How Jappy Gonzalez became an international fashion player

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Mark "Jappy" Gonzalez, the man behind the multi-brand boutiques Homme et Femme and Univers (pictured above) and the local presence of Balenciaga, Lanvin, and Comme des Garçon was recently included in The Business of Fashion’s 500. The list includes luminaries such as Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, and Tory Burch. Photo by PATRICK DIOKNO/Courtesy of HOMME ET FEMME

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — On Sept. 9, the international fashion industry descended upon the Soho Public Hotel in New York City to celebrate the BoF 500, an annual power list published by the influential trade publication The Business of Fashion.

Said to be “the definitive professional index of the people shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry,” the BoF 500 is handpicked by the editors of The Business of Fashion, based on extensive data analysis, research, and hundreds of nominations received from current BoF 500 members, including hall-of-famers like Anna Wintour, Donatella Versace, Andrew Rosen, and Tom Ford.

Jappy Gonzalez Jappy Gonzalez, seen above with The Business of Fashion founder and chief executive Imran Amed, is the first Philippines-based Filipino to be included on BoF 500, "the definitive professional index of the people shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry." Photo courtesy of JAPPY GONZALEZ

Last Saturday’s #BoF500 Gala was attended not only by familiar names like Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Karlie Kloss, but also included Somali-American model Halima Aden, and the Philippines’ own Mark “Jappy” Gonzalez, the co-founder and managing director of H&F Retail Concepts: the company behind directional, mold-breaking concepts like Univers and Homme et Femme, as well as the Philippine presence of Lanvin, Balenciaga, and Comme des Garçons.

Gonzalez is only the third Filipino to be included on the list — and the only one based in the Philippines — after influential editor and publisher Stephen Gan (V Magazine, VMan, Visionarie) and popular blogger Bryan Grey Yambao, better known as Bryanboy. “To be listed would mean that we are a viable market — which would open more doors, and perhaps in the long run, create a retail environment that evolves to Manila as a retail center,” says Gonzalez.

Univers The Ed Calma-designed interiors of Univers in One Rockwell. Photo by FRANK CALLAGHAN/Courtesy of HOMME ET FEMME

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In one way or another, Gonzalez has had a hand in how the country’s most discerning shoppers dress for almost three decades now.

He started working in retail at 20, taking a summer job in Cinderella — one of the country's top retail destinations at the time — and as early as that, proceeded to make his presence felt.

In a previous conversation, he recounted: ”Two weeks into it, [the general manager Teres Coronel Santos] asked me, 'So you've been here for two weeks. Tell me, what's lacking? What's going on?'… And I said, 'You don't have this, you don't have that.' So she said, why don't you do something?"

Santos gave him two weeks to prepare a pitch — come up with a line, the samples, the general identity. "And I did," he said. "I sampled everything in two weeks, crash course. That started my affair with fashion, business-wise."

Gonzalez started H&F Retail Concepts in 1995, after about a decade of retail experience. "Most things start by necessity,” he said. “You just invent something because you want to make something, or you need something — that's the stimulus of all creation, other than art. Art is not like that. For enterprise, at least, that's the stimulus.”

Univers H&F Retail Concepts Inc., under the leadership of Jappy Gonzalez, has long established itself as a retail company known for careful curation and peerless taste. Aside from bringing brands like Balenciaga and Lanvin to the Philippines, the company is known for the tight edit of multi-brand boutiques Homme et Femme (pictured above) and Univers. Photo by FRANK CALLAGHAN/Courtesy of HOMME ET FEMME

Gonzalez has always run H&F with a clear idea of who they are and where they're going. In 21 years, they have never prostrated themselves to trends or the easy peso. "Markets never dictate us — we're a market maker."

"We've never changed direction,” he said in 2015. “We've always been and will always be in this direction. Even when it wasn't in vogue, we were minimalists. Even if we weren't making money out of it, we were minimalists. We've kept that line and we've always been that. It's just that minimalism takes a different definition every era and one thing nice is that in 20 years, I think we've evolved.”

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Today, H&F Retail Concepts Inc.’s retail empire counts innovative multi-brand boutiques Homme et Femme, Univers, and Hoodwink — not to mention the outlet stores Archives d'homme et femme — as well as the local franchises for Lanvin, Balenciaga, Comme des Garçons, Fred Perry, and Laduree. How then does the inclusion in one of the global fashion industry’s most distinguished lists make an impact for the company’s plans?

Writing from New York, Gonzalez, true to form, unwittingly echoes what he said two years ago: “I believe we should, as always, look beyond and move forward.”