Ben chan’s 10 most memorable Bench moments

10 THINGS (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2017 - 4:00pm

Bench is everywhere. On giant billboards along EDSA, when you scroll down your social media feed, that salon you walk by in the mall, the shirt you wear almost every week, the underwear you grab from your drawer, even the wax you use to style your hair.

In their 30 years at the forefront of the local retail industry, the man behind the mega brand, Ben Chan, shares the 10 most memorable milestones in Bench history.

Richard Gomez: “That TV commercial was a huge risk. But, public response was overwhelming,” says Ben Chan.

1 The iconic Richard Gomez campaign

“Public response was overwhelming,” Ben says, as he recalls the now-iconic image of Richard Gomez wearing a white sando, rowing on calm waters. “That TV commercial was a huge risk. No other clothing brand was marketing on TV or using a celebrity endorser at that time. The minimalist style of the commercial was also a first. That made Bench a household name.”

Ben recalls it wasn’t just a turning point for Bench, but for Richard as well. “He went from popular actor to lifestyle icon, an aspirational figure, someone whose look was copied by the masses. It showed the transformative power of fashion imaging in creating a celebrity icon. After that, being a Bench endorser became sought-after by many showbiz figures.”

VJ Nonie Tao: “Bench was the first Filipino brand to ever hire a foreign brand ambassador.”

2 The first to get international stars as endorsers

“I think the first was VJ Nonie Tao. That was in 1995, at the height of MTV and Channel V. All the boys had a crush on her,” Ben recalls with a smile. “Bench was the first Filipino clothing brand to ever hire a foreign brand ambassador, and the fact that she was Asian made it more perfect. It was the precursor for many other successful collaborations with Asian superstars like Jerry Yan of Taiwan.” Bench also did campaigns with Hollywood and music heavyweights like Liam Hemsworth, Taylor Lautner, Bruno Mars and Adam Levine; millennial heartthrobs like Brooklyn Beckham and Cole Sprouse; and more Asian superstars like Dong Hae and Si Won of Super Junior, actor Lee Min Ho, and actress Park Shin Hye. “It turns out Bench and K-Pop go together very well because many of our local audiences are crazy over Korean telenovelas, and a lot of Korean expats have called the Philippines their home,” Ben adds.

Jerry Yan: Meteor Garden was the biggest TV series in the Philippines when Bench enlisted Dao Ming Si.

3 The introduction of “alcogel”

“In 1998, we introduced the hand sanitizer to the Philippine market. We called it Bench Alcogel — this was a phenomenal success,” Ben proudly shares. “Who would have thought that reinventing the same rubbing alcohol product, present in every Filipino household, into gel form, would make such an impact? That also marked the beginning of our expansion into the personal care industry.” With this, Bench Laboratory was born, which is also where they develop their own scents for Bench Bath and Body.

Rosa Rosal and Lucy Torres Gomez: “The Bench is Forever campaign touched people’s hearts... it was a message of unity.”

4 The beginning of the salon empire

“Bench Fix Salon had an interesting beginning in 2001,” Ben recalls. “It was the thesis of my nephew, Bryan Lim, who is now our VP for Business Development, when he was taking his MBA at Asian Institute of Management. He proposed that we could extend our clothing brand to the service industry. So we took his term paper and made it into a reality. From there, we branched out into our own hair care and styling products which became very successful as well. The Bench Fix Salon chain has nearly 100 branches and franchises throughout the country, with a high-end brand Studio Fix under Alex Carbonell, and our latest offshoot venture, Bench Barbers.”

Chinese supermodel Lu Yan: This campaign launched the first of many international Bench branches.

5 The coming together of powerhouse ensembles

“The first time we brought together Bench brand ambassadors from different walks of life was for the Bench Is Forever campaign in 2003. We had our biggest stars from show business do a campaign and fashion show side by side with cultural and political figures like Rosa Rosal, Teddy Boy Locsin, Gilda Cordero-Fernando and Mary Prieto. It touched people’s hearts because it sent out the message that Bench cuts across social barriers and that Bench is for everybody, no matter what your age or position in society… it was a message of unity.”

Daniel Henney: Shortly after this Bench shoot in Boracay, Daniel made it big in Korea and has even penetrated Hollywood.

6 The first international branch of Bench

“We made a big step in our international expansion when we decided to open Bench in China in 2003,” Ben shares. To prepare for the big launch, Bench brought together a creative powerhouse team led by fashion PR guru Melvin Chua, Japanese stylist Tetsuro Nagase (more popularly known as “Giant”), Chinese supermodel Lu Yan, and photographer Ronnie Salvacion. “The images that came out of that shoot were amazing. A year after, we had our first fashion show in Shanghai attended by both Filipino and Chinese press. This was right at the beginning of China’s miraculous economic boom. Proud to say that Bench was there as it happened,” Ben says.

The Bench Headquarters located in BGC. “All those years of saving on office rent paid off!”

7 The many collaborations with the biggest creative minds

“There have been many memorable campaigns, but I’d like to point out a particularly interesting one we did in Boracay in 2003,” Ben says with a smile. “We hired a South African photographer, Matthew Brookes, and a Hong Kong-based model, Daniel Henney, to do the shoot. Little did we know that these two guys would turn out to be major international stars in their respective fields soon after! Daniel is now a superstar in Korea and has made it to Hollywood. Matthey went on to shoot global campaigns for Armani and Cerruti, and is a favorite of GQ magazine.”

“This year, we have surpassed ourselves again,” Ben excitedly shares. “One of the biggest fashion photographers in the world, Bruce Weber, has done a campaign for us, shot in New York City. It’s a collectible calendar, film, art project done in collaboration with V Man magazine, and will be released internationally this month.” This collector’s item will be available in Colette in Paris, and the Dover Street Market stores in London and New York.

Ben goes on to share that for him, the milestones of Bench are also milestones of the Philippine retail industry. “This unique dream project came together when Bench successfully presented its spring/summer collection at New York Fashion Week this year, the first and only Filipino fashion retail brand to do so. We were also the only Filipino fashion chain present at Tokyo Fashion Week.”

Jomari Yllana: His launch as a Bench endorser in 1996 was so talked about, that it organically grew into what is now known as the annual Bench Fashion Show.

8 The big move into their headquarters, the Bench Tower

“Bench waited 26 years before moving to the Bench Tower!” Ben sighs, almost in disbelief. “Our headquarters were my family’s ancestral home in compound in Pasay City since 1987. We finally moved to our own modern, LEED-certified building in BGC, Taguig in 2013. All those years of saving on office rent paid off!” he says with a laugh. “We occupy the upper six floors of the tower, as well as the basement. The move had an effect on our company culture as well: it coincided with the expansion of our global portfolio to include more international brand franchises.”

The Philippine Volcanoes: “They were clad in just their Bench Body underwear with the tagline, ‘Throw your support behind the Volcanoes.’ There was a big public uproar after some sectors called attention to it.”

9 The annual Bench Fashion Show

“It just came about naturally. The first show was in Mars Disco in 1996, unveiling Jomari Yllana as our endorser. It made quite a stir, so it expanded organically after that,” Ben reveals. From there, the show went from the World Trade Center to Araneta Coliseum, then to the Mall of Asia Arena in 2013. “The essence of the underwear show has always been to create excitement. It’s just the scale that has changed. We have now grown the entire team to 110 models, 67 celebrities, and we have extended our creative collaborations to international performers and production teams from Canada, Germany, the US, UK and Italy. Our audience has increased as well! From the few dozens we had at Mars Disco, to the 20,000 capacity of the Arena, to millions around the region through the Starworld cable channel broadcast.”

10 The Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award

“Bench has won many, many awards since 1987, but winning this award in 2014 was like the Nobel Prize for entrepreneurship,” Ben pauses. “I was surprised at the media attention it garnered, I was on the front page of major broadsheets and SM even put out a full-page ad to congratulate me. I flew to Monaco to represent the country, where I met dozens of other awardees. It was an experience I will never forget.”

* * *

From giving new actors and actresses, up-and-coming photographers, makeup artists, hairstylists and stylists their big break, to providing secure jobs for tens of thousands of Filipinos, to pushing the local retail industry to new heights, the contribution Bench has made to society is — safe to say — immeasurable. Ben ends with this: “As a young adult, I only had one simple dream: a dream to create nice things. We are now three decades old, we’ve been through good and rough times. I want to bring pride and glory not only to my family but more so to the millions of Filipinos who have always been my inspiration through this journey. I hope that this simple dream of creating nice things will continue, as we try to break borders of bringing nice things to the global arena.”

* * *

Special thanks to Jojo Liamzon. Message the author @iamsuperbianca.

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