Vogue’s fashion editor Daryl Chang let out a gasp as soon as the brand’s letters appeared on the video wall before us. You couldn’t ask for a stronger engagement than that; that was all you needed to capture how the Philippines welcomed Lemaire May 11 in a home of trailblazing architecture, on one of the highest points in Tagaytay.
And that reaction was captured in a livestream the guests enjoyed tremendously; we still can’t forget how Bea Ledesma hammed it up for the live feed. A select handful of guests (less than 50) had gathered in the room of the night’s reveal—select style arbiters, many of whom were already followers of the famous Parisian brand.
After a well-curated dinner by Margarita Forés, without fanfare, the guests were led to a door that opened to a candle-lit room. A fresh reinvigorating scent was enough to lead you in, such that one guest thought the launch would be for a fragrance.
Two racks of pieces from the Spring-Summer collection lined one side of the room, which the guests wasted no time scrutinizing as soon as the film reveal was done. And on one side was arrayed Lemaire’s famous “croissant” bags, shoes.
This was one launch that didn’t see the need for a runway show. What it had was an intimate connection with Lemaire—and engagement—and, by the way, the guests snapped up some pieces on the spot. “We haven’t done launches, really,” says Mark “Jappy” Gonzalez as we drive to Tagaytay. What Jappy wanted was to turn the day into a special journey for Homme et Femme, the concept store he established under H&F Concepts 28 years ago, and grew into a lifestyle brand for a discerning clientele. The Tagaytay dinner was actually to mark that milestone, but in a uniquely memorable and quiet way.
Jappy, the only Filipino retailer given recognition by the agenda-setter Business Of Fashion (BOF 500), is the founder of H&F Retail Concepts, which owns multi-brand stores Homme et Femme, Univers, monobrand stores including Comme des Garçons, Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Y-3. BOF defined Homme et Femme as “one of the top luxury destinations in Manila, Philippines.” Lemaire is its latest brand, along with FForme, to add to Auralee, Common Projects, Dior Homme, Maison Rabih Kayrouz, sacai, Thom Browne, Zero Maria Cornejo.
Jappy has always swam away from, if not against, the tide of local fashion and lifestyle retail. He has been a disruptor since the 1990s long before that tag was coined.
Homme et Femme, through the decades, has captured lifestyle consumers who know what they want, are no blind victims of trends, and who make clear choices. More important, they are confident about their informed choices, enough to seek them out in any of the H&F stores. He has discovered a niche market of fashion/lifestyle that has definitive taste, a good knowledge of the brand, and more important, an informed commitment to the brand.
Homme et Femme is never built on hype. It’s built on quiet substance
He’s able to grow the brand using his innate pulse of the market. His, as proved in Homme et Femme, has never been a superficial feel of the market and the brand. The amazing lesson of Homme et Femme, as well as Univers, the other store Jappy opened, is that it’s never built on hype. It’s built on quiet substance. Jappy and I were chuckling on our car ride to Tagaytay when I used a pre-pre-millennial term: “Hindi ampao.” (Ampao is a favorite delicacy in Chinatown that has a bloated form but is empty inside.) “GenZers won’t even know the term,” Jappy chided me.
In recent years, Jappy the disruptor has been focusing on data management to further know the target clienteles of his various brands. But that story is for another day.
It is this ethos of informed sophistication that this Lemaire launch is coming from—low-key, intimately special, highly engaged, from the choice of the venue to the cocktails and dinner, to the choices of clothes and accessories ready for scrutiny and wear. Lemaire at Homme et Femme was turned into an experience of a journey. The concept was to mix emotion with function, sophistication with subtlety, like the brand does.
Lemaire was turned into an experience of a journey, mixing emotion with function, sophistication with subtlety
And to that we add, not time-bound. The Raffi’s Way, as the private home of the Zuluetas is now known, is in a way timeless. It is known as among the first homes in Tagaytay (actually it is in Talisay) to be built with a 360-degree view of the ridge and the lake beyond. Businessman Raffi Zulueta conceived this home in 1983; it was finished in 1986, according to artist and space planner Budji Layug, whom Raffi tapped for this collaboration. Raffi wanted an organic or biomorphic structure that follows the terrain; the shape is fluid, such that the interiors have no sharp corners. Budji introduced an open layout for the living and dining areas—no walls to separate the spaces and to obstruct the panoramic view of Tagaytay. The terrace, now a favorite cocktail area for events, is designed to seem afloat in the air—your best front seat view to the sunrise and the sunset. Someone said it reminded him of Santorini—perhaps, yes, only this one has tropical lushness.
This house was so ahead of its time. This Instagrammable home, conceived way before social media, became Budji’s “calling card,” so to speak; it set him on the path of designing homes.
This became the perfect home for the launch of Lemaire, the Parisian brand that has become known for its sophisticated functionality, yet rich in influences. Like its setting, the brand is innovative minimalism noted for its sleek silhouettes, neutral and soft tones which highlight the pure lines of the silhouette, and the practical features—in short, wearable yet uniquely individual.
With Christophe Lemaire and Sarah-Linh Tran at the helm, Lemaire crafts fabrics sourced in Europe and Japan, designed for everyday wear, modular and thus lending itself to restyling and re-accessorizing. Pieces from different collections can be mixed and matched while maintaining the flow and movement on the body. To quote the notes on the brand: “Some elements are borrowed from traditional Asian clothing: deep pockets, sleek design, and the allegory of the perfectly proportioned home as a protective shelter for a peaceful, self-assured life.”
Christophe Lemaire won the Andam award in 1991, the French fashion award established in 1989 as a joint venture between the French Ministry of Culture and the Defi Mode fashion organization. This motivated him to create his own eponymous brand, a women’s collection to which he added a men’s prêt-à-porter collection in 1995. According to the Lemaire website, “He put the brand on hold in 2000 to focus on his role as the artistic director of Lacoste, relaunching in 2007 with the opening of the flagship boutique and its cozy atmosphere in Paris’ Le Marais district. In 2010, Lemaire was joined by Sarah-Linh Tran, marking a turning point for the label, which rebranded as Lemaire….The collections are now retailed in the boutique in Le Marais, on the brand’s website, and in the world’s top department stores, fashion boutiques, and online shops.”
Another icon, Margarita “Gaita” Forés, prepared cocktails and dinner that was, to put it best, so brand-fit. It was rich with flavors and technique yet not overpowering or satiating. Starter was chilled soba, ikura, nomad caviar, Hokkaido coquilles Saint Jacques, with nori French olive oil and lemon. Gaita flew in white marlin from Bohol and served it in Miso Beurre Blanc with fennel confit. Then came an organic chicken breast tonkatsu with French cepes mousseline. The Black Sesame Millefeuille was among the best desserts we’ve had.
Homme et Femme has always believed that fashion must reflect reality. With functionality and practicality in its DNA, every garment’s adjustable feature seamlessly fits in each one’s lifestyle. With elevated details such as sleek silhouettes and deep pockets, nonchalant minimalism runs through both the presentation and the Spring-Summer 2023.
The strength of Homme et Femme is its ability to bring together global brands with distinct identities to enhance the taste for an individually bold lifestyle.
For the Lemaire Spring-Summer 2023 show in Paris, guests were invited to a journey in a train station hall. The brand’s statement describes the experience: “The guest became active in the set-up, while the models were placed in a situational loop, led by Ana Roxanne’s inner music. Like entering a vivarium, looking at daily life with a magnifying glass, the guests were immersed in a Lemaire world, with its own gestures. The visitor was invited to take time and get closer to the garment, interact with it or with the individuals wearing it, through a look, the wink of an eye, or even a smile.”
See the runway show here: https://eu.lemaire.fr/pages/runway-spring-summer-2023