MANILA, July 16, 2003 By Ching M. Alano (STAR) Magazine, a Pinoy lifestyle store, opened its pages, er, doors, recently in Shanghai, reputedly the Paris of Asia. "We called it Magazine because it’s got a complete table of contents like your favorite magazine," says ex-restaurateur and teacher Lauro Franco, one of three authors of Magazine. The two other creative geniuses behind Magazine are retailing king Ben Chan of the growing Bench empire and young entrepreneur Carlson Chan.

Fact is, the story of Magazine is quite an interesting read. It begins with a restaurateur-professor saying goodbye to his students in a Hotel and Restaurant Management class. "I was telling my students that I had this strong feeling that it was going to be my last semester in school because I might be traveling," relates Franco. "I taught at La Salle, Lyceum and La Consolacion, starting at 6 a.m. and finishing at 7 p.m."

One day, Franco was watching Larry King Live and King was talking about Shanghai as famous Shanghai scenes were flashed on the screen. Fifteen minutes later, Franco’s phone rang. The guy on the other end of the line identified himself as Bob Boris from Shanghai. Franco recounts, "He said he had heard about me from Sau del Rosario, who was my executive chef at Le Taxi (a restaurant-cum-bar managed by Franco). He was working in Shanghai and he recommended my name because this guy was looking for a manager for his restaurant."

Franco accepted the offer, packed his bags, flew to Shanghai and never looked back. He helped his American boss open three burger outlets, a bar and a clubhouse. Soon, he realized how much money was coming in and how hard he’d been working to make somebody else rich. One of his students remembers the nugget of wisdom he once shared: "Don’t think about the money. Even if you’re just a bus boy, make sure you’re the best bus boy."

With only US$7,000 in his pocket and banking on his expertise as a restaurateur, Franco opened a small cafe of his own.

Many colorful episodes later, he was driving down an exclusive district in Shanghai when he saw this place, rather, space. "The place was ideal for a lifestyle store," he gushes. "I called up Carlson Chan and he came over to see it for himself. He said it was so nice."

Completing the dream team was Ben Chan. The story goes that Franco and Carlson were watching a fashion show with Ben Chan when they casually mentioned to Ben their dream of putting up a lifestyle store. But Franco told Ben that he might not be interested. To which Ben, who also owns Dimensione, a chain of contemporary furniture stores, retorted, "Why wouldn’t I be interested?"

And now, Magazine has hit the stands, er, Shanghai’s throbbing shopping scene. There are a lot of people in Shanghai with lots of money to spend. It’s certainly the place to be, everybody’s high on Shanghai. Universal Studios is set to open in Pudong, Shanghai in 2006. A lot of international events are slated to take place in Shanghai. Nobu owner Nobu Matsuhisa has gone to Shanghai to take a look at the space where Nobu will rise soon. A high-end French resto is opening there, too.

"Some people have a myopic view of China, they’re afraid of being copied and don’t want to have anything to do with China," Franco laments. "But the trend now is to go global. And I believe it’s about time the Pinoy made his presence felt in Shanghai."

And add a page to Shanghai’s shopping history. A visit to Magazine is really like leafing through the pages of a magazine. For the cover, there’s the billboard/window display. For the front page, there’s the Andalucian-style door in wood and wrought iron (designed by architect-writer Miguel Pastor, who’s also behind the visuals and merchandising) inviting you to discover the pleasures of skimming through the contents of Magazine. "The space opens up to you, very clean, like there are no walls," says Franco, as he begins to give us a blow-by-blow account of what’s inside Magazine. "It’s very industrial. You’ll be overwhelmed!"

He notes, "We’d like to do a well-edited collection and we’d like to display them as museum pieces. And just like a magazine, we’re going to change the look or the theme every season."

Several flights of stairs in machuca tiles lead you to a "floating" office and the cafe. More like a lounge area, the cafe serves a simple menu of salads, paninis and drinks. "We can only microwave food, nothing is cooked in the cafe," says Franco.

While you sip your coffee, you can relax and enjoy reading the many magazines that are part of the cafe’s menu.

To perk up this corner, Magazine is soon setting up a corner selling Glenda Barretto’s frozen foods, Lourdes Labrador’s fruit preserves and, of course, those yummy Oishi goodies. Franco brings more sizzling good news to China. On a recent visit to Manila, Franco sat with restaurateurs like Rikki Dee and Gaita Fores. "We’re bringing to Shanghai resto concepts like Dish, Cibu and Tequila Joe’s. We might also do a Via Mare in Shanghai. All the premier restos are going to Shanghai so it’s time we went there to compete on their level."

Magazine, a complete lifestyle store, brings to Shanghai some of the very best the Pinoys can offer. Sitting proudly at the Magazine store are fine indigenous furniture pieces crafted by Cebu-based Kenneth Cobonpue. Architect Lor Calma is doing a whole collection of his famous lounge chair. Al Caronan of TN Philippines, Inc. is doing side tables and capiz lamps. Franco has also talked to two other members of the globe-trotting Movement 8, Milo Naval and Tes Pasola. Pampango artist Claude Tayag is doing wooden furniture, like his very Zen food trays, platters and rice bowls, and this portable trolley that converts from a bar to a buffet table.

"In Shanghai, apartments are very small so you need space-saving furniture," Franco points out.

Magazine makes ample use of its space with its well-edited mix of merchandise. Aside from furniture, it’s got an art gallery with works by sculptor Impy Pilapil and young artist Jojo Lo Franco. Also on display are the early works of Gabby Barredo, like his functional table, chair and planter, from Ben Chan’s collection.

"We’re giving people a second option," Franco asserts. "Instead of spending P60,000 on a three-seater sofa, for instance, you’ll probably get it for a quarter of that price from somebody like Kenneth Cobonpue."

Helen Ho-Delgado, daughter of artist Anita Magsaysay-Ho and she of the very pretty (and very expensive) quilts found in high-end boutiques like Neiman Marcus, is doing an exclusive line (like quilted throw pillows, duvets and loungewear) for Magazine called Papaya. She’s got a shop in Xintiendi, Shanghai’s elite district. Says Franco, "It’s a very Indo-Chine, French turn-of-the-century kind of thing that we want to recreate with Papaya. But always, there’s a Filipino connection. So when we go to Cebu, for instance, we’ll look for a specific kind of look."

Magazine is also launching a national contest with the Philippine School of Interior Designs where young designers will be asked to do Davao-inspired furniture.

And what’s a lifestyle store without clothes?

"Of course, we have the fashion atelier," says Franco. "I’ve talked to Jojie Lloren, Randy Ortiz, Patrice Ramos-Diaz and Dennis Lustico who’ll each do a 12-piece collection plus a bridal gown. These designers have been to China and have seen what kind of fashion sense the Shanghainese women have. The new generation of Shanghainese is very brand- and price-conscious."

Adds a delighted Franco, "We’re very excited because there’s nobody who makes ready-to-wear bridal gowns in China. China’s bridal market is something we can definitely tap."

More "marry" news: Joe Salazar, a favorite of Manila’s brides, is lending Magazine some of his memorable wedding gowns. Of course, if there are interested buyers, Joe will only be too happy to do a copy. Lucy Torres-Gomez has lent her gown with the cabbage rose that she wore to Ruffa Gutierrez’s wedding.

Arnel Papa is bringing his fashion accessories like his mother-of-pearl and carabao horn collections. Magazine is also presenting one-of-a-kind excavated jewelry. "We found an antique dealer who was willing to part with her collection," says Franco with a glow in his eyes.

And for bag freaks, fine bag ladies Edna Cruz, Trisha Cruz-Cuason and Lally Cruz-Dizon are bringing to China their native Pa du du bags by Martinique, crafted from the best that these islands can offer. Why, they can even compare with the ethnic-inspired bags that name brands like Nine West and Coach recently came up with! Pa du du has bagged a place at the second floor of Rustan’s Shangri-La where its bags have become instant bestsellers.

"I’ve been blessed," says an ecstatic Franco. "Magazine is on the main artery of Shanghai and right across us is a tourist spot – the house of Madame Sun Yat Sen. So there’ll be a lot of tourists coming in."

Oh yes, don’t forget to drop by the souvenir corner so you can bring home a piece of Magazine and loads of memories with you.

Happy reading, er, shopping!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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