A homecoming at Rustan's

LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil () - October 19, 2008 - 12:00am

It’s already Christmas at Rustan’s and you can feel it embracing your senses.

You see Christmas in the polar bears greeting you at the entrance as they gather around snow-capped trees, just like in the fantasy Christmas cards of your childhood. You hear it in the carols sung by angelic choir voices. You touch it in the silvery balls, the gold cone-shaped trees, and the soft cottony hats of Santas all around you.You can almost taste it on the Christmas dinner table delicately set with piña and jusi fabrics and Philippine mother-of-pearl wares. And you can smell it in the refreshingly clean fragrance in the air.

If you have been a Rustan’s shopper all your life, you feel like you’re coming home to the familiar sights that have made this luxe department store your holiday playground.

“Yes, this is how our mom (Glecy Tantoco) envisioned Rustan’s. She said that it should look nice and smell nice. She was very particular about the way things were presented,”explains Zenaida “Nedy” Tantoco, the newly-designated president of Rustan’s.

Last Thursday as Nedy took us on a tour of the five-storey Rustan’s Makati which now looks like a happy Christmas village, she felt like it was her own homecoming as well.

She ended her work stint at Rustan’s in the early 1990s to focus on Stores Specialists Inc. (SSI), a sister company that brings the best global luxury brands to the Philippines. Nedy went back last July to the 56-year-old store where she had imbibed the rudiments of the department store business from her mother, retailing doyenne Glecy Tantoco. Obviously, Nedy inherited such talent and acumen, coupled with a tireless work ethic. Glecy died in l994, leaving behind an unparalled legacy in Philippine retailing.

It was Glecy, with the support of her husband Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, who conceived of an elegant store offering the best wares from around the world, while at the same time having that patriotic mantra of letting shoppers appreciate such beautiful world-class products that are “Our Very Own”. Rustan’s is also renowned for its impeccable service to customers, a feature that makes the A market so at home in it.

“All my siblings have finished their terms as Rustan’s president, and I guess it’s my turn now,” Nedy smiles. When complimented on the wondrous Christmas atmosphere at Rustan’s, Nedy explains: “The ground work was done by Nena (Tantoco, the wife of then Rustan’s president Rico Tantoco who now serves as Rustan’s chairman). Last year, Rustan’s home buyers went to a retailers’ fair in Atlanta where they saw these polar bears which look perfect for our Christmas Shop offering seven Christmas themes to shoppers.”

Shoppers can choose from Traditional Red, Traditional Gold, Whimsical Red Country, Country Cabin, Candy, and Winter in Silver and White for art deco lovers.

“Our visual department staffers, all 46 of them, spent sleepless nights since September working on our Christmas décor so that we could open today,” Nedy adds. “By the first week of November, all six Rustan’s stores shall have window displays which tell the story of a little girl looking for the perfect gift.”

The early declaration of the Christmas shopping season at Rustan’s reflects Nedy’s optimistic viewpoint despite the post- Lehman Brothers global economic crisis. “Our sales this September-October are 11 percent higher than last year. Our market is the type that will always value quality,” she points out.” Surprisingly, our imported quality items are selling faster these days.”

Her son Anton Huang who is the hardworking and brilliant EVP of Rustan’s Commercial Corp. as well as SSI, explains that the surge in sales is also explained by the fact that due to the current financial crisis resulting in higher air fares and more prohibitive travel expenditures, people are travelling less.

“People are now staying home and choosing to shop right here,” Anton explains, “where prices of imported luxury items are not too much higher. For instance, the prices in our Zara stores in Manila, are comparable to Hong Kong prices. And Zara stores in Manila sell at prices 10 percent lower than those in Singapore and Indonesia .”

Matching the Tantocos’ optimism and the festive holiday atmosphere at Rustan’s are exciting new lines, both imported and local.

“Rustan’s has the best fashion items in the whole Metro Manila,” declares Inno Sotto, the store’s creative director who recently opened the Gallerie, a luxurious showcase highlighting the store’s top fashion brands like Emilio Pucci, Diane Von Furstenberg, Vera Wang, Vivienne Tam, Helmut Lang, Nicole Miller and Betsey Johnson.

“When Karl Lagerfeld became the head of Chanel, he looked at Coco Chanel’s life and asked: What was her vision? So I went back to the vision of Rustan’s founder Glecy Tantoco. She had an area called ‘Plus Elegance’ featuring Rustan’s luxury brands.

Like Chanel, Mrs. Tantoco was ahead of her time,”   explains Inno.

“Inno is a jewel,” says Nedy. “He is creative in everything.”

While Inno has yet to establish his own RTW line at Rustan’s in response to shoppers’ requests,he is now looking into more lines by local fashion mavericks in addition to those by Hindy Weber Tantoco and Criselda Lontok.

Another gem in the Rustan’s family cited by Nedy is Katrina Tantoco-Lobregat, who conceptualized Resort Redux, a resort boutique within Rustan’s featuring swimwear by Letarte, Antik Batik, Seafolly,Tigerlily and Eberjey, among others. She is the force behind the U section for fun, fearless shoppers. Katrina is also the editor in chief of Rustan’s Index, a quarterly mag devoted to fashion updates for shoppers. “Katrina is showing positive retailing genes,”Nedy points out.

“The third-generation fashion-forward Tantocos are probably inspired by stores like Barneys and Neiman Marcus, while I like Saks,” says Nedy.

That there is synergy within the Tantocos’ three generations is so obvious. “Manong” Anton (that’s the younger cousins’ term of respect and endearment for him) is the obvious leader of the younger fashion retailing pack .

Anton says that brands such as Ted Baker and Faconnable are the latest additions to Rustan’s roster. Next year, SSI is definitely opening Hermes in Greenbelt 4.

Hermes will occupy two floors right where Max Brenner is. The popular chocolate specialist will move to another good site.

For shoes and bags, current hits are Sigerson Morrison, Guiseppe Zanotti, Orla Kerly, L.A.M.B. by Gwen Stefani, ABS Allen Schwartz, Botkier, Rampage, Martine Sitbon, Longchamp and Fendi. SSI stores like YSL, Bottega Veneta, Salvatore Ferragamo, Michael Kors, DKNY, Burberry, Gap, Ralph Lauren, Springfield, Nine West, Kate Spade, Anne Klein and Lacoste are available inside Rustan’s.

For stylish men, it’s Ermenegildo Zegna, Dunhill, James Perse, John Varvatos Jeans, Adam, Oleg Cassini and Black Label Homme.

For jewelry, Tiffany, Mikimoto, Roberto Coin, Pianegonda, Mont Blanc and Tamara Comolli are shining, while watches to watch include Vacheron Constantin, Cartier, Franck Mueller and Piaget.

The home department now boasts modern pieces by Philippe Starck for Kartell. Home accents include Egizia, Lladro, Lalique and Swarovski. Topping the contemporary stylish pieces are those from Our Very Own. Rustan’s leads in the beauty business with iconic skincare, cosmetics and fragrance brands Chanel, Christian Dior, La Prairie, Estee Lauder, Bobbi Brown, Nars, Mac, Clinique, Origins, Paul & Joe, Laura Mercier, La Mer, Clarins, Sisley, L’Occitane, Awake, L’Artisan, NV Perricone, Mario Badescu, Acca Kappa, Dyptique, Annick Goutal, Comptoire, Murad, Dermalogica, and the latest addition, Creed.

“People’s tastes are becoming more sophisticated,” says Anton.“But while we have practically all the luxury lines, we also have new affordable brands. Kiddos, a new children’s line by Hindy, is doing well.” Too many to mention are the lines of children’s wear as well as premium toys at Rustan’s.

A unique feature at Rustan’s is the service of its personal shoppers. “Chona Kasten was one of our famous personal shoppers . Now we have personalities like Susan Gaddi. But a favorite among Rustan’s long-time shoppers is Delia Vargas who has been with us for 34 years, and she gives the scoop on our latest wares to these shoppers as soon as they arrive in the store,” says Nedy.

Aside from its bridal registry, Rustan’s now offers a kids’ gift registry. There is also a private nursing area for moms and a play area for kids. Details like this make Rustan’s seem like second home to cosmopolitan shoppers. And this Christmas, more shoppers will come home to a department store so cool, so modern, so fashionable and so embracing.

* * *

Rustan’s Department Store is located in Makati, Edsa Shangri-La, Alabang Town Center, Gateway Malls, Robinsons Place Ermita and Ayala Center Cebu.

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