In the April 2021 issue of the esteemed international lifestyle magazine Monocle (No.42), influential Filipino fashion retailer Mark Gonzalez talks about the state of fashion retail in the Philippines with a happily positive outlook.
“The market is healthy,” he tells the publication. “People are ready to accept certain ideas and concepts.” And here’s more good news. “In terms of retail development, we’re looking at flagship shops opening at the end of the year. Louis Vuitton is expanding, Celine is coming, Fendi has just opened a flagship and so has Dior,” Gonzalez says. “These are huge investments. So the money is here. It’s all happening.”
It’s a statement that’s not exactly attuned to what one might imagine happens during a crisis brought about by a pandemic but Gonzalez’s observation is shared even by Anton Huang, the man behind the presence of Gucci, Ferragamo and Prada in the country. Huang is the president of Stores Specialists Inc., considered to be the biggest retailer of luxury brands in the Philippines. “Our core customer base has proven to be resilient,” he told Business Mirror in October last year, “as seen in the performance of key categories in our portfolio during this pandemic.” (Gonzalez tells ANCX his Monocle interview took place just a month or two ago.)
Gonzalez and Huang essentially share the same core patron—albeit one group’s sense of style isn’t exactly shared by the other— which explains the former’s confident statement. The affluent are still not averse to spending when it comes to high-value items. Which is good for the brands in Gonzalez’s portfolio, littered as it is with names such as Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga, Y-3 and Off-White. In his multi-label Univers d’homme et femme store in Rockwell, he continues to carry Thom Browne and Junya Watanabe, the always coveted Jil Sander and fashion cognoscenti favorite, British designer Craig Green.
In the Monocle story, his second feature for the magazine in 10 years, Gonzalez also spoke about the Filipino dresser, and that while many of them still do tend to wear the same things, a younger generation is now more open to new ways of dressing. He adds that “the market is more open and has changed so much because of the internet and because travel became accessible.” For his business, he says “the validation came when our customers started seeing our products abroad and began to recognize their value.”
Twenty five years after opening his maiden shop, Gonzalez remembers the early years of being an operation that represented non-mainstream brands. “We were in debt for the first five years but we stayed true to ourselves,” he told Monocle. And the fashion retailer continues to reap the benefits of keeping to his vision. In 2017, he was chosen to be among Business of Fashion’s 500, a definitive list of people shaping the international fashion industry. Meanwhile, he himself has a few things to look forward to this year: five more shops to add to his 21 retail businesses. Clearly for Gonzalez, the future is not bleak and grey—it’s bright and Off-White.