Zee has a brief encounter with Stephen Gan, the most influential Filipino in fashion
Visionaire, V Magazine, V Man and Harper’s Bazaar are style bibles to the most discriminating and most talented luminaries in fashion. And behind these four magazine titles is a Filipino named Stephen Gan.
Born to a Filipino-Chinese family, Stephen left the Philippines to study at Parsons in New York when he was 18. After a year, he dropped out and began his career as a photographer, and soon found himself working as an editor-writer-photographer-designer at Details magazine. After four years, the then 25-year-old left the magazine to start Visionaire in 1991, and in 1999, he launched New York’s avant garde V Magazine, a fashion and lifestyle title focused on a young, sophisticated, international audience.
He joined Harper’s Bazaar as Creative Director in 2001 and six months later, the Council of Fashion Designers of America presented him with the Creative Visionary Award, the first Filipino to receive such an honor.
His talent and creativity have grown beyond the magazine industry. Stephen has art directed exhibition books for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre, as well as photography books. He is also the director of advertising firm Dream Project, a creative powerhouse with clients such as Calvin Klein, Dior, Fendi, Shiseido, Olay Colour Europe, Tommy Hilfiger, D&G and Missoni.
I first saw Stephen in 2009 during New York Fashion Week, the first time I attended an international fashion event as a journalist. I had been told by local fashion insiders that Stephen is very difficult to approach, much more to interview. Not surprisingly, I didn’t get the chance to officially meet him until a year later, at the Hermés show during Paris Fashion Week. I was chatting with legendary editor and stylist Carine Roitfeld, (we met a week earlier in Milan during the Gucci after party), who asked me who designed my coat. When I mentioned a Filipino designer named Jan Garcia, she immediately blurted out, “So you’re Filipino? Stephan Gan is Filipino.” She called him over as he was making his way to his front row seat and I managed to introduce myself and have a brief chat, but I still was not able to nail an interview with him.
Another year later, this time in Milano, I saw Stephen entering the Ferragamo show venue and said hello. As we were exchanging pleasantries, I finally managed to mention my intent to interview him, and to my surprise he agreed, “We have ten minutes before the show. What do you want to ask?”
Melo Esguerra: You are probably the most influential Filipino in the world of fashion. Are you aware of this?
Stephen Gan: I don’t really think about it. I was born into a Chinese family in the Philippines, belonging to a second or third generation. I went to Xavier School and was taught in English, Chinese and Tagalog. I don’t know but I always felt like a bit of an outsider in Manila. You carry that feeling throughout your life and wherever I am, I just take it for granted that people look at me as a foreigner or an alien. I never tried to fit in. I just did my own thing.
ME: How did you get to where you are now?
SG: I just realized the other day that I have been in this business for 20 years, and yet there are people who still look at me and say, “There’s that new guy doing a new magazine,” but I’ve actually been doing it for quite some time.
I moved to New York when I was 18 to go to Parsons and dropped out after a year, so I started working in fashion very early and made friends along the way. I was working with Mario Testino 20 years ago, long before he became the Mario Testino that he is today. And he introduced me to a young French stylist who honestly didn’t talk to me at all the first time we worked together. I thought she was a snob but she only later admitted that she was just so shy. That’s Carine Roitfeld.
That’s what happens in life, you grow with people and you build relationships along the way as you live with passion. It doesn’t matter where you are from. I am from Manila, Mario Testino is from Peru and Carine Roitfeld is from France with Russian origins, and somehow we all get along.
ME: The fashion world is going gaga over China. Do you see this as an opportunity to go back to your Chinese roots?
SG: For me, no, it is not about going back to my roots. Let’s face it, a lot of people think Chinese influence in design is sticking chopsticks in a model’s hair while wearing a mao collar dress.
There’s a lot of other values in Asian influences other than the clichés that a lot of western designers resort to. A lot of people could be saying that we are looking at all these prints right now, and no one is saying that.
Even when I was a kid, my mom was already buying Kenzo dresses and he was at that time the king of prints. He was Japanese but his clothes didn’t look like Kimonos. They looked like Western concepts with a little bit of Eastern influence, and that was in his prints. When it is done by an Asian, it is always very subtle.
ME: Do you see the same observation in Filipino designers?
SG: I think the Filipinos are in a very precarious position. That could be seen as an advantage because we come from the most Western country in Asia. You and I are doing this interview in English. If I was being interviewed by a Chinese or Japanese reporter, we would need a translator. Filipinos always have that advantage. But I can’t see that anything truly native has come out of the Philippines in order to export to the rest of the world.
Like I said, I think you just have to sometimes forget where you’re from and just do your own thing. You can’t say I am doing a western style collection in the same way you can’t say I am doing a very Filipino collection.
You know, it is like music, a good song is a good song. Filipinos are brilliant musicians. I haven’t exactly followed all the music festivals since I was a kid but I remember the Filipinos would always win. I grew up with the generation that watched singers like Lea Salonga and that was it for me. I didn’t know anything more than that because I left but you know, when you think of her and her music, do you think of it as necessarily being Filipino? I don’t. It’s just that she has a good voice.
ME: Will there ever be Visionaire, V Magazine or V Man edition in the Philippines?
SG: I hope so, but I have to find a local partner or publisher. These days, it is so hard to work on a foreign edition if you don’t work with a publisher that you can really trust. One day.
ME: You know what I really want to do one day is to curate an exhibition about you in the Philippines.
SG: Oh I would love that. Let’s do that!
ME: Okay, that’s it. I guess we have to go to our seats now. The show is about to start. Thank you Stephen.
SG: Thank you Melo. See you again soon.
- by Melo Esguerra
EXCLUSIVE: Never Been Released Behind-the-Scenes photos of Zee Lifestyle’s Emerald Issue Cover Shoot
We celebrate the strength and resilience of womanhood in this year’s Mother’s Day by looking back at these never been seen before behind-the-scenes shots of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s Emerald (20th Anniversary) Issue cover shoot featuring the “Leading Women” of Cebu.
To celebrate the 20 beautiful years of Zee Lifestyle as the ultimate source of lifestyle news in Cebu, we handpicked 12 strong and stylish women of Cebu from every age group. These women show us that independently building one’s strength of character and living one’s passion knows no age. From the beginning, Zee has always been empowering women, providing the Cebuanas a platform to express their beauty and confidence, share their passions, engage in economic and political participation which yields to viewing women with equality and respect that we deserve.
photography Jan Gonzales
creative director Melo Esguerra
art director Doro Barandino
sittings editor Shari Quimbo
beauty director Romero Vergara
makeup Arnauld, Janice Barillo and Nicko dela Peña
hair Jessie Egos and Jake Arias
fashion styling Clint Potestas
production assistants Patty Taboada and Katrina Labra
locale Marco Polo Plaza Hotel Cebu
Twelve women, two sets and one afternoon. That is how the Zee Lifestyle team decided to celebrate the title’s 20th anniversary issue—with a challenge that, in some ways, is one of our biggest productions yet.
The idea came along when publisher Eva Gullas and editor-at-large Melo Esguerra were discussing a cover story that would best represent the magazine’s history. From commissioning artistic depictions on Cebu to playing with the anniversary’s emerald theme, no idea had stuck until Melo suggested putting a series of women who had already been on the cover of Zee, again on the cover all together.
Coming up with the list of names, of course, was no small feat. Our covers from the last 20 years have included several strong personalities—from philanthropists and politicians, to actors, and names to soon watch out for, our pages have seen them all. The challenge, then, was to come up with a list of women who had been driving forces in their respective fields when they had first appeared on the cover, and remain as powerful players even today.
With input from editors, both past and present, we rounded up 12 women from different age groups, fields and industries, who are all strong and passionate at whatever it is they do—Amparito Lhuillier, who remains the doyenne of Cebu society as a picture of elegance and class with her continuing efforts in business and social causes; the always-stylish Marguerite Lhuillier, herself an example of sophistication in all her efforts, whether business or otherwise; Margot Osmeña, who as a Cebu City Councilor has spearheaded many urban projects directed for the betterment of living in the city; hospitality mavens June Alegrado and Alice Woolbright, who are deeply involved in the rise of their brands, Bluewater properties and Beverly Hotel, respectively; Christina Garcia Frasco, the current Lilo-an Mayor advocating impressively progressive efforts in the area; former model Fiona King, now a major player in homegrown real estate with projects like Bloq Residences; the fitness enthusiast Danessa Onglatco who has espoused wellness with the opening of Yogahub; restaurateur Carla Yeung-McKowen who is behind the city’s hottest dining outlet, The Pig & Palm; designer Mia Arcenas, whose signature resort wear and accessories are representative of Cebu’s laid back lifestyle; Kym Maitland-Smith, who juggles efforts in swimsuit design through SOLTI Activewear and is building awareness for the vegan lifestyle; and Kryz Uy, whose online presence was a strong one even before fashion blogs were on anyone’s radar.
An impressive bunch, for sure. These women properly embody the characteristics that Zee Lifestyle looks for in one who makes the cover—beauty, yes, but also elegance coupled with individuality, and always a strong drive to succeed in whatever efforts they are directed.
This, it turns out, was the fitting tribute to the years Zee has been Cebu’s premier lifestyle bible, as well as a sign of the things forthcoming. Our 12 cover stars may have been on our pages before, but if their current efforts are any indication, our pages will continue to see more of them in the future. And as continuing purveyors of what Cebu has to offer, Zee Lifestyle will happily be seeing them in the years to come.
(This article had already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s December 2016 Emerald Issue, “Leading Women” on pages 140-155.)
La Liga Henerales: Shaping History Awareness Back Again in Cebu
La Liga Henerales is a community of young talents passionately promotes historical awareness through periodic costumes carefully researched for its authenticity and accuracy and promoted as well in events and schools.
Only few individuals before were into pursuit in this historical awareness project until the age of communication where internet is convenient in the palm of our hands through our gadgets. New information travel fast and data is retrievable, yet also possess a disadvantage with the plethora of different social media platforms carried by various makers as well. In a daily basis, historical backgrounds are unearthed making its trend until now as new discoveries are released, but the idea of these information being shown and shared is as close as not valuing or commemorating to its sources leaving this information just a trend.
There is a certain community of Cebuanos that are taking a quest to rewrite and restructure what was in the past, filling the gaps in facts with further research of variable sources that are made debatable but sticks to it true cause, to unveil the truths of our heritage and our origins, as Cebuanos and as Filipinos as well.
La Liga Henerales is a Cebu-based, non-profit organization composed of a group of talented, committed and respectable individuals from different walks of life, schools and profession whose primary aim is to promote both, Cebuano and filipino culture and heritage that was depicted before in pre-colonial and colonial eras via re-enactment with costumes vested in proper research and investigation to achieve authenticity. They also push their cause on schools and other social gatherings promoting and spreading awareness about our local, and national heroes that we look up to. With these said, they also portray a closer look of the lifestyle of the past to where they perform stories, perform forgotten dances and rituals and portray their individual roles, vital in the fight of our country’s future during those challenging times, and in honor to spread awareness of the lost practices we had in those times.
Louis Kenneth Villaflor, an entrepreneur and an avid history enthusiast and costumer, founded the group on the purpose of re-educating the youth about real local and national history, he saw the opportunity to combine his favourite hobbies which is costuming and story role-playing and the process to instill the historical awareness and value among the youth and in schools, along with a group of fellow enthusiasts who shares his passion about research and history, they took it among themselves to be purposeful in the advocacy in spreading historical awareness in schools or events by wearing periodically correct costumes and sharing the stories and its value to the youth.
Behind the Garments
Meet Rodney “Pee-Wee” Senining, who has been in the fashion industry since the late 90’s, strives in concepts of avant-garde, innovation and cutting edge-fashion forward design. And also a teacher of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design of University of San Carlos, he had grown into research of books like the holy grail in the Library Resource Center and is always fascinated of the periodical times and how to preserve it; Hence, his interest had grown for the affinity of Periodical Costumes and Sustainable Fashion.
Being part of the group La Liga Henerales, he was tasked to instantly be their mentor for the young talents and as the organization is still new and developing with limited funds, resourcefulness and research were done to come up with a good output of photo shoot and was quite proud of it and still promise on the next editions of pieces to be more historically accurate. Even as teacher for Fashion Design in SAFAD, his expertise comes hand in hand with the members as he helps them do research as well. His passion and interest somehow led him with enough knowledge to key the insights of the significant periods and historical backgrounds of it.
Historical Awareness in Cebu
The strength and progress of a country is anchored on how well they know and honor its history. The means of historical awareness in Cebu is almost non-existent among the Cebuanos, although we push forward in tourism and promote beauty through sceneries and other aspects of culture yet never commemorate deeply on historical icons such as our other local heroes, and ancient cultures as well that is almost been forgotten in an urban Cebu. Nevertheless, as long as communities’ like La Liga Henerales are now evolving in a learning state by real discovery by multiple resources, this will always reflect of how we appreciate love, patriotism and honor to our country and would look forward to progress.
After the Razzmatazz and Razzle-dazzle: Post-Sinulog Thoughts
by Chrissy Grey Resaba
Buntings of red and yellow were removed from post to post. Streets were cleared and cleaned. Fireworks displays were faded in the sky. Beats of #prititit and tunes of tourism-booster Cebu tracks were being put to archive once again.
Contingents from different parts of Cebu and Central Visayas had gone back home. Party people had gone sober while some are still recovering. Traffic has gone back to normal. Businesses, as well, has gone back to normal.
However, all the fun and loud chants, smooth grooves, and frenzied choreographies are still replaying from the memory banks of the people who celebrated Sinulog 2020. The queen of all festivals in the Philippines has left again another mark of cultural and festive nostalgia to the people from all parts of the world and Cebuanos alike.
After all the razzmatazz and razzle-dazzle, let’s get to know what are these IG and FB personalities’ #PostSinulogThoughts about celebrating the newly-culminated Sinulog 2020 and how did they differentiate it to last year’s.
Eva Psychee Patalinjug, Binibining Pilipinas Grand International 2018 @evapatalinjug
I celebrated my Sinulog with my boyfriend and some of my close friends, we decided to choose a place where it’s not very crowded where we can see the whole Cebu, talk, and chill the night away. We went to Verified Lounge – Cebu’s newest premier sky lounge – located at the rooftop of the Avenir Building. It was something new for me as the night was calm as I was away from the busy streets of Cebu. It’s definitely one way of enjoying such festivities.
Kim Covert @kimcovert
The Sinulog celebration this year has been one of the most memorable events in my life. Not only was I invited to perform a few of my own songs during the weekend’s festivities but I also turned over my Binibining Cebu Tourism crown to my successor. Last year, I was busy with work and was not able to completely grasp the events. This year’s festival was more organized which is a great success for Cebu. Many have flown in and had spent time with their families in the “Pit Senyor” spirit, others have enjoyed spending time off with friends and colleagues. It was a great way for me to start my New Year and close my Cebu chapter before I leave to the US in a week.
Alem Garcia @thealemgarcia
Well pretty much, I was still busy doing shows and events for Sinulog. But what made it different this year was the religious celebration made me believe even more that Sto. Niño is indeed miraculous and that He is meant to be celebrated. Even though you are successful in your chosen field, furthermore, everything will be meaningless if you do not have the faith.
Philip Pingoy @almostablogger
We all have a Sinulog story to tell. It may be a story of losing faith and finding hope. But what is important is our devotion to the Holy Child Jesus (Señor. Sto. Niño). This year, my Sinulog experience was very different since I am already based in the United Kingdom. Thanks to the internet I was still able to watch the mass and all the festivities in Cebu. I am in UK because I prayed to Sto. Niño. So, let us not forget the reason we celebrate Sinulog and let us continue to share to the rest of the world why Sinulog is the grandest festival in the Philippines. Pit Senyor everyone! I hope you had a good one!
Lyssa Amor @lyssaamor
Sinulog celebrates Filipinos’ acceptance of Christianity. This year, I celebrated Sinulog by hearing the word of God. I went to church which I do every Sinulog but the difference now is that I am not in Cebu. It’s my first time to celebrate Sinulog away from home because I’m currently in Japan. Although I didn’t dance the traditional Sinulog dance this year, I wasn’t able to watch the fireworks in Ayala, and didn’t spend time with my friends in Mango and IT Park. Snr. Sto. Niño will always be in my heart and I am forever grateful that our ancestors accepted Christianity and we continue to embrace it up until today.
Kevin Geniston @kgeniston
Sinulog will always be a highlight for me as a Cebuano. This year has been fulfilling as I was able to brave the crowd in the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu three times to attend the novena mass which had also become like bonding time with my family, daughter, friends and loved ones. I ended the celebration of the Sinulog festivities with a bit of the usual partying and/or clubbing.
Carlo Andrew Olano @kalamicebu
My Sinulog this year was a great mix of religious and secular activities. I was able to go to the church and somehow witnessed the Traslacion and the fluvial procession. I also went to many side events like parties, mall events, and fireworks exhibitions. Sinulog 2020 had a fantastic balance of fun, faith, and festivities.
Danna Bacolod @dannabacolod
This is the second time I spent Sinulog with Cebu Pacific. We had series of events prepared during its entire week and participated the grand parade by having a float last Sunday. I always feel excited to join Sinulog Grand Parade and see a lot of people celebrating their own way of Sinulog along the streets of Cebu. Guess it’s safe to say that I had so much fun. Even if this was work-related, I didn’t feel like I’m actually working as it was always joyful doing events like these.
Nimo Hideki @nimo_scheming
You prolly knew this already but, Sinulog 2020 was by far the most phenomenal Sinulog experience: more laidback than the previous years’. The music in every corner of the streets were still there to help you let loose and enjoy the experience. The surge of people had tested you both mentally and physically. But it was an experience you cannot miss like mingling with people from different walks of life and shouting out “Pit Senyor” to everyone. Summing up my Sinulog experience, I was able to get crazy and enjoy all aspects of the fest.
Michael Rey @michaelsomewhere
I had the most relaxed Sinulog experience this year. I did not party and preferred to witness the grand parade instead. I do think that this year’s celebration was more colorful and much safer as establishments strictly abided the rules imposed by the Cebu City Government. I was also amazed at how the festival of fashion here in Cebu has evolved throughout the years.
Now, how about you? What are your #PostSinulogThoughts this Prititit 2020? Viva Pit Senyor!