Wasn’t it only a little over a year ago that designer Mark Tenchavez launched a shoe line under his Shandar brand? I mean, to me it feels like only yesterday that I photographed his muses (models Marjay Ramirez and Cielo Ramirez, pastry chef Gayle Urgello, and lawyer Christina Garcia-Frasco) for the catalog of his premiere collection—I still remember every minute of the fine frenzy that the stylist Meyen Baguio and I went through while working on that project. Yet when you look at Shandar Shoes’ resume (and the places that they’ve been to, figuratively speaking), it looks like they’ve been around since forever!
For one, they have managed to develop an impressive fan base, which includes local fashion mavens like designer/writer/philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes (who flew in from Manila to host the shoe line’s grand launch middle of last year), and even lady political figures. No less staggering is how about 40% of Mark’s time is now spent doing commissioned works for local designers—if memory serves me right, I think it all started with doing a couple of platforms to accompany Arcy Gayatin’s 25th anniversary collection, and some for Project Runway Philippines season one first runner-up Philipp Tampus’s holiday 2011 collection, and then everyone else followed suit. The newest leaf added to his laurel? Creating multi-glitter lace-up wedge booties to accompany the electrifying pieces from Amato Haute Couture by Furne One during One’s homecoming gala held at the Rizal Memorial Library and Museum early last month! Mark has also become sort of like an official cobbler for local beauty pageants (only three weeks back I found myself in the studio of an Ormoc-based pageant organizer and there it was, a giant shelf full of Shandar “pageant heels”). But I think Shandar’s biggest achievement to date is penetrating the local bridal market: “It’s 10 to 15 brides per month, and that’s not counting the peak seasons!” he enthuses. (And I can attest to this, because my boss Malou Pages [of Shutterfairy Photography, where I have just been promoted, by the way, from apprentice to associate photographer/senior stylist] always shows me photos of the weddings she covers, and I guess it’s safe to deduce that about 80% of Shutterfairy’s clients over the past year have worn Shandar down the aisle.) Not bad for a shoe line that relies heavily on guerilla marketing and word-of-mouth—yes, save for the occasional magazine appearances (Preview, Metro Society, LOOK), their touchpoints are fairly uncomplicated.
I love how Mark’s design sense has evolved, too. Not to say, of course, that I didn’t find the pieces from his premiere collection beautiful (I wouldn’t have agreed to shoot that catalog if I didn’t like the shoes), but his more recent designs are more eye-catching, and more varied, too. You still get the ultra-feminine touches (pretty little bows, appliqué details, serpentine straps) that Mark is known for, but now you get to pair that with ingenious experimentation of textures, layering, and colors—as of late he’s been obsessed with giving unexpected twists to velveteen, playing with lace overlays, and toying with iridescents. “I am also starting to experiment with transparent material, like celluloid,” he shares. “I know people have seen a lot of heels made of transparent material, like Lucite, but that’s not the [route] that I’m taking—I’m thinking of using them for the shoe body and for the details, not the heels.”
Mark credits his growth to his day-to-day interactions with clients, and to his tendency to keep his eyes open to the littlest bits of inspiration. “Especially my bridal clientele,” he shares. “When you’re talking to a bride-to-be, the conversation becomes very intimate because it’s their wedding day we’re talking about here—the one day they’ve been waiting for all their lives! I get to learn about what women really want when I’m talking to these people. I’m lucky, too, that most of my brides-to-be happen to be very stylish ladies—I get a lot of inspiration by looking at what they’re wearing, what bag they’re carrying, etc.” The technical aspect of his job he gets to hone by building good relationships with his designer clients. It helps, too, that he hasn’t abandoned his first love, and that’s making jewelry (tiaras, necklaces, bracelets, rings)—as his skills in jewelry-making expand, so do his skills in infusing surprising details into his shoe creations.
I was lucky enough to be able to preview prototypes from what I think is going to be his spring/summer 2013 collection. We were having coffee one Sunday afternoon this past summer when out of the blue he laid them in front of me! Needless to say, I fell head over heels—quite literally, yes! I wasted no time asking if I could have the honor of photographing these babies—this time with sunny California as backdrop. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for him to say yes!
This shoot right here was kind of guerilla because I didn’t have a lot of time to plan it. Well, actually, I had quite some time—I was in L.A. for 6 or so weeks—but all that time was wasted going around the place looking for leg and foot models to sit for me. I was supposed to ask my sister because she did have some legs on her, plus the shoes were her size, but then she had just become a mother and all her time was devoted to taking care of the baby. A friend from Cerritos, who’d had some modeling experience, said she wanted to do it but just couldn’t find time off from work. And then there was someone from Lancaster who had all the time in the world, but then she was below 18, and I didn’t want to get into trouble with the parents. A friend had suggested browsing through the portfolios at ModelMayhem.com, but I just didn’t know my way around that Website (I think you have to be a registered user in order to send someone a message, no?). I was about to give up when someone suggested Elane Gica, a friend from back home, and this was literally at the eleventh hour, too—we did this whole thing on my second-to-the-last day in L.A.! I know! How crazy is that, right? Thank you, Elane, for letting me borrow your legs and your feet, and for helping me make this happen!
We never got to cover all the locations that I’d planned to shoot at (I’d wanted a couple of beach shots, and Santa Monica was on my list, but we were afraid we were going to be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10 W, so we had to call that off), but I was happy we got to do some of the ones that meant a lot to me, like the Griffith Observatory (ah, Rebel Without a Cause!), Urban Light at LACMA, and that palmed-line area of N New Hampshire just before it crosses Beverly (Wilshire Center). Of course, I had to make sure there was no missing the Hollywood Walk of Fame, too—that was, like, non-negotiable! These were Mark’s shoes that I was shooting—don’t you think they deserve a little star treatment? Elane asked why I picked Marvin Gaye’s Star (it’s in the east side of the 1500 block of Vine, in case you’re wondering). My answer was simple: “Look at these heels—if they could sing a song it would be Marvin Gaye’s ‘Sexual Healing,’ don’t you think?” Am I a smart ass, or what?
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I have to mention that Elane doing this was extra special to me, not only because she went out on a limb for this, and not only because she knew the L.A. side streets like the back of her hand, making it easy for us to jump from one location to the next, which ultimately saved us a lot of time (can you believe we only did this for under three hours—from 11AM to 145PM—and so we still had time to hit the UCLA Jazz Reggae Festival after we wrapped?), but because of the fact that she is first cousins with one of my best friends Malou Gica, and working with her that day brought me back to the times that I’d worked with Malou.
Insiders will remember Malou Gica as one of Cebu fashion’s pioneering models, or, better yet, as Elite Model Look-Cebu 1996 winner. She was one of the few people who really supported me when I was starting out as a stylist more than a decade ago, and we worked on a couple of shoots together until we became really good friends. Safe to say I wouldn’t be half of who I am today if not for her.
Malou passed away just two months ago, after a long battle with terminal illness. She was only 34. It was a very heartbreaking time for us, her friends, and especially her family, including Elane here, who, all her life, had looked up to Malou as a big sister. If you are reading this and you knew Malou, please do me a favor and say a little prayer for her journey, and for the healing of those she left behind.
Rest in peace, Malou. You will be missed.
Shandar Shoes Spring/Summer 2013 | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Los Angeles, CA, on May 27, 2012 | Model: Elane Lourdes Gica | Special thanks to Janice Larrazabal
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.
Never jump to conclusions. That’s one of the more important things I learned this past month. When my first two sittings (back in August) as apprentice at Shutterfairy Photography had turned out to be engagement sessions, you see, I’d thought, Oh, this is all we’re going to be doing, couples and stuff. (Not that I’d thought that was going to be a bad thing.) So imagine my surprise when Shutterfairy’s Malou “Mai” Pages-Solomon sent me a Tweet saying she was going to be photographing the singer/songwriter Cattski Espina (01, 03) for the album cover of her forthcoming release, and that she wanted me to do the styling! I was literally jumping up and down! This was massive for me, in part because it was an opportunity to think outside the engagements/couples box, but for the most part because it was a chance to rekindle old ties. Yes, Cattski and I, although that may sound to some like an unlikely combination, we go waaay back. (Don’t you just love how it’s a small world, after all? Mai is best friends with former Y101 anchorwoman Imma Fermin-Ongteco, who is best friends with Cattski; and both Imma and Cattski are best friends with one of my best friends Deo Urquiaga, who was responsible for hooking me up with this apprenticeship gig with Mai. Did I just use “best friends” four times in one sentence?)
It’s true for me, so I just assume it’s true for everyone: It’s nice to be reunited with someone you haven’t been in touch with for a long, long time. When Cattksi and I sat down for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts at the tail end of August, it turned out to be 70% catching up and laughing, and only 30% business—hey, I hadn’t seen this girl in 7 years! Funny thing, really, ‘cause it’s not like she had moved to a different place, or it was me who’d moved away—we’d been living in the same city the whole time, thank you very much. But, well, as she puts it now, “life got in the way.” I love that this woman has amazing recall of all level of detail—makes missing out a whole lot easier to endure. I was floored, for example, when she remembered how, back when I’d been editor for the (now-defunct) local counterculture e-zine Neoground.com, I’d proceeded to declare her “my own personal PJ Harvey.”
Well, now it looked like all she was going to be was my own personal dress up doll (she’s not going to like that term, though)! At first I’d thought that she wouldn’t be open to the idea of styling—I mean, it’s a fact that not a lot of local musicians are into that kind of thing (heaven knows the kinds of beef I got into when I tried to style musicians who were either performers or presenters during the first two installments of the San Miguel Beer Cebu Music Awards some ten years back). To my amazement, she was 100% down for it—and she pretty much gave me the free hand, too!
I’m sure most of you have seen Mai’s photos already (if you haven’t yet, click here). Killer, right? I’m tempted to talk right here and right now about how I came up with the styling, but I think it’s wiser to save it for when I am to post my own shots from that session (yes, I took a couple of photos, too). At least judging from Mai’s photos (and these behind-the-scenes shots) you will be able to tell that, yes, my inspiration was pretty much “ebony and ivory” (02), and that I used a couple of mannish items, like a Protacio smoking jacket (01). My own Bed Stü work boots (05) even made a special guest appearance!
Some of you might be wondering where we did the shoot. If that edifice behind Cattski in photo number (04) doesn’t look familiar, well, I can tell you now that is actually the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu. Yes, we shot at the hotel’s Grand Balcony, from where we had an amazing view of the Cebu skyline below. This choice of location was Cattski’s idea, after she’d been here one day at twilight and she’d had an epiphany of sorts while staring at the city as it had changed its face with every passing minute until it had become dusk. She told me the story of how, from that moment on, she’d become more contemplative, resulting in an inexhaustible kind of songwriting. That explained how it had only taken her less than two years to come up with this new album, her fourth (quite a feat, considering that it had taken her a good six years between her second and her third). It’s amazing to realize that inspiration can come from the places you least expect to find it—in this case, home.
I’m excited about this album. I’m excited to find out which of Mai’s photos are gonna end up in the album cover. Most of all, I’m excited for Cattski, and her fans. The inspiration maybe dusk, but I can only predict a bright outcome.
Those closest to me can attest that, yes, I do have “girl crushes.” For example, I am kind of crazy about Love Marie Ongpauco a.k.a. Heart Evangelista—for six or so months now, my Sunday evenings have been spent sitting in front of the computer and staring at her face in the short film Muse (created by actor-turned-director Albert Martinez for the designer Inno Sotto’s 30th anniversary gala). I am also kind of turned on by Zoë Kravitz, or at least by her role in Californication. And then, of course, there is Lauren Conrad. But, you see, these are only my fairly recent obsessions. The one that’s been the object of my fantasies for more than 15 years now is none other than the great Kate Moss.
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had an obsession as intense as my fascination with the truly amazing creature that is Katherine Moss. I remember using her Calvin Klein Jeans and Calvin Klein Obsession for Men ads as wallpaper for my dorm room. While everyone else was lusting after Leonardo DiCaprio, I was decidedly all about Johnny Depp, just because he was dating Ms. Moss at the time. I remember hating on my cousin, just because he was the first to have a bottle of CK One, and to my mind that had brought him closer to Kate than I ever could be. When I was 17 or 18 and could not afford a coffee table book, I would spend 2-3 hours every Sunday sprawled on the floor of my favorite bookstore, ceremoniously devouring every single page of Kate: The Kate Moss Book—or just staring at the cover and praying, “Oh, God, please make me have those freckles!”
Yes, my girl friends were going crazy penciling on fake moles above their lips, in an attempt to copy Cindy Crawford’s “beauty mark,” but I was all about freckles. I guess that was what endeared Kate to me. She was perfectly imperfect. I had had enough of the impossible smiles, the vermillion lips, the unattainable curves, the outlandish gowns, the whimsical locations. Escapism was good, but didn’t quite go well with the soundtrack of the times. Grunge was on a rise like a bat out of hell, and it needed a muse to conquer the world with. The world needed, as how British curator Iwona Blazwick put it, “a truth located in the artless, the unstaged, the semiconscious, the sexually indeterminate and the pubescent.” And Kate gave us that kind of truth. Here was someone who was not afraid to slap on a silly grin, to not put makeup on, to eschew technical perfection, to misplace optimism, and to date Edward Scissorhands. In other words, she made fashion real and attainable. For you and for me. And that’s why she will always have a special place in my heart.
So please forgive me when I say that this month I broke a very important promise that I had made to myself—that is, the promise to buy more books, and no more magazines. I’d pretty much been able to stay true to that promise in the last couple of months, but I just had to make an exception this month. Why? Well, ‘cause it’s Kate Moss on the cover of the September issue of American Vogue (06)! And this isn’t just your regular Kate Moss cover—it comes with an exclusive coverage of her wedding to The Kills guitarist Jamie Hince!
I almost died for this copy. I went to Fully Booked on September 5, and they told me they didn’t have it yet. I came back September 11, still they didn’t have it. I was on the verge of throwing a bitch fit when I returned on September 15 and was told they still didn’t have it! How ridiculous is that, right? In the U.S. the September issues hit the newsstands and bookstores as early as mid-August! Ah, the pain of living in a…I shouldn’t finish that statement. On my fourth trip back to the bookstore on September 18, the girl behind the counter gave me a nasty look. “We [already] have the September issue, but you can’t have it yet—we haven’t unboxed any of our new arrivals.” Can you believe her? I was going to cause a scene, but thankfully this guy named Abner came to the rescue and offered to unbox the new magazines right there and then so I could have my copy. Thanks, Abner! You are super awesome!
Anyway, back to the magazine: I don’t think I’ve ever held a September issue that’s this heavy (then again, I haven’t seen the past 4 or so September issues, so what do I know). Perhaps the reason this one feels particularly weighty is ‘cause the cover story was written by my favorite writer Hamish Bowles, and shot by my favorite photographer Mario Testino. The beauty of Bowles’s text, alongside Testino’s dazzling images—I do not think a more formidable pairing exists. Their genius certainly gave justice to a truly momentous, one-of-a-kind event. I even love the little inset photo of wedding guest Naomi Campbell, and the funny little anecdote that tells of Naomi being fashionably late and Kate saying to her, “Trying to upstage me, bitch?”—to me, a celebration of friendship like no other.
My favorite photo of all, I must say, is that of Kate surrounded by her young bridesmaids, flower girls and pageboys, although I am also inexplicably drawn to this one black-and-white number of her and her daughter Lila Grace (07), done in the style of the ‘90s Calvin Klein campaigns that propelled Kate to superstardom. Needless to say, I am going to be putting these photos up a pedestal. Who knows? I might be asked to do a mother-and-daughter session one day—at least I will have something to look back on and slap against the mood board when that day comes.
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Another September issue I just had to get my hands on was that of local fashion glossy Preview (actress Anne Curtis on the cover, making her the celebrity with the most Preview covers to date, this one being her sixth). I’d always been a fan of the magazine, but I kind of stopped reading them in 2007, or 2008—can’t remember why exactly. The reason I picked up this issue, though, is’ cause my photo of Shandar’s Urgello wedges (inspired by Gayle Urgello) made it to their Fashion News section (08), to supplement a sidebar on Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez. Nothing huge, really—it’s all but a little 3.25” x 2”—but it’s huge to me considering this might be the only time a photo by me is ever going to appear in a fashion magazine. They forgot to credit me, though, not even in marginalia, but that’s alright. I’m just happy that Manila editors are starting to take notice of deign talent from this part of the country. I am so proud of Mark and of where he’s taken his little shoe line—everyone’s buzzin’ about Shandar Shoes, and it’s only been three months since he launched the whole thing! I told him to be prepared—now that Preview has ran a story on him, other fashion/lifestyle magazines are bound to follow suit.
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Of course, my itsy-bitsy photo is not the only reason I’ll be holding on to this copy of Preview for years to come—I also am happy to have stumbled upon this glorious print-on-print editorial called “Fly on the Wall” (09), photographed by Jeanne Young, modeled by Sanya Smith (Pepe Smith’s daughter), and styled by the fabulous Daryl Chang. It’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect from the ever-innovative Chang: brave, fierce, and game-changing. She is always first to do what other stylists are too afraid of doing. I, for one, have been too timid to try mixing patterns. God knows how many times I’ve toyed with the idea, but I always end up dropping it cold turkey before I can even get to work. I keep thinking about rules, you see—like, should I mind the scales and sizes of the prints, so that teeny florals should be matched with, say, large stripes? or, should I stick to just two different patterns in one outfit? This editorial by Chang, though, has made me realize that I shouldn’t be caring about rules when it comes to this department. The very reason we do print-on-print is because we want to make a bold statement, right? And so, in the end, it really is a fearless approach—and a little bit of rule-breaking—that is going to do the trick. Total mood board material right here!
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From “girl crushes” we move on to “man crushes.” Laugh all you want, but, yes, I squealed like a little girl when I saw this photo of my “man crush” Carlos Concepcion (with Georgina Wilson) in the BOB of this month’s Preview (10). It’s not even that kind of crush, OK? Carlos here, although most of you might know this already, is a designer and a stylist, and has done a lot of great work for The Philippine Star’s youth lifestyle section, as well as for glossy titles like Garage and Preview Men. I admire him for the most part because of what he’s doing to change the way we look at men’s fashion in this part of the world—it takes a whole lot of balls to do what he’s doing. I mean, cropped jackets and above-the-knee skirts on men? I’m sorry, but he’s my hero. So it’s not that kind of crush, but maybe it’s the Single White Female kind of crush—i.e., I wanna be him. I don’t know if I am ever going to meet him in this lifetime, but if, by some wicked stroke of luck, I end up bumping into him, you know I am going to drop to my knees and plant a kiss on his feet. And I don’t even have a foot fetish. But I do have a shoe fetish, and the guy has some seriously pretty shoes, so there.
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Meanwhile, there was that one September issue I wished I could have but just couldn’t—I’m talking about that of French Vogue. Huge deal to me because this was Emmanuelle Alt’s first September issue as editor-in-chief, after she’d supplanted Carine Roitfeld in February of this year. Of course, I’d always adored Roitfeld (I’d give her a bear hug if I could); just that it had gotten to a point when I could no longer get her—I mean, she’d let Tom Ford guest edit the title’s December 2010/January 2011 issue, and allowed him to use 10-years-old girls and a geriatric couple as models! I’d read somewhere that Alt, who’d been under Roitfeld’s French Vogue wing as fashion director since 2000, was so far doing a great job breathing new life into the title by taking things more lightly, injecting a little “humor” and “positivity” into the scene—and what better way to see this for myself, right, than by getting her first September issue? But, alas, French Vogue wasn’t something you could easily find in this part of the world—hey, it had even taken three weeks for the American edition to hit our bookstores! Luckily, I was able to get my hands on a copy at the designer Protacio’s atelier a couple of days ago! My jaw dropped as I was scanning his magazine shelf and—wham!—there it was, Charlotte Casiraghi on the cover staring back at me with smoky eyes (11). “How is it even possible that you have this?” I asked Protacio as I clutched the copy against my chest. Although, of course, I’d known a long time he was fond of collecting all sorts of hard-to-find foreign titles. (Exactly the reason why I love visiting his shop in the first place, because it’s like a little fashion library to me—he even has a copy of the aforementioned controversial Tom Ford-edited December 2010/January 2011 issue [see same Instagram, 11, behind the Charlotte Casiraghi, with Ford and Daphne Groeneveld on the cover].) Indeed, Alt’s French Vogue was a joy to flip through. Still had that requisite European quirkiness and modernism, but presented in a whole new light—blithe, if you will, and not at all menacing. Just like that, two or so of the inside photos of Casiraghi went straight up my mental mood board. Yes, mes amis, it is that relatable now, even if you don’t speak or understand a word of French (I know I don’t)! Thank you, Protacio, for sharing! I will be back for more inspiration soon!
So I woke up in the afternoon (hey, I work afternoons/evenings Mondays to Fridays) of September 8 wondering why this blog was getting so many hits. Turned out earlier that day Mai had written a little something about me in her own blog (12), and that’s where all the traffic had come from! What a surprise! I know her site has a good number of followers; such an honor for some of them to be trickling down into mine. Now I gotta pay attention to what I’m posting on here, because I don’t just represent me now, I also represent Shutterfairy. And so I have to behave accordingly and try not to do anything foolish.
She wrote about how she doesn’t want to call me her apprentice, but, really, that is all I am for now. Until such a time that I’m confident enough with my own skills and with my application of all the things I’m learning from her, I don’t mind being the guy in the backseat, taking orders, taking down notes, even talking to clients pre-shoot. Which brings us to the something extra that I do for Shutterfairy: Mai, via the same blog post, has made it official that I am resident stylist. Which means that, yes, if you need help in that department, I’m the guy who’s going to sit down with you (Mai may or may not be present during these meetings) days or weeks before your session in front of the camera to help you out with your clothes and accessories (and even makeup and props).
So, OK, if it was the Shutterfairy blogsite that led you here, let me break it down for you: If you’re interested in a styled session with the Shutterfairy (engagement, portrait, family, etc.), simply shoot her an e-mail at email@example.com. She will then contact you to discuss scheduling and all the other high-level stuff. After which your contact details will be forwarded to me, and that’s how I get in touch with you for the pre-shoot styling/mood board development meeting. At the meeting, you will simply need to let me in on your, um, theme, your desired shooting locations, etc., and I will then proceed to build a mood board or two for you. I do house calls, too, just so you know—easier for me to look at items that you already have.
By the way, because I’m only apprenticing for right now, there is no separate fee for the styling. You just have to pay for the photo session, and that’s about it. So, what are you waiting for? Contact Shutterfairy now and let’s get to work!
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Some three weeks after I’d found out that my photo of Shandar’s Urgello shoes made it to this month’s issue of Preview, their “online counterpart” StyleBible.ph put up a gallery of my shots of all the other shoes from the shoe line’s premier collection (13). This gallery, and the accompanying article, marks the addition of Shandar designer Mark Tenchavez to StyleBible.ph’s venerable Designer Directory and Designer Spotlight, placing him side-by-side with the likes of such Filipino design greats as JC Buendia, Patrice Ramos-Diaz, Jun Escario and others. Click here to view the gallery, and here to read the article.
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Exactly how long can one be obsessed with something? In my case, more than 20 years. Yes, the video for Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” turned 21-years-old this past month (14). Shot in September of 1990, I watch it today and it looks like it was only shot yesterday. Thank you, Herb Ritts, for leaving us with such an amazing piece of art.
My fourth sitting with the Shutterfairy was for another non-couple session (15-19). When Mai told me she was going to be photographing a single mother of two boys, I said, OK, I gotta see this—I’d always wondered how she did things like this, you see, where there were children involved. Up to that point the only children I’d ever gotten myself to photograph were my own nieces and nephews, and even with that sort of kindred I’d never been able to make them behave during sittings.
Turned out that the reason Mai was so good at it was ‘cause, well, she was a mother herself! She knew how to command kids’ attention in a manner that was very natural, not at all domineering, and had little to no bribery involved. I am never going to be a mother (duh), but I picked up one thing that could come in handy when I am to photograph kids/families in the future: When doing pre-shoot research, don’t focus too much on the adults; take the time out to learn what the kids love doing and figure out a way to inject it into the sitting. For this shoot right here, Mai had found out that the little boy loved to play soccer, so when she saw that he was a little uncomfortable standing in front of the camera she asked him to take out the soccer ball and just have fun with it. Needless to say, the resulting photos were gorgeous. Click here to see Mai’s set from that session.
Couple of other things I learned that day:
- Don’t stress too much about the location. Yes, there is value in planning and in pre-shoot oculars, but there is potential in the unexplored. Mai had planned to shoot the family at the Mountain View Nature Park in Busay, but decided to shift gears the last minute and took us to Talamban’s Family Park—well, not the park per se, but a somewhat secluded area outside the park. She’d never been here before (neither had I, or any of the subjects), but she was curious. Turned out to be a beautiful place (16-18).
- Don’t stress too much about the props, too. Just explore the surroundings and, if you’re resourceful enough, you’re bound to find something that can be useful. I’d pretty much ignored this rusty wheelbarrow (15) until Mai called my attention to it and asked me to have the subjects play around with it. The resulting picture turned out to be my favorite (19)!
- Even when it looks like it’s about to rain, don’t cancel just yet—there’s a chance it won’t. It was 2PM when I met up with Mai, and there were dark clouds starting to hover over us, so I said, “Should we call it off?” She didn’t want to. I would learn later on that it’s actually a good thing when it’s a bit overcast in the mid-afternoon—the light is just right (not too harsh, and not too dim, either)
- Don’t be afraid of greenery—instead, use it to your advantage! See, always this had been my weakness—like, I’d always ask my subjects to stay away from the trees and the shrubs and all. And then Mai made me realize that it’s actually kind of gorgeous to have all those leaves distilling the sunlight into gorgeous, soft little rays (18).
- Mind your framing/cropping when it’s portraits. Never frame/crop in such a way that you’re cutting through the subject’s joints (i.e., wrists, knees, ankles).
- Most importantly: Do not waste your subject’s time by taking 100+ photos of one frame. Don’t chimp a lot, but be sure to check after, like, 20 or so shots. If you got a couple of winners, move on to the next frame.
I know it all sounds very elementary, but, honestly, these are things I never learned from other photographers that I talked to, or read about in basic photography books. Indeed, there are some aspects of the craft that you can grasp faster as an assistant.
It was my mom’s 52nd birthday last September 10. Because she lives in Ormoc with my grandfather (her father) and our youngest, I hadn’t had the chance to celebrate her birthday with her for the past seven or so years. I didn’t want to miss out anymore, so I asked her to come to Cebu and blow this year’s candles here with us (20, 24).
I love the birthday cake I got her (20, 21). I wanted something light and sort of pastel, and with candy-colored sprinkles, like the gorgeous lemon cupcakes that I’d fallen in love with at Magnolia Bakery some two years back—no chocolate, no devil’s food, nothing dark. It was my friend Rhia de Pablo who made it (she makes the meanest, moistest chiffon cake, and she got the lemon meringue buttercream right). You can’t see it, but the top of the cake says, “YOU CAN HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO.”
We also had habichuelas con chorizo de Bilbao (22). Earlier in the month I’d engaged in an online discussion with my good friend Kenneth Enecio, who comes from a family of cooks (mom Laura is a pâtissier, brother Eric is a chef), and the venerable Annabelle Tan-Amor (mom of my former co-editor Ina Amor, so I really should be calling her Tita) about what makes a good habichuelas. While Annabelle liked hers authentic, and served in stoneware (puchero de barro, if you will?) “to keep it piping hot,” Kenneth liked to be “adventurous,” adding in stuff like a little ginger and saffron “to give it a little color and aroma,” and even a little potatoes. In the end, we’d come to an agreement that, however you liked it, it was a must to add Bilbao chorizo. Now, I do not know where to get the authentic ones (and I wish I knew how to track down the guy who used to cook all these delish kinds of Spanish dishes for the Sunday brunches of my childhood at my great-grandmother’s), but the canned ones by Purefoods are pretty decent and are a good substitute. Whatever you do, do not use Macao chorizo. Someone I know updated his Facebook status once (or was it twice) to say he was “cooking habichuelas con chorizo de Macao.” OK, first of all, you do not say “chorizo de Macao” with the “de” because we all know that is not a type of Spanish sausage. Second of all, what was he thinking? I don’t know where Macao chorizos are from, but just in case they’re Chinese, then I do not need to explain how it’s all levels of wrong to add them to a Spanish dish. It’s like you’re watching, say, Abre los ojos and then it’s Zhang Ziyi as Sofía instead of Penelope Cruz!
Anyways, backpedaling to my mom’s birthday, yes, I made California-style sangria, too (23)! Sangria is really easy to make. For a recipe, see below.
So, OK, I know I’ve been going around telling people I no longer drink, and that’s still true. What I mean when I say I no longer drink is I no longer go out to bars or clubs and drown myself in shots, shots, shots, shots. It just isn’t for me anymore—the idea of walking around drunk (or, worse, of losing an entire morning the next day due to any level of hangover) frightens me now. I mean, sure, I’d still go to these places, if it were the only way to, say, catch up with long-lost friends; but the only thing you’ll ever see me cradling is a glass of Coke, or maybe orange juice.
I do allow myself the occasional relapse, though. And by occasional I mean a maximum of once a month, and only when there’s something extra special to celebrate. And nothing hardcore. Just sangria. And it has to be sangria made by me (29). That way I don’t get to leave the house and I’m not tipsy or anything in public.
I fell in love with sangria some two years back, when my best friend Chiklet dragged me to the Do-Over, and at the time the whole thing was still held at Crane’s Hollywood Tavern down El Centro where they made sangria of the killer kind. I’d had sangria before, but it wasn’t until here that I was, like, Whoa! Since then it became sort of my official California drink, and everywhere we went—Bar Centro by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel, Lizarran in the O.C.—that was all we got.
Well, Bar Centro’s version is really of the blanca kind—still pretty good, but I like my sangria blood red (precisely why it’s called such, no?), never mind if it threatens to leave a deadly stain or two in your clothes.
If you wanna try making your own sangria, here’s how:
- Take a large carafe and mix 1 bottle of dry red wine, half a cup of brandy, half a cup of triple sec, and a thirds of a cup of simple syrup (1 part sugar to 1 part water).
- Juice one large orange, two or three medium-sized lemons, and add the juices to the wine mixture.
- You will need another orange (28) and another two or three lemons (25), all sliced into rounds; float these slices into the mixture. You may also use lime, but the green kind of bothers me.
- Most people like to add maraschino cherries, but I go for seedless grapes instead (27).
- Let the whole thing sit in the fridge overnight.
- Add two cups of tonic water/club soda (26) just before serving—you know, for that fizzy effect.
If you’re pressed for time, you may skip the wine/brandy/triple sec/simple syrup mixture and go for ready-to-drink bottled sangria. Doesn’t taste as good, though, I have to warn you. Boone’s Sangria is pretty decent (and already fizzy so you can skip adding the club soda, too). Whatever you do, stay away from that brand called Eva.
Why are all the Nikkis leaving me for California? First it was my sister, three years ago, to marry her long-time boyfriend. Now it was Nikki Paden (31), just three days ago, to be with her father. She’d called me up beginning of this month to tell me that she was kind of sad about leaving, and so I’d asked her to join me at the Cattski album cover shoot (01-05) so she could help me style—and so I could convince her that it wasn’t exactly a bad thing to be moving to California. We’d spent hours after the shoot just talking about Melrose and Malibu, PCH and Pinkberry, etc. Apparently it worked because during the days leading to her flight out and as she was packing she was nothing but stoked—had reservations about leaving some of her stuff behind, but I told her, hey, a new city called for new style, so, by all means, yes, “leave it all behind.”
It got me kind of depressed looking at photos of her layover in HKG. Happy for her, of course (in just a couple of hours she was going to be hopping off the plane at LAX!), but sad for me. You see, if things had gone as planned, I would’ve been on the same planes and layovers. Yes, I was supposed to leave for L.A. three days ago. Well, the original plan had been for me to leave in May, but then I’d been asked to move the trip to September. And then September came, and they asked me to move it again. So hard to go on vacation these days!
Up to this day I am still in all sorts of pain. I’m looking at all these photos from happier times and all I can think of is, man, the things I’d give up to, say, be riding shotgun through the Santa Monica Freeway right now (34). Or, to be standing before Chris Burden’s Urban Light outside LACMA (32). Or, to be watching the sunset from Venice Beach (33).
Of course, all those are nothing compared to the biggest thing I am missing out on—I’m talking about the chance to see and hold my adorable niece Mikee (30) while she is still a baby. I mean, look at her! Isn’t she a darling? If things had gone as planned, she would’ve been in my arms by now.
My friends are, like, “It’s not the end of the world! Just go early next year!” If I have to be honest, though, I’m actually sick of people telling me that. Yes, I know, it’s so easy to move vacation dates, rebook airline tickets, etc. But has it ever occurred to them you can’t stop a child from growing? By January or February she’s going to start growing milk teeth, and that’s when babies start to lose weight. I’m sorry, but it would’ve been so much nicer to hold her now while she still has 10,000 creases in her arms and legs, you know? But, oh, well, it sucks to be me!
One of the most unexpected blasts of fresh air to hit Cebu this past month? A fashion school opening!
Fashion Institute of Design and Arts (FIDA) Cebu opened its doors last September 16, and I was lucky to have been there to witness the unveiling. It was the designer Dexter Alazas (36) who’d asked me to be his plus one, and, of course, I’d had to say yes—this was not your ordinary fashion event; this was a milestone!
Full disclosure: Growing up, I’d always wanted to go to design school. I’d had no plans of becoming a fashion designer, of course, but always I’d been curious about how things work in the creative industries. But, alas, my family had had other plans for me—and even if I’d had it my way there was no way it could’ve happened because nothing had been accessible at the time. So I’d ended up in med school, although the dream had never died—I’d catch myself fantasizing about going to Central Saint Martins in London, or Parsons in New York. Meeting people like, say, Stephanie dela Cruz, my art director at Zee Quarterly and a Parsons alum, had only fanned the flames—hearing their stories about their amazing teachers and internships, and, most importantly, seeing how precise and innovative they were with their work, their astounding facility of visuals, and their acumen in creative decision-making, I’d become more appreciative of design education.
At the launch, which also served as an open house/mixer to give prospective students a chance to ask questions about the school’s programs and curriculums, I remember looking at the young ones and saying to Dexter, “How lucky are these kids! They get to be of college age at a time when schools like this are becoming accessible!”
I got to have a brief chat with FIDA founder and headmistress Christine Funda (38), an alum of Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in L.A., and it was refreshing to hear her talk more passion than business. Always she’d considered Cebuano design talent to be topnotch, and for years it had been her dream to make quality fashion and design education available to Cebuanos. “I was just talking to a [prospective student] who said she’d always wanted to study fashion design, but she just couldn’t leave Cebu to go to Manila because she has to raise her young family,” she shared. It gave her utmost joy knowing she was bridging the gap between people like this and their dreams.
Nestled in the heart of the city, at the corner of Escario and Clavano (42), a stone’s throw away from Dexter Alazas’s atelier, FIDA’s pilot programs of study include a 2-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Merchandising, a 1-year Diploma in Fashion Design and Apparel Tech, a 6-month Certificate in Fashion Merchandising, a 3-month Introduction to Fashion Business short course. They’ve also enlisted an impressive lineup to comprise the faculty: Project Runway Philippines season one first runner-up Philipp Tampus (39) is set to teach industry sewing five hours a week; and Lord Maturan (41), winner of the Third Cebu Young Designers Competition, is set to teach fashion illustration. Ms. Munda stated they also intend to offer short courses in advanced makeup, hairstyling, fashion styling, and, yes, fashion photography. (Do I foresee a tie-up between the school and Dexter’s Stylissimo Sessions in the future?)
My stylist friend Mikey Sanchez, upon seeing these photos of mine from the launch, asked if I had plans of taking some classes. I wish I could! I wanted to ask Ms. Munda about one of their 1-year programs, but I had to stop myself. Not that I am not open to the idea of going back to school—it’s just that I have so much going on right now. But, who knows, in two or three years’ time, perhaps? Right now I’m just happy to have walked the halls that are to house the dreams of the future stars of Cebu fashion.
Could she be the most beautiful girl in, well, this part of the world?
That was all that kept ringing in my head the whole time I was behind the camera shooting Cielo Ramirez, the final of four muses that local accessories design house Shandar had handpicked to grace the catalog of their shoe line’s premier collection.
I’d never met the girl before, only read about her in Kate Torralba’s (now-defunct) StyleBible.ph-hosted blog, when the ever-effervescent designer/musician had proceeded to declare Cielo one of her “girl crushes.” Now, if Kate were a man, it would’ve been a totally different story—it wouldn’t have sparked the slightest bit of interest in me, or, quite possibly, in anyone. Something about girls admiring other girls for their sheer beauty, though, that gives it an exquisite, almost numinous kind of allure. It’s a kind of allure that’s meant to be esoteric at first, and then it snowballs into something bigger as more and more people take heed in an attempt to demystify it. (And I’m not even making all this up: historically speaking, it was when the legendary Diana Vreeland fell in love with Penelope Tree at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball that catapulted Tree’s career, and it was when Corrine Day fixatedly took photos of a gangly 14- or 15-year-old Kate Moss that elevated the latter from, um, plain Croydoner to crown princess of modeldom.) So it should be no surprise, then, that when Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez had brought up Cielo’s name, I’d felt a certain kind of thrill, and that here I was now on the day of the shoot, all sorts of enthralled and entranced. I couldn’t stop pressing my shutter-release button. Could it be that I was developing a little “girl crush” of my own here?
I mean, come on, look at that face. Eyes the shape of Caroline Trentini’s, a dainty little nose, and supple button-shaped lips perch on a delicately angular face. It’s the kind of face that makes you want to question, well, your genes. The makeup artist Hans Ferrer was on cloud nine: he didn’t have to spend so much time working his magic on this canvas as it was already a masterpiece by itself. Even if you took photos of her with her back facing the camera you’d still know she was beautiful. It made me ask: How was it possible that I was only seeing this girl for the first time?
Well, turned out it was my fault ‘cause I’d pretty much been living under a rock up to that day. The stylist Meyen Baguio was quick to point out that this wasn’t, for example, the first time Cielo was endorsing a shoe line—her appearance in the runway at the launch of Jandrick “Jumbo” Climaco’s Fushu brand a couple of months back was what had charmed Meyen and pushed her to pass a viva voce recommendation to the Shandar team. I would also learn that this wasn’t going to be her first catalog appearance, as she’d appeared in a couple of them in the recent past, most notably for the What A Girl Wants (WAGW) Pre-Fall 2010 collection catalog (shot by the talented Raleene Cabrera and styled by the fabulous Kryz Uy). I thought, OK, the girl had been around, which was good—it would be a shame to put a face like this to waste!
I could go on and on about her face, but I must not overlook the body. I think the reason why Cielo is so appealing to other girls (like Kate and Meyen) is because, while her face is that of a girl, her body is very much of a woman. (I think it’s the exciting contrast that does it, no?) During the days leading to the shoot I’d pictured her to be stick-thin or something like that (not that I have a problem with that), so imagine my surprise when I finally met her in person and it turned out she wasn’t what I’d expected her to be. I mean, sure, she was tiny, and this made her fit perfectly into sample sizes, but with curves in all the right places, you know what I mean? Needless to say, Meyen and the rest of the team had so much fun taking turns in dressing her up, like she was a dress up doll! (This is me trying to debunk the myth that only the gawky, tendril-thin girls are fun to dress up—it’s a little bit of sinuous curves that actually bring more life to an outfit.)
What was most amazing, though, was her attitude towards the work at hand. She was so polite and soft-spoken, and never complained. It was sweltering the whole time we were shooting—midmorning sun, the apex of summer (I think it was about 92 degrees out at the time)—but she was such a trouper, never asked for a break, tried so hard not to squint, even graciously declined our offers to fan her. The board had only called for three outfits, but when we decided the last minute to squeeze in a fourth one (because it was just so much fun dressing her up!) she gladly indulged our whims. It was her first time to meet most of us in the team, but never for one minute did she choose to alienate herself, or ask for her friends to visit her on set. How very different this girl was from most of the girls her age these days that I’d worked with, who were scared to stand one minute under the sun, would complain about having to do one more change of clothes, wouldn’t let go of, say, their cell phones, or liked to be surrounded by handlers or hangers-on! Of the four muses Shandar had picked she was the youngest—the team had reeled her in to make the product appeal to a younger audience—but this certainly didn’t mean she was the least professional. What we’d expected to run for five or so hours only took three, thanks to her dedication and hard work.
After we’d wrapped up she’d talked to us a little about her life, how she liked to travel (in a few weeks she was going to be in L.A. to visit family), her boyfriend. I can’t recall if we ever talked about her future plans, although I do remember Hans sweet-talking her into joining a beauty pageant. “You could be the next Miss Cebu!” Hans exclaimed, to which Cielo just laughed gleefully. Who could tell if that laugh meant a yes or a no? Whatever her plans are, I just know that great things are bound to happen to this girl.
* * * * * * * * *
To think I almost said no to this session.
It was Meyen who’d come up with the idea of shooting at an airfield/hangar, and at first I’d had reservations about the whole thing, arguing that it had been done so many different times by so many different people. But she’d remained relentless, arguing back that she’d put together a really good mood board, and had already pulled some strings to secure the location. The long and short of it was that I let her have her way, in the interest of saving time, and was smacked by a complete reversal of opinion as she weaved her concept into life before my eyes.
For one, I was floored by the styling. This was the session I gave her pretty much the free hand and chose not to meddle with her business. Turned out she wasn’t kidding when she’d said she’d had a strong mood board. She’d wanted to portray Cielo as a jetsetter, perhaps taking a cue from the girl’s love of travel, and proceeded to assemble outfits that were ready to take flight, pun intended. I hadn’t seen the actual mood board, but it looked to me like she was aiming for a twisted kind of Catch Me if You Can—like, this was what Frank Abagnale Jr. would look like had he been a woman. Mostly flight attendant silhouettes, without being too uniform-y. Nonchalant luxury, that’s how I would define the look. I particularly loved the ‘60s Carnaby Street-style brocade crop jacket in cosmic latte and apricot, and how she paired such a dainty little thing with Mark’s rather wild animal-print peep-toe wedges. Also loved how she paired a black-and-white polka dot maillot with a tulip skirt and topped it all off with a sequin beret. Those were not the only brave combos she pulled off that day—I also remember gasping as she took out a TSENG by Noreen Tseng armlet and handed it to the model. What’s so shocking about this? Well, nothing, really, except a few pundits would say never use an item from another brand when shooting one brand’s catalog. But Meyen is never one to care about rules—“If it gives the outfit more flavor, why hold back?” Of course, it helps that she’s close personal friends with Noreen, and that the competition between Noreen’s brand and Mark’s has always been healthy. A word to startup stylists, though: This kind of thing is not for the faint of heart, so think long and hard before trying it at home.
This has always been Meyen’s strength—the ability to put together unexpected combinations. It should be noted, too, that when the two of us were only starting out more than a decade ago, as two thirds of a trinity of stylists that included Clarissa Ouano, Meyen was the first to make the bold move of mixing high and low, of ready-to-wear/street/retail pieces with designer. I’d always been the scaredy-cat, you see, watching my every move and afraid to step out of my comfort zone, so if it was me doing a shoot I’d stick with one retailer, one brand, or one designer. It was Meyen who first broke that convention, and her act of courage inspired me and Clarissa to follow suit.
What was most special about this one job right here, though, was that Meyen assembled these outfits not just with the sleight of her hand, but also with a little help from her 14-year-old niece Mickey. I talked about Mickey in a previous post—about how she’s an aspiring makeup artist and how she likes to tag along whenever we have shoots so she can talk to the makeup artists and observe them in action. Well, looks like she’s starting to take an interest in clothes, too! Kudos to Meyen for passing the torch, so to speak, this early! I intend to do the same, too, you know, when my nieces hit early teenagerhood—maybe hand down my old books and my Vogues, encourage them to always tote a camera, take them shopping. This is something I always talk about during dinner conversations, and more often than not I get flak from people who think starting kids early is “kind of cruel.” Well, it’s not like it’s child labor or anything. I simply joke, you know, that, “Hey, you won’t always have youth, but you’ll always have the clothes!” Seriously, though, it’s not even about the clothes. It’s teaching them the value of figuring out what you love most and looking for ways to do it for a living. Now, as for where to get the funds to send them to FIDM or Parsons, that’s a different story altogether.
Cielo Ramirez for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Lapu-Lapu City on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano, Claire Elardo, Maria Elena Gabaya and the Aviatour team | Wisteria/thistle/rose quartz unishoulder bodycon cocktail dress with puff sleeve and Swarovski and tonal flower adornments, Ronald Enrico
Do I have a confession to make. When the folks at Shandar rang my house to tell me I was going to be shooting Christina Garcia-Frasco for the catalog of their shoe line’s inaugural collection, I got a little nervous. I hang up, and lost a little bit of composure. I mean, sure, Christina and I go way back—in a previous post I talked about how her co-spokesmodel Marjay Ramirez and I go way back, but Christina and I go more way back than way back, having gone to the same grade school and high school, although it was her older brother Paulo I’d been classmates with—but I guess that was exactly what I was nervous about. You see, the last time I’d spoken with her was some 15-16 years ago—well, we’d bumped into each other a couple of times in recent years, especially at dinner parties thrown by her younger sister Carissa, but we hadn’t had the chance to really sit down and catch up. I could still picture her schoolyard persona. She’d been the kind of sister who’d looked up to her brother, treated his peers as her own. Furthermore, she’d always been active in the student council, and as such had had a broader network. It had gotten to a point I’d become closer to her than to Paulo—we’d sit on the concrete bench underneath the flag pole, talking about books and our own writing (yes, she, too, had had a profound interest for writing growing up), among other things, while waiting for the class bells to ring. Flash forward to a decade and a half later, and here we were: I, who had no idea what I was doing, being new to this craft and all, was about to photograph her, who was quite possibly the most accomplished person I knew! To me, she was an apotheosis. Not only was she a hotshot corporate lawyer, she was also the daughter and right hand of the Governor of the Province of Cebu, and the First Lady of a booming Municipality (Liloan, some 45 minutes northeast of Cebu City). So, you see, this woman was kind of a big deal—I had every reason to be anxious. But, well, someone had to do the job, and as much as I was no stranger to wasted opportunities, I just knew I couldn’t afford for this one to be one of them.
Couple of days later I would graduate from nervous to the acme of panicky when the Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez told me that Christina had requested for a pre-shoot meeting of sorts, and asked me and the stylist Meyen Baguio to attend on their team’s behalf since they were going to be in Manila for an appointment with socialite-philanthropist Tessa Prieto-Valdes that they couldn’t reschedule (they were going ask Tessa to host the launch party, a task that would later prove to be successful). Christina had offered to host the lunch meeting at a place called Politics Café, in her new hometown of Liloan, and our drive there became one of the longest rides of my life. For the first time in a long time, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. How were we going to do this? What was she expecting to get from this meeting? Was she going to ask to see my portfolio, which I hadn’t even put together yet? What if she wasn’t going to like our concept/s? I was going crazy in my head. Normally, you see, with other clients or subjects, the pre-shoot appointment would be one of the highlights of a stint, something I’d always looked forward to—something about the prospect of giving a good “sales talk” and presenting strong mood boards that gave it a great punch of oomph. This time, though, I just wanted to skip the whole thing. I was thinking, if this was some random girl whom I hadn’t met yet, or whom I barely knew, it would’ve been fine, because that nonfamiliarity allowed you to be a bit courageous, you know? But this was Christina—with acquaintance came a greater sense of commitment, and a greater dread of failure. I couldn’t decide whose stomach was twisting into more knots—Mark’s, as he was about to meet Ms. Prieto-Valdes, or mine, as I was about to lunch with Ms. Garcia-Frasco.
When we got to our meeting place, though, and Christina hopped out of her SUV in her Sunday best, all the bedlam inside of me got flushed out of my system. She flashed me a toothy smile and gave me a big bear hug like it was only yesterday that we’d last seen each other, and we found ourselves chatting up a storm before we could even slip into our lunch table. Turned out she was still the same girl from back in high school—cheerful, accommodating, ready to consider everyone around her as a friend. But, of course! How could I have expected her to change? If I ever faltered when I tried to speak it was probably ‘cause I was choking on, um, shame. Shame on me for expecting the worst when I should’ve known her better than that! We talked briefly about high school and family before getting down to the business at hand.
It turned out we didn’t have to convince her to appear in the Shandar catalog—she was already bent on doing it. No stranger to shoots, having been an endorser (her work for the jewelry brand Michelis a few years back is probably the best known of all her stints) and having been featured in fashion/lifestyle magazines quite a handful of times in the recent past, Christina isn’t reputedly selective in her appearances. Every chance she gets, as long as it doesn’t conflict with her hectic schedule, she is more than willing to contribute. But make no mistake—she isn’t doing it for the wrong reasons. It’s not that kind of opportunism—in fact, it’s not any kind of opportunism at all. Sure, she is into fashion and all, and she enjoys dressing up just as every woman her age does, but more than anything she is an avid supporter of local designers. “Anything I can do to help the local fashion industry [thrive],” she declared. To her, the logic is a rather simple one: The more you tell it, the more it resonates. In this case, the more you support local talent, the more they move up the value chain, and this only leads to more opportunities in the industry, and if it’s good for the industry, it’s good for the community. From that logic sprouts her motivation. As she went on and on about this I couldn’t help but be amazed—this was probably the most mature and sensible approach I’d ever heard in my ten or so (albeit off and on) years of working in fashion!
Christina approached the planning stages with the keenness and acumen of an editor. Like Marjay before her, she wanted to have a hand in all the other aspects of the shoot, and attacked the whole thing as a collaboration versus just a mere appearance. This got us real excited—nothing disheartens me more than a subject who just shows up on the day of the shoot and waits for instructions to be tossed their way. When we told her that we wanted no role-playing involved—i.e., she was going to be photographed as, well, herself (in Mark’s shoes but just being herself)—she was thrilled. At least three sets, that was what the concept had called for, each showing a side of her that people who knew her or knew of her could relate to. “But I wear so many hats!” she laughed. In other words, the possibilities were endless, and that wasn’t exactly a bad thing, now, was it?
We decided for to the first set to showcase Christina the attorney, for the most part because she was at this very moment shaping up for a breakthrough chapter in this area—in just a few weeks she was going to be appointed as the Resident Associate of the Manila-based Lex Mundi firm Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc & de los Angeles, as the firm was about to inaugurate their Visayas branch office (this decision to set up camp in Cebu had called for a dependable associate to oversee local operations, and Christina was the natural choice for the job). As it turned out, this set was going to be hitting more than one bird, because not only was she a lawyer, she was also a professor at the University of San Carlos College of Law and at the University of San Jose Recoletos College of Law (teaching private international law and moot court argumentation, among others)! I wanted an office type of setting—desk and paperwork and big law books and all. In my mental mood board: the uberdecorator Mica Ertegün in her chic and stately office, photographed by Mario Testino (for the August 2011 issue of American Vogue, if I am not mistaken). We couldn’t shoot at her home office because Sundays were the only time I was available to shoot and we didn’t want to interrupt the peace and quiet enjoyed by their household on that particular day of the week, so we agreed on simulating her place of work right here at Politics. Another thing I learned was that, with Politics, a cozy little, well, political-themed restaurant (framed black-and-white portraits of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and JFK, among others, hang in the walls, while quotable quotes from Winston Churchill and even her own mom stare back at you from the back side of table cards) that transforms into a swanky saloon by night, Christina had added businesswoman to her résumé—as if she wasn’t busy enough already! And so it was perfect that we were going to be shooting here at the restaurant. Did I already say “more birds with one stone?”
For the second set I wanted underscore Christina the First Lady of Liloan. For days what we’d envisioned was a sort of a romantic setting, guest-starring Duke, her hubby the Mayor—sunset, at Liloan’s hundred-year-old lighthouse, him in a biker jacket and on a big bike, her in a frothy little cocktail dress, with champagne flutes in one hand and her Shandar shoes in the other. But, alas, charming as it sounded, that idea was fated to be axed. Christina offered politely that that wasn’t how she wanted to be portrayed in the catalog. Besides the fact that they’d already done the lighthouse shot in the past (for their engagement photos, by Jim Ubalde), she felt she needed to show the world “the bigger picture.” Sure, they were very much in love, and up to this day still loved to go on dates like they’d just met, but her being First Lady didn’t stop at being a wife. She talked about how she also played an active hand in the affairs of the town, acting as the Municipality’s legal consultant, providing pro bono services, and more importantly as women’s and children’s rights advocate, establishing programs and projects for women and children in need—the latter something she was deeply passionate about. “I love being around little children,” she enthuses. Just like that, the groundwork for the second set was born. “I can gather ‘round a group of children to play with during the shoot,” she proposed. On our plea to convince the hubby to be part of it, though, she said, “I won’t be able to get Duke in the same picture ‘cause he’s leaving to visit his family in the U.S. on the day of the shoot—but I can wear my campaign shirt that says ‘MISIS NI DUKE!’” What a cute idea—who were we to say no?
She would open herself up a bit and allow us to tap into something deeply personal for the final set, though. At a dinner party a couple of months back I’d met her fuzzy furball Gelato—an adorable little Chow Chow (well, little is not exactly a fitting term because this one over here was huge) who was as composed and genteel as his master. I asked her if we could do a fun, laid-back set with the doggy, to which she exclaimed, “By all means! Oh, and he has a brother now, by the way.” The newest addition to the family was named Espresso—another Chow Chow, ‘cause Christina just couldn’t get enough of those fuzzy wuzzies. I imagined a picnic type of setting, Christina in white, flanked by two huggy bears, and it was like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Flash forward to two weeks later, and she was on a roll. If the Shandar team were to give an award for well-preparedness it would definitely go to Christina. She took care of all the props—the table, the books, the pens, everything!—and all we had to bring were the shoes and some clothes. Even when things threatened to go off-kilter, she always managed to come up with some sort of antidote. For example, when it turned out that some of the dresses we’d brought were a tad too oversize for her, despite the fact that they were sample size (how could we have forgotten that she was tiny?), immediately she called on an assistant to haul in a rack of clothes she’d picked out from her own closet for Meyen to choose from. Normally this would pose as a threat to the pre-worked mood board, but the woman, true to her lawyer form, had done her research—“I looked Mica Ertegün up to make sure we’re on the same page,” she quipped—and plus she had an unmistakable eye for style, and so you didn’t have to worry about a thing. For the “office”/Politics set Meyen pulled out Christina’s personal favorites: two knee-length sheaths, both from Arcy Gayatin, the first in a structural peplum silhouette in sand, the other in a simple hourglass contour fit with a bateau neckline, in dark turquoise. “I love the clothes that Tita Arcy makes for me,” she raves. “From afar they look simple, but look closer and you’ll see these immaculate little details.” She handed me the first dress so I could marvel at the cut-and-sew, subtly boned bodice. Both dresses went really well with Mark’s orange-red ankle-strapped wedges with floral-pattern sequin appliqué detail. I was kind of thankful the dresses we’d brought didn’t fit. The Arcy Gayatin numbers did a really good job in bringing into light the Christina that we wanted to portray. Sheath dresses always have a way of working wonders, and I’m not even implying that they’re fail-safe. Think Kate Moss showing up at the Cannes in 1997 in a no-fuss Narciso Rodriguez gray sheath. Understated elegance coming into play for maximal impact.
In her SUV on the way to the Frascos’ farm, where we were going to be shooting the second and third sets, we got to talking about her shoe sensibility. We were worried, you see, that she was going to have a hard time wearing Mark’s shoes on uneven terrain, to which she assured us she was going to be just fine. “I have about ten of these,” she said, referring to the shirt she had on that had “MISIS NI DUKE” emblazoned across the chest. “For months, on the campaign trail, when Duke was running for office, this was all I wore. I was dying for some variety, but the shirt was non-negotiable. So I decided to ditch the running shoes. I started showing up in heels, and Duke was, like, ‘You have got to be kidding me!’” She had no qualms admitting she was more comfortable in heels than in anything else, no matter the terrain. True enough, she had no trouble moving around and playing with the little kids in Mark’s 4- or 5-inch wedges for the second set.
I was happy with how that set with the kids turned out. In my mood board I had plastered a photo of TOMS Shoes founder and designer Blake Mycoskie goofing around with South African children during one of TOMS’s “shoe drops” (the term they use for the pursuit wherein they visit different countries all over the world to donate shoes to children in need), and we managed to pull it off. If the pictures don’t look contrived, that’s ‘cause not one bit of role-playing was involved—when we asked Christina to play around with and exchange stories with the kids, she did exactly that, and most genuinely, too, it was as if we weren’t there taking photos of them. The little ones adored her. They took turns in singing to her songs they’d learned in school, and telling her stories of what they wanted to be when they grew up. They all got so caught up in the moment that they almost forgot that it had to end somehow, and it got to a point that it was almost embarrassing on our part having to tell them it was time to say goodbye so we could proceed to the next set. When I commended Christina on the way she handled the kids, she said, “Is this the part where you ask me if I have plans to have kids of my own?” Apparently a lot of people she knew liked to ask that question a lot. It was definitely something she’d always wanted, to have children of her own. For the time being, though, she was happy with her nephew Jules and her niece Izzy—and with her doggies.
Enter Gelato and Espresso, ready for their close-up. And fluffier than ever, too! Gelato had grown twice in size since I’d last seen him, and his little brother was way bigger than I’d expected him to be! Meyen had to squeeze Christina into a white Ronald Enrico cocktail dress that had this flouncy, voluminous rosette skirt, to give the illusion she was only slightly bigger than her pets, just so they won’t come off overshadowing her. At first I kept thinking what I would do in case one of these big boys tried to jump me, but luckily no such thing happened—they were the politest, most well-behaved creatures I had ever met! Even looked like they were trying to be extra careful not to trample on the picnic baskets and all the other props. They seemed to understand what I was saying, too, because whenever I instructed Christina to “not look at the camera,” they would do turn their heads away, too! They were so adorable, they definitely stole the show. It kind of made us regret putting them on the same frame as the pièce de résistance of the day, which were the shoes that Mark had named after Christina (the Frasco, peep-toe stilettos in raspberry/orange Thai silk with bow detail)—I mean, be honest now, when you look at those photos, do you even notice the shoes? We had to make room for a couple of frames of Christina sans the furballs, if only to put the shoes back in the spotlight.
Total comfort zone experience for me, the day of the shoot—a complete volte-face from what I’d undergone in the days leading up to that aforementioned pre-shoot meeting. From the very second we arrived at Politics for the first set to the minute the stylist Meyen Baguio called out “That’s a wrap!” after the final set, never once did I lose my cool. It was as if Christina’s composure had rubbed off on us. Well, that, and the fact that she was the quintessential hostess, a champion in making everyone feel at home. (Case in point: the make-believe picnic for the last set turned into a real picnic when she took out boxes upon boxes of treats—chicken/pork adobo rolls!—from the hundred-year-old family-owned bakery Titay’s.) As we gratified our post-shoot munchies she commended the team and I on the way we ran the session—“This is probably the most relaxed shoot I’ve ever been a part of in my life!”—before proceeding to share with me some tips she’d learned from working with other photographers and stylists. It’s always nice when a subject takes the time out to boost your confidence and push you. It keeps you motivated like that.
Of course, it helped, too, that makeup artist extraordinaire Emi Ayag was there. This was a real treat for me, because I hadn’t seen Emi in ages—I think the last time we’d worked together was for a Kate Torralba fashion show some three years back. It was Christina herself who’d asked for us to reel Emi into the team. This request, of course, had come from a special place, because apparently she’d had quite a history with Emi, with him being a part of every important moment of her life—from the night she’d met the man she was going to marry, to the day they’d become engaged, down to the day they’d tied the knot! And so for days I’d had to beg Mark to pin Emi down. I’d had my own reasons for wanting him, too—perhaps not as special as Christina’s, but Emi had also been there for me during my seminal years, a part of some of the most important shoots/shows I’d worked on as a startup stylist. Needless to say, I was ecstatic that he was able to find time in his hectic schedule to do this with us. Aside from the fact that his work was flawless and he’d gotten the job done quick (he’d memorized Christina’s face it well may be that he could put her makeup on with his eyes closed!), it was just nice to have him around, standing behind me, nodding at me whenever I needed assurance that I was doing things right.
I’m so lucky that I get to work people like Christina, and, well, Emi. There was a time a couple of months back that I was beginning to have doubts about taking the step up from styling to photography—I felt I wasn’t ready, didn’t have the time, didn’t have the resources. But looking back on shoots like this now, I feel that, really, I’m my own worst enemy and it’s all me saying it couldn’t be done, because there are definitely people out there who are more than ready to hold my hand. At least I know now that if I ever make it far enough in this craft, it won’t be because of me but because of an amazing support system in the shape of people like Christina and Emi. So to that end, thank you, guys, for everything that you do!
Christina Garcia-Frasco for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Liloan, Cebu, on April 17, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Emi Ayag (to book Emi, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano | Sand peplum sheath dress with cut-and-sew bodice, Arcy Gayatin | Dark turquoise bateau-neck sheath dress, Arcy Gayatin | White uni-shoulder cocktail dress with rosette skirt, Ronald Enrico
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Top row, L-R: Emi taking the requisite test shot of Christina’s makeup before sending her off to battle; Shandar’s Nestor Castillano loved to hold the reflector (don’t ask me why!); yes, I like to take photos from way up high, and sometimes I blame the photos, but mostly I just love to climb (LOL); the test shot that got everyone’s vote and eventually made it to the catalog. Middle row, L-R: The team setting up the “picnic” set; we got to nibble on Politics Café’s delish Presidential Oysters Rockefeller in between sets; Emi inspecting the rack of clothes that Meyen and Christina had assembled; the stylist Meyen working her magic. Bottom row, L-R: Shandar’s Mark Tenchavez overseeing the shoot from the sidelines; Emi being fabulous while standing by for retouches (notice his quick-fix apron bag); Gelato and Espresso ready for their close-up; me taking photos from atop a tree deserves a second take—hey, you gotta give me credit for giving new meaning to “taking it from the top.” Behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of Emi Ayag.
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.”
When you ask someone about their taste in shoes, you don’t expect them to take it quite literally. But hearing Gayle Urgello say she likes shoes that are “good enough to enough to eat,” well, that doesn’t come as a shocker—what else do you expect from someone who is a serious pâtissier by day and transforms herself into a super stylish It Girl by night?
It should be no shocker, too, then, that accessories designer Mark Tenchavez of Shandar picked her as the second of four muses to inaugurate his shoe line. Before I could have a taste of her baked goods, it was her delish taste in footwear that had drawn me to her. I’d bumped into her a couple of times before, but it wasn’t until three years ago, at a mutual friend’s “crazy shoe”-themed birthday party, that I knew she way my kind of girl—while everyone else in the guest list stepped into the scene in strappies and gladiator sandals, she kicked it knee-high boots in patchwork suede and velvet, at once giving new meaning to “hot fuzz” and being a throwback to Penelope Tree (or Talitha Getty, if you will). Ever since then I’d become hooked, Facebook-stalking her like a crazy fan, waiting for her to put up the next photo album just so I could see what shoes she had chosen to wear to which occasion. At one point she even had this one album that served as her bucket list at the same time, filled with screenshots of gorgeous shoes that were not hers yet but presumably were going to be hers soon—outlandish-looking wedges from British high street fashion brand River Island, studded ankle boots from Spanish brand Bershka, electric blue Jeffrey Campbell booties, etc.—with hilarious little captions that said, “Hello there! Why are you so beautiful?” And so, you see, she was a natural choice for Mark’s team. No one had S-H-O-E-S written all over them like this girl did.
At first I’d wanted to shoot Gayle wearing nothing but laidback jeans, to differentiate her set from those of the other girls to be featured in the same catalog who were going to be wearing designer cocktail pieces, and to contrast Mark’s ultra-glam shoes. I’d even wanted to shoot her in her chef’s whites and toque blanche. But Mark and the stylist Meyen Baguio had a different agenda—they wanted abbreviated hemlines, Jenny Humphrey-style, to underscore her gams, which, to them, were “her best asset.” They also disapproved my chef’s uniform idea. I’m glad I followed instructions, because, as it turned out, Gayle indeed had some of the prettiest legs I’d ever seen (the third party guy who does all my retouching would later thank the heavens, saying Gayle’s legs required little to no airbrushing), and she had already been photographed in chef gear for a magazine feature a couple of months back. I can’t say I wasn’t happy with the clothes. Meyen did a great job mixing designer and ready-to-wear pieces, and I loved that she made the bold move of raiding Gayle’s own closet and ended up pulling out a delectable little skirt that the designer Barbie Alvez had made for Gayle for Preview’s 15th anniversary party. The skirt emphasized Gayle’s legs, and went really well with Mark’s stunning wedges in regalia patent leather and royal purple/satin sheen gold animal-print textured suede.
We shot on two different occasions, the first at Gayle’s parent’s house (an “imposing manse,” as one society writer had described it) in Maria Luisa, which had a patio that offered the most incredible view of the mountains, the second at the Banilad branch of their café/bakery Cream ‘n’ Cupz. We meant to do it all in one afternoon, but we couldn’t shoot in their kitchen that day—or ever!—because Gayle’s boyfriend Gerald, who is Singaporean and is also a pastry chef (they met and fell in love in Sydney, where they took the same classes at Le Cordon Bleu), was hard at work at something. There were two more shoes to shoot, so we had to push back to a different date to give us more time to look for a kitchen to shoot at—yes, although we were skipping the chef’s whites idea, we still wanted to feature that side of Gayle, and so a kitchen setting was a must. I’d wanted one that was quaint and homey. It took us weeks scouring the metro for that kind of kitchen, and I was about to give up when Meyen gave me an old Vogue of hers that had this one spread by Norman Jean Roy of Raquel Zimmerman helping out California-based chef Travis Lett in his Abbot Kinney hub, and that’s when I realized that a modern kitchen with stainless steel surfaces wasn’t a bad idea after all! Luckily this was the exactly the kind of kitchen that Gayle had at Cream ‘n’ Cupz, and so we had to look no further! It got me pumped thinking about the setup—it’s always nice when you get to shoot someone in their workspace, their “habitat,” kind of like how Hedi Slimane does it, visiting his favorite installation artists’ studios and taking pictures of them at work.
OK, I will come clean and say that another reason I was psyched we were doing it at her café’s kitchen was the prospect of getting free samplings of her delightful cupcakes. I hadn’t had red velvets since West Village’s world-famous Magnolia Bakery almost two years ago, and I’d heard Gayle’s babies were quite the treat, and so I figured it was about time for a sweet little relapse. And, boy, did I relapse! At least now I know I don’t need to wait for my next trip to the Big Apple to enjoy that one sinful bite! (I must not forget to Gayle’s wait staff: Thanks, you guys, feeding us—and for being so patient with us and helping out with the props, too!—and I hope we lived up to our promise of having minimal impact to your BAU!)
Speaking of red velvet cupcakes, these were exactly what Mark had in mind when he was designing the shoes that were going to be named after Gayle. Well, before I knew they were going to be named after her we kind of kept on calling them the “red velvet shoes” (like, “Hi, Meyen! Have you seen the ‘red velvet shoes’ already? What do they look like?”), so don’t be confused—they’re one and the same style. Like their namesake cupcakes, they’re creamy, full of texture, at once bright and noir, almost sinful to look at, and impossible to resist (well, kind of like their namesake muse, too, if you come to think of it): peep-toe wedges in lava/Falu red textured suede with coquelicot patent leather straps. She wanted something that was good enough to eat—well, that was exactly what she got! Needless to say, they were my favorite pair. I think it annoyed everyone that it took me two or so hours sprawled on the floor just taking pictures of them. Yes, I get obsessed like that. But, hey, who could blame me? How else were you supposed to photograph something you were head over heels with but to do it quite literally, with your face in the ground?
Another thing I fell head over heels with was working with the makeup artist Jessie Glova. He did the second session, when newcomer Hans Ferrer, who’d done the first, couldn’t make it due to scheduling conflicts This was my first time to work with Jessie, despite the fact that I’d known him for years. He just took one look at Gayle, one look at the shoes, one look at the clothes, and then he got to work—I have so much respect for people with this kind of aptitude, because I know very little about makeup, and explaining to a makeup artist what kind of look I want can be a real pain in the backside, and so someone who just gets down to work without needing to be told is just a joy to work with. He also loved to tell jokes. I think it was Christy Turlington who once said that the one thing she loved about the late Kevyn Aucoin was that he was always trying to make people laugh, whereas “most makeup artists try to prevent you from laughing while they work”—well, Jessie had that thing, too, wherein he could get you laughing nonstop and still be really skillful with his hands. The end result was just fabulous. I almost cried when Gayle hopped out of the makeup chair—I’d never seen feline eyes done this beautifully. (PR and marketing whiz and eventologist extraordinaire Jaja Rama would later comment on the behind-the-scenes snapshot that Gayle posted on Instagram that she looked like the English actress Tamsin Egerton, a.k.a. Guinevere in the TV series Camelot.) And as if that magic touch wasn’t enough, Jessie asked to tag along for the shoot, despite the fact that he was expecting more clients and was busy laying the groundwork of the new salon that he was about to launch in a little over a month. On set he acted as coach, teaching Gayle how to smile with her eyes, how to give out the right pout, how to twist her hips, etc. We had it all too easy, thanks to him! I don’t think we could’ve done the kitchen countertop set effectively if not for Jessie. I cannot wait to work with him again.
Gayle Urgello for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City on March 28, 2011, and on April 28, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Jessie Glova (to book Jessie, click here) and Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Blenn Suan and Nestor Castillano
Behind-the-Scenes Instagrams Clockwise from top left: Stylist Meyen Baguio helping out with the props; the set that never made it to the catalog—shoes against colorful menu blackboard—although now I kind of wish it did; makeup whiz Jessie Glova working his magic; we invited stylist Blenn Suan to help us with the set concept, and he ended up being sittings coach, too; Meyen taking a break between sets; Nestor Castillano overseeing the shoot from afar (Gayle’s parents house is sooo huge I think I got lost three or four times); Hans Ferrer doing a quick fix to Gayle’s hair; I won’t lie, that’s me trying to show Gayle how it’s done, but failing miserably anyhow—thank God Jessie was there to take over the reins.
We go way back, this girl and I. She was only 13 or 14 when Elite Model Look-Philippines 1996 winner Charity Lagahid and I met her at a coffee shop one Saturday afternoon a little over a decade ago, a peppy high school athlete who, up to that point, had wanted nothing else but to follow in her parents’ footsteps (both of them lived and breathed sports—her father a basketball player, at one point for the MBA and at another for the PBA, and her mom a volleyball player). A few days later I would chaperone her to her very first casting (for a Levi’s fashion show), and that was when I introduced her to Valeriano “Chicoy” Tomol III, founder of the indefatigable institution Models’ Association of Cebu (MAC). Chicoy would take her under his wing, and the rest, as they say, was history. Under Chicoy’s skillful tutelage she would graduate from ingénue to spitfire supermodel faster than one could go through, say, high school, bag the Ford Models Supermodel of the World-Philippines title in 2001, make it to the top 10 at internationals in Miami later that same year, and then take the Asian fashion worlds by storm. Marjay Ramirez was unstoppable.
So unstoppable, in fact, that I would lose touch with her for quite a while—once she got it rolling, that was it, she was all over the place, and it became fiendishly difficult to pin her down! Funny thing, really, ‘cause I’d known her literally since the beginning, but I never got the chance to work with her, not once. Well, not until now.
She was home for an extended vacation early this year (she is now based in Calgary, AB, where she works for a telecommunications company and part-times as, well, a model, represented by I Model Management), and we would bump into each other while carousing in the streets on Sinulog day. I must’ve hugged her about fifty times that day. She asked what I was up to these days, and I told her I was sort of into photography now—but I must’ve been really wasted ‘cause I forgot to ask her what I’d been meaning to ask her for a long time, which was for a chance to get to work with her! Luckily, about a month later, she would chance upon my very first solo work (the grunge/’90s-themed engagement shoot I did for an Ormoc-based couple), and then she hit me up asking if I wanted her to sit for me. Of course, I did! Now more than ever, I said, that I was only starting out and could use all the help I could get to build a portfolio, not to mention I was leveraging the long-lost art of grunge as launch pad—and you couldn’t get any grungier than this girl, right, what with her air of insouciance and her current penchant for tastefully tattered shirts in Alexander Wang-like silhouettes (i.e., oversize, with asymmetrical hems), tomboy denims and work boots. My head was racing with ideas on where to shoot, what the styling would be like, etc. Time wasn’t on our side, though, and we would soon run into scheduling conflicts—I was only available to shoot on Sundays, but with only two Sundays left before she was to board the plane that was to take her back to Canada, she said she’d rather spend them on the beach with her family. I had to give it to her—I knew how important quality time with her mom was for her.
My lucky stars would shine on me once again, though, when, a few days later, I got a call from Mark Tenchavez, head designer of the local fashion accessories house Shandar, telling me about the shoe line he was about to launch under the same Shandar brand, and commissioning me to do the photos for the premier collection catalog. I was stoked—not only was this my first commercial job as a photographer, I was also going to be working with an A-team that included my stylist friend Meyen Baguio and, well, Marjay! The concept was rather simple: the shoes were to be donned by four of Mark’s muses of the moment, and that included Marjay (it would turn out she was going to be the only legit model in the roster, as the rest would be “real women”). True to form, she had given an availability of a Monday. This time I had to say yes—I figured, if this was my only chance to work with her, I had to compromise, and, boy, am I glad I did!
On the day of the shoot Marjay arrived in her ultracool uniform of the moment—oversize ripped tank top, harem-style sweatpants—and I kept thinking, you know, that this was the Marjay I wanted to shoot so bad. But Mark’s shoes were glam—bejeweled patent leather strappies in fire engine red, snakeskin stilettos, etc.—and so there was no way it could’ve worked. So much for the grunge concept that had been dancing around in my head for days! But that was alright. The beauty of it all was that you knew that whatever Marjay slipped into, and whatever theme or concept you threw at her, you were still going to end up with a perfect picture no matter what. Mark couldn’t have put it more dead-on when he said that she was the “ultimate chameleon…an amalgamation of everything her jetset life throws her way.” Her profile pictures in Facebook is testimony to this: one moment she’s thrift-store garage rock (à la everyday Kate Moss) in Romania, the next she’s laid-back tomboy in the streets of Kathmandu, the next she’s geeky/sleuthy cool in Berlin, the next she’s biker chic in the Canadian Rockies. And then there’s that photo of her sashaying in a cobalt blue décolletage cutout bodycon dress from a Vania Romoff lookbook, taken by her good friend Vito Selma, that just proves that she can take glam to the next level, too! And so, you see, I had absolutely nothing to worry about! When Meyen ushered in the rack of cocktail pieces from Ronald Enrico’s Holiday ‘10/’11 collection, that’s when I knew I was in for a real treat.
I don’t think I’d ever enjoyed shooting someone like I did that day. I was reminded of how far more special it was to work with a bona fide model (and take note I’m using this term to differentiate them from the, um, B-list models, for lack of a better term, not as opposed to real people, because real people are a different story altogether). Not only was Marjay a champ at utilizing a bit of method acting on set, she also demonstrated unmistakable cooperation. She had a hand in every aspect of the shoot. She talked to the makeup artist about what shades/blending techniques worked best on her face, oiled her own legs, helped in picking/rearranging the sets and in looking for good lighting, folded and pinned extra fabric herself so the clothes would fit perfectly. Even talked to me about some of the best photographers she’d worked with, and dispensed some really helpful tips! In other words, no sitting around and merely waiting for instructions, and no diva-like behavior. She considered herself a part of the creative process, a part of the team, so she worked to contribute whatever she could, and in doing so made the job easier for everyone else, and reduced the shooting time by 40-50%! What I’d expected to run for six or so hours only took three!
She would leave for Calgary five days after the shoot. I don’t know when she’ll be back for a visit, but one thing is for sure: I’m already gearing up for an action-packed shoot (or, a series of them) for when she does! Finally I’ve caught on what a lot of people have been buzzing about for years: There’s just no getting enough of this girl!
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People have been asking me how we came up with the concept for the catalog cover—guy in bathtub filled with rose petals, shoe cradled between shoulder and chin like a violin, or like a vampire. I am tempted to say, oh, you know what, it just hit us like lightning right then and there, but the truth is that it took an awful lot of hard work and logistics—and a little dose of wicked inspiration. Mark and Meyen had wanted something striking and unpredictable—sensual, if you will, but without being overly so. I had to choose between five or so shoes to feature in the cover shot, and easily my favorite was that one pair Mark had named after Marjay—the Ramirez, which were taupe grey/Payne’s grey python skin-pattern leather peep-toe slingbacks with gunmetal glitter-encrusted heels. How to anchor snakeskin in a sensual context? My first impulse was to slap John Collier’s painting Lilith against the mood board—naked woman, hair down, serpent coiled around her body—but then I realized that would be going to far. Then I read about Lilith being the first rumored vampire, and that’s when it hit me. In no time I was watching Queen of the Damned from 2002, replaying my favorite scene—Akasha (played by Aaliyah) and Lestat (Stuart Townsend) making love in a tub filled with rose petals, with Deftone’s “Change (In the House of Flies)” playing in the background—over and over again. For years I’d been itching to recreate that scene, and finally here was a chance to do it! Poor Mark had to go to the night market to obtain dozens upon dozens of roses, and it took everyone a good thirty minutes to fill the tub with their petals. Of course, I didn’t ask for plastic vampire fangs; we were thinking more on the lines of the shoe as the vampire temptress. We almost witnessed an actual bite, though, when a little creepy-crawly that came with the petals surfaced for some air—good thing the model was quick to whisk it away. Marjay had to endure some 20 minutes of sitting at the edge of the tub, in the most awkward of positions, extending her legs to a point they threatened to cramp, all while trying hard not to slip. But I can’t say all our hard work didn’t pay off. I don’t normally blow my own horn because I’m terribly self-deprecating and you know it, but the pictures came out beautiful (even the unedited ones). I have never been prouder of me.
Marjay Ramirez for Shandar | Photographed by Angelo Kangleon in Cebu City on March 28, 2011 | Styled by Meyen Baguio | Hair and makeup by Hans Ferrer (to book Hans, click here) | Special thanks to Nestor Castillano | Black unishoulder bodycon cocktail dress and white Swarovski-encrusted bodycon cocktail dress, Ronald Enrico