Albertus Swanepoel x Bench



Sarah Lahbati wears a camouflage knit cap with multicoloured pompom from the Albertus Swanepoel x Bench line, P399.


I was so honoured that Bench asked me to host the launch of their collaboration with South Africa-born, New York-based master milliner Albertus Swanepoel. Instead of the usual fashion show extravaganza, Bench set up a beautiful exhibit of Albertus’ creations that included pieces from his archives and the presentation of the current Bench hats. He gave a very generous talk about his design principles, his inspirations, and his methodology to an enthusiastic audience of students.

Albertus Swanepoel is known in fashion circles as the master milliner. He started his career as a fashion designer after receiving a Fine Arts degree and studying fashion design in Johannesburg. In the late 80’s he moved to New York City and found it difficult to find work as a fashion designer, so he started a glove company. He eventually went back to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology and studied millinery. In 2004 he became the hat-maker of Marc Jacobs, and eventually other designers became his customers — Proenza Schouler, Erin Fetherston, Carolina Herrera, Peter Som, Tuleh, Nathan Jenden, Costello Tagliapietra and Thakoon. In 2006 he started his own collection for women which now sells at Barneys New York, Tomorrowland in Tokyo and 10 Corso Como in Seoul to name a few.

In 2008 Albertus was a runner up at the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund. Part of the prize was a special line produced and sold by Gap. This was the turning point of his brand. He eventually did more collaborations with retail giants like Target, J. Crew, Stetson, Club Monaco, and now Bench.


Bench invited design students from St Benilde, SoFA, Fashion Institute of the Philippines and Slim’s. Photo by Miguel Pastor


Albertus and me. I was so inspired by his humility when he told his story of his career path. I learned about his perseverance and dedication to his craft. He has a small studio and workshop in New York where everything is still made by hand. Photo by Miguel Pastor


This collaboration took over a year to plan and manufacture. At the exhibit, Bench showed the “mood board” submitted by Albertus Swanepoel to Ben Chan. It came in a lovely blue box with his logo. Photo by Miguel Pastor


Inside was a hand-written note and sketches. Photo by Miguel Pastor


Albertus Swanepoel sent loose sheets of sketches, drawings, and photos. Everything was written and drawn by Albertus himself. A true master and artist. Photo by Miguel Pastor


He is known for his fedora hats that sell in Barneys for over $400. Now at Bench, you can buy his hats for 400 pesos! These are incredible prices. Photo by Miguel Pastor


The Albertus Swanepoel exhibit at the Bench Tower in BGC.


Select pieces of millinery his archives. You may see these now at Bench in Glorietta.


These are hats he made for his fashion designer clients like Carolina Herrera.


From the Albertus Swanepoel archives, an exaggerated cloche for Narciso Rodriguez.


And here’s what Albertus Swanepoel designed for Bench. Really cute beanies/toques with pompoms on top.


One of my favourites is the pork pie hat. Photo by Miguel Pastor


Sketches and board for the turban-inspired baseball cap.


The fedora sketch and description.


And here’s what they look like. All these hats except for one are priced under P1000.


With my Bench family. What an honour it is to be able to say that. Mr Miguel Pastor, Mrs Nenita Chan Lim, Mr Virgilio Lim and Mr Ben Chan.


Richard and Lucy.


Albertus, me and that hat that all fashion people loved.


Model/Photographer Joan Bitagcol rocking the same hat I bought.


Couldnt decide so I bought four. Ha! Check out #AlbertusXBench at @benchtm. You will love the collection.
The hats I bought. It was hard to choose because they were all really good. And I do wear hats when I need it for practical reasons – to ward of the sun and extreme cold. The baseball cloche with the big embroidered “B” was signed by Albertus. That one is a bit of a statement hat. I’d need a lot of attitude to pull it off. It was too beautiful not to buy so I got one.


Dingdong Dantes wears the short-brimmed seersucker fedora, P899.


Marian Rivera in the soft draped baseball cap, P399.


Joseph Marco wears the fedora hat in knit fabric and straw material, P899.


On Enchong Dee, mixed pattern knitted cap, P349.






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I’m not an expert on bags or luxury goods. I’m sure you’ve noticed via Flickr or Instagram that I own only a few good bags which I hardly rotate. About “it” bags, I just don’t have enough disposable income to spend on big ticket items. Plus, I wear my bags to death. So I can’t be toting around anything too precious. Ever since I had a steady income, I was always committed to more practical and lasting heirlooms like insurance payments, retirement packages, and real estate. Haha. Boring stuff.

But I do love a good bag. Especially those that are well structured, of good leather, and are unrecognizable. Enter Rabeanco, a name that sounds more like a trade name than a luxury brand. Rabeanco is actually an international luxury bag line established in 2004, using the finest quality hides and skins. “Rabeanco has East-meets-West philosophy that combines artisanal leather-craft traditions of Milan with the stark simplicity and innovative silhouettes of Hong Kong.”

The wonderful thing about Rabeanco is you get urban, current designs and great quality leather minus the price tag of a “designer” bag. So from my end, there would be less guilt if I bought a few in different colours. Check out what they have at the moment…


Rabeanco at Shangri-la Plaza East Wing. There is also a Rabeanco in SM Aura and Trinoma.


How cute is this sling bag? I could totally share this with Sophia.


Rabeanco’s most popular bag. This bag has it all – versatility, style, quality, friendly price. The bag can be carried open like a tote. It can be locked with that dangle. And it can be further drawn in with a hook on the opposite seams. This is a good bag.


Look at the leather.


I have been thinking of back packs. On the left is the Cube and the red one is the Tiara. Both so soft and supple!


I am starting to obsess over the Tiara backpack. It has double-faced smooth leather, drawstring closure, zip closure on both sides and adjustable shoulder straps. I’m hoping they have the midnight blue colour. How do you feel about backpacks? I haven’t used one since the early 90s. But I know this would be great for traveling.


Loving the colour and shape.


Various clutches that come with chain straps as well. The Ripple is beautiful. These are the woven leather mini bags. It has a nice unique shell turn-lock.




I told myself I should stop buying hobo bags. I have a few of them. But really, they are the most practical schlepping bags ever.


I got this Cosmos Envelope in black with pink edges. It’s made of Saffiano leather and comes with adjustable and a detachable shoulder strap.


1 Hail hobo; 2 Ripple Woven mini; 3 Coil clutch; 4 Shell small; 5 Trail small shoulder


6 Ripple clutch; 7 Cosmos envelope clutch; 8 Trail


9 Cube;  10 Tiara backpack


11 A group of Seam hobos;  12 Shell large shoulder;  13 Granville.


Rabeanco is available at TriNoma Level 3, SM Aura Mall Level 2, Shangri-la Plaza Level 4 East Wing. Follow Rabeanco in Facebook and Instagram.



Religioso’s Black and White



This season, Religioso’s holiday collection focuses on the stark contrast between black and white. Sisters Choc Religioso-Dayrit and Yvette Religioso-Ilagan designed their signature feminine silhouettes with bold graphics, animal print, and fluid patterns. Also in the collection are a few pieces embroidered with iridescent pearl-like sequins, done in patterns of Tboli weaves.


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Sequined tops made by Tboli groups.


A dark tartan skirt with beaded geometric patterns.



Religioso is at Greenbelt 5, Makati.








This season saw the opening of many foreign fashion brands here in Manila. It is a really exciting time for shoppers, but also a bit nerve-wracking for local retailers. I say all this competition is healthy for our economy. Plus for the many travellers who shop abroad, now you can focus on doing other things that travellers do like eat, see historical/architectural sites, experience local culture. I feel there will be less “need” for me to shop when I travel because almost everything is here now!

A few weeks ago, I attended the launch of Sfera. Its first branch is located at the second floor of SM Makati. Sfera is a Spanish brand that carries current fashion for women, men, and children. I really liked the personality of the brand. Lots of comfortable and current styles, but not exactly too trendy. I found a lot of relaxed clothing that’s perfect for casual days. But also discovered some interesting printed outfits and tailored items. The good news is – prices are very affordable. They had dresses as low as P1,200. On an average, each item I bought didn’t go over P2,000. I think I found my new favourite fast-fashion retailer.


I almost got this grey sweatshirt but realized that I would need to actually make this blog come alive again. It’s kind of been in a long slumber. Haha. So sorry for being lackadaisical about updating my blog.


These printed long sleeve shirt dresses are perfect for lazy weekends, while polished enough for easy meetings.


I wore that red dress during a ribbon cutting ceremony at Manila FAME.


I loved their collection of intimates. I got a couple of these stretchy lace-lined camisoles.


Interesting details


The accessories were arranged by themes. This beaded clutch had that nice Navajo pattern.




The kids clothing are really “cool” – this, according to Sophia and Lily. And really friendly on the pocket. So affordable.


See what I mean?


I don’t know what’s happening, but my girls are really really into sweatshirts these days. They want to wear sweats every day.


Cute tween fashion


They even have infant wear


With the merchandising team of Sfera. I love how no one wears socks in a certain demographic these days.


With Jenni Epperson, Patti Filart and Rica Bonifacio.


sfera collage
Lately all I’ve been wearing is Sfera. Good for non-occasion days and easy to spiff up for dressier parties.


Follow Sfera Philippines on Instagram at @sferaPH



Jewelmer Gala





It has become somewhat of a tradition that this time of the year, Jewelmer hosts a wonderful gala befitting the celebration of the Philippines’ National Gem. Back in 2012, I had the honour of being the host of the Jewelmer Gala. It was so glamorous and luxurious — Patrick Rosas did my hair and makeup and Randy Ortiz made my dress.

This year is Jewelmer’s 35th anniversary. It topped previous events with not just a runway fashion show, but an entire production involving theatre actors, dancers and a story of mankind’s despair over the death and destruction of planet earth, his realization that he can act upon it, and finally, his triumph in restoring balance to the environment. Performers include Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and award-winning actress Angel Aquino accompanied by original arrangements performed by the Manila Philarmonic. Top Filipino models, dressed in couture designed by Rhett Eala went on stage with Jewelmer Joaillerie’s Spring-Summer 2015 Collection.

Also launched was Jewelmer Joaillerie’s 35th Anniversary special pendant, symbolising the miracle of the golden pearl. It is composed of a 13mm golden South Sea pearl surrounded by an 18-karat yellow gold wave with 0.105-carat sparkling diamond “bubbles”. This piece depicts how the pearl is born from the sea even as it protects this miraculous treasure in its depths. It takes about five years and at least 323 individual steps to produce a single pearl. Each piece of this special edition pendant is numbered, handcrafted by Jewelmer’s expert artisans.


Jewelmer Senior Vice President and Creative Director Gaelle Branellec, Jewelmer Deputy CEO Jacques Christophe Branellec and
Jewelmer Senior Vice President and Creative Director Gaelle Branellec and Jewelmer Deputy CEO Jacques Christophe Branellec


Liza Ilarde
Liza Ilarde of Manila Bulletin’s Style Weekend


Jewelmer Marketing Manager Isabel T. San Agustin and Daphe Osena-Paez
With Jewelmer Marketing Manager Isabel T. San Agustin


One of those rare moments, together at an event.


The gala took place at my favourite Manila building, the Philippine International Convention Centre (PICC). I took advantage of the beautiful space and snapped a lot of photos. Here’s my shameless OOTD. I wore a dress off-the-rack from Religioso, made of cotton jersey (bodice) and cotton (skirt). My shoes are from Melissa, yes they are PVC. Bag from Aranaz. And I wore my own pair of studs and strand of white south sea pearls from Jewelmer, of course.


Jewelmer was founded in 1979 by Filipino entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco and French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec in their pearl farm in Palawan, Southern Philippines—one of the few places in the world capable of sustaining the Pinctada maxima oyster that brings forth the rarest of all pearl varieties, the golden South Sea pearl.


Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Ballet Manila (vince Arcilla by Alfred Mendoza Photography)
Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Ballet Manila. Photo by Vince Arcilla by Alfred Mendoza Photography.


Angel Aquino played the role of Mother Earth.


Earth Segment with the Dancers by AM Photography
The Earth segment. Photo by Alfred Mendoza Photography


Earth Segment by Rhett Eala ( Vince Arcilla by Alfred Mendoza Photography)
Rhett Eala creations and the Jewelmer Joaillerie’s Earth collection. Photo by Vince Arcilla by Alfred Mendoza Photography.


Water.  01 Baroque pearls, gems with unusual and dramatic silhouettes, are unexpected free expressions of nature, giving rise to unorthodox jewels that have long fired the imaginations of artists. This free-flowing TOCCATA necklace with 9 golden south sea pearls in 18-karat yellow gold lives up to its name, like a virtuoso piece of swift, lighthearted music. 02. From the  BOLLICINE Collection: A ring composed of one golden South Sea pearls set with diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold. 03 Also from BOLLICINE, a bracelet composed of five golden South Sea pearls set with diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold.


Earth.  01 By far one of the most beautiful pieces of jewellery I’ve seen. This TROPICS necklace is composed of one single baroque South Sea pearl set with diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold reflecting the earth’s bounty and many shapes, colours and textures of the natural world. 02 Scintillating petals unfurl in pavé diamonds, blossoming with the pearl at its heart. Each sparkling flower in the DOLCE ROSA collection is an unforgettable treasure, a sumptuous feast of nature and romance. Dangling earrings composed of two golden South Sea pearls set with 0.368 carat diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold.  03 From the TROPICS Collection: Earrings composed of two golden South Sea pearls set with diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold.


Air.  01 From the LINEA DE ORO Collection, solid, straight lines are drawn in precious gold and set with sparkling stones to make a sophisticated setting against which the sensuous curves of a pearl stand out in stunning detail. A bracelet composed of five golden South Sea pearls set diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold.  02 From the Zen collection, a cuff composed of golden South Sea pearls and diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold.  03 From the Zen collection, amidst symmetrical ripples, a perfect duality of textures, and evenly spaced circles of light, a golden pearl floats in tranquility – a masterwork of breathtaking simplicity. A necklace composed of three golden South Sea pearls set with 20.66 carat diamonds in 18-Karat yellow gold