Bench Fashion Week: A whole new world

Mobo muse Maine Mendoza

From the moment one stepped in at the spacious The Playground of Bench Tower in BGC last weekend, the hunger for the good times that transpires in any Bench Fashion Week was palpable. And on 30 September to 2 October, Manila’s fashionable set took back what it had lost in two years of staying in quarantine.

The season is ripe to dress up unabashedly again — an exciting time, and hopefully another renaissance — for Philippine fashion as there are no more rules of what to wear. Just come as you are; fashion is limitless.

Fashion Fiesta Lesley Mobo’s Masaganang Bukid mixes streetwear with modern Filipiniana vibe.

Dress up to enjoy the stylish spectacle was what people did at Bench Fashion Week. For three days, bite-size presentations of clothes and accessories by the different brands under the Bench portfolio had their moment on the runway.

The point was it takes a village to build the fashion industry, and the retail empire founded by Ben Chan showed that collab is the key. On the first day, there was Jenni Contreras who partnered with Human; Cotton On; Antonina; and Strong Village.

Pop of Pinoy culture and humor.

Bench’s forever muse and now Ormoc City mayor Lucy Torres-Gomez paired with Kashieca on the second day of the shows. Also shown were Urban Revivo and Martin Bautista.

The third day was a rousing homage to Filipino farmers and Filipino culture through the interpretations of London-based Filipino designer Lesley Mobo’s Masaganang Bukid collection. It was “modern Filipiniana meets street and sporty vibe” as Mobo presented a diverse mix of bright-colored terno and balintawak dresses along with oversized t-shirts with native animal logos, t-shirts with pop culture references in its prints, and jeans and shorts.

Mobo’s happy collection was matched with an outré fiesta-inspired presentation that featured a marching band, models standing on elevated mounts inspired from Angono’s higantes figures, and agricultural products repurposed as head accessories and bouquets.

The joyfulness of the presentation became even more infectious among the audience as the marching band played 70s OPM such as the songs of VST and Company and the Hotdogs.

“The concept is that it’s not a fashion show, but a celebration of…well, after the pandemic, everything has been so down and negative. You know what, we wanted to do a fashion show that was positive. Let’s celebrate everyone and this is what we came up with.

“It’s not a serious fashion show, it’s a celebration, it’s about positivity. It’s about celebrating Filipinos living in the provinces. It’s my tribute to them because my family, my lolo, they are my farmers and it’s my tribute to them,” said Mobo.

(from left): Lesley Mobo, Maine Mendoza, and Ben Chan. | photographs by joey sanchez mendoza for the daily tribune

Mobo, who grew up in Aklan, said he has memories of his mother climbing mountains and working with soil. “This is my representation of my roots.”

Barangay Bench — the ecstatic fashionistas consisting of journalists, fashion influencers, models, celebrities, politicians and, yes, the poseurs that evening — lingered long after Mobo had taken his bow. Palpably, the crowd missed this.

Kudos and gratitude, of course, goes to Ben Chan, the man behind Suyen Corporation, which has Bench as its flagship brand. Today, the company also carries various global franchises under its umbrella corporation that now includes apparel and accessories, shoes and bags, services, cosmetics, home and furniture, and specialty food and restaurants.

“What am I feeling right now? I’m happy that I’m able to bring it back,” Chan told Daily Tribune when on Day Two of the fashion series. “I think it’s time to go back to where it was two years ago. I just recovered from Covid myself (last July) and it just felt like the flu. I mean, it’s not that bad anymore.”

Chan didn’t stop fortifying his empire during the pandemic and kept introducing new collections when community quarantine eased and even introduced new products and revitalized the packaging of his Bench beauty line.

“What did I learn from the pandemic? I guess it’s just to be resilient. Business was really bad especially in Manila because it took us quite a while to open our store. Six months we had the lockdown again,” he recalled. “But…we just have to bounce back or else we’re just gonna end up suffering.”

On whether he feels energized as ever, Chan smiled and said, “Yes, I believe so. I believe everyone here is energized. And that’s a good thing.”

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