The Heels Meet the Hills: Shandar Goes to L.A.

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, 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?

 * * * * * * * * *

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


2 thoughts on “The Heels Meet the Hills: Shandar Goes to L.A.

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