I was born in Negros Occidental and moved to Metro Manila when I was eight because of my father’s work. I’ve been living in the same neighborhood of Makati City ever since – now I’m with my partner in life and work, Ricky Toledo, and our Italian greyhounds Ornella, Carla and Piero. To an outsider, Manila may appear crazy and chaotic, but when you get used to its rhythm, discover pockets of serenity and beauty, and get charmed by the Manileños, you’ll want to stay forever.
Manila can be quite laid-back because the people are generally accommodating and very warm. You can have almost anything made bespoke by amazing artisans and designers, and there’s a thriving visual and performing arts community. Ricky and I are both judges for the local Gawad Buhay Awards for theater and dance, so we get to watch many stage productions. I’m constantly exposed to such creative sources that inspire me in my work – be it interiors, fashion or art. These are the avenues through which I express my creativity. The food scene here is also really exciting, with talented chefs constantly rolling out new concept restaurants.
I find that the people of Manila are always a source of great fascination, and that Philippine hospitality and our fiesta spirit are unbeatable. We spontaneously find reasons to celebrate all year round and throw the best parties, where everyone is welcome to join! This is most apparent during the Christmas season. There are lights and decorations everywhere you look, and everyone exudes Yuletide cheer.
Ricky and I see this in our second home, Greenbelt Mall in Makati City. We go there a lot because that’s where our stores Firma and ac+632 are located, and because it’s a premier shopping destination with all the major European labels, as well as homegrown brands, specialty stores and art galleries. There are also many good restaurants, like Restaurante Pia y Damaso, Lusso, Sala Bistro, People’s Palace, Cibo and Via Mare, among others. Ayala Museum, a major repository of Philippine art and culture, is also a must-visit.
In December, Greenbelt holds many special performances: you have Steps Dance Studio performing ballets, orchestras and choirs singing Christmas carols. I think it’s safe to say that activities like this happen all over the country, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since we have the longest Christmas season in the world.
Ricky and I head to Greenbelt Mall (Ayala Center, Makati) to check on our stores. We wanted Firma (Greenbelt 3, Esperanza St, Makati) to be a venue for fine art and design, and aside from having a roster of designers and artisans who create one-off pieces for us, we also design our exclusive line of jeweled pillows, lamps and tabletop accessories. People say that we have a reputation for offering Asian-inspired pieces that are unusual, unpredictable and out of the ordinary. On the other hand, ac+632 (Greenbelt 5, Legazpi St, Makati) explores the romance of the Old World and the joys of gracious living with a more European slant. Many people don’t pick up on this, but +632 is the country and area code of Manila, Philippines. Greenbelt is right in the country’s central business and shopping district, and can be hectic during the holidays with all the Christmas shoppers.
We often hang around and take our lunch in the Greenbelt area. Our favorite restaurants are Lusso (Greenbelt 5, Legazpi St, Makati) for an upscale spin on comfort food (think truffle mac and cheese, or a foie gras burger); People’s Palace (Greenbelt 3, Esperanza St, Makati) for Thai curries and refreshing pomelo salad; and our restaurant, Restaurante Pia y Damaso (Greenbelt 5, Legazpi St, Makati), for its creative take on heritage Philippine food based on the novels of José Rizal.
Our chef, Bambi Sy Gobio, is our constant travel companion, and has created an entire menu of what we bill as “subversive Filipino cuisine”. Our favorites include Placido Penitente with Mussel Cerveza, Sisa’s Dementia Chocolate Cake, Pepay the Dancer’s Halo-Halo and Tubig ni Maria Clara (cucumber juice with ginger, orange, lemon and lime). During the holidays, I love having the Quezo de Bola Polvoron with Hot Tsokolate. Like typical Filipinos, a large part of our lives revolves around food. Ricky, Bambi and I take note of the best dishes we’ve ever tried – both here and abroad – and even when we’re eating, we’re still talking about food and planning what our next meal is going to be!
My line of work is highly creative, and I find that there is so much to draw from in Manila because it is rich in history and culture. If I need to feel inspired, I simply visit one of the city’s museums and galleries, or spend a night at the symphony or ballet. If I have time in the afternoon, I like heading to the art galleries and auction houses in Makati – The Drawing Room (Building C, Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Ave, Makati), Silverlens (Lapanday Center, 2263 Chino Roces Ave, Makati), Finale Art File (Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Plaza, 2241 Chino Roces Ave, Makati) or León Gallery. For antiques, there’s La O’ Centre (1000 Makati Ave, cor Arnaiz Ave, Makati) on Pasay Road. Otherwise, we’re lucky that we can just walk over to the Ayala Museum (Greenbelt Park, Makati) whenever we want to check out some art.
We have an early pre-show dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in Malate, Casa Armas (Greenbelt 2, Esperanza St, Makati). We always make sure to call before going, as our favorite dishes – paella, cochinillo, ibérico chicken – need to be prepared ahead of time.