The united colors of Bench

- Paula C. Nocon () - May 11, 2003 - 12:00am
BORACAY, Aklan – The clicking of cameras, the roar of bancas and tricycles. Mutterings in French, Mandarin, English and Tagalog. Blue cloudless skies, clear waters, orange-pink sunsets, white sands. Salty air mingled with swirls of smoke from Gauloise Blondes and Marlboro reds. Skin colors changing from fair to tan to sunkissed red.

Bench has arrived in Boracay.

The extraordinary creative team of Bench is here for an intensive five-day photo session that can only be considered world-class: Beautiful people, wonderful clothes, in the most gorgeous island in the world.

Bench has been reinvented.
The Team
Melvin Chua, the Filipino-Chinese creative whiz based in Shanghai and head of Ink Pak Communications, continues to spearhead the Bench campaign he began last year. Matthew Brookes, a South African based in Paris, is the anointed photographer, assisted by 23-year-old Frenchman Jerome Laurent. Jeremy Tan of Singapore is the stylist, assisted by Filipino makeup artist Krist Bansuelo and hair stylist Pops de Guzman.

Lu Yan, the exotic Chinese beauty whose image is now ubiquitous in Bench boutiques, print ads and billboards, is back. She is joined by local Bench models Jon Hall and Gary Dulatas, and by newcomer Daniel Henney of Hong Kong, a Korean-Irish Keanu Reeves lookalike of heart-stopping Eurasian good looks.

The foreign guests are flown in from different continents with their guests: Kevin Lee, publisher and editor-in-chief of uber-cool WestEast magazine, Laurent Massat of Belgium and Daniel Henney’s movie star girlfriend from Hong Kong.

Together they will comb Boracay and its surrounding islands for the next five days, making pictures of Boracay as never seen before, creating images of Bench as never expected.
The Shots
It’s just a bit after sunrise. The models are in Bench underwear, loitering around a hut in a secluded cove far, far from the maddening din of Station One. Only three people at a time can enter the wobbly and dilapidated hut – Chua shoos away curious onlookers.

Inside, Brookes’ concentration is unbreakable, despite the sweltering heat and the humid air. Laurent hovers around, his knees sunburned as he collects the Polaroids. Sunlight streams through the slats and onto half-naked bodies in various positions of siesta.

It’s not your typical Boracay photo op: The mood is dim, sensual, languid. A tropical daydream.

Next location. Tan outfits Lu Yan in a boyish tank top and baggy jeans, while the guys are in tee shirts and tank tops, baseball caps and shorts. They are sitting in a makeshift shed of nipa, sipping coconut water from the shell.

"Big smile, everyone!" Brookes hollers.

Lu Yan shrieks, and everyone else laughs. They are looking out into the sea, having a good time, oblivious to the high noon sun. The shed begins to teeter. More laughter. Jon Hall hangs on to dear life.

The sun is setting – it is time to get back on the banca. The boat moves nearer to the main Boracay island, where three rafts are suspended in the middle of the sea. The models clamber on to the rafts, fully clothed in jeans and tee shirts.

One by one, they dive into the ocean, and as they do Brookes’ camera catches them in mid-air: Daniel Henney does a flip and Jon Hall a somersault. Lu Yan and Gary Dulatas take the plunge from the roof of the boat.

Then, the magical Boracay sunset. The whole team pauses to watch and take a deep breath. Brookes keeps clicking. The soft orange light casts a strange glow on the subjects, as well as on their drenched clothes. Everyone is exhausted but happy.

The boat roars onto the island and there awaits beaming Bench honcho Ben Chan, who actually loathes the beach, sitting at the head of the table for a welcome dinner. The sky is now black, and so is the sea, making the Boracay sands look even whiter. The team is very, very hungry – there is a clinking of wine glasses and the clanking of plates. A toast is made to the day that was.

Next day. Brookes has come up with a love story angle between Lu Yan and Daniel Henney. They make a cute couple – young, carefree, almost innocent. Splashing in the water or holding hands on the shore, their faces and bodies represent the new look in today’s fashion images: a mix of East and West, lean and athletic, unadorned and unpretentious. Very Bench.

Night has fallen. The shoot continues in Boracay’s rowdy nightspots. Reggae music is playing at Cocomanga’s. Gary and Jon are shooting pool. Lu Yan and Daniel are dancing close, swaying to the music. Even Brookes moves to the beat, grinning widely. It is nearly midnight, and yet the energy level has risen to a new high.

But it is time to fly back to Manila first thing tomorrow.

The next evening, the team re-assembles at Restaurant 12, rejuvenated by a day of massages and shopping. The Polaroids are passed around, and Ben Chan looks very pleased. They head to Malate for a glimpse of Manila nightlife, and there they declare the work over and the real fun begins. It was a week they would never forget.

Soon, those memories of the Bench expedition in Boracay will be captured in blown-up photographs in Shanghai, Manila and other Bench boutiques in the Philippines and the Middle East. It is a new chapter in the 15-year life of Bench apparel.

True to form, Bench has done what it has never before. And in this sense, Bench has done it again!
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