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A shopkeeper in designer clothing

Shopgirl obsessions: Tina in a T by Alexander Wang dress and CdG PLAY x Converse Pro-leather sneakers

MANILA, Philippines - There are probably two ways to categorize the people who walk into the Univers store in One Rockwell, aside from breaking them down into the haves, who probably send personal shoppers to buy their Balenciaga shirts for them, and the have-nots, who come to paw the Mary Katrantzou dresses that they salivate over on Style.com. The first category are the people who are intimidated by the store staff who are probably better dressed than they are. The second category are those who are relieved by that.

When I meet 25-year-old Tina Ong at the store, bright and early on a Saturday morning, her tiny frame is swathed in a chambray H&M men’s shirt, untucked, over a pair of cuffed men’s jeans by Acne, with a pair of worn-in emerald green wingtips by Kurt Geiger. “I used to work for American Apparel, so my clothes were really, really tight or see-through or girly and a little bit innocent, but now, I’ve learned to appreciate a lot of menswear (while) working for this company,” she explains. “It’s funny because we also carry, obviously, womenswear — super girly stuff — but I’ve come to really appreciate the men’s cuts, attention to detail, especially the shoes.” (Laughs)

As an assistant buyer for H&F Retail Concepts, the company that owns Univers, Homme et Femme and Archives d’ Homme et Femme, and holds the franchises for brands like Balenciaga, Fred Perry and Comme des Garçons, Tina travels to Paris and Milan once a year to help select the merchandise. The rest of the time, she’s checking her e-mail for incoming deliveries, checking the merchandise, the bar coding and yes, working the floor. “It’s a process, really, from invoice down to merchandising visually. So the day-to-day is really, really different!” she says. “On the floor, I like talking to the sales staff and knowing what works for the market, if what we bought was correct. I really like to look at the merchandise. You really appreciate what it is... and then you can’t really appreciate cheaper stuff anymore,” she admits shyly, though you couldn’t blame her — when you’re surrounded every day by beautiful, well-made things, the factory-made imitations begin to pale in comparison.

“That’s what I like about being on the sales floor: seeing people appreciate the merchandise. Even the staff appreciate the merchandise, just for what it is,” she adds. And even if you go to Univers and you can’t afford a lot of things, you can still be inspired by what you see and style yourself accordingly.”

YSTYLE: How did you end up with this job?

TINA ONG: I think that it’s always been an interest of mine. It just came really naturally because Sir Jappy (Gonzalez, the managing director of H&F—ed.) is my uncle, and I remember when I was in third grade, I would hang out in his store, Homme et Femme in Shangri-La, the whole day. My last year in Vancouver, I studied fashion and when I got home, that’s when I started working in Univers. Now, I work for Balenciaga as well as the Archives, and Homme et Femme in Shangri-la.

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What are you currently working on?

No particular project at the moment, just doing my work and blog whenever I can. There’s an ongoing delay for the the website which is gonna be Religionblack.com, but I’m still on Religionblack.blogspot.com for the moment.

Who taught you how to dress?

Three key people: my mother, my uncle Jappy, and my grandmother. I was just lucky to always be surrounded by stylish people beginning with my family and chances of travel always opens the mind on many levels. Like many others, I had a long route to pass on the way to self-identity, which I strongly believe goes hand-in-hand with personal style. So, yes, I’ve had many unfashionable moments while trying new things and trends and developing a strong awareness of what I like and don’t like.

How would you describe your style?

Capricious, definitely. My style can be subject to further evolution.

Where do you shop?

When I can, I’ll shop at Homme et Femme, Univers, Comme des Garçons and Archives d’ Homme et Femme because not only are they exceptionally awesome, I know that whatever I get from there will last forever. I also like to shop at Uniqlo, American Apparel, Asos and vintage or thrift stores when I travel. I’m constantly on the lookout for cool online stores too.

What’s the last thing you purchased?

CdG PLAY x Converse Pro-leather sneakers. Color me obsessed!

Who inspires you?

I’m easily affected by my surrounding environments and the people in it. So at the moment, I often work at Univers, which is aesthetically beautiful and filled with even more beautiful things, and find inspiration in the people I work with. Their work ethic, creativity, and personal styles. The guys in our stores are super stylish. I work with this guy named Erik Posadas. He always wears cool pants with cool socks and cool shoes. My co-workers, generally, I draw inspiration from them because each of them have strong individual styles. Not to copy them, but just to be inspired by their style.

Favorite wardrobe piece you keep turning to?

At the moment, it will have to be men's Acne jeans. They are simply the best.

Most insane garment you’ve ever purchased?

I’ve had them for more than a year now, and I still think it’s my Acne Spin brogue wedges. They are a work of art!

Favorite city:

Vancouver, Canada has a very soft spot in my heart.

Favorite drink:

An iced latte. And a mojito.

Favorite label/s:

So many! But if I had to really narrow it down, it would be Acne, Alexander Wang, Comme des Garçons, American Apparel, Asos, this new local brand called Sune, which is only sold online, and some independent designers from Canada: Melissa Araujo and Cyeoms.

Favorite gallery (if applicable):

MoMA is pretty monumental, but the Vancouver Art Gallery always has great exhibits too. We have some art from Silverlens in Univers, and I am a fan of the selections of their gallery.

Favorite Sunday afternoon haunt:

I love getting my fix of Third Wave Coffee, particularly at The Curator (which I am excited to share we will be serving in the Archives soon).

Favorite vacation destination:

I am open to many destinations because I love observing and learning about different cultures and societies, not to mention what they have to offer in terms of shopping. But really, the place I daydream about the most is Vancouver in the summer.

 

 

Photos by CHOLO DELA VEGA

Assisted by BL MARTINEZ

Shot on location at Univers

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