Early this year, the avid sneaker, toy, and art collector, DJ and fairly new YouTube personality Big Boy Cheng was invited by no less than luxury brand Balenciaga for an all-expenses-paid three-day trip to Paris, France. The owner of Secret Fresh Gallery expressed his hesitation to accept at first, but ended up flying in early March anyway, fresh from the success of his Art Fair efforts (he just made the biggest sale lang naman of a Bencab that fetched eight figures, and the space he put up for artist Yeo Kaa’s works attracted box-office hit queues).
Because the invite was for two, Bigboy brought along his best friend to the trip: Milton Sy, also known as @antishoeexpert on Instagram. On social media, the two are like a comic duo—a Dolphy and Panchito, or an Ogie and Bitoy. Bigboy and Milton documented their Parisian holiday like a Bubble Gang travelogue, and uploaded their great adventure on Cheng’s 10-month old Youtube channel (65K subscribers to date). We swear we've never seen the most beautiful city in the world painted in such comedic strokes. The duo disrupted Paris’s gloomy atmosphere of cold weather and dark overcoats with their risqué tito humor and wacky Pinoy antics.
But why Bigboy?
First, let it be known that the Balenciaga fashion show this early March was the first fashion show the tandem has attended ever in their life. Big Boy, 41, admits he was never really into high fashion because his sartorial taste has always leaned toward streetwear. In fact, he has been collecting streetwear for almost 30 years now. Then, a few years ago, high-fashion labels such as Balenciaga, Gucci, and Chanel started co-opting streetwear and its highly influential creatives. Finally, the snearkerhead took notice.
Read and watch:
When Balenciaga first came out with their Speed Trainers, Big Boy got himself a pair, naturally. “Nagandahan kami ng anak ko,” he recalls. The perennially athleisure-wearing Bigboy has two sons: one is 21 and the other is 18 years old. Ever since the Speed Trainers, the father of two started buying Balenciaga clothes as well.
Getting first dibs on Balenciaga’s shoe collection became much easier for Big Boy eventually, since the brand’s Singapore-based manager, Adrian Deguican—who was with Big Boy and Milton during their Paris adventure—is a long-time friend of the Uratex heir (oh yeah, that’s another one of Bigboy’s many hats).
For a year, Bigboy would purchase the latest from Balenciaga, which he would keep for himself, or give to his relatives, or sell at cost. When his friends would go to Singapore, he would recommend that they check out the items at the Balenciaga store in the city. Soon enough, Big Boy got the luxury house’s attention. Through Adrian, Balenciaga offered Big Boy a free trip to Paris for two, to attend their Fall Winter 2019 show during Paris Fashion Week.
Bigboy tried to beg off, at first.
“Kasi hindi talaga ako mahilig sa gano’n. At kumbaga, busy ako dito, e,” explains the businessman who also manages and owns the art, fashion, and design establishment, Ronac Art Center along Ortigas Avenue, San Juan City, which houses the Secret Fresh gallery. Milton and Adrian, however, persuaded their friend to change his mind. “Once in a lifetime lang ’to,” he remembers his friends telling him.
What else is there to do?
“Angelina” in Tagalog
The first seconds of the first Youtube video of their trip set the tone for what will be a hilarious adventure. “So many foreigners, so I have to speak in English,” Milton says behind a GoPro camera, as he takes a video of him and Bigboy lining up at the buffet area for the business class passengers of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
After a 17-hour flight—stopping in Taiwan and Amsterdam—the team landed in Paris. It is not shown in the video but Big Boy says, when they alighted the plane, there was already a man waiting to escort them to their Mercedes Benz. Their first stop: L’Avenue at the Champs-Élysées avenue, the infamously snooty brasserie frequented by such Hollywood A-listers as Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West.
The two then proceeded to the Off-White fashion offices, where Big Boy sang the verdurous Tagalog parody of the French pop ditty, “Angelina”—a parody that became extremely popular in the ’90s. He sang it to a French lady manning the reception (we first saw this in Bigboy’s IG story and we can’t get it out of our heads). First, the bemoustached Bigboy asked if she is familiar with the French song “Angelina” by Psy. He tells her he only knows the Tagalog version. And then he proceeds to sing it—but really more like he was mouthing off the lyrics. The lady just keeps giggling in the video as if she understood what Bigboy was singing. If you don’t know how the parody goes, sorry but we’re not allowed to print the lyrics here—but we can post the video. Suffice it to say it’s about feminine hygiene.
Sheik in streetwear
While in Paris, Bigboy and Milton also visited the famous shopping mecca, Galeries Lafayette. In the video, Milton can be heard saying, “Ang poporma ng mga paninda.” Then back to their hotel they went to give their Youtube audience a quick scan of the stunning view of the city from their room. They also gave a tour of their room. The recording was only interrupted when Big Boy said he needed to take a number 2.
The fashion show happened on their second day. Wearing a bright yellow hoodie, dark pants, and the latest pair of track sneakers—all Balenciaga, naturellement—Big Boy was off to the Balenciaga show with a World Food Programme body bag in tow. (“Ako ang umubos ng pagkain sa buong mundo,” he jested in the video.) Before leaving their hotel room for the show, Big Boy faced Milton’s camera and gave a one-liner about his very yellow hoodie—which is so distractingly bright: “Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, kita tayo ‘maya sa DPWH.”
In the Youtube video, when Bigboy, Milton and Adrian arrived at the show’s location, we discover Milton has baptized Big Boy with a new name or a new persona: Sheik Shalami—or is it Salami?
In our interview with the duo at Big Boy’s house in Manila, Milton says they used the Sheik card to fend off the infamous scammers in Paris, who would ask non-Parisiennes to sign papers written in French, which the con artists would then use to extort money. The scammers would ask the guests if they could speak English. But the Pinoy duo out-fooled them. “Kapag may lumalapit sa amin, sinsasabi ko, ‘Sheik Shalami cannot be delayed. No, no. He’s in a hurry,’" says Milton. "Bagay kasi [kay Bigboy dahil] malaking tao siya, na mukhang mayaman, powerful. Ako ’yong parang bodyguard niya.” Milton would introduce himself as Kid Kulafu.
At one point in their trip, Milton asked a salesperson in Gucci if he could speak to the owner of the luxury house because the Sheik is asking for it. They were kidding, of course, but admitted many people believed their front.
Bigboy at the Louvre
Big Boy says it was his third time to see the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, or the Paris Museum of Modern Art. The team also went inside the Louvre Museum, where they were led around by a rather serious tour guide. When the lady spoke about the sculpture Venus de Milo, Big Boy—who looked like he was listening intently—shared this with her: “In the Philippines, we export, Venus of Ovaltine. It’s really nice also.” The lady nodded.
A little while later, Big Boy asked another question about the Renaissance artists—in utmost seriousness: “You have Michelangelo, Rafael, Donatello, and Leonardo. How about Master Splinter, their teacher?”
The bewildered tour guide answered, “Michelangelo, he followed some professor.” Everyone maintained a straight face as the tour guide continued explaining.
In case you didn’t know, Master Splinter is the fictional sensei in the animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, where the protagonists are mutated turtles named after the four artists mentioned above.
At the show and private shopping party
But back to the Balenciaga Fall-Winter 2019 show. Its designer Demna Gvasalia told Vogue that this collection is his ode to the customer, the “people who actually go shopping for fashion. Because of course—this is the reason I do it!” (Well, if they treated Bigboy to three days in Paris, there's no doubt the house knows how to make their customer feel special.) As the lights dimmed inside the venue, and the whole place was filled with red lights, Milton and Bigboy got awestruck. “Kompleto lahat ng tao sa planetarium,” says Milton. “Hayop,” says Bigboy, very succinctly describing the half-hour production. “Pati ’yong speaker, ultimo pag-start ng sound, kikilabutan ka.”
He continues: “I have a gallery. Nagtitinda rin ako ng apparel ko. Ang lesson learned is the discipline. And sobrang serious sila sa fashion nila. Kumbaga, [may] heart. Makikita mo paano nila tratuhin ’yong special guests nila, paano nila tratuhin ’yong damit nila. Scheduling ng shows nila, organized.” The collection, according to Hypebeast, was full of “street-friendly tailoring, knitwear and statement coats.”
A day after the show, Bigboy and company were invited to a private shopping party of sorts inside the Balenciaga headquarters. Here, the special guests could purchase whatever their hearts—and very deep pockets—desired at the fashion show the day before.
What was it like? “Artistic,” Bigboy tells us. The venue was an old building, he says, more than a hundred years old, maybe. It was reminiscent of Renaissance architecture, he says, but filled with modern furniture—including aluminum counters—to provide a beautiful contrast to its original design. There is a hallway, we learn from Big Boy, that leads to an electric door. Guests are requested to leave their bags at the entrance and sign a non-disclosure contract, where it says that they are not allowed to post their purchases online until they are advised to do so. Their orders would arrive in six months.
And what did they buy? “Hoodie, pants, and isang polo,” Bigboy reveals. “Siyempre mga fashionista ’yong mga kasama namin. Siyempre basic tayo. ’Tsaka sa Pilipinas, pag sinuot mo ’yong ibang outfit na nasa show, tatawanan ka, aalaskahin ka. Pero depende naman sa nagdadala, e.”
We tell him that with his stature, he must be used to this kind of pampering. He disagrees. “Skwating ako, e,” he says.
He adds, “Doon ko naramdaman, kaya pala ’yong mga mayayaman sa atin, gustong-gusto pumunta sa mga fashion show pag inimbita sila. Grabe pala treatment nila. Ang Paris talaga nabubuhay sa fashion, and they’re serious about fashion.”
While in Paris, Bigboy and Milton visited the Eiffel Tower, Stone Island, Musée d’Orsay, Pigalle Basketball, and Le Bon Marche—where they sell those winsome lollipops, as we saw in the Bigboy video, that are definitely pasalubong-worthy. They also dined at Hippopotamus, the favorite restaurant of Bigboy’s mom.
The original trip was only to last for three three days, but the team decided to extend their stay and make it six (the second three is on their own dime). They stayed at the luxury, five-star Hotel Lutetia the whole time. “Pinakamagandang natirhan ko buong buhay ko,” Bigboy says. It is the only grand hotel in Paris's Left Bank, and was just recently renovated.
Of course, the sneakerhead, who currently owns 1,200 pairs of shoes (it used to be 2,000, but he has given about 800 away), will never leave the fashion capital without stopping by shoe shops: Sneakers and Stuff, Retro Shop Paris, Larry Deadstock, Nike and Adidas stores at the Champs-Élysées avenue.
On the sixth day, Bigboy and Milton were back at the airport. Bigboy tipped their driver, who was assigned to take them anywhere they wanted and needed to be all those wonderful six days. At the airport, they headed straight to a counter—no queue, of course— reserved only for guests of the Paris Fashion Week.
Back in Manila and in Bigboy’s house—yes that one that looks like a museum of vintage toys and repository for the latest in covetable sneakers—the two recall the highlights of the trip like the reality of it all just hit them. “P***ng I** tayo lang ’yong mga mukhang ewan,” Bigboy says, talking to Milton, as he talks about their shared experience. “Na-overwhelm ako. Hindi ko akalain. Parang alam mo ’yong natatakot ka na mamaya magsisisi sila na inimbita ka nila?” And as per usual, they break into laughter.