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Just for U

imageR U 18 to 25 years old? R U dynamic and active? Would U like to be trendy and up-to-date? Do U have a young mindset? Do U dream?

Then, this one’s just for U.

Fact is, U is here. That was no typo error, U read that right. U is a young, hip lifestyle store.

But just who R U?

You tell us: "It christens me Generation X but I have my own name. It classifies my attitudes as if they do not evolve. Listen up. I reserve the right to breathe life in and exhale its toxins out as I go along – so save your labels for other consumers. The world wants me to play the game but I see in everything the promise of change.

"The world thinks it knows me. How can it when even now I am discovering myself?

Record executives assume they have my tastes all figured out. I listen to whatever makes my spirit soar and my hips sway; it has little to do with the music genre or flashy video they cook up. Music to me is a deeply personal choice – it cannot be decreed by a brainstorming session on the 38th floor.

"What do I wear? Anything I want.

"U see ... I am the new establishment. I am U."

Now we know. U want to hear more?

image"The people behind U explain: "We understand that the youth see the world in a different light. The philosophy of U is to reflect the candor, exuberance, and realism of the young dynamic lifestyle. U’s starting point is to create an environment where an individual – whether guy or girl – can develop his or her own style. A venue for a genuine declaration of independence if you will.

"U will not dictate; it will listen. Through its idiosyncratic merchandise offering, service with a twist, and original value-added events, U joins the customer in a shared aspiration: freedom of expression.

"U will not presume anything. Young people alone will be its inspiration. Its insights will be taken from the source, not imposed on a generation weary of being misunderstood.

"U tell us ... what U want out of life ... what goals U aspire for ... what problems U want to share with us ... what U hate ... and what U love ..."

And who really understands what U want?

"We at Rustan’s do," says the young, hip and stylish Katrina Tantoco, one of the creative spirits behind U, which will be launched this month with a fashion show and a big party hosted by young dynamo Tim Yap. "We sensed the urgency of providing a burgeoning youth market with an environment that addresses significant elements of their lifestyle. U aims to create the ultimate experience for the young adult consumer. And we cater to both guys and girls. We consider both sexes equally. This is a store that’s half for men and half for women."

Which is what makes U quite different.

"We found out that the guys felt there was no place for them to shop," Katrina reveals. "The guys were saying, ‘We don’t feel like the stores welcome us.’ We also discovered that the guys don’t want to have to move around to find things for themselves. They’re saying, ‘We want everything there on one floor – our clothes, shoes, bags, our colognes, our shaving creams, even our swimwear, shorts, basketball outfit, exercise outfit.’ A lot of young people now go to the gym and they’re into sports like surfing, skiing, and wake boarding. Actually, I’m into wake boarding myself and have become obsessed with it."

U took more than a year to conceptualize. It all started when Katrina’s dad Rico Tantoco, Rustan Commercial Corporation president, asked Katrina for some help with Rustan’s young division.

imageWith a degree in English Literature tucked under her belt, Katrina opted to come home after college in California. "I felt I could make more of a difference here than I could in the States," she says with a smile as bright as the sunlight filtering through the glass walls of Rustan’s Essenses.

She was just the person U needed. "I thought about it but I didn’t know if I wanted to go into retail," says Katrina. "However, after writing a proposal for the young division, I got more passionate about it."

Katrina goes on to relate: "We had a lot of focus groups, went out on the field, did a lot of surveys. The survey groups included students, college graduates and young professionals."

And the survey says: "Young people want a lifestyle store," Katrina stresses. "They don’t want to have to go around the department store to look for what they want. They want to find everything there in front of them on the same floor. They want to really feel that the space is theirs."

Ma. Regina SJ. Bonoan, young adults division merchandising manager, adds, "They want not just a store that sells clothes and accessories. They want a place where they can hang out, have fun, or just talk to each other or interact."

U want it, U got it. "Ultimately, it is the customer who inspires," Katrina points out. "It is their unique and individual take on clothes and music, and the world that educates. Our drive is to constantly look and listen in order to build meaningful relationships with our customers. Our purpose is to create an environment in which each individual venturing into U may discover and develop his or her own style and individuality."

Do U have more questions?

"We’re on the third floor, where Kenneth Cole, the eyeglass area, umbrella store, etc. used to be," Katrina describes U’s location. "We’re on the same floor as Starbucks, Wendy’s, Time Zone and the cinema."

Now, let Katrina walk U through U, which is all of 2,648 sq. m. From the main entrance, U go through a long tunnel painted orange. U see a big TV screen that features the U and MTV videos. Then there’s the U logo (just a circle with the letter "u" in the middle) which tells U you’re in a different world. Stop, look and admire the display window for the U brand (for which young designers like Katrina and Rhett Eala design).

"It’s our best feature," Katrina prides, "it’s different from the rest of the store. It’s like the graphics of the U logo but it’s rotating, it’s not the usual display window with clothes. The graphics are very mechanical. We hired Retail Planning Association from the US to design the floor as well as the logo."

Past the tunnel is the area called Trend Watch, which, says Katrina, "will feature whatever’s the highlight of our merchandise, whatever’s trendy for that month, and will change monthly."

As U go in, U will see the U female private label, partnered by the U male. The U brand is trendier than the Young VIP and this time, there’s a male counterpart to the female label.

Listen to the U symphony offering: sportswear/streetwear, active/athletic clothes that can be worn as casual streetwear, basics such as denim jeans, khakis, basic tees and staple undergarments, clubwear or party/trendy clothes, high fashion apparel, "disposable chic," hottest trends in apparel and accessories.

"The objective is to create a complete brand that will match international brands," Katrina is proud to declare. "Thirty percent of our collection is locally made like our Young VIP which is 100 percent local plus our shoes, bags and accessories. We’re trying to develop our local suppliers."

According to Katrina, the Young VIP remains true to its character as a flirty, casual, very Filipino, chic brand.

So how would U describe the U female and the U male?

She/he is unique and distinctive, daring and bold, up-to-date, chic, energetic, animated, dynamic, and relies partly on the notion that fashion and music are interrelated.

"We’re bringing in the hottest and most popular brands from the US and Europe," says Katrina. "These include Rampage, Steve Madden, BC Ethic, Kikwear, Paris Blues, Dollhouse, Caffeine, Buggiri, Yak Pak Bags, Syrup, Urban Outfitters (Free People/Bulldog). The sports brands currently offered are Fresh Jive, Rusty, Adidas, Puma, Nike, Billabong, Quiksilver, Beach Patrol, Cover Style, Sanuk, Ferrari, Formula 1. U will have Gap and Old Navy sometime August."

"Our added attraction is that we have a wider range of sizes for everyone," says Ma. Regina. "Aside from small, medium and large, now we have extra small and extra large, based on the Asian size."

The U female department will have back walls that are lit. "They’ll change colors so there’s constant movement," Katrina describes, "like from hues of blue to hues of yellow. We wanna have movement on the floor."

The shoe salon features Rampage, Steve Madden, Chinese Laundry, Kenneth Cole Reaction, and Me Too Shoes.

Then, suddenly U are in accessory haven. There, U have room and apartment accessories (frames, candles, small furniture), gadgets galore and gift items, fashion jewelry, body and hair accessories.

Just looking at the cosmetics bar makes you feel, uh, pretty. It offers hip, young branded (like Urban Decay) and non-branded cosmetic lines. Yes, U can touch the cosmetics and try them on.

"We’ve sourced new brands for young people," says Katrina. "We have makeup for young skin, sheer powder, lip gloss, oil paper blotters, skincare products. We have a line for students called, yes, For Students from the US. The prices are very reasonable."

There’s an outdoor balcony area that faces Hotel Inter-Continental and the Glorietta Mall for those who feel claustrophobic and want some air.

And hear this: There’s a Tower Records Listening Station featuring a carefully selected compilation of music ranging from trance, house, Latin, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, new age, chill-out, and alternative.

This one U will surely enjoy with friends: the fully interactive zone area. Imagine features like a photo imaging station, Web TVs, a magazine station, and yes, a techie station where U have Palm Pilots, mobile phones, and an area for recharging.

"When you walk through the whole floor, it’s really like you’re exploring," says Katrina. "Even the shape of the floor is different – it’s like walking through a maze. You’ll find areas that you probably didn’t find the first time. So the second time you see it, you go, ‘Oh, wow!’ There are some hidden areas."

U is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 12 midnight on weekends. "But that’s not final," Katrina says in an assuring tone. "If they demand that we stay open later, then we’ll stay open later."

But of course, all of U’s sales people are young. "Our sales associates include students from Ateneo, Poveda, La Salle, and Assumption," says Ma. Regina. "They’re good-looking kids from good families who want to earn their own money by doing part-time work. They underwent extensive training in merchandise, selling, customer service, how to communicate with customers, the concept of the floor, etc."

Do good clothes and good coffee blend?

Certainly. U’s also got its own Starbucks Cafe. And U bet, there’ll be more brewing in this store.

Hmmm ... this U gotta see.

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