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Kelsey on her Merritts

The country’s been charmed, and Zee Lifestyle finds out why. During a tropical holiday on Cebu’s shores, model-of-the-moment Kelsey Merritt talks about breaking into New York’s modeling scene.

The country’s been charmed, and Zee Lifestyle finds out why. During a tropical holiday on Cebu’s shores, model-of-the-moment Kelsey Merritt talks about breaking into New York’s modeling scene.

2016-03 TR Kelsey Merritt by Steffen Billhardt 02

White blazer by IXA ESCARIO, necklace by MIA ARCENAS, bandeau swimwear set by SOLTI ACTIVEWEAR, Constellation co-Axial watch from OMEGA (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

It’s early on a sunny Sunday morning, and Kelsey Merritt is sitting in the makeup chair—a spot she’s probably very familiar with, considering she’s one of the country’s most sought-after models and had signed with Wilhelmina Models. She’s bare-faced and with traces of sleep in her eyes, quietly going through stories on Snapchat and scrolling through her Instagram feed while makeup artist Chady puts on her sun-kissed beauty look. She yawns, stretching her arms up, and looks up at us with a sheepish grin; and for a moment the international model falls away and Kelsey is a fresh-faced 19-year-old with the kind of natural charm that’s hard to emulate. “Sorry,” she laughs. “I’m not a morning person.”

In that small gesture, it immediately becomes easy to understand why everyone has been smitten by Kelsey Merritt. Besides her obvious good looks—the piercing hazel gaze, the soft angles of her face and those incredible freckles—she’s bubbly and smiling. When she’s in front of the camera, though, it’s a whole different story.

“I never intended to model in the first place,” Kelsey admits, something which may come as a bit of a surprise when you see how much the camera loves her. “My friends were starting to model professionally, and I got interested. I just thought I’d test the waters to see if I’m any good at it.”

Very good, as it turns out. Since she first started going to go-sees at 14, she’s in the midst of a true model moment. “It’s overwhelming, of course. I’m still trying to keep up with everything, but I’m always thankful,” she says. “It’s very humbling because I and to work very hard to get where I am. I’m glad that my hard work is being recognized by people in the industry.”

Bandeau swimsuit set from SOLTI ACTIVEWEAR, matching top and shorts set by IXA ESCARIO, necklaces from MOY STUDIO (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

Of course, her stairway to success was a very millennial one—social media played a huge part in bringing Kelsey to where she is now. “It launched my career,” she shares. “I did my first-ever fashion editorial because the editor-in-chief of Candy Magazine saw my photos on Facebook. I was scouted by Wilhelmina through my Instagram account.”

By Wilhelmina, she means the international agency that handles the likes of Soo Joo and Alexandra Richards. “BJ Pascual and I had been planning to do a test shoot for so long, and finally we were both free and it happened. He uploaded the pictures on his Instagram account a few days after,” Kelsey recalls. “On the exact same day, the director of Wilhelmina Models followed him on Instagram. Inevitably, the first thing he saw were my pictures!”

There’s a little bit of serendipity involved in her so-called big break, which she happily admits. “I’d like to call it fate and a dose of good luck! It opened my mind to a lot of things. I feel like I do things differently now, like I’m more disciplined. You have to be disciplined when modeling in New York.”

Not to say that she wasn’t disciplined in the first place. When most would have jumped on the first plane to New York once the email from Wilhelmina Models came through, Kelsey, who was then in the middle of the school year, asked to make the trip in April during her summer break. “It’s all about setting priorities, and school is my number one priority. I put that above anything else,” she explains. She had originally left her hometown in Pampanga to study Communications with a major in Advertising and PR at Ateneo de Manila University. “I thought this course would be perfect because it’s the same industry I’m already working in. It’s good that I could put my connections to good use.

“It’s really about setting aside time for school, family, work, friends and myself,” Kelsey continues. “I was struggling at first when I didn’t know how to manage my time well. Now, I basically try not to work on school days and leave all my modeling jobs for the weekend.”

"It's all about setting priorities, and school is my number one priority. I put that above anything else." - Kelsey Merritt (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

“It’s all about setting priorities, and school is my number one priority. I put that above anything else.” – Kelsey Merritt (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

There are some exceptions, though, such as finding out she had been booked for the Vera Wang Fall 2015 campaign. Despite a paper due and a big test coming up, the model took off and flew out for the photo shoot. “Honestly, I found out right as I was going to bed,” she recalls. “I was just lying in bed, incredulously thinking how this girl from Pampanga will be flying to New York to shoot a Vera Wang advertising campaign. I couldn’t believe it! It seemed so surreal.”

Slip dress set by MIA ARCENAS (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

Slip dress set by MIA ARCENAS (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

The campaign gave her the chance to work with industry greats like photographer Patrick Demarchelier and digital artist Pascal Dangin, who was serving as the shoot’s creative director. “I thought it would be intimidating shooting with someone like Demarchelier, but when he arrived in Pier 59—the studio where we shot—he greeted everyone and asked them how they were,” Kelsey shares. “He’s a very warm and approachable person. When it was time to shoot, he sat down on a chair in front of me and two other models, and just started shooting. Pascal was behind him, directing us and Patrick would also comment from time to time. He encourages us whenever we were doing things right, and he even came up to me once and fixed the angle of my face. We’d know the shoot was done when he put down his camera, and went to look over the photos on-screen with Vera and Pascal.”

If it seems like Kelsey is a keen observer, it’s because she truly is. She treated her experience in New York as a learning one, making notes on how the industry worked in that side of the world. “It was all about learning how everything worked,” she says. “Whenever I went to a casting, I would look at what the other models were wearing, what looked nice and what didn’t. I saw how polite the models are to the clients—they always asked how they were and would tell everyone to have a good day when they left. It’s all about making a connection with the client. You have to show them that you’re someone they would want to work with.”

The study worked—Kelsey went on to book fashion editorials for Harper’s Bazaar and Nylon, for Steve Madden’s website, and for Uniqlo’s Re-Jean campaign, which brought her to London for a week. “Traveling is definitely one of the things I enjoy most about modeling, as well as getting to work with a lot of talented people.”

Dressing up is another perk that Kelsey enjoys. “I’m usually in jeans and a tank top. A typical casting outfit,” she describes as her go-to outfit when she’s just being herself. “My personal style’s been greatly affected by what my agency wants me to wear to castings. They tell all new girls to dress in either black, gray or white—so I ended up getting used to that, and now those colors are all that I ever wear or buy!”

Kelsey Merritt (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

White blazer by IXA ESCARIO, necklace by MIA ARCENAS, bandeau swimwear set by SOLTI ACTIVEWEAR, Constellation co-Axial watch from OMEGA (Photography by Steffen Billhardt: Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016)

This buying is usually done at Zara, and Vania Romoff is a favorite designer. “My style icons would have to be Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid,” she shares. “They dress very well, very chic. This is what I always try to go for, and I always end up using their style as reference.”

The downside is the inevitable lack of free time, so Kelsey spends much of her downtime at home. “I go on Netfix to find something to watch, or read a book. I don’t really like going out,” she admits, naming Game of Thrones as her reading material of choice. “If I’m not at home, I’m probably at the beach.” That, or driving to Pampanga to spend time with her family. And what exactly does she miss most about living away from home? “The absence of home cooked meals,” she laughs.

Kelsey off duty, it turns out, is the girl looking up at us with a goofy smile, her hair in curlers, her freckles showing and her eyes playful. She explains that on days off or spent at school, she’ll just give her lashes a quick curl, slide on lip balm and is good to go. “My favorite shade of lipstick is a pinkish nude one, the kind you wouldn’t think I had any lipstick on,” she says.

There lies her charm. As someone who has often said that she finds modeling a career and not a lifestyle, her persona off-camera is arrestingly charming—and the hint of that shines through even as she’s posing on-camera. This is probably what earned Kelsey Merritt the title model-of-the-moment. But if the girl herself is any indication, this moment is going to last a very good while.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt photo post-processing Carlo Sardes of Mooodigital
stylist Blaq Mafia makeup Chady Pantaleon of MAC Cosmetics hair Erwin Monteza
production assistant Carlo Rivera locale Shangri-la’s Mactan Resort and Spa

Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2016. For back issues, subscribe to Magzter.

People

EXCLUSIVE: Never Been Released Behind-the-Scenes photos of Zee Lifestyle’s Emerald Issue Cover Shoot

Photographer Jan Gonzales, Margie Lhuillier, June Alegrado, Kryz Uy, Mia Arcenas, Amparito Lhuillier and Alice Woolbright

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.

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LEADING WOMEN

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.

Oj Hofer and Margot Osmeña

Kryz Uy

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.

Amparito Lhuillier, Kryz Uy, Alice Woolbright, Margot Osmeña and June Alegrado all wearing MIRANDA KONSTANTINIDOU

Photographer Jan Gonzales and creative director Melo Esguerra

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.

Kymberly Maitland-Smith

Makeup Artist Romero Vergara, June Alegrado and Hair Stylist Jessie Egos

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.

FROM LEFT Marguerite wears CARY SANTIAGO; June wears PHILIP RODRIGUEZ; Mia wears MIA ARCENAS; Kryz wears ELIZABETH HALLIE; Amparito wears MONIQUE LHUILLIER; Alice wears PHILIP RODRIGUEZ; Fiona wears VANIA ROMOFF; Margot wears PHILIP RODRIGUEZ; Danessa wears OJ HOFER; Carla wears ALICE+OLIVIA; Christina wears DINO LLOREN

(This article had already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s December 2016 Emerald Issue, “Leading Women” on pages 140-155.)

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Culture

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.

The Founder

Combining passion and education. Louis Villaflor re-enacts his way patriotism through his periodical costumes and expresses his love for Cebu and Philippines as a culture-centric country.

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

With the its senior expertise of fashion design and a teacher of the field, his passion also of history caters also in his designs as he pushes through sustainable fashion and historical awareness combined.

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.

 

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Culture

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 Patalinjug

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

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

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

 

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

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 Olano

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

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 Scheming

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

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!

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