Supa dupa fly

Diego Mapa (The Philippine Star) - July 11, 2014 - 12:00am

Grocery boutique: My gateway to Manila streetwear, couture, and electronic music.

It was the summer of ’97. I had just graduated from high school and failed all college entrance tests but was waitlisted at De La Salle University Manila. I was living in Antipolo with my parents. I enjoyed occasionally jamming with my friends, something that later evolved into my first major label-signed band — Monsterbot (under MCA Universal) — and just listening to my cassettes at home. I was into grunge, metal, punk and all that was under the alternative wing. Jamiroquai, Chemical Brothers and Prodigy were the new things happening on MTV. My mom was the editor of a magazine called Woman’s Home Companion, and she came up to me asking if I wanted a summer job. I said, “Sure.” “Remember Tita Cecile?” she asked. My mother used to work with Tita Cecile at Daily Globe. Tita Cecile today is the one and only Cecile Zamora-Van Straten, probably more widely known as the blogger Chuvaness. Mom told me Tita Cecile had a streetwear store in Mandaluyong and I could work there as an intern if I wanted to. So begins the story of my experience working at the legendary — and now defunct — fashion store called Grocery:  streetwear store and boutique. 

Grocery was located along Pilar Street, off Shaw Boulevard. The store was just around 40 to 60 square meters in a nice commercial space, and I remember first entering it after lunch when it was really hot outside. (I most likely took a jeep from Antipolo and was probably in my regular Beastie Boys getup: a shirt with khaki pants and sneakers.) The vibe was refreshing. There was some downtempo electronic music going on that I hadn’t heard before, and all the clothes really had a modern edge. This stuff was more advanced than anything I saw on MTV. It had stuff that Cecile made, which was labeled Kokur. These were the baby tees and dresses with Nora Aunor’s face on them. She also had a collection that was sun-damaged with acetate, like the clothes were bleached. There was a piece there that we called the baby doll dress. Much later into the summer, I ended up wearing this baby doll dress because we were so bored. The store also had some leather stuff like bondage pants, bondage pants in plaid, et cetera, as well as some imported clothes you couldn’t find anywhere else in the city, brands like Liquid Sky, which was my personal favorite. I also liked going through the vintage rack, because they had really nice polyester shirts there. On the side, they had vintage Beatles pomade, pocket ashtrays, and Punky hair dye, which was really hard to get at the time. I was greeted by the manager — now fashion show director and stylist — Melvin Mojica, who my mom described as being like an alien with giant glasses. I didn’t get the alien part, but he did wear baby tees, colored vintage socks, jeans that ended just below the knees and Jackie O sunglasses when the sun was up. I had never seen anything like his fashion sense before. Later in the day, I also met another storekeeper — Bang Quevedo, who had a big afro, dressed in a baby ringer tee with elephant pants. I remember not really doing anything on my first day apart from familiarizing myself with the clothes and meeting Cecile (I think this was the point at which I started slowly dropping the “Tita”) and the rest of the staff. I remember thinking, “Wow, this is so cool, I’m working in a super hip store plus I get to hang out with cool people!” 

I served as a salesman, but wasn’t really that much help. I tagged clothes with their prices, made sure that the store was clean and that the clothes were arranged and looked nice. At the end of the week, I was given an allowance that I ended up spending on clothes in the store. In our downtime, I would browse through all the  CDs in the store. This is where I discovered Tricky’s “Maxinquaye,” and acid jazz compilations, and we played a lot of Jamiroquai’s “Space Cowboy.” I also enjoyed occasionally going out with the crew. In the day, we went to the original massive ukay-ukay called Bangbang market in Manila, where we’d rummage for vintage wear. In the evenings, we were able to check out bars like Liquid (which later became Industria) where I met a lot of friends who I still hang out with today. I also discovered clubs like ABG’s and Lava Lounge, and was able to attend events by Groove Nation. These shows were new to me because before then, I only went to rock shows — at Club Dredd, Payanig sa Pasig, Arts Venue and Kalye, just to name a few. Dance clubs and other venues I’d been to then were probably Faces Disco, Equinox, Euphoria, Pep’s and Streetlife, and I had never experienced these new parties they called warehouse or rave.

At the end of that summer, I made it to La Salle, and on the first day of college I wore a baby tee Nora shirt. I was late for one class and accidentally entered in front, where everyone could see me, and I remember the whole class laughing at me, not because I was late, but because of my shirt. Deep inside, I felt brave and just shrugged it off. A year later, everybody was wearing baby tees to school.

Within a year, Grocery closed down and reopened in the mall as a new entity, called Defect, in Glorietta. I also trained to work for that store, but my school schedule made me quit before it opened. Defect was a massive success in that it brought Grocery’s culture to the kids much faster. Other Defect-like stores started to pop up, and it influenced established local brands to shift their style towards what was going on there.

Defect isn’t around anymore, either, but today, I still work with Melvin; I sometimes DJ for his events. I also DJed for Cecile’s recent birthday. Fashion-wise if there’s anything I learned from Grocery, it’s that if you have a good idea, turn it into a shirt, which is something I’ve applied when coming up with my band merchandise. But other than that, what Grocery really taught me was how to be stylish in an effortless way, and how to enjoy dressing up.

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