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Nedy Tantoco: ‘My happiest Christmas was when Anton dressed up as Santa Claus’ |

Sunday Lifestyle

Nedy Tantoco: ‘My happiest Christmas was when Anton dressed up as Santa Claus’

CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau - The Philippine Star
Nedy Tantoco: âMy happiest Christmas was when Anton dressed up as Santa Clausâ
Nedy Tantoco, Rustan’s chairman and CEO
Photos by KJ Rosales

‘My dad is so sentimental about Christmas,’ Nedy says. ‘He says, “Christmas day is yours, but Christmas Eve is mine.”’

Rustan’s chairman and CEO Nedy Tantoco remembers her happiest Christmas as the time her son, SSI Group, Inc. president Anton Huang, dressed up as Santa Claus.

“He doesn’t believe in Santa and those kinds of things — he never did,” she laughs. “He looks at the real side of things and not the fantasy side. He knew the gifts came from us.”

But, despite being a Santa skeptic, one Christmas Anton agreed to wear a Santa costume. “At midnight he appeared in front of the children, covered with pillows, laughing ‘Ho-ho-ho,’ and the kids were so thrilled. Eventually he took off the costume and they realized it was him, but that has been our happiest Christmas,” Nedy recalls.

The Tantocos embrace Christmas wholeheartedly — not only Nedy but also the family patriarch, Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr.

Mike Huang, Rustan’s vice president for store development and expansion, in the Christmas Shop on the fifth floor of Rustan’s Makati

“My dad is so sentimental about Christmas,” Nedy says. “He says, ‘Christmas day is yours, but Christmas Eve is mine.’”

So every Christmas Eve, the entire Tantoco clan — who number close to 90 now — fly in if they live abroad and gather at his house to celebrate.

“It’s held in my father’s house always,” Nedy says. “The whole family gets together because my father requires it, and tells each of us if we’re absent, we will lose our name!” she laughs. “We will no longer be able to call ourselves Tantocos. He takes a roll call, especially his apos and grand-apos.”

Everyone attends midnight Mass at the little chapel in his garden: “We have a family priest who comes every year to say midnight Mass for us.”

Dina Tantoco, Rustan’s marketing and communications manager, poses beside a Moroccan-inspired tree and tableau.

Then they have noche buena, where family favorites like ham, queso de bola, ensaymada and traditional Filipino tsokolate are served. “Those are no-no foods during the year, but during noche buena we run loose,” Nedy laughs.

After everyone’s eaten their fill, the Tantoco kids run to the Christmas tree to look for their presents and open them. “We encourage them to put their wishes on the Christmas gift wish list in the store,” Nedy says. “Or sometimes their moms bring them to sit on Santa’s lap and give him their wishes.”

On Christmas day the Tantocos usually go to their in-laws to spend the day with them, but Nedy spends the day with her father. “Since I don’t have a lolo, me, Maritess and Marilen have lunch and dinner and spend the day with him,” she says. “Giving him a gift, that’s the hardest part. He appreciates anything — he doesn’t expect anything. If you give him a gift, he’s happy. He just likes to be remembered.”

Yule table: A Christmas table setting at Rustan’s is festive and floral.

When Ambassador Tantoco was younger the family would go on holiday jaunts to Japan, Hong Kong, and nearby countries, “but now he’s 97 going on 98, so he cannot take the plane ride anymore.”

Nedy starts putting her Christmas decorations up in the middle of November — or rather, she has her own squadron of little elves do it. “I’m so corny. I leave it to our VMD (visual merchandising department) to do it for me because I really don’t have time,” she admits. “I love what they do in my house.”

Last year they put up two huge, beautiful Christmas trees in her abode: “One was in my formal living room and other was in the terraza. They put garlands all over the place, and also decorated the entrance. I have a bird that sings when you pass through going to the door, so they decorate that part of my house as well.”

Have a high-tech Christmas

May the peace be with you: Swarovski Star Wars figurines at Rustan’s

The Tantocos’ bastion of luxe retail, Rustan’s, has a similarly fanciful vibe this year. Magical creatures like unicorns and Christmas-y animals like reindeer inhabit the store windows and shopping floors in dazzling displays of Yuletide sparkle.

“Our theme this year is ‘Enchant the Holidays,’ so it’s whimsical and childlike,” explains Rustan’s marketing and communications manager Dina Tantoco. “It’s bringing out the child in you, so we want to draw families here, but it’s still very traditional.”

The fifth floor of Rustan’s Makati has been transformed into a wonderland of Christmas trees, twinkling fairy lights, and holiday décor.

“Every year we try to do something different,” says Mike Huang, Rustan’s vice president of store development and expansion. “Every section has a different theme, so we have ‘Romantic,’ ‘Glamour,’ and the more traditional with the plaids and red-and-white.”

Fit for royalty: Royal Albert tea sets

They say the trends this season include more techie gadgets, like Christmas-tree lights that let you become your own master of illumination.

“You connect it to the Christmas tree and you yourself can direct the way the lights will work,” Nedy says. “It has so many ways of changing the Christmas lights that I told them to reserve one for me.”

There’s also a small projector cunningly disguised as a tree ornament that casts Yuletide greetings like “Merry Christmas!” on your ceiling. “I had it in my entrance last year and my grandchildren loved it,” relates Nedy.

Windows on the world: Passersby enjoy Rustan’s “Enchant the Holidays” Christmas window display.

An LED tree is also on the way, Dina says, that will add to Rustan’s current eye-popping crop of trees. There’s a unicorn tree for the dreamers among us, as well as one covered with candy canes and frosted with snow. I wanted to take home the Charlie Brown tree, which looks a little lusher than its inspiration in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Mike says they used to have a Mexican-inspired tree that was bright Cheetos orange and covered with cacti ornaments, but as flamboyant as it was, a customer fell in love with it and snapped it up.

“Our VMD is really creative, like they put things you wouldn’t normally put on a tree like tabletop settings,” he notes.

Other trends so cool they’re frosty? Blinging out your tree with its own jewelry, like crystal necklaces hanging from the boughs, or large silk flowers that resemble Ken Samudio’s accessories, or how about putting a crown tiara on top instead of the usual star?

Gifts fit for collectors & CEOs

Bernardaud’s wall of plates at Rustan’s: “It’s one of the very first sets that you register for when you get married, and people collect them for their art,” says Dina.

“My mother-in-law (Nena Tantoco) loves to collect all kinds of themes of Christmas ornaments,” Dina says, “so she waits every year for a new theme.”

As it happens, Rustan’s has many limited-edition items for such collectors, like Christmas elves from Mark Roberts.

“Mark Roberts is a famous designer of decor in the States,” explains Andi Esimos, head of VMD at Rustan’s Makati. ‘He specializes in these hand-carved elves and Santa Claus, which is a very classic look, and every year he creates a limited edition of a single design.”

This year it’s elves carrying trays of colorful donuts. “There are only 100 or 200, and Rustan’s has 10 of them,” notes Andi. “This year we’re the only one who has this in the Philippines — they’re very exclusive and limited to Rustan’s.”

If you’re looking for a gift for a top executive or someone who has everything, Rustan’s is your go-to. Home Lifestyle and Home Luxury division manager Cecilia Hermoso says that items from Lladro, Christofle and Lalique are what most clients give to honored colleagues, like Lladro’s white bull and bear figurines, Christofle’s Mood cutlery sets housed in gold or silver eggs, and Lalique’s limited-edition 130th-anniversary pieces.

Egg-citing: Christofle’s Mood flatware is housed in a golden egg.

Ralph Lauren is a favorite gift brand for men: customers buy the logo towels in bulk or have them embroidered with the logo by Rustan’s; the bar sets are incredibly popular, as well as anything from the Horseshoe collection.

For women, Royal Doulton has the Miranda Kerr collection, and Kate Spade fans should note that the last home collection she designed is currently in-store. Once stocks run out, her personal imprint will be gone forever.

Hermosa also points out offerings from Goebel, a German brand licensed to print Gustav Klimt’s art like “The Kiss” on tableware and home décor, and Bugatti, an offshoot brand from the Italian car company that designs sleek espresso machines and kitchen appliances.

A Merry Italian Christmas

This home collection was the last Kate Spade designed before she passed.

Dina says that Bugatti is just one of the Italian brands suitable for gifting that will arrive in time for Christmas. “They did another special buy, like for the Moroccan festival, so there’s an Italian collection specifically for Christmas gifts,” she says. “The gift pavilion is where the Italian collection will be housed, with more Sicilian types of plates and ceramic décor, but also the height of Italian design.”
“This year we’re doing more of an Italian Christmas, so we’ll have an Italian-themed café on the fifth floor,” adds Mike. “We invited an Italian chef to come in, and he’ll come by mid-November and stay till mid-January.”

“The fifth floor works really well when it’s experiential, so we have food, merchandise, and on the weekends Christmas-themed demos, like how to make gelato, latte art or Christmas-themed cookies,” says Dina. “We also have the Christmas registry, so people are dressed in costumes, Santa goes up and down, so it’s the real experience of Christmas. We want people to come here and feel relaxed while they shop. We have personal shoppers who can help you get through your wish list. For children, there are activities as well.”

Merry, merry: Dina Tantoco and Mike Huang pose with Santa, who’s at the store every weekend to meet and greet kids, as well as personal shoppers in costume who help parents with their gift lists.

Nedy says they hope to enchant people with the merchandise they chose for them. “This is the most exciting part of the year and it’s also very important to us,” she says. “The majority of our themes are done from October to January and it’s a very busy, special, fun and enchanting time.”

On a more personal note she wants to preserve the memory of her happiest Christmas, “from the choosing of gifts to the exchange of gifts to the opening of gifts.” How will she do it? “I’ll try to recreate the Santa Claus,” she muses. “I’ll ask Anton if he can do it again this year.”

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