder Alex “Phat Boy” Lim, Urbandub’s Gabby Alipe, and former NU107 anchorwomen Hazel Montederamos and Krissi Banzon, among others). And she remembered this—the woman has an astonishing recall of detail, testament that she is a compelling storyteller. No doubt she remembered, too, that I’d been an avid follower of her live appearances in shows like Intimate Acoustics (a series of sitting room only unplugged shows held at the then happening Padi’s Point, which ran popular throughout ’99) and its subsequent all-girls spin-off Siren Souls, the latter her eponymous band had top-billed along with the Kate Torralba-fronted Hard Candy, and the then female-fronted Cueshé (yes, Dhee Evangelista, now of Pandora). At the time, of course, the comparison between her and the divine Ms. Harvey had sprouted from—and ended at—the impassioned singing, the deeply sonorous vocals, the gender-bending songwriting. Certainly I had not meant for it to be a prediction of sorts. So you could imagine my surprise upon finding out firsthand that her musical career had somewhat ended up treading the same path as Ms. Harvey’s—i.e., her group had disbanded, and she was now on her own (the only difference was that the PJ Harvey trio had dissolved after two albums, while Cattski the band had managed to make it to three albums before breaking up).
Balmy early evening in late August, and I was having coffee—well, frappé, really—with Cattski. “The Cat Lady” (as I fondly call her these days, borrowing from the name of her weekly column from back when she was resident rock critic at the local daily SunStar) had just finished titling and tracklisting her forthcoming album, and with only four or five tracks left to fine-tune, it was now time to get down and dirty for the album cover. “Other [musicians] opt for artwork,” she would later declare, “but in my case, I like having my face in the CD sleeve. I mean, you gotta put a face to the name and to the music at some point, right?” Choosing a photographer to bring her vision into life had not been a daunting task—even prior to beginning work on this album, already she’d had Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon of Shutterfairy Photography on top of her list (she’d worked with Mai before, for a couple of promotional material, and she’d liked the outcome so much that she’d decided no other photographer would do for this new recording). Which was what had brought me here—having just jumpstarted my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy a couple of weeks back, I had been commissioned by Mai to style Cattski for this one very important shoot. And what a way to be reunited, right? I had not seen this woman in seven or so years! But breaking the ice didn’t prove to be tricky. All she had to do was tell me about how Cattski the band was no more, and that this upcoming album, although technically her fourth (fifth, if you count her tenth anniversary compilation, released early last year), was really the first from Cattski the solo artist. Of course, the news came to me as a shocker, not so much because I’d come here expecting to style a quartet, but because I’d become so used to thinking of Cattski as a group. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine Cattski as a non-group without losing a bit of composure. I mean, sure, this woman right here had always been that band’s focal point, but all I could think of was that amazing, formidable chemistry that the group had had, you know? But, oh well, as Cattski now put it, “Life happened” (exactly the reason she and I had lost touch for seven years in the first place). Guitarist Anne Muntuerto had had to leave for Washington, DC, to pursue a Master’s Degree in Nurse Anesthesia—definitely a relief to hear it had had nothing to do with “creative differences” or anything like that, and that the two of them remained really good friends, and that Anne was now turning out to be not only Cattski’s but Cebu music’s biggest ambassador/promoter overseas, sharing our goods with whatever musical circuit she was able to penetrate (including the big leagues such as singer/producer Brian Larsen, for whom she became touring guitarist). As for the rest of the band members, well, I decided it was no longer my business to ask about them. Especially when Cattski began to make it clear that there was nothing else she wanted to do at this point but to move forward.
Or move further back, as the case would be. “[The reason] why I’ve decided to call [this new album] Zero,” she revealed, “[is] because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero!” As of the time we spoke she was still undecided on whether to label it Zero, spelled out like that, or 0:00:00, like “how your [digital] music player [timer] looks like right before you [hit the] play [button].” But whatever she ends up going with, the premise remains the same: starting from nothing. I know it sounds frightening, but turns out it’s not so bad after all. When you come from nothing, “you have this kind of independence, this freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, and it becomes a [prolific] exploration,” she explained. “Back when I was still in a group, I had all this music in me, just waiting to explode, but then I would put it forward for the rest [of the band members] to hear—because that’s what being in a band is all about, you have to get the others’ opinion—but then they’d be, like, ‘That’s too Barbie’s Cradle!’ or ‘That’s not hardcore enough.’” She went on about how, in the eight or nine years of being in a group, there had always been this unspoken rule that “you have to stick with a formula when trying to come up with new material, and so you always have to [reference] all the things you’ve already done.” But now she no longer needed to do that. “Now I can start with nothing—with silence—and then go with whatever hits me from out of the blue!”
Silence being the operative word. She proceeded to tell the story of how, one day at twilight, couple of weeks before beginning work on new material, she’d found herself standing on the vast balcony of a local hotel perched atop the hills, and she’d just stood there, stunned by how the city sprawled before her had changed its face as dusk had settled—and by the silence and stillness that had come with it. A silence so piercing that it had laid itself out like a stark blank canvas, awakening the music and words from deep inside her that she’d thought she’d long forgotten, and causing them to detonate like firecrackers. Just like that, what could possibly be her peak artistic period had gotten a jumpstart. Out of nothing, Zero had been born.
Said differently: By taking a step back, she had moved on.
In no other picture was this logic clearer to me than in “Monsters,” one of the 11 new tracks to be included in Zero, and a strong contender for carrier single. In her deeply soulful contralto, Cattski croons: “I feel I’m braver now to face my demons/ I’ve finally learned to use my angels, too/ I think I’m finally ready to live my truth/ ‘Cause right now that I’m without you there’s just nothing to lose.” Odds and ends of emotions in her words and in her voice, kind of like that closet where you’d kept your skeletons for so long, and now that the bones had been cleaned out you were seeing for the very first time all the other stuff that had been there with them all along (I won’t take credit for that simile; that’s an extended version of an imagery that she uses in the song’s refrain). But one emotion you weren’t gonna find no matter how hard you tried was bitterness. It hadn’t been disguised—it just simply wasn’t there to begin with. Definitely a feat—well, to me, at least—because very few storytellers succeed in looking past the pain, in just walking away from it. This was a huge change for Cattski, who, when she’d broken into the scene a little over a decade back, had embraced the exquisite anguish of hanging on to an offhandedly ambivalent partner (“High and Low,” 2001), and who, some five years ago, had made a big deal about holding on to someone who clearly was no longer there (“Your Ghost,” 2006). And who, only a year ago, had been “too emotionally unstable—disturbed would be an accurate description,” for whatever reason. In fact, change was starting to look like a recurring theme in Zero. In “New,” another solid candidate for first single, she spits out, in brisk cadences: “This is not you/ I guess I like the old you/ But then you like the new.” At first my brows raised, ‘cause it sounded to me like she was contradicting herself here by lamenting a friend’s resolve to change. If I hadn’t known better, though, I would have stuck to that first impression; but after rereading the lyrics more than a dozen times I was now confident enough to declare that that one line was really a sort of reverse message for her fans—like, “I know you liked the old me, but I promise you you’re gonna like the new me even more.” I could say that I made that up. But it would be very remiss of me not to insinuate that Cattski here was clever like that.
And so here she was with her brand new take on life. And, as they say, a new outlook required a new, well, look, and that was exactly what I was here for. Always I’d been cautious about styling musicians (as public figures, you see, they are ultimately responsible for the way they are seen, and so they have to be the custodian of their own image), saying yes only to those who’d asked for a helping hand (like to Urbandub bassist Lalay Lim, for example, who’d asked for my help some four years back before stepping in front of photographer Charles Buencosejo’s camera for the CD jacket of and promotional posters for their fourth album Under Southern Lights). Cattski here had not exactly asked for help, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t open to others’ ideas. So many things that needed to be done in the studio, so she wasn’t exactly in a position to turn down anyone offering to relieve her of non-studio work. Just like that, I got to work.
Taking a cue from her stories of how the Zero creative process had begun—i.e., “from nothing”—I proceeded to assemble a mood board that was pared down and very basic. No convoluted palettes, for one: I was quick to throw in some black, just ‘cause the RGB triplet for black was (0, 0, 0), just two zeroes shy of her 0:00:00 idea. I had to make room for one more color, and was tempted to go for a primary like a red or a blue, but in the end I decided to go with white. Black and white. Or, as Cattski liked to put it, ebony and ivory, like the keys of a piano. That was it. You couldn’t get any more pared down than that. It was perfect ‘cause I’d just finished reading excerpts from Just Kids, punk rocker Patti Smith’s tender and captivating memoir of her charmed friendship with the black-and-white photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and for weeks I’d been looking for ways to translate some of that enigmatic Smith/Mapplethorpe chemistry into my own work. I wasted no time mentally updating my board with the cover photograph of Smith’s debut album Horses—the singer in a white men’s dress shirt, tight jeans, black suspenders, with a black men’s blazer nonchalantly flung over her left shoulder, and scruffy hair—which Mapplethorpe had taken using natural afternoon light “in a penthouse in Greenwich Village.” Like how I liked my burgers, though, with one patty never being enough, one reference to Patti wasn’t sufficient, so I went ahead and slapped another photo of hers against the board: An older Patti this time, circa 2010, no longer punk’s princess but very much its doyenne, shot by the fashion photographer Ruven Afanador for the February 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine—reclining against a wooden table, in a black smoking jacket and a white dress shirt so supersized they allude Martin Margiela’s all-oversize collection from A/W 2000/2001, and what looked like sweatpants tucked into buckle-strapped biker boots. Cattski liked these references, just like I’d thought. It was a look that was meant for her—with her newfound air of insouciance, she could well be on her way to becoming my own personal Patti Smith (yes, no more PJ Harvey).
We brainstormed for a couple of more looks, and she proposed that, since we were doing black and white, she wanted to use this, well, black-and-white star-print sweater she’d bought from a recent trip to the Lion City, to which I said why the hell not. If we had to go with patterns, stars were the right way to go—huge for Fall (as evidenced in Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear), and had kind of a grunge subtext, to people like me who remembered the teeny weeny asterisk in Billy Corgan’s infamous ZERO shirts of yore. (I swear, the uncanny correlations just kept on coming: Here I was styling an artist for her album called Zero, and Corgan’s ZERO shirt just had to come to mind.) That being said, we decided to make room for just a little bit more of neo-grunge, and that’s how actress Zoë Kravitz got into the picture, more specifically her character in the TV series Californication, a reckless Venice Beach teen and frontwoman of an all-girl band who called themselves Queens of Dogtown, whose badass (albeit scripted) Whisky a Go Go performance of Alice in Chains’s “Would” (for the fifth episode of the fourth season) and whose penchant for boy’s tanks and exposed brassieres had gotten me falling head over heels—or, wool beanie over combat boots, if you will.
Speaking of combats, Cattski forgot to bring hers on the day of the shoot, so my own Bed Stü “Artillery Boots” had to make a special guest appearance in one of the sets (I swear to God, wherever my boots go they manage to steal the show). That wasn’t the only thing I was happy about. I was also glad that the black smoking jacket I got from local menswear genius Protacio didn’t turn out to be too oversize on her (and so the silhouette came out more Demeulemeester than Margiela), and that the star-spangled sweater didn’t come out too fancy (originally we’d intended to have her wear black leggings with the said sweater, but we ditched it so we could show off the tattoo in her leg). Androgyny was a very good look on this woman, I must say. Although I was happy that she wasn’t afraid to get in touch with her girly side, too, putting on every single chain and chandelier necklace I flung her way—even agreeing, after only a moment’s hesitation, to “lose the dress shirt and just stand there in your brassiere!” (Such a trouper, I know—never even complained about the lack of a dressing room, and that she had to undress and dress in front of all of us!) Ecstatic, too, that my friend Nikki Paden had agreed to assist me with the styling, because a helping hand was always a treat, and no one knew the black and white palette better than that girl. What I was most happy about, though, was the hair and makeup. I’d never met, much less worked, with the hairstylist and makeup artist (and erstwhile model) Justine Gloria before, and had not even had the chance to talk to her before this shoot, but then she got to work and it was like magic. At the outset, you see, I’d wanted, say, Cattski’s eye makeup to be a bit glam, and her hair in some pompadour à la Gwen Stefani—but Justine had envisioned something else, and it came out perfect. It was a look that was mature yet not at all contrived, edgy but not sinister, and had that elusive quality of being at turns disheveled and flawless (think circa mid-‘90s Chrissie Hynde and you’ll begin to come close). And it went really well with the clothes! I was in awe: Cattski like I’d never seen her before.
But more important than the new outlook, and infinitely more important than the new look, was the new sound. In front of the cameras now I asked her to move around, pretend like she was performing onstage, in front of hundreds (the mic stand had been my idea, after she’d refused to be photographed cradling a guitar ‘cause it had been done so many times over the last couple of years), and so she asked for music she could swing to, and luckily for me it was a demo version of the aforementioned new song “New” that her assistant chose to play. At first I couldn’t place the song as hers, thought it was a mid-‘90s Jill Sobule, what with its rhythmic uptempo, tragicomic wordplay, and sing-songy chorus, so imagine my surprise when her assistant told me this was actually the song “New” that Cattski had been telling me about! The intro starts with a faint kick drum beat that is very characteristic of house, and then slowly intermingles with some synth and mellow guitar plucking, before it crescendos into an a capella, and then a bang. (The transitions would follow this same pattern.) It’s the kind of song that’s hard to put in a box. She would admit later on that, yes, the underlying beat was a “generic house beat,” at 140 bpm, but then throw in all the other elements and it becomes something else altogether. A hundred different things, if you will, because, I swear, every time I am ready to dismiss it as pop rock, I hear a little bit of riot grrrl pop-punk here and there, and some elements of symphonic rock. “In the past, [whenever] people asked me what kind of music I made, without [skipping a beat] I would say, ‘Rock!’” she would later recount. “Now when I meet new people and they ask me the same question, I stammer and I can’t give a straight answer.” And there is no formula, too; no two songs are ever the same. The abovementioned “Monsters,” for example, is a languid, organic ballad set against an irresistible concoction of trip-hop, ambient, and dream pop—even a tinge of country pop! “Defying genres,” that’s how she calls the whole thing. So this is what happens when you “start from nothing” with every song (and when you micromanage every single step in the production process, if I may jokingly add—I don’t think I’ve ever met the brand of control freak that this woman has on!). Although this early on Cattski is in anticipation being critiqued by the pundits: “[They’re] most likely [going to] say…that [the album] has an identity crisis, for not having a consistent sound. But I’m no longer afraid of that. I trust myself enough [now]. My intuition [is] my ultimate guide. Everything will have to be on the premise of what sounds and feels right for me.” But I don’t think it’s ever going to get to that point—the pundits part, I mean. If anything, peers and fans alike are going to appreciate the bold step she’s taking, her kind of game-changing, and I predict this album is going to be her biggest contribution yet to Cebu music. Yes, by sidestepping a niche, Cattski has found her, well, niche—that is, as renaissance woman of Cebu music.
I am tempted to talk about all of the other songs, but that would be doing a great deal of disservice to the artist. My job is to build up excitement, not to do an album review, so I’m gonna have to stop right here. For right now, go ahead and take your time reveling at the woman that you see here—Cattski like you’ve never seen her before. Although I can’t exactly guarantee all this is ever going to prepare you for the Cattski you’ve never heard before.
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Cattski Espina | Photographed and styled by Angelo Kangleon for Shutterfairy in Cebu City on September 3, 2011 | Main photographers: Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon for Shutterfairy, Paul Armand Calo for Calography (click here to view Mai’s photos, and here for Paul’s) | Hair and makeup by Justine Gloria | Stylist’s assistant: Nikki Paden | Sittings assistants: Manna Alcaraz and Gwen Reyes | Special thanks to: The PR and Communications Department of Marco Polo Plaza Cebu | Black men’s smoking jacket, Protacio | White men’s dress shirt, Memo | Solid black men’s silk tie, Springfield UP by Springfield | Black women’s leather biker jacket, Bershka | Black women’s skinny suit jacket, Divided by H&M | Chandelier necklace, Forever 21 | Chain necklace, Mango | Crucifix necklace, Divided by H&M
In my mood board (see below, clockwise from left): Stills of Zoë Kravitz as her Californication character Pearl, with her band Queens of Dogtown, performing a cover of Alice in Chains’s “Would” onstage at West Hollywood’s Whisky a Go Go (for the fifth episode of the show’s fourth season, originally aired February 6, 2011); still of a star-spangled sweater from Wildfox Couture, photographed by Pete Deevakul for TeenVogue.com; looks from Dolce & Gabbana Fall 2011 Ready-to-Wear, on models Isabeli Fontana and Anna Selezneva, photographed by Yannis Vlamos for GoRunway.com; Patti Smith, photographed by Ruven Afanador for the February 2010 issue of O: The Oprah Magazine; the album cover of Patti Smith’s debut record Horses, photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe, circa 1975.
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Makeup artist/hairstylist Justine Gloria giving quick touch-ups to Cattski between sets while Mai looks on; Cattski’s assistants Gwen and Manna were asked to document the shoot and keep her in check (“I could go crazy, you know,” Cattski rationalized); Cattski literally rolling on the floor laughing when she thought we were done, only to be snapped out of it when she remembered she’d asked for night shots. Middle row, L-R: Mai with Paul (of Calography) waiting for the shoot to commence; Cattski wouldn’t stop singing, even while being photographed; Cattski forgot to bring her boots, so she had to borrow my Bed Stü “Artillery Boots”(which meant I had to go barefoot half of the time); Mai fixing Cattski’s hair. Bottom row, L-R: My assistant for the day Nikki checking out my mood boards before getting to work (she loved the Robert Mapplethorpe shots of Patti Smith); Paul getting ready to take photos of Cattski with the grand piano (the singer sang a haunting rendition of The Cure’s 1989 hit “Lovesong” while Paul was setting up); no dressing room, so Cattski was forced to dress and undress in front of everyone (such a trouper!); Cattski getting ready for the evening set.
Am I boring you yet? You know, with all these journal-type posts? That question, of course, goes to those who know me personally—friend or foe, I must say—because I just know that a couple of brows are going to raise, and they’d be, like, “Tell us something we don’t know,” or, “Show us something we haven’t seen!”
I can’t exactly blame them. It’s no secret that when I put up this blog a little over two months ago I declared that I was going to be using it as a vehicle for my foray into photography. An inconvenient truth, as it turns out now, but it’s the truth anyhow. It’s only natural that people are expecting this to be more of a photoblog than anything else.
But you gotta cut me some slack. One thing I can tell you right now is that, being new to this whole blogging thing and all (I’m not even sure if I can spell blogosphere correctly—did I get that right?), I’m not sure if it comes with a set of rules, and if it does, where to get a reliable handbook. You must remember that, in the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sold to the idea of blogging. I’d never thought I’d live to see the day that I would be putting up a blogsite. For eons my friends had been badgering me to start a blog, and always I’d rebuffed them by saying, “I’m a writer, not a blogger.” My contention was that to those of us who had seen our work on newsprint or some other sort of physical medium a little over a hundred times pre-Internet era, the idea of intangibility was frightening, not to mention the notion of self-publishing a little unceremonious, slapdash and narcissistic. And so when that day came when I had to erect this whole thing, I didn’t have a single clue what I was doing, much less if I was doing it right. Safe to say that until this very day I’m still clueless! Which is why I rely on friends who’ve been doing this a long time to give me some direction (one of them my writer friend Debbie Rojonan, who maintains two blogs—including Balaki Ko, which aims to encourage penning poetry in the vernacular—and whose Tweet from months ago that said “Where in the social media engagement pyramid are you? Still a lurker? Move up. Share, comment, produce, curate. It’s the information age” was what had given me that much needed thrust).
To cut to the chase, the consensus was that, no matter what your reasons for putting up a blog, it has to show the world your character, a dose of your personality, and ensure that your identity doesn’t get “lost in translation” in the process. This tenet is especially crucial for someone like me, a startup photographer, because it offers people who have not met me or heard of me yet a window into what it’s going to be like working with me. I’ve decided the best way to do it is through snippets from my journal—not only does this give my audience a peek into my progress in learning the craft, it also shows what inspires me, in the hopes of perhaps catching the eye of those who are inspired by the same things, and of eventually paving the way to winning collaborations.
That being said, you’re going to have to get used to this, because from here on out, at least once a month, this is what you’re going to be getting from me. What it is is I’ve elected to tap into Instagram to help me carry this whole thing out. (I’m sure all of you know what Instagram is, but to those of you who don’t, it’s the free app for iPhones that lets you take snapshots, apply filters to them, and then instantly share them with friends.) And so, you see, it’s not going to be all writing, and somehow I’ve managed to figure out a way to carry on in the same lane! Instant photos are still photos, whether you like it or not!
One day I will eventually get to that point where I get to do what most seasoned photographers do—that is, just STFU, post the damn photos and then let them do the talking. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I know I got an awful lot of work to do before I can turn up at such plateau. In the meantime, I’m just glad I can share with you the little things that make this work in progress an exciting one and this journey worth the while.
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The beginning of this month saw me getting the New York blues. I was browsing through my good friend Kathleen’s Facebook photo album of her trip to the City that Never Sleeps, feeling sorry that I wasn’t in any of the pictures. I was supposed to go with her on this trip, you see. We’d talked about it for a year—the plan was for me to leave for L.A. late May, and then meet her in the Big Apple a month later—but, as luck would have it, her vacations dates were approved, while mine got the red light. To say that I wallowed in pain would be saying the least. My brother would find me crouched in the breakfast nook, just staring blankly at my I Heart NY keychain and the MTA subway/commuter railroad map (01) from my first trip. I even hung my $3 I Heart NY souvenir shirt in my bedroom window (06) just so I could stare at it before falling asleep. It all turned out fine, though, because while I couldn’t go to New York, it was New York that found its way to me!
Yes, my friend Anne Alegrado and her family (04, 05), my gracious hosts during my first NY trip some two years back, came to Cebu for a quick vacation early this month. It was nice to be within hugging distance with her again, and with her daughter Ellis (02). Remember Ellis from my previous post? The little girl who took me to the Brooklyn Bridge—or, as she called it, “the bridge from the princess movie” (she was talking about Enchanted)? Yes, that girl. She remembers me as “the uncle who slept in our couch and walked me to school couple of times.” Last time I saw her she was into, well, “princess movies” and mathematics. Now she’s into ballet and yoga (03). Proud mother Anne was happy to report that the little girl was learning to play the guitar, too! “[Her Dad] Jovi bought her a Beatles guitar chord songbook,” Anne shared, and then Ellis wasted no time in singing to me her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” from Abbey Road (07). She knew all the words, and sang in perfect tune! It makes me happy seeing my friends’ kids grow up like this—I’m never going to have kids of my own, so moments like this are the closest I can get to feeling like a proud parent. Our reunion had to be cut short ‘cause they had lots of other people to see—and plus they couldn’t stay long in Cebu ‘cause they had a European trip to embark on (as of this writing they’re in Madrid, I guess). For days I couldn’t get Ellis’s rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” out of my head. It inspired me to take this snapshot of a sunrise one morning (08). To me, the song represents her future, one that’s definitely going to be bright. I hope I live to see the day when she gets there—remind me to bring sunglasses!
Not really big on taking photos of flowers, but I was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen (it was the 136th anniversary of his death the beginning of this month) and the stories I’d grown up with—particularly that one that told of a butterfly looking for a flower to become his bride, and it was a daisy named Marguerite he first approached for guidance as she was “the wisest one.” I’m not really sure these were daisies (09, 10), but they were gorgeous.
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My favorite pieces from fashion designer Dexter Alazas’s most recent collection (12)—he calls it the “peacock collection.” Always I’ve been a sucker for tasteful melees of ornamentation, and these pieces are testimony to Dexter’s mastery in this department. I would love to be able to use them for a shoot one day—that is, if no one beats me to it and I can find a client who can fit into them! I love visiting my friends’ ateliers and browsing through the racks. Dexter’s atelier (11, 12) is special because not only does he put on display his newest creations, pieces from his past collections are within reach, too—and these things, they have a way of taking you back (I think he still has this one gala gown that was used during a shoot I had with the photographer Wig Tysmans and the model Melanie Ediza for CeBu! Magazine some 10 years back.) Rumor has it that for his 15th anniversary two years from now Dexter will be putting up a retrospective. If there’s any truth to that at all, then I’m not the least worried—his archives are carefully arranged, and so curating is going to be a no-brainer.
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The indefatigable Ms. Marlene fitting me into a Dexter Alazas barong Tagalog (13, 14). This was my first time ever to slip into a barong. Always I’d been a suit person. My sister saw these snapshots and exclaimed, “Never thought I’d see the day!” I mean, I still remain partial to suits, but this time I had to make an exception—I was about to attend one of the most important wedding of my life, and the dress code called for traditional Filipino for the gents. The things you would do for a best friend getting married are nothing compared to the things you would do for two best friends getting married to each other! Well, that, plus the fact that, as you get older, you strive to be more polite in social functions—and that includes playing close attention to the dress codes. Turned out wearing a barong wasn’t too bad after all—the only downside is that you can’t smoke a lot or be around smokers ‘cause one flick of ash on the material and then you’re dunzo.
But enough about barongs and dress codes and stuff. Let’s talk about Ms. Marlene. Most of you don’t know her, but I have so much respect for her. She’s, like, the Cebu fashion industry’s best kept secret. She’s non-exclusive; she works for quite a handful of local design houses. The reason she is indispensable is that she sees eye-to-eye with these designers. A designer gives her a sketch, or an idea, and she executes it flawlessly. She is very diligent, too—working long hours, especially when it’s show season. She and I go way back—always at my side whenever I was commissioned to style a Kate Torralba fashion show, and always ready with her quick fix kit for instances that required last-minute alterations and I refused to let pins and binder clips do the trick. I look up to people like Ms. Marlene—the people who work behind-the-scenes tirelessly and fervently to bring beautiful clothes to life.
New York just wouldn’t stop coming to me. This time it was in the form of Nila Romano and Dr. John Seno, who flew into town early this month so they could get married in front of family and friends (17-28). Well, technically they’re not from New York but from New Jersey, but they live in a town called West New York, which is nestled right by the Hudson River and is considered a part of the New York metropolitan area—you can see the Upper West Side of Manhattan if you face east—so, yeah, they’re still New Yorkers to me. (Nila was also one of the few people who showed me around the Big Apple when I was there during my first visit two years ago.) This wedding was special to me—I’d waited for it like it was my own. I’d been with this couple, you see, since the beginning, since the courtship stages, and I’d witnessed the whole thing blossom into a beautiful, strong bond. Fifteen years! That’s how long they’d been together! Very few relationships get to stand the test of time. It’s a connection cemented by his unwavering faithfulness and her eternal optimism. Nila’s older sister Dory Cusi, who’d flown in from SoCal, would later toast to many of John’s finest qualities and heroic deeds, including how, when Nila couldn’t fly to the Unites States yet, he single-handedly chaperoned Dorly’s little children across the Pacific so they could finally be reunited with their parents—“and that’s when I knew he was the right guy for my sister.” They tied the knot at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral (21-23)—it was my first time to step inside that church, and it was glorious. The bride wore a dazzling floor-sweeping strapless sweetheart-neckline gown that they’d snatched in Manhattan. John’s mother had commissioned a choir to sing “Ave Maria” as Nila’s walk-down-the-aisle song. The whole thing was so surreal I was brought to tears. A great bonus was that I got to be reunited with my some of my closest friends from college, and with the rest of the Seno family, especially John’s brothers Joey (25, delivering his best man’s speech) and Rico (26), both of whom I had become close to as John and I had lost touch.
Just a couple of photos from a recent engagement session that I did (29-32). This one took two days because we had to go up the mountains! Yes, it was grueling! The pictures came out pretty good, though, thanks to the fact that this was the first engagement shoot wherein I had absolutely nothing to do with the styling—i.e., someone else took care of the clothes, leaving me with nothing else to attend to but my camera! I should do this more often—you know, just take pictures and leave all the other aspects like the styling and the props to others. It gets you focused like that. I am unable to upload that set on here just yet ‘cause I am not allowed to publish the photos until the days leading to the wedding, so you will have to stay tuned.
Every Wednesday morning my friend Jeff and I make it a point to visit the Carmelite Monastery down Mabolo (just a good 10 minutes’ walk from our office) to light a few candles and say a little prayer (33-35). (By the way, last week, August 24, was the 48th anniversary of the consecration of the Monastery.) I can tell you that not one prayer has been unanswered. More often than not I pray for good health for me and my family. Sometimes I pray for good shoot weather, and I almost always get it! Of course, I go to the Redemptorist Church, too (36)—I live right next door!
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So a friend brought me to a place that specialized in bespoke menswear (37). I can’t disclose the name of the institution ‘cause I’ve kind of been sworn into silence, but they’ve been making bespoke suits and barong Tagalogs for a privileged group of Cebuanos for years, relying mostly on astute word of mouth. I ran my hands through some of the suit jackets laid on the dress forms and was amazed by the precision and the sharpness—what great handiwork! I hope to make an appointment soon.
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That’s a tally of my daily cigarette consumption right there (38). I was really sick beginning of this month, and when the doctor asked me “How many sticks do you smoke in one day?” I could not answer her. And so she told me that I “better start keeping track.” And so here we are. Turns out I am a pack-a-day smoker. Yikes. The good thing about keeping a record, though, is that it kind of disgusts you every time you look at it, and so it kind of keeps you in check. I am not in a struggle to quit or anything—I just really want to minimize my burning up is what it is. Smoker’s cough is not exactly music to anyone’s ears—even to the smoker himself.
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One of my best friends from high school, Rhoderick (39), blew another birthday candle this month. While I could count the candles, what I couldn’t count was how many times this person had been there for me and my family throughout the years, so I knew it was time to give back. I threw a little birthday dinner for him at my place, and we had habichuelas (his favorite), among others, and I made Do-Over-style sangria, too! I’m happy to report I’m getting good at this thing—that is, cooking and entertaining at home. Sure, it’s labor-intensive and time-consuming, but it gives little celebrations a great punch of importance and a touch of individuality, as opposed to, say, just dragging someone to the usual restaurants. Just a little something I picked up from my recent obsession with Rita Konig (I talked about this briefly in my previous post). It is not my intention to do this more and more, but to do it more often than not, maybe at least once a month. You see, there was a time I could not cook, even if it meant saving my life. To borrow a line from Carrie Bradshaw, “The only thing that I have ever successfully made in the kitchen is a mess.” But I’m not twenty-something anymore, and now that I am running my own household I am somehow responsible for injecting a little, um, wisdom into it. Those closest to me will laugh when they read this because they know I am a first-class slob. But, hey, I am working on that, too. One step at a time! This year it’s all about cooking for me, and maybe next year it will be cleaning (LOL). Here’s a serving of the vegetable/seafood pesto pasta that I whipped up some two weeks ago (40). Yes, my brother loved it, and I’m making it again this week.
One of my all-time favorite shirts: a black and white “she-Che” raglan (41) from Cecile Zamora’s Defect that my best friend Yna Varias gave to me for Christmas ’99—yes, it is 12-years-old, and I still wear it like I only got it yesterday!
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Herb Ritts is, like, my all-time favorite photographer. As a young boy growing up in a small town, I would flip through my Mom’s and my aunts’ old Vogues and be mesmerized by his work. The first time I knew I was going to make fashion a huge part of my life was when I saw the cover of American Vogue’s April 1993 issue—Helena Christensen, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington and Stephanie Seymour all playful, wearing candy-striped crop tops by Marc Jacobs paired with white Daisy Dukes, photographed by Herb Ritts. I would later find out it was him who’d directed two of my all-time favorite music videos, too: Madonna’s “Cherish” from 1989, and Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” from 1990. Ever since then I’d become obsessed with his style, his penchant for black-and-white and the way he’d approached chiaroscuros. I remember crying so hard when he died in December of 2002. Three weeks ago, on the week of his birthday (August 13, he would’ve turned 59), I paid tribute by setting my favorite Herb Ritts photograph (“Versace Dress, Back View, El Mirage, 1990″) as wallpaper on my phone (42, 43). Around the same time, the Getty announced that they had just acquired 69 Herb Ritts photographs, and that they were planning to put up a retrospective in the spring of next year—God, I hope I’ll be in L.A. in time for that!
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Another person whose demise brought me to my knees: the Filipino actor Rico Yan. I was watching Got 2 Believe, his last movie, in which he’d played a wedding photographer. I had to grab my phone and take pictures of freeze-frames (46, 47) of him crying. He was most beautiful when he cried.
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So, remember last month when I talked about how I stockpile on Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Green in Lemon Jasmine? I got an e-mail from someone who blogs about teas asking why I loved them when there were a lot of better tasting sleep-inducing teas out there. Here’s my answer: They come in string-less, tag-less, staple-less pillow-style teabags (44)—in short, they are environment-friendly.
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Another e-mail I got was from someone who wanted to know how the oversize mustard grandfather cardigan that I let a client wear for a nautical-themed set qualified as, well, nautical. My answer: I know that when we say “nautical fashion” we are quick to think blue-and-white stripes, and then a little red highlights here are there, but what some of you don’t know is that yellow is part of the basic sailorman palette, too—owing to the yellow slickers that sailors use (I did a little bit of research and found out that the yellow “resulted from treating canvas with linseed oil to make it waterproof”). Also, I did take a closer inspection at the buttons of that cardigan: they were gold-colored, like those of the traditional Service Dress Blue uniforms, and they had these embossed yacht anchor details, too (48)—you can’t get any more nautical than that.
This past month was special for a lot of different reasons, but this one right here could be the biggest highlight of them all: A little over two weeks ago I started my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy Photography. Single-handedly run by the beautiful and brilliant Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon (49, 50), Shutterfairy is one of the best-known boutique wedding/lifestyle photography firms in this part of the country. I had been an avid follower of her work, even before I could get a camera of my own. It was a bold step in my part deciding to pursue this apprenticeship. Towards the end of June, after five or so solo shoots, I’d felt I’d needed to push myself some more, and that all this business about being self-taught was getting old. I’d read somewhere about Victor Demarchelier, Patrick Demarchelier’s son, being his father’s principal assistant. “There are [other aspects of photography] that you can grasp faster as an assistant,” he had been quoted as saying. How cool is a father-and-son team? But my father was no longer here to teach me, so I had to look outside the family circle. I pulled a couple of strings, managed to get good viva-voce recommendations, sent a letter of application, and in no time found myself under Mai’s wings.
My first session with her was for an engagement shoot. We were going to be shooting at a farm up the mountains in Carmen, some two or so hours northeast of Cebu. As luck would have it, the couple we were going to be shooting were from New York—I swear to God, the New York streak just kept on coming! Cherry, who has roots from Cebu, was about to marry her fiancé Christian (56) in less than a week. I asked why they decided not to have their engagement photos taken in their new hometown of New York, and she said it was Christian’s idea for them to be taken here, in this very farm, ‘cause he’d fallen in love with this place when they’d first visited about a year ago. What was not love? I looked around me and I couldn’t keep my jaw from dropping—everywhere you turned it was picturesque (49-56). The place is called Noah’s Farm, and it is owned by Cherry’s sister, Toni Grace “TG” Villamor, who likes to take her family up there once in a while when they want to shy away from the city life.
What I did was mostly help the couple with their outfits and scout for settings, but I did take a couple of pictures, too, ‘cause Mai would be, like, “Where’s your camera? Why aren’t you taking pictures?” I can’t post any of my photos from that day on here yet, ‘cause I have yet to get approval from Mai and, well, the clients, but, here, feel free to go to the Shutterfairy blogsite to view Mai’s gorgeous set from that day.
Remember two months ago when I inaugurated this blog and I talked about how photographers these days, in an effort to stand out and be cut above the rest, “hold back on the sharing?” Well, I take that back now, because Mai here was just amazing. She answered all my questions, even those that I did not ask out loud (it was as if she was reading my mind!), and she was always pushing me to get to the work at hand. I will write more on the things I’ve learned from her in my future posts. Right now let me just soak up in the awesomeness of how lucky I am to have found a mentor who is as generous as she is talented.
I have quite a number of Nike Dunks, but this pair right here (57), I must say, is my favorite. The sangria/saffron combo always does it for me.
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OK, so I’d been hearing through the grapevine that there was this store in Cebu that sold items from IKEA, but I’d never really paid attention to the buzz. And then I chanced upon the store myself. The store is called Förskö (60), and they are located at the second level of the Banilad Town Centre. I must’ve foamed in the mouth a little when in the corner of my eye I saw the IKEA logo. Never in my wildest dreams had I seen this coming! Not a lot of stock in there, though, and their space isn’t large enough to accommodate the showroom types of displays that IKEA is known for, but they do have a couple of winners, including the LACK side tables (the solid painted versions and the clear lacquered birch effect versions), the silver TERTIAL work lamp, and the MAKROS pendant lamp (58) that I loved from the 2011 catalog. They also have the KNAPPA pendant lamp (59) which I don’t remember from the 2011 catalog, so presumably it’s from a newer line. If you can’t find anything you love, that’s alright—just flip through the pages of the catalog, point at something, and they’ll place the order for shipment later! I’m thinking of getting the NASUM storage baskets (in clear lacquered banana fiber weave). We’ll see.
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The fresh carabao’s milk pastillas (64) from Carigara, Leyte, are simply the best. You should try them.
I forgot to mention my apprenticeship at Shutterfairy comes with a huge bonus: For package deals—e.g., engagement session plus day-of-the-wedding coverage—Mai works with a husband-and-wife team, Paul and Charisse Calo (71), a.k.a. Calography. I met Charisse (66) during the previously mentioned first session with Mai, and I would get to work with both her and her better half a couple of days later during my second session. Both teams were commissioned to do the engagement photos of visiting Zamboaga-based couple Al and Pie (67, 68, 69, 72) who were going to be married in two months. It was fun for the most part because Paul turned out to be the adventurous, adrenaline-driven type, and there was never a dull moment because we were always moving from one location to another. Even more amazing was the camaraderie between the two teams, and that they saw eye to eye and there was never a conflict of ideas. That day I learned some of the technicalities of shooting under harsh lighting conditions, like minding my ISO and all that other good stuff. It’s so cool that I get to pick at not just one brain but three! I cannot wait to work with them again. Click here for a couple of Paul’s and Charisse’s shots from that session.
Proud of myself because this month I kept true to my promise of buying more books and fewer magazines! In fact, no magazine purchases at all this month! (Well, next month is a going to be a different story altogether, as I am determined to grab the September issue of Vogue—Kate Moss on the cover, my dears, and an exclusive coverage of her wedding to Jamie Hince!) So my brother Jake came across this bookstore that sold hard-to-find volumes at steeply discounted prices, and I wasted no time in checking it out. The photography shelf was what I checked out first (73), but it turned out all it contained were books on graphic design and illustration—the salesperson told me they were running low on photography titles, but I enlightened her that maybe all they needed was a little rearranging, because I did find this one baby, Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan by Douglas R. Gilbert (with text from music journalist Dave Marsh and a foreword by The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian), in the shelf labeled Fashion. I couldn’t believe they were selling this book for, like, less than Php 200. I loved all the photos in it, but my favorite was this one photo of Dylan singing to the poet Allen Ginsberg in some kitchen while Sally Grossman (better known as the lady in red on the cover of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home) looked on (74). As I did more digging I was able to unearth a copy of Vivienne Tam’s China Chic (75). For years I had been looking for this title, and finally here I was holding a copy of it with my bare hands. My first impulse was to add it to my cart, but then after leafing through the first few pages I decided it wasn’t for me. No disrespect—Vivienne Tam is one person I look up to, along with other Asian and Asian-American designers like Anna Sui, Vera Wang, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang. But this book was just not me at all—best left to Winnie Narazeths of the world. Perhaps Anna Sui by Andrew Bolton would be more in my lane, what with her rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic and all. So, no, I do not regret not buying this one. One thing I do regret not getting was this huge Collector’s Library Edition volume of Oscar Wilde’s works (76). I’d turned away from it in favor of a book on the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin. Asinine move in my part, really, and I should’ve listened to my writer friend Xiomara Demeterio-Glindmeyer when she said, “I would grab Wilde in a heartbeat.” I was tempted, you see, by the immediate practicality the Aucoin book had offered—like, hey, I was going to be doing shoots for a living, so best to grab the one that would teach me a thing or two about makeup, a very important aspect of every shoot. I realize now, of course, that the Wilde book would’ve been the more practical choice—the Aucoin book, easy to find, whereas the chances or finding another Wilde book in this part of the world, close to impossible. Oh, well, you live, you learn.
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Just a couple of days ago I was reunited with someone I hadn’t talked to or seen in a very long time—I’m talking about the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (77, 78). She had just finished titling and tracklisting her new album (to be released really soon!), and now it was time to get to work on the album cover. She had commissioned Shutterfairy to do her portraits, and since Mai was in Manila for a family thing I took the liberty of setting up the pre-shoot meeting myself. What was supposed to be a quick discussion turned into 3- or 4-hour meeting, ‘cause there was a lot of catching up to do in my part. I confessed that the last album I’d heard about was Vacuum My Inside (released late 2003), the follow-up to their 2001 debut Cattski EP. Turned out that I’d missed out on a third album (a 2009 release called Sound Minds Speak Volumes) because this thing she was about to launch was her fourth. I also learned that she was on her own now—this new release was going to be the first from Cattski the solo artist; Cattski the band was no more. “Which is why I’ve decided to call it Zero,” she shared, “because it’s like I’ve gone back to zero.” I’m not allowed to let anyone in on the details just yet, but suffice to say that, like the album title, the recording is going to feature a pared-down sound—a departure from the heavier sounds in her previous works. “More electronica than rock,” she pointed out. This called for a brand spanking new look. We got to work, and I was happy with the styling concept we were able to come up with. The shoot’s this weekend, and I’m excited. I can’t wait to see how it’s all gonna turn out.
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Cattski couldn’t help but notice the wallpaper on my phone. I told her that this was my own little way of paying tribute to someone. Couple of weeks ago it was Herb Ritts (42, 43), and these days it was Aaliyah (79, 80). It was the 10th anniversary of Aaliyah’s death last August 25. Can you believe it’s been 10 years? Feels like it was only yesterday that I cried myself to sleep, after seeing the news on the plane crash that killed her. In her song “Try Again” from the soundtrack to Romeo Must Die, Timbaland ad libs, “It’s been a long time/ We shouldn’t have left you/ Without a dope beat to step to.” Well, at least Aaliyah didn’t leave us without a dope beat to step to. Up to this very day I still dance to “Back and Forth” in my room, the same way I used to do it back in ’94, and it’s something I’m not ashamed of. Nothing wrong about getting up and letting “this funky mellow groove get you in the mood”—yes, “you know it’s alright.”