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Fashion and Beauty

Cris Albert: A woman of sole, a woman of soul

- Ana G. Kalaw -

MANILA, Philippines - Cris Albert is one of those people who welcome Christmas early into their home. It’s only the start of September and already she has golden wreaths on her doors, mistletoe and poinsettia-laden boughs hanging from her walls, and glittery centerpieces on her formal dining table. A huge Christmas tree nearly brushes the ceiling of her house, a frolicsome display of pastel-colored feathers and blushing figurines.

It’s a residence built for a girl with fairy princess dreams, or perhaps a carefree sprite with tireless energy harnessed from an unnamed source, or maybe a queen with whimsical indulgences. And Cris Albert is all of that: a woman with girlish tastes, bouts of whimsy and a penchant for everything pretty. Only she probably has more concerns and responsibilities than any sprite or fairy princess.

As president and CEO of Isports Life Inc, the company that holds the franchise for Fila in the Philippines, Cris only goes so far. Not only does she manage Fila and its 40 stores and 100-plus store-in-store presence nationwide, she also oversees the production of three local footwear brands: Outdoor, Everest and Tiva. The latter she designs herself, a fulfilled dream stemming from her days of being an observer, and sometimes a participant, of the fashion industry back in the ’70s and early ’80s. Her mother, the former supermodel and show choreographer Wanda Louwallien exposed her to the style set at an early age.

It is with Tiva that Cris gets to express her playful nature. The brand, which mostly makes sandals, flip-flops and sneakers, is loaded with details any girly-girl would love. Satin ribbons on sneakers, crystals on rubber flip-flops, brightly colored wedges and dainty flats. Outdoor, however, completes the cause closest to her heart: bringing back business to Marikina and having them manufacture footwear using locally sourced material.

Cris Albert reveals more in an interview that combines faith, footwear and fun.

What she wear on casual Fridays: Seven shirt and jeans, South sea pearls given by mom, Tiva shoes and a flurry of accessories. Aside from Fila, Cris also handles three local brands, Tiva, Outdoors and Everest, which are all also sold in Fila stores.

The Philippine STAR: As the daughter of show choreographer and former supermodel Wanda Louwallien, you grew up in the fashion industry, circa the ’70s. How was that like?

CRIS ALBERT: I would watch her when she was still modeling at the Hyatt. I was about eight at that time and I would watch her and clap because she’s my mom. But it was different when she started directing shows. She would have luncheon shows in the Maynila Room of The Manila Hotel and she would bring me every single day and I would have lunch there — I think I was about 12 — and she would discuss with me how models should carry themselves and all that.

How different were the shows back then from the shows now?

My mom would also have gala shows also and these were the best. Everybody would be all dressed and people would actually pay to watch these shows. Now, most of the shows are for advertising purposes. Gone are the days when people would actually pay to watch a show unless it’s for an international designer like Monique Lhuillier and it’s done through donation. The crowd, though, is still the same. It’s still the same social circle that watches the shows.

Back then, the models were used a lot and you could identify my mom or Tina Maristela or Menchu Machaca or Celine Magat. Right now, there are a lot of faces.

What is the most important thing you learned growing up in the fashion industry?

I grew up realizing I didn’t want to be a model here, although I did. Not ramp, but I would do advertorials, TV commercials or print ads. My mom was very strict when I was growing up and she knows that being a model doesn’t last very long. When you start getting to your late 20s, there would always be someone new who would come along. And it’s not really a career that is financially reliable. My mom wanted it to be a hobby for me, but not something I would become.

But being in that circle exposed me to a lot of ideas. It exposed me to color and texture. In fact, I would know every fabric that you show. And I also learned a lot about lines and these all helped me when I got into the footwear industry especially when we started making our own designs.

How would you describe your dress code?

My style is a combination of chic and classic. I can wear a black Chanel dress and then just put a scarf around it.

Who are your style icons?

With husband Butch Albert during their wedding anniversary

I saw the movie about Coco Chanel. Yes, she’s my icon.

Who are your favorite designers?

Tito Auggie Cordero makes dresses for me. He’s been making dresses for me for four years now — he also loves Chanel. And I also go to Rajo Laurel.

I’m sure your mom styled you when you were growing up…

Yes, for my prom and for soirees. Her best friend was the designer Sammy Tiongson and he would make dresses for me. At Grade 7, I was already not repeating dresses. (Laughs)

When did you come into your own style?

I was a late bloomer. I married young and already got into the business. And then I got pregnant and gained some weight and it took a while to get rid of it. I really worked hard to lose weight so I could wear what I wanted to wear. That was my incentive.

So now that you have your ideal body, how do you stay that way?

I don’t eat. (Laughs.) Well, I only eat a little of everything. I have a treadmill also here at home.

What are you obsessing over right now?

I am obsessed with the idea of building a relationship with God. I am obsessed with the idea of building the group of brands that I am handling, with the idea of exporting so we can help the local industry and with the idea of the company profiting so we can provide more jobs.

When did you start designing your own footwear line?

I started thinking about it three years ago. Fila could already stand on its own and I realized that I had a lot of resources: artists, distributors and suppliers. And I’ve always wanted to design. Tiva is an after-sports brand. We registered it also in Europe for anyone who wants to franchise it there, but we first have to strengthen it.

We also have a local brand called Outdoors and it’s both sourced and made here in Manila, so we’re giving life to the Marikina shoe industry again. In fact, we are going to Germany where we have a booth in this trade and exports fair because we already have an initial order for a thousand pairs of abaca slippers.

This is very exciting for me: being able to help our fellowmen. Providing jobs to suppliers is a great thing for me. Fila is a Christian organization and this, I believe, is a very Christian thing to do.

Pretty pairs from Louis Vuitton, Prada, Proenza Schouler and Chanel

Fila is very involved in causes, community and charity work. Is that what you want Fila to be associated with?

Fila is that. I don’t think we would have been able to build Fila if it weren’t for God. We are just doing what is expected of us. Fila is actually the highest-selling footwear brand in our category in terms of pairs sold — this is because Fila is affordable and has the same quality as other brands.

Every year, during Christmas, we have this program called “Buy a Sole, Feed a Soul.” For every pair you buy, we give P10 to organizations like Operation Compassion, which builds homes in certain communities, the church we support and the Mother Teresa orphanage in Taytay and Antipolo.

What is the biggest challenge working in the retail industry?

Because we live in a third-world country and have been through a lot of trials and crises, we’re ready for whatever hits us. We are up all the time, we are awake when our competitors are sleeping and if things don’t work out with a plan, we can change it the next day. Change to us is inevitable.

We are not dictated by fashion trends but what the consumer wants so we have to come up with something that will satisfy them. Fila doesn’t enforce on the customers. We give them what they want and we can because we have our own factories to do that for us. Fila allowed us to come up with our own designs and, at the same time, reproduce one of their own designs.

Who is the Tiva girl?

Tiva is straight out of my DNA. I would never put anything there that I wouldn’t wear. The line is very colorful. I put a lot of details into it: ribbons and Swarovski crystals. The fashion is very whimsical and extreme. I’m a very jolly person, which is why the colors are very bright.

Are you into sports?

I am into extreme sports. I mean, I’d like to try skydiving or bungee jumping at least once in my life. I’ve tried paragliding and surfing. We go white-water rafting at least once a year in Tuguegarao and also Davao.

What are your cheap thrills?

Going to the carnival. It’s whimsical and I have a very whimsical personality.

How does it feel to be named one of Mega magazine’s “Most Beautiful”?

I’m very honored. It’s a great thing. But now I’m more pressured to always look pretty. (Laughs.) My sister Ana would tease me, “Wow you look good today, so dressed. Is it because you’re now one of the most beautiful?”

What to you is beautiful?

It’s something much deeper than what you see. Beauty has a way of showing itself naturally. If you’re rotten inside, it will come out.

Who would top your own list of most beautiful?

My mom.

If you can revisit one moment in your past, what would it be?

I never look back. That’s my personal motto.

CRIS ALBERT

FILA

MOM

NOW

SHOWS

TIVA

VERDANA

WANDA LOUWALLIEN

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