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The Invisible Magic of Adora |


The Invisible Magic of Adora

MADE OF BRICKS - Raymond Ang - The Philippine Star

When you buy this, you help a child,” Rustan Commercial Corporation president Donnie Tantoco tells Rustan’s patriarch Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., handing him a pair of shoes by the for-profit footwear brand Toms. Looking through the Toms merchandise on display, the younger Tantoco asks for a saleslady’s help, “He wants something with an interesting pattern.” Surveying the Toms space in the relaunched department store Adora, he finally zeroes in on a suitable pair. “This is bagay for you, lolo,” Donnie exclaims, handing his grandfather a pair made of woven print.

If Norman Rockwell ever painted a picture of Manila’s retail scene, it might’ve looked something like that. The scene at the Adora relaunch last Tuesday was a bit of an anomaly for Manila’s lifestyle event circuit — intimate when you expect a crowd, family-oriented where events are usually product-focused, and heartwarming when you’re expecting corporate jargon. The department store’s relaunch was about family as much as it was about the retail business — which is fitting, when you consider the occasion.

There was a time when the kind of moment the Rustan’s founder Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. and current president Donnie Tantoco had in Adora would not have been possible. Founded in 2008 by Marilou Tantoco Pineda (the patriarch’s daughter) and her son, the talented Eman Pineda, Adora opened in Greenbelt 5 with a strong curation of contemporary fashion brands and an even stronger identity that made it stand out in Manila’s retail scene, quickly establishing a loyal following among the city’s fashion set.

Prior to Adora, Eman had already made a name for himself as a retailer with vision and promise. As the founder of Tyler, a clothing brand that earned a devoted cult following due to its sharp approach to clothing, he gave discriminating Filipino shoppers an alternative to all the buzz and noise that characterized the local retail scene. In Adora though, he found the ultimate showcase for his skills and vision.





With a tightly curated selection of contemporary fashion brands, branding that was both subtle and sharp, and a fashion philosophy unique to the local scene, the department store quickly established itself as a sort of retail temple for Manila’s younger fashion set. To the industry at large though, that unique identity and fierce independence painted Adora as a sort of breakaway faction, the prodigal son to one of the country’s long-standing retail institutions.

Family Ties

Eight years later though and it seems like all that talk is water under the bridge. Last year, the two retail forces quietly and elegantly let bygones be bygones and came together in a move of unity and family togetherness. This year, they officially relaunch Adora.

The move came when patriarch Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., upon turning 94, came up with a list of 10 wishes he wanted to accomplish in the next few years. One of those wishes was to have Adora finally be part of the Rustan Group — his family finally all under one corporate roof again.

And so after a period of quiet discussions, the Rustan Group acquired Adora in a retail match made in heaven. “I think Lolo Benny is always right,” Donnie Tantoco told the STAR last year. “He is always motivated by the right thing.”

And already, the coming together of the two forces, the maestro and the new guard, is bearing fruit. Looking through the retail space of the relaunched Adora — handpicked brands under the Rustan Group and Stores Specialists Inc. like Loewe, YSL, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Jimmy Choo, Acca Kapa, Diptyque, Nars, Toms, Anya Hindmarch, and Annick Goutal now sharing the space with Adora staples like Chloé, Givenchy, Malin & Goetz, Penhaligon’s, Maison Francis Kurkdijan, and J Brand — it’s a union that makes sense as much as it looks good. Adora’s famously tight curation now has a wider range to choose from and the Rustan Group’s formidable array of brands now have a new home.

More than that, the move makes Rustan’s a multi-banner department store company. “We have very strong support group within the family,” says Nedy Tantoco, chairman and CEO of Rustan Commercial Corporation. “[Coming together] makes us even stronger.”

“With the backing of Rustan’s, Adora now has the support it needs to fully realize its vision and its potential,” Donnie Tantoco says. “With our support, Eman is very focused on providing a wonderful fashion and beauty mix with shoes and bags as its heart and soul. They have complimented brands that they have always had, with an edited assortment of what is available within the Rustan Group. The way these brands are presented in Adora is different than in the other retail banners and formats managed by the Rustan Group.”

Nedy Tantoco agrees. “[On my first trip to the store] I noticed that it’s very modern, the way they present the products. I noticed that nothing is inside a counter. Everything is within reach. The customers can enjoy and touch and love the merchandise… The concepts Eman has injected into Adora makes it a very unique, one of a kind store. He has a very strong sense of where he wants to go and he’s following that role. I admire the new things he injects into it daily.”

A Gem not a Box

Adora has always been marked by a philosophy of putting the product first. Through the years, the brand has kept its mystery by not having any face be recognized with the brand. In its almost decade-long existence, in features for magazines like Rogue and Preview, the team behind the brand has chosen to remain faceless. Instead of the traditional CEO portraits that usually accompany brand profiles, Adora would have several members of the team pose for a photo, with all their faces obscured in one way or another.

In the same way, even with both Donnie and Eman in attendance, there wasn’t a true face to the night. In true Adora style, no one took center stage; and while the marriage of Adora and Rustan’s is a true retail triumph, it was a triumph shared by all, not owned by one. Whatever center stage there was, they left to the event’s host and organizer Tim Yap.

“The only speech you’ll hear tonight is from me,” Tim ribbed. Instead, in lieu of a speech, Donnie Tantoco prepared a video featuring photos of different scenes from the department store — from customers interacting with the space to the luxurious details of its interiors — and a testimony from him as voice-over. Discussing Adora’s stature in the local retail landscape as a true exception, he asked, “What’s not to want?” The department store is “a gem not a box” and “a starter not a sleeper,” he said.

The night was also the launch of — an online shopping destination to complement the department store’s strong brick-and-mortar. As contemporary shopping habits increasingly prescribe to pluralism, the brand understands that there’s more than one way that customers can experience Adora — and that it’s not a bad thing.

As always, Adora did things in its own way. And so instead of a relaunch that focused on products, brands, or interiors, the event felt more like a family Thanksgiving. With a tightly-curated guest list of 25—a mix of celebrities like Iza Calzado and Solenn Heussaff, media folk like Preview’s Isha Valles and CNN Philippines’ Armie Bennett, and key members of the Tantoco family—it was perhaps the closest an outsider can get to a true Tantoco family reunion. Over seafood cannelloni and seabass filleto by Margarita Fores’ Cibo di M, guests from different worlds came together in laughter and conversation.

At the eleventh hour, Tim Yap went back to the stage to unveil a beautiful, elegantly-designed Christmas tree in the middle of the store. “It’s never too early,” he said, before announcing the night’s big surprise: Under the Christmas tree were gifts with the guests’ names on them handpicked by Eman and the Adora team themselves. Christmas suddenly came early.

As the guests excitedly opened their gifts (“Looove!!” Martine Cajucom said as she opened her package to find a Chloé bag; “Yess!!!” another guest exclaimed, upon finding a leather Givenchy file case in his bag), Tim dropped the other surprise: Guests weren’t just receiving the beautifully wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree, they were also getting a pair shoes from the brand of their choice among Adora’s formidable selection of shoe brands.

No, scratch that—everyone was getting pairs of shoes, one for every month until Christmas. “You’re getting a shoe! You’re getting a shoe! You’re getting a shoe!” Tim said in his best mock Oprah.

It was Christmas morning indeed, with the guests suddenly receiving items from their grown-up Christmas lists. “Nico [Bolzico, her husband] is going to have such a hard time giving me a gift now,” Solenn Heussaff joked.

Invisible Magic

Amid all the excitement, it was easy to overlook the relaunch’s subtle charms. And upon entering Adora—new brands and new first floor entrance aside—the changes weren’t that apparent. The new Adora looks a lot like the old Adora, albeit with more brands and a new entrance. The signature pistachio green paper bag remains; the limestone walls, the velvet curtains, the dressings rooms that feel like studio apartments, the great service, and the impeccable curation were all still there.

But true to form, the relaunch was characterised by changes you didn’t notice but you could feel, elegancy and subtlety—the Adora way. Some adjustments to lighting here (the place is now brighter), some adjustments to the layout there (they opened up the space and took down divisions), the identity of the department store remains intact but the shopping experience has been enhanced.

Amid all the gift-giving, amid all the toasts and seafood cannelloni, it was the invisible hand of Eman Pineda that was most felt—his eight-year-old baby stronger than ever and now with the support it needs to continue to grow.

Today, Eman reports to RCC chair and chief executive Zenaida Tantoco and president Donnie Tantoco. But as Donnie explains, Eman Pineda is still firmly in the driver’s seat. “We are not making changes other than to deploy the resources of Rustan’s to support Eman fulfill the full potential and realize fully the vision of Adora,” Donnie says. “The changes Eman is doing is aligned with the evolving needs and aspiration of Adora’s customers. Our CEO, Ms. Nedy Tantoco was very clear: preserve Adora as Adora.”

“He more than any one, as Adora’s co-founder, understands, is the strongest advocate, and is the most capable steward of what the Adora brand stands for,” Donnie continues. “He more than anyone, knows how Adora [can stay] true to its DNA [but also] adapt to a constantly changing environment… I and some members of the RCC team are learning from him; he is truly talented. He understand the art and science, the people and the profit side of running and building a successful fashion retail business. I believe he is also learning from the also talented RCC team. There is a cross learning and it is strengthening both Rustan’s and Adora.”

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