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GLOBAL PINOYS: The Visionary

Zee has a brief encounter with Stephen Gan, the most influential Filipino in fashion

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

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THROWBACK THURSDAY: Thanksgiving with the Woolbrights

THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

The holiday season kicks off officially with Thanksgiving. A time to be grateful for family, friends and blessings. Although this is not usually practiced in our tropical country, there are, however, families like the Woolbrights for whom this is a time-honored tradition.

by Janine Taylor sittings editor Katsy Borromeo fashion stylist Mikey Sanchez food stylist Nicolette Gaw-Yu production manager David Jones Cua intern Danica Ronquillo hair and make-up Jessie Glova assistant Jojo Embalzado photography Joseph Ong locale Woolbright Residence

 

Eddie Woolbright was among the thousands of G.I.’s that landed on the shores of the Philippines during the Japanese occupation. After the war, a few enterprising American soldiers came back, including the 24-year old Eddie who made Tacloban his home, before settling down in Cebu in the 1950s and opened a restaurant and a hardware store downtown—Eddie’s Log Cabin and Eddie’s Hardware and Auto Supply, respectively.

Eddie’s Log Cabin quickly became the hub of social, political and even military scene. It was the first air-conditioned café in town, and more importantly, it offered American diner food including a soda fountain and an ice cream parlor. It was patronized by one and all for its reputation for good food and service.

It also didn’t take long for the fearless Eddie Woolbright to realize that the real estate in the sleepy hillside suburbs was ripe for development. “I will show Cebu what a good planned subdivision is,” Eddie had said, when the late Senator Marcelo Fernan, then a young legal counselor for Columbian Rope Co., took Eddie to see the property. Pretty soon, Eddie had purchased over thirty-three hectares of otherwise undeveloped land from the heirs of the late Arlington Pond.

“Buy land,” Eddie Woolbright was known to quote the late humorist Will Rogers, “because they ain’t gonna make more.”

With his added access to army surplus, he bulldozed tracts of land, and a decade later, Beverly Hills, the first major subdivision in Cebu City, was created, and marketed to the city’s growing well-to-do locals, with the subdivision’s connotations of Hollywood and colonial American aesthetic. Eddie’s belief in the business potentials of central Cebu city enabled him to see much growth in his investments in land development, water drilling, construction, and general trading.

ON THE COVER The Woolbright sisters, Joy, Karen and Alice don Jun Escario’s Holiday Collection, photographed in their home by Joseph Ong. Hair and make-up by Jessie Glova.

 

Eddie had nine children: Rick, Anita, Marc, Gilbert, Alice, Kathy, Kristy, Karen and Joy. All recall that each holiday was as important to them as Christmas. Turkey Thanksgiving dinners, for example, as it was known in the Woolbright household, began when Eddie’s mom, Nell, came to visit sometimes in the 1960s. Eddie would buy a butterball turkey from the American base in Clark and she whipped up a traditional feast complete with cornbread stuffing, cranberry jelly, candied yams, garlic mashed potatoes and her famous giblet gravy which was poured literally all over the bird, as they do back in her home in Oklahoma. Grandma Nell also taught the cooks at Eddie’s Log Cabin to make the famous Coconut Cream Pie, another Eddie’s Log Cabin standard. Kathy also recollects, “It was also dad’s idea that the restaurant and the hotel should serve breakfast 24 hours, and since I loved my Mexican omelet, sliced ham, buttered toast I enjoyed being able to eat breakfast any time of the day.” 

My dad taught me how to be humble. He told us stories about his younger days jumping trains, eating nothing but grapes for days just to go pick cotton. He had a hard life growing up and I guess he wanted us, his children, to know the meaning of hard work. He would say, “Nobody owes you a life in this world”. I didn’t understand it then but I do now. -Alice Woolbright

 

FROM LEFT ON JOY Nude dress, models own; ring and bangle by Gladys Young; ON ALICE Sequined LBD, models own; ON KAREN Grey pleated shift dress from Loalde; ring and necklace by Gladys Young.

Shortly after, turkey was introduced in the menu of Eddie’s Log Cabin, both Americans and Cebuanos, with a penchant for this wholesome meal, look for it when November came, and more especially on Thanksgiving Day. “Dad loved quality meat, and passed on this fondness to us, his children,” noted Karen, “So special meals always consisted of a good steak or the tender Prime Rib Roast. Of course, the year was never complete without a Turkey once or twice.”

As the sisters change into various outfits for the photo shoot in their childhood home, each one recalled the happy memories this holiday brings.  

ON KAREN Teal pantsuit from Loalde, belt by Gladys Young; ON JOY Plum cocktail dress, model’s own; ON ALICE Teal corseted dress by Jun Escario, belt by Gladys Young.

Alice, recalls disliking the giblet gravy as a child but since her dad would serve her at the dinner table she had no choice but to eat it. She adds, “He would get upset if we did not try everything.” Funnily enough, she now looks forward to the giblet gravy and can’t imagine turkey without it.  Her dad, she said, employed the same tactic with his customers at the restaurant so after a while, they ended up getting used to it, and will not have their turkey any other way.

Between brothers and sisters coming home from out of town and family members in the States, there was always some degree of traveling or entertaining company. Dad valued the family bond and holidays were the best time to reinforce that. –Karen Woolbright

Happy hour with the Woolbright siblings.

The family pet Chewy joins in on the annual Woolbright Thanksgiving dinner.

Joy Woolbright-Sotto fondly remembers watching her dad carve the bird. “He made sure that each one of the kids learned how to do it properly, with the white meat sliced thinly enough, and followed last by the dark meat,” she says. A feat she now does with ease. Future doctor Karen says that her dad would always carve the wings and serve it to her, which is still her favorite part of the fowl. Kathy though, considers turkey her comfort food. But she says that she loves the Coconut Cream Pie, which is also served on the restaurant’s menu, and that as a child she could eat half a pie in bed. 

 

Old fashioned roast turkey

Cebu in the 60s and 70s was a very small town, if you wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, you went to Eddie’s. Eddie’s Log Cabin, like its owner was a trailblazer, the balut dice game originated there, many singers’ careers such as Elizabeth Ramsey’s were given their first break there.  

The torch has been passed on to his children, and they too celebrate it with turkey dinners and all the trimmings, ensuring that the restaurant still serves the traditional menu, down to the Coconut Cream Pie.  Thanksgiving will always be celebrated at their homes, and the Beverly Hotel, the last legacy that Eddie Woolbright gave his children to run.

Another legacy that Eddie left to his children was a love for food and Alice was quick share that she got it too, “I’m usually home during the day and I find myself in the kitchen trying to cook up new dishes to serve.”

 

Back at the Woolbright ancestral home, which is also now Alice’s home, the dining table has been set, evoking autumn and harvest, the candles are lit, the wine is being poured, the buffet table is groaning under the weight of the Thanksgiving repast. The sisters are seated at the table, each with a glass of wine discussing whose turn it is to carve. The annual Woolbright turkey dinner is about to start and I am glad to be invited to join them at their family home. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.

 

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s November 2011 Entertaining Issue, “The Gift that Keeps on Giving” on pages 72-77.)

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LADY CYCLISTS HIT THE ROADS AND SLOPES OF CEBU.

Cycling has been a growing sport and hobby for many years but it’s popularity has erupted since the Covid pandemic.  People biking to work and for recreation is an everyday sight in Cebu.  More and more are joining the ride.  Many are quite serious about cycling.  I know three ladies who are among those who’ve gone long distances across Cebu.

How did you get into serious cycling?  What was your motivation?

Blinky de Leon.  Event Host, Product Endorser & Influencer

“ I’ve been into cycling since I was a kid. A little backstory, I was around 10 years old when my dad surprised me with my first custom-made mountain bike. I still keep it until now, in fact I had it refurbished. It’s the most sentimental thing I ever received since it was his way/gesture to catch up with me after not seeing each other for almost 6 yrs. My dad is based in Germany and he also loves cycling and makes his own bamboo bike.”

 

“Just a year ago though, my friend Gazini randomly, out of nowhere, picked me up from home to bike with her to the South of Cebu. I felt really excited and motivated to get back on track because it’s very nostalgic and brings back so many great memories. And since then, the rest was history. We’ve been joining different groups, tried different routes and conquered different heights. I’ve met so many cyclists with very inspiring stories in the bike community who kept me feeling motivated too. I also look forward to the sights and the adventure that comes along with it.”

 

Yumz Mariot. Branding & Marketing Consultant

“I used to bike along with rock and wall climbing. I am lousy with ballgames which is why. Our usual route were Talamban and Mactan but one time, managed to ship gears all the way to Dumaguete for a quick ride to Valencia, the next town located at a higher elevation. Those were days when I did it for fun and what bike I was using did not matter.”

“Fast forward to 2021, a year after the pandemic lockdown began, I realized I have been lazy to do any fitness routine. Too caught up on juggling between house chores and Work from Home deliverables (I work as a Branding and Marketing Consultant), I started to feel my body needs to move as much as my brain does. A hysical fitness routine is as important as what I eat, or what I read or watch. So I decided to invest on a decent MTB, just very recently and got myself a much necessary restart. What motivates me even more is the area where I currently reside at. It is vast, fresh, green and safe for solo bikers like me.”

 

Prime Sarino. Digital Media Creative

“I started biking as a young teenager and I got the idea to start it as an adult hobby 3 years ago. I was already into running and I thought it would be great to venture into another outdoor activity to keep me occupied after work hours and weekends. I was set to travel for a year so I had to put aside the idea first but came pandemic. We were all forced to stay put and everything was put on hold. Cycling became my diversion. My cyclists friends invited me to quick and short rides. I enjoyed my first 50km ride and the sceneries and routes most of all. It also helped channel a positive mindset during the hard hit season of the pandemic. Not to mention it’s also another way to stay fit when we were forced into inactivity during the quarantine.”

Next in Part 2, we ask the ladies about their cycling experiences and memorable moments…

by: Zen

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#CebuPride:  Cebuanos in Multi-awarded Pride-Themed Films

Multi-awarded International Gay Movies with Cebuano Lead Casts

By:  Allain Dumon Fonte

 

Pride-themed movies are starting to invade the film industry as people become more accepting and are more intrigued on the stories about LGBTIQ.  Many have shared the intensity of emotions and laughed with the craziest jokes on gay-themed movies.  In the Philippines, these kinds of movies were questioned as to their morality and their message to the society.  The strong influence of the country’s religious standards had branded gay-themed movies as sex-oriented and nothing more.  Yet, with Thailand’s more tolerant culture, Thai BL (Boy’s Love) movies and television series have created a new perception to the viewers; and that is gay-themed movies are remarkably alike to all other movies – there is romance, comedy, drama, and the continuing struggle of living like normal people.  Hence, Thai BL TV series have a massive following all over Asia.  At the end of 2019, they became available in Netflix and are being watched by millions of viewers all over the world.

ZEE’s Allain Fonte with the casts of the top-rating Thai BL series (2019) “Cause You’re My Boy” of GMMTV (from L-R) Amp Phurikulkrit Chusakdiskulwibul, AJ Chayapol Jutamas, Neo Trai Nimtawat, Frank Thanatsaran Samthonglai, ADF, Drake Laedeke, Phuwin Tangsakyuen, and JJ Chayakorn Jutamas.

The Philippine film industry is not that far from Thailand’s.  Some of the LGBTIQ-themed movies and television series are slowly getting a following in Asia and are now accessible to viewers worldwide.  A few of these pride-themed movies that casted or directed by a Filipino have already been receiving nominations and awards from Golden Globe, The Berlin Film Festival, the Venezia Film Awards, and even the Emmy’s…and the Filipinos in these films hail their roots from Cebu!

 

1. Lingua Franca

 

Lingua Franca is a film directed by a Cebuana, Isabel Sandoval.  Sandoval also plays the main character of the movie, and she even wrote the screenplay.  Lingua Franca tells the story of Olivia, an undocumented transgender woman in New York who works as a caregiver to a senile old-lady of Russian-decent.  When Olivia is challenged to attain legal status in the US, she is left with a “marriage-based green card”.  While in search for her groom-to-be, she becomes romantically involved with Alex, Olga’s grandson.

The film is now available on Netflix and has received positive reviews from the media.  Stephen Dalton of the Hollywood Reporter wrote Lingua Franca is a “heartfelt personal statement rooted in timely, gripping issues that obviously resonate deeply with its author, notably trans rights and Trump-era immigration anxieties”.

 

Isabel Sandoval wearing Marchesa at the Venezia Red Carpet in the Venice Film Festival (2019)

Isabel Sandoval graduated summa cum laude with the degree in psychology from the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines.  In New York, she pursued graduate studies in Film at NYU.  She is now currently residing in NYC, and already has award-winning films under her belt like Apparition, Lingua Franca, Senorita, Ritwal, The Unstoppable, and Judgement.

 

2. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

This television series was aired in Netflix and has gained so much popularity because it showed the murder of world-renowned fashion designer, Gianni Versace, by a serial killer, Andrew Cunanan.  Based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History, this television series has 9 episodes of suspenseful scenes, and is star-studded with casts like Ricky Martin and Penelope Cruz.  However, the main actor who played Andrew Cunanan is Darren Criss who gained his popularity after being a regular on the top rating TV show, Glee.  Darren Criss hails his roots from Cebu, Philippines.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story received positive reviews from critics. At the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, it received 9 nominations, and won 3 awards, including Outstanding Limited Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for Darren Criss.

 

Darren Criss with his dad (left) Charles William Criss, and his mother (right) Cerina Criss. Source

Criss was born and raised in San Francisco, California, USA.  Criss was raised as a Roman Catholic and attended roman catholic schools.  He later moved to Michigan where he studied Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Theatre Performance and minor in music at the University of Michigan.  Criss’s father, Charles William Criss, is a banker and served as CEO of the East West bank in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Criss’s mom, Cerina, is a native of Talisay, Cebu, Philippines.  When he was younger, he visited Cebu a couple of times with his mother.  Darren Criss is very proud of his Cebuano roots and wants to portray Filipino characters in films and in theatres to promote visibility of the Filipinos in the American films.

 

3. The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela

     The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival where it grabbed the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film.  It was also awarded the Grand Jury Prize in the 10th 2008 Cinemanila International Film Festival at Malacañang Palace’s Kalayaan Hall.  It starred Raquela Rios also known as Minerva to her Cebuano friends.  Raquela  is a local of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines.  The film is directed by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson.

 

Raquella Rios in Bangkok’s MRT (a scene in a Thai film).

Raquella Rios is a native of Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines, and she went to the University of San Carlos in Cebu, studying sociology and anthropology.  Before finishing her studies, Raquella left the Cebu and went to Iceland after being casted by Icelandic film director, scriptwriter, and producer, Olaf de Fleur Johannesson for the movie The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela.  She is now based in Bangkok, Thailand as a fashion stylist and wardrobe assistant to some local Thai movies.  Raquella is also an activist for sex workers rights and trans rights in Southeast Asia; pushing for the recognition on the choice of their gender and the right to change their birth names.

Raquella (right) with film director Olaf de Fleur (left) receives the Best Feature Film Award at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival in Germany. Photo grabbed from Berlinale archives.

There are still plenty of pride-themed films in the Philippines that gained recognition all over the world; yet these movies mentioned are special because of the talented Cebuanos that have  brought Cebu to world.  They truly are #CebuPride.

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