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On Her Merritts: From the Cover of Zee Lifestyle to the Runway of Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

The country’s been charmed, and Zee Lifestyle finds out why. During a tropical holiday on Cebu’s shores two years ago, model-of-the-moment Kelsey Merritt talks about breaking into New York’s modeling scene. Now, she’s booked to walk the runway of the famed Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

It was early on a Sunday morning, two years ago, when Kelsey Merritt sat 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—to prepare for the cover shoot of Zee Lifestyle magazine.
 
Bare-faced and with traces of sleep in her eyes, she quietly went through stories on then-popular Snapchat (before the Instagram stories craze took over) and scrolled through her Instagram feed while the makeup artist put on her sun-kissed beauty look. She yawned, stretching her arms up, and looked at the team with a sheepish grin; and in that moment the international model persona fell away and Kelsey was the fresh-faced 19-year-old with the kind of natural charm that was hard to emulate.
 
“Sorry,” she had laughed, “I’m not a morning person.”
 
It’s interesting that back then, she had admitted that she never intended to model in the first place—which comes as a bit of a surprise, considering how far she’s come now, booked to walk at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
 
Since she first started going to go-sees at 14, she was 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 said. “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.” 
 
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 shared on Zee’s March 2016 issue. “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 meant 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 recalled. “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 explained of her choice. 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 continued. “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.”
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 recalled. “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.”
 
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 shared. “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.”
 
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.”
 
Since gracing the cover of Zee Lifestyle two years ago, Kelsey has gone far and beyond into her modeling career, especially now that she’s the first Filipina to walk the runway of the ever-famous Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
 
As if paying homage to the millennial moment that launched her career, she took to Instagram to share the good news on the night of September 7th. 
 
“WE DID IT PHILIPPINES! I’m walking in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2018!!! Ahhhhhh I can’t believe this! Thank you soooo much,” was her caption that accompanied a seemingly-candid photo of her with a bouquet of flowers. 
 
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is an annual event that’s much-anticipated by fans and graced by top models and celebrities. 

Events

BVLGARI in Cebu

May 10 – Cebu City  |  Step inside a world of opulence where gold shimmers and diamonds sparkle. BVLGARI, the renowned Italian luxury brand, is celebrated for its exquisite gemstone jewelry, thin watches, perfumes, and leather goods. With a legacy dating back to 1884, BVLGARI has become synonymous with elegance and craftsmanship. The newest BVLGARI boutique opened last week at the sparkling The Mall at Nustar Resort and Casino, fast becoming the shopping destination for discerning consumers.

Eva Gullas, Jeffrey Hang, Jaja Chiongbian-Rama and Butch Carungay

Jeffrey Hang, BVLGARI’s Regional Marketing Director for South East Asia, flew in from Singapore to welcome guests. “We are happy to unveil BVLGARI to the Cebu market. This is the company’s 140th year, and BVLGARI celebrates this landmark with the Aeterna High Jewelry Collection in Rome this coming May 20, attended by all our global ambassadors like Zendaya and Black Pink” Jeffrey shares with us. The collection will be available in SE Asia later in the year and in the Philippines at the end of the year.

Leading the ribbon cutting was Joseph Muñoz (commercial director of Bulgari Philippines, Jeffry Hang (regional marketing director of Bulgari South East Asian operations, Pia Wurtzbach-Jauncey (Bulgari Ambasadress and Ms. Universe 2015), Allan Teo (chief operating officer of NUSTAR Resort and Casino and May Adolfo (mall director of NUSTAR Cebu).

Pia Wurtzbach-Jauncey, BVLGARI’s local Ambasadress and Ms. Universe 2015

Sheila Osmeña-Go and Jaja Chiongbian-Rama

Spotted at the event was Joseph Muñoz, Commercial Director of Bulgari Philippines escorting Pia Wurtzbach-Jauncey, BVLGARI’s local Ambasadress and Ms. Universe 2015, Allan Teo, Chief Operating Officer of NUSTAR Resort and Casino, Howard Go, Summit Media’s CEO and his wife, Cebuana Sheila Osmeña-Go as well as some of Cebu’s young fashionable set like Claudia Bezza Yeung, Marjay Ramirez, and Danessa Onglatco.

May Adolfo, Danessa Onglatco, Marjay Ramirez and Claudia Bezza-Yeung

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Fashion

The Qipao As Interpreted by Innovative Filipino Designers: PHILIP RODRIGUEZ

The Qipao, an iconic symbol of Chinese fashion, takes center stage as we celebrate the Lunar New Year of the Wood Dragon. This singular closely-fitted garment crafted from the most opulent silks originated in 1920’s Shanghai. ZEE fashion editor Oj Hofer, has sought the creative insights of some of the Philippines’ most innovative designers for their interpretation of the elegant Qipao, also known as Cheongsam.

Cebu’s esteemed designer, Philip Rodriguez, pays homage to imperial attire with this stunning yellow silk brocade qipao. While adhering to the traditional cheongsam silhouette, Rodriguez infuses a touch of sensuality by incorporating see-through silk tulle panels along the waistline. Known for his timeless designs and culturally respectful creations, Rodriguez’s attention to detail is unparalleled. His embellishments are intricate and exquisite, showcasing impeccable taste and luxurious design without veering into ostentation. Take, for instance, his cheongsam for the Year of the Dragon. While it may seem daring compared to traditional sensibilities, Rodriguez maintains elegance by delicately veiling the wearer’s skin with sheer tulle on the cutout side panels. The front slit of the dress is cautiously calculated to strike the perfect balance between modesty and allure “I design for women who possess sophistication beyond their years, “ Philip emphasizes. “My clothes are crafted to evoke a sense of beauty and allure, leaving her feeling exquisite and confident.” As a seasoned designer, Rodriguez consistently achieves harmony in his designs. His qipao for 2024 seamlessly blends elements of royalty and sensuality, luxury and practicality, reflecting his mastery of the craft and his ability to create pieces that are truly elegant and well-balance.

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Fashion

The Qipao As Interpreted by Innovative Filipino Designers: JC BUENDIA

The Qipao, an iconic symbol of Chinese fashion, takes center stage as we celebrate the Lunar New Year of the Wood Dragon. This singular closely-fitted garment crafted from the most opulent silks originated in 1920’s Shanghai. ZEE fashion editor Oj Hofer, has sought the creative insights of some of the Philippines’ most innovative designers for their interpretation of the elegant Qipao, also known as Cheongsam.

JC Buendia, celebrated for his ability to tell a million style stories through minimalist details, is a master of clean, chic lines in fashion. Eschewing frivolity and nonsensical embellishments, every element of his designs contributes to their overall elegance.

Inspired by cinematic portrayals of Chinoiserie, Buendia’s first fascination with the Qipao began with Gloria Romero’s iconic portrayal of a Chinese princess disguised as a ‘sampan’ girl in the 1957 film “Hong Kong Holiday.”

“This admiration for orientalalia only deepened as I watched films like “The Last Emperor” and “In The Mood For Love,” JC recalls.

Buendia’s latest creation is a testament to this cinematic influence. His interpretation of the Qipao for the Year of the Wood Dragon features a cropped top crafted from silk Dupioni, embellished with diamond brooches on the reverse closure for a touch of glamour. Paired with a tea-length bouffant skirt made from frothy layers of delicate tulle, the ensemble exudes sophistication and timeless elegance.

With meticulous attention to detail and a keen eye for design, JC Buendia’s Qipao captures the essence of cinematic glamour while offering a contemporary twist on a classic silhouette. It’s a tribute to the enduring allure of Chinoiserie and the timeless beauty of the Cheongsam.

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