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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.

Design

Filipino graphic designer makes history, joins Switzerland’s Museum of Avant-garde among genre’s greats

PJ Ong of Inodoro, an internationally renowned graphic designer, is the first Filipino whose work will be part of the permanent collection of Switzerland’s Museum of Avant-garde

CEBU CITY — In a groundbreaking achievement, Cebu-based graphic designer and art director PJ Ong of Inodoro Design Studio, is set to become the first Filipino artist permanently exhibited at Museum of Avant-garde (MA-g) in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

Cebu-based graphic designer and art director of Inodoro Design Studio, PJ Ong

Ong’s recognition at MA-g places him among over 250 avant-garde artists, including iconic figures like Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, signifying a profound milestone in museum history.

“Avant-garde,” is a term that refers to pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.

“I am extremely honored and humbled. It is a remarkable milestone in my creative journey, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of such a prominent platform. The acknowledgment, especially considering Switzerland’s exacting standards in art and design, is truly fulfilling,” said Ong.

 

Part of a stellar contemporary collection

Under the museum’s Contemporary Collection, Ong will join global contemporary agencies such as M/M Paris (collaborator of Icelandic singer-songwriter and composer, Björk), WORK Pte Ltd (brainchild of the “Godfather of Singapore Graphic Design,” Theseus Chan), Bedow (Stockholm), BVD Stockholm AB (Stockholm), Socio Design (London) and Milkxhake (Hong Kong), among others.

Ong’s music packaging design for the Filipino harsh noise duo, White Widow, will be featured in the museum. The band’s album “The God Uterus Dissolves” — released under Melt Records — features an unconventional cassette tape packaging incorporating a hand-crafted wire mesh, elevating it into a unique and bespoke collector’s item.

The museum’s selection process for its Contemporary Collection involved three categories: Graphic Design, Photography, and Illustration. Swiss-Canadian Fritz Gottschalk, a prominent figure in contemporary graphic design, led the Graphic Design category.

“This is profoundly validating for me as a graphic designer. Being part of a museum’s permanent contemporary collection is a lasting testament to my capabilities as an artist,” said Ong.

‘Poetry you can touch’

The graphic designer from Cebu City further defined the album as a “deliberate departure from the ordinary,” stating that it was a testament to the artist’s and band’s dedication to pushing boundaries and offering the audience a unique and immersive experience.

“Careful consideration was given to every detail, including choosing a premium supplier for the cassette tape. Opting for a screen-printed cassette, where design elements were applied directly to the surface, gave it a contemporary and visually striking result, helping us reinforce the design narrative,” said Ong.

“From the cohesive placement of elements to using symbols instead of track titles on the spine and customizing fonts, every aspect was carefully thought out. Rather than opting for the conventional wire mesh treatment on print, I took a bold step by incorporating a hand-crafted wire mesh, adding a unique and sensory dimension to the album — almost like poetry you can touch.”

 

Profound honor

Established in 2003, Inodoro Design Studio under Ong’s leadership has garnered global acclaim for its bold design philosophy, spanning music, fashion, architecture, culture and technology. In becoming the first Filipino whose work will be on display at the MA-g, Ong stated that it is “particularly humbling.”

“Traditionally, these privileges are given to individuals who have amassed decades of experience, attained mastery in their craft, or even as a posthumous acknowledgment. To be among those selected is a profound and unexpected honor,” he said.

“Museums typically focus on visual artists, and for a graphic designer, especially within the realm of commercial work, recognition can be more elusive. I appreciate the challenges of this less conventional route and I am committed to proving the significance of graphic design in the broader artistic landscape.”

Art enthusiasts can anticipate viewing Ong’s work with “The God Uterus Dissolves” at MA-g, scheduled to open to the general public in 2025.

***

About The Museum of Avant-garde (MA-g)

The Museum of Avant-garde compiles an original body of work from private collections, providing a unique perspective on the cultural and artistic significance of avant-garde movements. These movements, synonymous with transformative ideologies and daring experimentations, played a pivotal role in challenging political and societal conventions. For more information, visit www.ma-g.org.

 

About Inodoro

Inodoro is the creative moniker of graphic designer and art director PJ Ong, a prominent figure in the Philippine design scene. Established in 2003, Inodoro Design Studio, based in Cebu, Philippines, has garnered international recognition for its bold and distinctive design, with a focus on thought-driven imagery and iconic visual language. The studio specializes in identities, custom typography, graphic design and art direction. For more information, visit www.inodoro-design.com.

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Ladies Who Support Ladies

Women’s Circle is an organization composed of Cebuano ladies who are successful entrepreneurs and top executives.  They recently held a fellowship event at the Sheraton Mactan Resort, with special guests from the Women’s Business Council Philippines. Chairperson, Rosemarie Rafael and Council Secretary Cynthia Mamon both flew in from Manila to discuss alliances between the Cebu and Manila groups.

Loot bag from Jo Malone, Sheraton, R&M Chocomanga, gift card from Maayo Clinic, sarong from Ferimar.

The half day event was organized by Perl Jacalan, Gina Atienza and Eva Gullas. Sheraton Resort through its GM Dottie Wugler Cronin supported the event as it is aligned with the hotel’s women initiatives.  The successful event was made more fun with generous give-aways, notably Jo Malone perfumes, Sheraton bags, R&M Chocomanga and sarongs from Ferimar.

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Eight Years of Redefining Hospitality Service

by Allain Dumon Fonte

The person behind the very successful chain of Bayfront Hotel  Cebu is the youngest son of entrepreneur couple, Edgar and Gregoria Cokaliong.  I first met Charlton as a young and dashing gentleman busily working in their textile business.  I am impressed with how he excellently juggled taking care of orders, organizing shipments, arranging deliveries, accounting, and even managing the staff of their textile company.  Charlton is an alumnus of Cebu Eastern College where he finished his primary and secondary education.  He then went to the University of San Carlos and studied accountancy.  He successfully passed the accounting licensure examinations, and worked as a certified public accountant while helping in the family’s textile business; who would have thought that he would venture into hospitality.  

Charlton Cokaliong (Managing Director of Bayfron Hotel Cebu). Picture taken at the Bayfront Hotel Lobby.

In 2014, he first opened Bayfront Hotel Cebu at the North Reclamation Area.  I even wondered why of all the places that he can start a hotel, he had to choose the North Reclamation Area.  I find the location appalling for a hotel.  What view will the guests see?  I would not want to stay in a room where the views are cranes, machines, and container vans from the sea port.  Yet, Charlton foresaw the future of hospitality service.  He knew that with the recent developments of Cebu City, people will prefer to stay in hotels that are near to the city, and have access to almost everything they need.  The hotel is right across SM City Cebu, 10 minutes from the sea ports, 30 minutes from the airport, and 15 minutes to almost all the tourist destinations in the city and in the hills of Cebu.  Then, he made the hotel packages and event packages reasonably priced; yet, with a 5-star quality of service.  I even questioned, are you not losing for the prices that you have set?  However, since the hotel opened and up to the present, Bayfront Hotel Cebu has always been fully booked and is becoming the primary choice of venue for events and celebrations.  Charlton explained that he foresaw that with the rising economy and the rising population of the metropolitan, people will always prefer to celebrate special occasions; yet, considering the inflation every year, people will also choose to become more practical by spending less  without compromising quality.  And this is what Bayfront Hotel Cebu delivers, an experience of excellent hospitality service at a price that no other can match.

Bayfront Hotel Cebu in Capitol Site.

Because of the continuous demand for their hotel rooms and venues, Charlton opened another Bayfront Hotel Cebu in September 2021.  This time the location is at the heart of the uptown of Cebu in the Capitol Site.  Again, Charlton banked on the great location of the second Bayfront hotel.  I once again questioned him on this; considering the competition in the area because of the many up and coming business hotels that offer the same rates and packages.  Charlton smiled and confidently said that apart from the great location, he also banks on the quality of service that his staff can deliver.  “If you take care of your staff very well, your staff will take good care of your customers”.  I have seen first hand how Charlton handles and manages his staff at their textile store, so I know how he also handles and takes good care of his staff in the hotel.  And I realized that this is his biggest selling point, the hotel’s incomparable service and friendliness.  Even though the hotel opened in the middle of pandemic restrictions, the new hotel is getting countless reservations; most especially that the Capitol Site Bayfront Hotel offers an amazing view of the city skyline at its roofdeck bar and pool area.  The gym , pool , and bar amenities at the hotel’s roof deck with its view are a must to be experienced.

Standard De Luxe Room at the Bayfront Hotel Cebu.

Early of 2022, Charlton also opened the hotel’s in-house dining feature.  For seven years, Bayfront Hotel Cebu was catered by a third party food concessionaire.  But, again, Charlton foresees that the Filipino market will be more critical to food and taste.  I asked, why is this?  Charlton explained that with travel becoming more affordable and accessible, people will get to experience different kinds of food and dine in different restaurants.  Hence, people will now learn to benchmark, not only from local restaurants, but also from their dining experiences around the Philippines and overseas.  Therefore, Bayfront Hotel Cebu needs to step up its game in dining.  With the opening of Caja Kitchen, Bayfront Hotel offers more selections of Asian and Filipino comfort food fusion with international cuisines.  With Caja Kitchen, Charlton turned a Filipino menu into an international dining experience. I asked him how he came up with all these.  Charlton  explained that dedication to make his guests happy and satisfied is the key motivation why he does not stop thinking about innovating and reinventing everyone’s hospitality and dining experience. 

Caja Restaurant: Bayfront Hotel Cebu’s in-house dining facility.

In September of this year, the Bayfront Hotel Cebu in North Reclamation Area is officially celebrating its 8th year of wonderful and excellent hospitality service; while the Bayfront Hotel Cebu in Capitol turns 1!  Great and exciting anniversary promotions and packages await its patrons and guests!  Please visit the social media pages of Bayfront Hotel Cebu to know the amazing anniversary deals!

With my last question, what does he have in mind now.  Charlton just smiled and said, “Well, who knows?  Another Bayfront Hotel Cebu shall rise soon!”.  After this interesting conversation, I can say that Charlton is truly a man who can foresee the future; may it be in business, in the market, with the trends, and with new experiences.  

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