Ground Zero: No Faking the Charriol Success

Charriol founder Philippe Charriol and wife Olga

MANILA, Philippines - We caught up with the perennially well-tanned Philippe Charriol (yes, he of the global fashion brand) as he was adding even more sun-blessed luster on himself by the swimming pool of the Peninsula Manila. He was taking a break after the hustle and bustle of an eventful trip to Beijing, where he launched his ready-to-wear clothing line (described by him as “trendy and lots of color”) for men.

It was freezing in Beijing so I am making the most of it in Manila by taking in the sun, of which there is always plenty,” he offered by way of mitigation as we sat in poolside shade with him in skimpy swimming gear and me in a jacket.

As always, a cool new accoutrement from the multi-faceted Charriol collection is never far from his persona and this time—and quite appropriately—it’s a stunning pair of red and gray shades, which he mentions will soon be available in the Philippines.

The Charriol brand—which has had a significant and popular presence in the Philippines since the early 1980s in partnership with the Rustan’s Group of Companies—is described by its founder and designer-in-chief as “a middle-sized brand.” Nevertheless, during this most recent trip to Beijing, Charriol was quick to discover that in the vast consumer market that is the People’s Republic of China, even “middle-sized” is massive when compared to other designer-savvy countries around the world.

So when his dealer in Beijing suggested bringing a “handful” of the brand’s local distributors to meet him, the “handful” turned out to be 700! And, according to Charriol, it will be a “modest” start for his ready-to-wear line. Except that in China, “modest” translates to around 80 stand-alone stores opening this year alone! 

Frenchman Charriol, who started his career as the point man for Cartier in Asia with a base in Hong Kong (where he lived for many years in a house with a view to die for overlooking Repulse Bay), now resides in homes between France and Switzerland. But he was house-hunting during his brief stopover in Manila since he is mulling a move back to Asia for three or four years while he oversees his fashion line and other business ventures he is eyeing in China, and “the Philippines seems like an ideal prospect to put down roots for a while.”

So how about the problem of fake merchants in China—the global center for ripping off designer brands—violating his intellectual property rights by marketing knocked-off copies of his accessories? “Actually, since I am still not way up there in China, it’s not been too much of a problem,” he says almost with relief.

But he recalls a time browsing around a bazaar in Dubai where he spotted a shopkeeper with a display of authentic Charriol gear. He must have been studying the display with longing in his eyes, for the canny shop keeper—not having a clue about who he was dealing with—then dived underneath and produced some fake Charriol items and uttered in lowered tones: “If you have money you buy the real thing, but if you don’t have too much money, don’t worry, I sell you the fake.”

Charriol merely shrugged his shoulders in Gallic disbelief and walked away.

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It’s a touching trait of Chinese parents that they love having their children live near them even after they get married and leave the family roost. So this particular (and generous) dad with a son who is one of the biggest names in the Philippine fashion retail scene (with a major presence in every mall and on every billboard) has been buying for his children the houses around him in a smart corner of Forbes Park—with three bagged already, even though they don’t come cheap.

The only holdout in that corner of this exclusive enclave is the diplomatic residence owned by a European country and occupied by its ambassador. And we doubt that it will be up for sale any time soon.

* * *

For it to occur once could be considered unfortunate. For the same thing to happen again would be careless. But when it happens a third time, then it’s sure to get bells ringing conspiratorially.

That, according to informed café society tattle, is the number of known times in recent months when President Benigno Aquino III has signed the appointment papers of someone to an important (and coveted) position in government, only to find said papers allegedly mysteriously disappearing in some corner of an important office that has now been dubbed by Palace insiders as the “Bermuda Triangle.”

Of course, the relevant papers (as what happened in the case of the new appointees to head the Bureau of Immigration and the National Telecommunications Commission) do eventually turn up after an uncomfortable lapse of time, enabling the appointees to finally be administered their oath of office. And that only happens when whoever it is with an alleged private agenda in the Palace realizes that the particular appointment is non-negotiable.

But, needless to say, the real victim in such cases is the President’s avowed mission of good governance.

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