Woman of Style: Joanna Preysler Francisco: A life fulfilled by family & fashion
Tetta Matera (The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Joanna Preysler Francisco is a tough cookie and I mean that in a good way. Having the name Preysler was not a free pass to do as she pleased, or live a life of comfort and luxury that is often associated with Filipino families of Spanish descent.

Born in the Philippines and raised in San Francisco until she was in high school, Joanna learned early in life to be a survivor, looking after her half-sister even when she was only 10 years old. She got married at a very young age, hoping to find true love and live happily ever after. But that didn’t turn out the way she had hoped. Her first marriage ended in pain and disappointment, save for the fact that she had two beautiful children. She had many difficult years — she was down, she was out, she  struggled and felt hopeless, like she lost it all.

Without sounding trivial, Joanna’s life does make for a great telenovela complete with protagonists and antagonists, battle between good and evil, defeat and triumph and the ending we all hope for — happy ever after. She bounced back stronger, wiser and happier than ever before.

She is also in good terms with her former husband now. “I lived to tell the tale,” Joanna exclaims. “I still fail, I still fall short but I have found a different purpose for my life and for my work, my perspective is different and I strive to be a better person all around every day,” she adds.

“Ser Una Mujer”: “To be a Woman” is the title of Joanna Preysler Francisco’s portrait; a gift from her husband Raul, she is seen posing with it in a one-shoulder modal black top from H&M and Seven for Mankind jeans. The brooch turned pendant is an heirloom piece from her grandmother in gold and onyx.

These days, Joanna is nothing but full of joy and gratitude; she found true love the second time around and has been happily married to Raul Francisco for six years. They have a son named Diego (3) and together they are raising Gogo, as he is fondly nicknamed, and Joanna’s children from her previous marriage, Monica (19) and Emilio (14). The couple has four fabulous fashion retail stores between them — Carbon in Greenbelt 3 and Rockwell, Tint in Greenbelt 3 and their latest collaboration, the Joanna Preysler Boutique in Greenbelt 5.

Joanna with her natural honey-blond hair and green eyes may look like a foreigner but she is a true Filipina at heart. She is raising her kids with homegrown values and puts her family above all.

“I am a nester, Raul and I have dinner together with the kids every night and we make sure we are actively engaged in their lives,” explains Joanna.

Despite her affluent background she does not walk around with a sense of entitlement and she works very hard. She is kind, down-to-earth and takes pride in her professional integrity and work ethic. “Raul and I have been in the retail business together for almost 11 years and we have established very good relationships with our business partners, from our suppliers to our employees to our clients; we treat everyone with respect and we honor all our commitments,” Joanna shares.

She is also a big believer in giving back, so with Joanna Preysler boutique she supports Kalipay (happiness in Ilonggo), a foundation for disadvantaged children in Bacolod.

“I was given a second chance so I would like to help give second chances to others, especially children,” Joanna explains.

Clearly, Joanna lives a life fulfilled and a life well lived.

PHILIPPINE STAR: How many years have you been in the fashion business? Did you always want to be in the fashion industry?

JOANNA PREYSLER FRANCISCO: I have always enjoyed fashion. I had little businesses on the side throughout college selling hair accessories and totes, then shoes that I had manufactured in Marikina to classmates, friends and family. I supplied to Carla Sibal’s Baghera boutique and partnered with Chiqui Mabanta for a line of children’s sleepwear. Later on, my best friend from San Francisco and I put up Namaste and sold one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces she made in the US. Eleven years ago I joined my husband Raul while he was conceptualizing Carbon, our first fashion retail store.

You have come a long way from being a student entrepreneur to a fashion business owner creating and selling everything; which do you find more challenging, designing and producing clothes or accessories including bags?

Clothing is a faster-paced product category and our clients at Tint and Carbon come to the stores several times a week expecting to find something new all the time and we make sure we give them that. With the Joanna Preysler boutique, we deal with the luxury market; we have higher-ticket items in classic, limited and exclusive designs. In my experience, the two concepts and product categories are like apples and oranges, both different with their own set of challenges and rewards.

I have seen your bag designs at the Joanna Preysler boutique in Greenbelt 5 and they all come in exotic animal skin like crocodile and python. Why did you decide to work with these materials?

I love exotic skins. I love that they have innate value, that they are exempt from all trends and have a discreet luxury about them. I call our bags “the anti- IT bag” because they are not overly embellished nor are they dated; they are timeless treasures that actually get better with age. I adore fashion but I am also a mom so I choose to spend my money wisely and invest in pieces that will withstand the test of time. My daughter Monica is glad and my husband is gladder that I own bags that work season after season!

Do you get flak by animal lovers and animal rights proponents for working with animal skin?

No. We only work with suppliers, tanneries and factories that are CITES-certified and are Wildlife Certification Scheme-compliant; it means they provide only legal and sustainable use of non-endangered animal species. I believe it is important to educate the consumer about supporting CITES-certified and regulated farms because they advocate animal conservation. CITES stands for Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.

Are your bags made locally? How long does one bag take to make?

We work with tanneries and manufacturers all over Asia — Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Indonesia to name a few. Depending on the design, some bags are hand-stitched others are machine-stitched so the process varies but the prototyping takes the most time. For example, each tote is studied for functionality, every inch of a drop length is measured and we source for the finest calfskin for the lining; it is labor-intensive to say the least.

Your bags are of international standards. Are you selling them outside of the Philippines?

No, not yet, we just have one boutique for now. Baby steps first, we don’t want to bite more than what we can chew but hopefully one day!

How does it feel to find love the second-time around?

It is a true blessing to be given a second chance at anything. I made a life-shattering decision to end my first marriage but I have since made a conscious choice to invest in my growth as a person — be a better role-model to my kids, a better wife than I was the first-time around, a more family-centered individual, a smarter worker, a more understanding employer, a more compassionate person, a better friend and daughter.

Now, I see every situation as an opportunity to define or redefine my character and live as authentically as possible.

I have heard horror stories about husbands and wives working together. How is your professional dynamic with Raul? Do you complement each other?

I am blessed to have a career that I love and get to do it with the one that I love. Working together has added another dimension to our relationship; it has enhanced our knowledge of each other, inside and out. We have built and designed every aspect of our life together — business, finances, parenting, everything.We are partners in every sense of the word and there is no dimension of our lives that exclude each other.

When people find out you are a Preysler, do they go “Oh, are you related to that famous Filipina Isabel Preysler, who used to be married to Julio Iglesias and is a celebrity in Spain?” How do you feel about that? Are you close to her?

Yes, I get that a lot! I am very proud of my aunt and I think she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. We share the same name and I have the utmost respect and admiration for her but by virtue of living on different continents, closeness is a logistical problem.

Who are some of the famous personalities who wear your bags?

They are all superstars in my book and I love them all equally for their support and encouragement.

You have two children from your first marriage and one with Raul; how is their relationship? Do you have custody of them?

Yes, I have three kids. Four stores, two dogs, one husband and a partridge in a pear tree. I have full custody of my children and I will not have it any other way. My three kids love each other and all together we are a scrambled family — once scrambled, you cannot unscramble.

Being in fashion, you are expected to always look good. What do you wear on a daily basis? On special, evening occasions?

I dress for my age and body type, according to the weather, the occasion and for comfort. If something is uncomfortable, I won’t wear it because it will ruin my chi. Most days I wear easy, breezy dresses or colored jeans and crisp tops. I hardly go out at night but when I do, I love dresses paired with heels or jeans and a nice top.

How would you describe your fashion style? Do you own more clothes by international or local designers?

I am very laid-back and I don’t overthink fashion so I guess my style is pared-down and uncomplicated. I like clothes that make me happy, flatter my body type and, more importantly, are comfortable. I like feeling neat and looking fresh in anything I wear.

I have a good mix of both and I wear a lot of our own designs although lately, I have become more supportive of friends, local designers and retailers.

How do you keep fit? Do you diet?

I run four to six times a week. Fitness has always been a part of my life, from tennis to swimming and soccer as a child and  teenager, to step-aerobics in the ‘80s, yoga and Pilates in the ‘90s, then spinning and now running. I prepare healthy menus at home but for the most part I eat therefore I run.

With such a busy schedule, what do you do to relax?

Raul and I have movie nights with the kids.  We choose a movie, pile into the den, have popcorn and forget everything else.

What does the word “luxury” mean to you?

Having extra time would be the ultimate luxury; I wish I had 28 hours a day.

Everyone has a guilty pleasure, what’s yours?

A massage or a foot spa is pure heaven. And magazines.  When I know the kids are safely tucked into bed at night, after a nice, long bath and I have a pile of magazines by my bedside I can read (with a glass of champagne perhaps), that is a guilty pleasure. It’s like one big exhale.

Travel is a big part of your business. Which are your most favorite cities to visit?

I love the energy of Hong Kong, the fast pace and efficiency. I love the creativity in Thailand and how the Thais support their local artists and designers. I also enjoy our trips to Europe and to the US but if I had my way, I would never get on another plane for as long as I live; I am petrified of flying.

What scents do you wear?

Right now, Eau de Campagne by Sisley or Herba Fresca by Guerlain for the day and Bleinheim Bouquet or Juniper Sling both by Penhaligon for evening and colder temperatures.

Who are your fashion inspirations?

I love the aesthetic and business model of Michael Kors. His fashion is wearable, never pretentious yet there is always something luxurious about it.

Where will you be spending Christmas?

My sister Karina is home from London. She and her husband will be staying with us for 26 days and we are thrilled. The 24th of December we will all be at the Francisco’s, my in-laws house, and the 25th is always at our home for a late lunch.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned? What words do you live by?

I have learned that no matter what, my husband and my kids always come first. I have learned not to take my health for granted. I have learned that I cannot please everyone all the time. I have learned that all relationships should be based on respect, trust and acceptance of all our differences. I have learned to say “No” and to mean it 100 percent when I say “Yes.”

Joanna Preysler in phrases:

I am most happy when… I am with my children.

I cannot live without….laughter.

If there was one thing I could change in my life it will be that….I had more children. At least eight!

If I was not a designer I would be a... Counselor or therapist but when I grow up I want to be a lady of leisure.

Apart from designing, I am also good at…. cooking.

Being a Filipino means…not having crab mentality — being happy for each other’s growth and success.

I wish….my kids did not have to grow up and that I didn’t have to grow old. I love the lessons and the wisdom that come with age but man! I wish I could hit the “pause” button.

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