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20 November 2018

Holiday Windows 2018 : Saks Fifth Avenue

CHRISTMAS IN Midtown Manhattan is always more than just a holiday shopping tradition. It becomes the world's preeminent showcase of visual merchandising at its grandest and most enchanting form. For decades now, beginning in mid-November, Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and other department stores on and around Fifth Avenue outdo each other in transforming their windows into elaborate, magical wonderlands. It's the stuff that visual merchandisers dream of.

On Monday evening, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its 2018 windows called "The Theater of Dreams" at the flagship on Fifth Avenue. The launch, in partnership with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, was a stunning theatrical event with over 120 Broadway dancers and a theatrical 10-story light show. The store's six windows are themed around Broadway and depict a shopper’s visits to The Fifth Avenue Club and The Salon & Spa at Saks. Digital images are used as backdrops, the first time that Saks ever incorporated such technology in their windows.

The entire launch event encapsulates the New York City we all love: electric, aesthetic, ecstatic! Watch it by clicking the "play" button on the video below. The program starts at 13:40.

18 November 2018

Joining Lenskart

THIS WEEK, I joined Lenskart to form and run the visual merchandising function for the company. The venture is now the fastest growing eyewear group in India, almost a decade after it started. This marks new beginnings for me. I'm amongst true innovators, entrepreneurs who take risks and go for it, young leaders who always look at new ways of doing things.

The atmosphere at the headquarters is awesome. I'm surrounded by youth and youngness, transformative ingredients that anchor a culture of continuous learning and doing. Jeans at work. Long tables instead of cabins and cubicles. Lounge seats everywhere. A masala chai station. A game room. A sleeping room! I can make a few jokes to my "table-mates" (the executive assistants and the merchants, all old enough to probably NOT know how to repair a broken cassette tape), and expect the jokes to land flat, which makes it even funnier (to me, at least). Everyone moves fast. Everyone talks with passion. Everyone works hard. There's a strong sense of personal ownership and liberty. It's such a contagious spirit.

I'm about to help Lenskart in further changing the way Indians shop for eyewear. What a special thing to join them on this ride.

03 November 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Walls"

BARBRA STREISAND's new studio album, the lush and variegated Walls, showcases the triumph of two voices. One is that unmistakable singing voice, unchallengeable since 1962, now sounding almost outworldly with its surprisingly pliant crescendos, effortlessly intuitive phrasing, and dramatic resonance. The 76-year-old icon proves on this album that she remains the singular force of nature in pop vocal music.

The other voice is what's on Ms. Streisand's heart and mind: social principles advancing the unity of the human race. She created the album in light of contemporaneous sociopolitical tensions in the United States. However, the project is far from being a partisan vessel. There are no references to political parties or individuals in the carefully-selected songs.

To the contrary, Ms. Streisand explores the themes of gender equality, racial harmony, elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, and, above all, love in its most unifying power. No other studio album in Ms. Streisand's long, spectacular career is as principled as Walls. This is clearly a musical project with nothing but the best intentions.

My personal standouts: "Love's Never Wrong", a new anthem of equality, and "Happy Days Are Here Again", Ms. Streisand revisiting her classic song in her best form as an actress who sings.

15 October 2018

What my ex-bosses taught me about looking ahead

RECENTLY, a former colleague surprised me with a short message. "You were the best (boss), and always will be best," this person wrote. I’m fortunate to have been in several positions of leadership, and even more fortunate to have been led by really awesome bosses. My ex-colleague's wonderful compliment gave me a chance to reflect on what I've learned from being a boss and standing out as a leader.

As team leaders, we plan courses of action, give directions, and follow through on execution. We organize the resources. We approve and disapprove changes. Eventually, nothing moves without our consent. We’re at the helm of control. We convince ourselves that we are indispensable.

I had three bosses who taught me exactly the opposite. We are never indispensable. When we leave, the organization continues to sail. Yet, how beautifully it sails depends in great measure on how we looked ahead before we left the ship.

As design heads, we're usually interested in the immediate effect of our work. Mina Escaño taught me the value of foresight at Triumph International. She always dared me to think big, but to never overlook the indirect effects of thinking out of the box. As I grew into roles of increasing responsibility, I learned how to prevent future nightmares for my team by forecasting potential shortcomings and creating plans to overcome them.

Jean Wilkey told me to always understand the long-term consequences of my work at the Baha'i World Centre. I learned that we aren't done with our jobs unless and until the future is secure for the team, for the people who will keep the systems running when we leave. Many years after I quit my role as visual merchandising (VM) head of Shoppers Stop, a former teammate delighted me with the fact that the file management system that I had devised for the department remained in full use.

Samar Singh Sheikhawat encouraged me to build a team that could grow together in Spencer's Retail. He and I rejected several promising candidates for the VM team, not because they were expensive or culturally unfit, but because they weren’t willing to commit to collective change. The young men and women who eventually formed the VM department worked and grew with me in Spencer’s through the next four years, a long tenure by Indian standards. One of them, Haimanti Upadhyaya, took over the team when I left.

Mina, Jean, and Samar led me by focusing on the future. Consequentially, I led my teams by not losing sight of tomorrow. We become better bosses and standout leaders for this.

14 October 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Imagine/What a Wonderful World"

THE SECOND release from Barbra Streisand's upcoming album Walls is a medley of John Lennon's "Imagine" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". This is vintage Streisand—or at least the Streisand we all knew way back with recognizable singing traits. The impeccable breathing. The much-copied full-octave glissando. The grammarian's phrasing.

Above all, the story-telling. Ms. Streisand has always sang songs as if they are three-act-plays—a peaceful beginning, a soaring conflict, a dramatic resolution. She's done it again on this medley. Merging the two songs actually works. The context becomes meaningful.

Imagine all the people living life in peace
with skies of blue and clouds of white,
the bright blessed day, the dark sacred night,
and I think to myself, "What a wonderful world!"

To paraphrase two other Lennon and Armstrong songs, "Woman, it's so nice to have you back where you belong."

05 October 2018

FOCAL POINT : Kokila's logo

PENGUIN BOOKS' new imprint, Kokila, focuses on diverse books for children and young adults. According to Penguin, the imprint's mission is to “add depth and nuance to the way children and young adults see the world and their place in it.”

Kokila's brand identity has one of the prettiest logos that I've seen this year. When I first look at it, I immediately understand the idea: a bird whose wide-open eye is an invitation to read. I like the simplicity of the circular form, a shape that children immediately relate to. Uncomplicated, with nothing in it but the pupil. An excellent focal point.

Indeed, graphic designer Jasmin Rubero explains in Adobe Create Magazine that the provenance of the word "kokila"—Sanskrit for the koel bird, a large cuckoo—is her source of inspiration. I can already imagine how beautifully this logo will be adapted to media other than book spines and covers.

Memorability and simplicity are two characteristics of a really great logo. Kokila is flying beautifully with both..

03 October 2018

The mockup and how it makes stores look better

I ALWAYS mock up show windows and in-store displays before rolling them out. Not because I need a pre-approval, but because mockups reveal the essence of an abstract idea and enable other stakeholders to understand and accept it . . . and eventually learn it.

These stakeholders include the brand head, fashion designers, buyers, merchants, and sales operations leads. They're as responsible as I am in getting the product experienced and sold in the stores. Partnering with cross-functional teams allows me to get all the information I need to advance my designs and keep them cohesive and implementable. When I show them the mockup, I always explain this isn't the finished product, but rather an overall rendition of the product within the branding context. Being the "shepherd" ensures that we all look at the bigger picture so that it’s almost impossible not to see the blocks in execution. It forces me to make the right decisions before I dive into details. Most importantly, it brings everyone together in common consensus, enhancing a culture of collaboration and customer-centricity.

Because mockups can be done quickly, they can immediately tell me if I’m on the right track. For Biba's Autumn-Winter 2018 range launch, the "Everyday Specials" sample window took four days to set up. One round of stakeholder inspections, and the concept was rectified and immediately executed in all stores.

Like most engineering prototypes, the first samples usually give a 90% estimation of the way forward. If the first try doesn't give a good approximation, I give it a second and final shot. Stakeholders will say that there's always room for improvement; I say that there's never room for time and money spent on repeated trials and errors. Two rounds of sample displays, with a lot of buffing up, is enough.

When I assisted in launching the “Taste the World” campaign for Spencer’s hypermarkets in 2009, we fixated on using a skeletal globe as the main display prop inside the stores. After a few weeks of testing and improving on the skeletal globe, we realized that the model wasn't scalable. We quickly abandoned it and pursued a different and final approach, one that was easier to understand by everyone else. The final approach was a 2D, solid-colored version of the skeletal globe. A lot easier to execute, a lot prettier to experience. And it became the centerpiece of a VM program that won merit as one of India’s best at the 2009 Retail Design Awards.

02 October 2018

The seductiveness of Ray-Bans

WHEN FORM and function are wrapped in usability and seduction, you get a well-designed product. I can think of one: the Ray-Ban.

In 1937, the American medical equipment manufacturer Bausch + Lomb developed optical glasses for the US Army Air Corps to address vision and glare concerns suffered by their pilots. The eyeglasses blocked 85% of glare and high altitude light. Eventually, Bausch + Lomb created similar glasses for the general public, introducing what eventually became the Aviator model of metal sunglasses and giving birth to the Ray-Ban brand of eyewear. It was an instant runaway success. It stayed on the runway since then.

Eighty years later, Ray-Ban has become the most iconic brand of eyewear in history. From its military roots, the product has now evolved into a fashion must-have. It instantly transforms a user’s style statement, either by adding an edge to the user's overall look or by channeling a celebrity image, thanks mainly to its heavily favored use in film (think Reservoir Dogs, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and Michael Jackson).

The Aviator model kicked off a series of lines, each created to address the ever-evolving sociocultural tastes and needs of subsequent generations. In all its style manifestations, the Ray-Ban design aesthetic remain consistent: it entices users and meets their desires with the advantage of owning such a chic and classic pair of frames and light-shielding lenses.

That’s form and function wrapped in usability and seduction. To date, no other eyewear brand has ever managed to do so with a limited range of styles, yet in such massive scale of user engagement.

My eldest sister Kathleen bestowed on me my first pair of Ray-Bans when I entered college. It was a brown-tinted photochromic Ambermatic model that I used for a long time until I got a new pair way after college. I was skinny then; the sunglasses' thin frame matched my overall physical structure. Its light-sensitive lenses were perfect for adapting to sunlight and shade when coming in and out of campus buildings in the sprawling University of the Philippines. When I began my work in visual merchandising, it served the same purpose as I zipped in and out of stores and streets. I was known as the tall thin guy with layers of clothing and Ambermatics.

Since then, I’ve kept and worn several other Ray-Ban models. This product has always made it so much easier for me to project myself. Today, I occasionally use my Wayfarers over my prescription glasses--an extra shield for my aging eyes, and no one really notices (except a younger sister!).

An iconic frame, an industry-marked optical lens, and an enticing usability all make Ray-Ban such a desirable and worthwhile piece of product design.

28 September 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "Don't Lie To Me"

FIFTY-SIX YEARS after she recorded her first album, Barbra Streisand releases a single (the first from her upcoming album Walls) that continues to place her squarely in the front and center of contemporary pop music affairs. "Don't Lie To Me" is a thumping pop anthem with catchy hooks that could have been written by Adele, Lady Gaga, or Mick Hucknall. The vocal and instrumental arrangements sound so modern, one is left to wonder why Ms. Streisand’s last two albums, despite a slew of pop-music collaborators, didn't leverage on her uncanny ability to still sing on the beat.

Ms. Streisand wrote "Don't Lie To Me" as a plea to the current presidency, but the song can also be interpreted as a paean to a mistrusted romance. It contains several references to her rich canon of recording work. On my eleventh consecutive listening, I sensed melodic traces of three songs from her radio-friendly era: "Widescreen" (1975), "Make It Like A Memory" (1980), and "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)" (1979). I imagined a violin and cello borrowed from 1985’s The Broadway Album. There’s throwback to her 1960s patter-song days with those quick phrases in the middle of the song. James Newton Howard, The Prince of Tides (1991) composer, would have enjoyed its use of minor chords, and Barry Gibb, Guilty (1980) partner, would have related to its catchy refrain. And was the chorus channelling Cydie King and Veneeta Fields from Ms. Streisand’s backup vocal band in the early 1970s?

The last time Ms. Streisand sounded this contemporary was in 2005, with Barry Gibb on Guilty Pleasures. I never imagined that she would return to singing pop on the beat, especially at 76 years old. Listen to the new recording and you'll realize why Barbra Streisand remains the supreme vocal interpreter of popular song, possibly the only one left in our generation.

23 September 2018

The story of Biba, or how it all began

THIS IS the story of Biba, encapsulating 30 years of excellence in product and service. I created this video to help commemorate the company's vision ahead, with the idea of linking past, present, and future. It also celebrates the men and women who have helped build Biba as the most admired ladies' ethnicwear brand in India. The video debuted at the company's annual get-together in June 2018. It is now being used as part of corporate orientation sessions for new employees.

Leaving Biba

I HAVE left Biba after four years and nine months, the longest time I’ve ever spent in a company in India.

I wasn’t planning to stay long in Delhi and with Biba. On my first year, I struggled with the city, an unforgiving place to those who couldn't adjust to its weather extremes, pollution woes, and unfriendly neighborhoods. However, at the end of that first year, I had stopped crying over its chaos and started loving its great, uncompromising ways. The Baha'i House of Worship became my beacon. The winters were fabulous. And I got an extended family through Shradha Singh, hardcore Delhi-ite, ex-colleague, and fellow Baha'i. Big treasures.

I also found that I enjoyed working in Biba. I had a decent salary, created many experiments in displaying the products, and collaborated with colleagues who had worked there for over five years. These were people who could easily leave, but never did because they believed in what we were all doing there. Passion and commitment were strong values in Biba, and they were infectious.

In the years I spent there, my skills were incubated indirectly by colleagues who were younger than me. While I learned cool ideas about customer engagement, I also unlearned many things that guided me in my younger years as a visual merchandiser. I let go of old ideas. I assimilated new ones. I matured. It was a gratifying time to be there.

And now is the time to leave. I resigned from Biba so that I can do things that I’ve never done and start doing things that I have been wanting—but delaying—to do.

I want to help other companies change the way shoppers experience their products and services. I want to create a visual merchandising program for an industry that has never been exposed to VM, at least exponentially, at least in India.

I want to be more involved in the Baha’i community. I want to make a bigger difference in the collective work that we do. I want to go back to truly practicing the moral values that the Baha’i Faith has taught me.

I want to make a larger bit of money so that I can finally save up for the retail design institute that I’ve always been wanting to create. I want to teach—not just train, but teach.

The next part of my career will be exciting. I was sad to leave Biba, but I’m thrilled to be moving on.

13 September 2018

FOCAL POINT : Barbra Streisand, "The Way She Wore"

BARBRA STREISAND's larger-than-life entertainment persona has always been defined by the way she wore her costumes, hairstyle, and makeup on screen. I've always been impressed with the production values of her film and television projects, and I'm even more fascinated with the manner that she keeps her identity intact even through the various clothes that she wears on screen.

On this video are Ms. Streisand's most memorable looks on television and film in the past 50-plus years. It's my tribute to her legacy on costume design.

03 September 2018

EPITAPH : Nina Lampe-Fiorentino (1923-2018)

"COMO FUERTE brisa, eres tu, eres tu, asi, asi, eres tu (Like a strong breeze, that's how you are to me)", I sang to my aunt, Nina Lampe-Fiorentino (1923-2018), over her kitchen table a few years ago. As the first-born of many cousins, she incessantly showered care and grace on her family during her long life. That heart of gold was matched with a beauty of diamond, a spirit of steel, and a mind of titanium. She was a breathtaking presence. Singing to her that night was my moment of thanking and loving her for all that she'd given.

"Eres tu el fuego de mi hogar (You're the warmth on my home)". Hasta la vista, Tita Neny.

01 September 2018

Back on track

AFTER TAKING a two-year break from active blogging, I'm back. The last 30 months have been so incredibly challenging and intense on the work front that I had to give my creative writing, among a few other pursuits, a temporary hiatus. All that is changing, as I'm embarking on a new career direction that will help me manage a more workable balance of home and office. As I write this post, I realized how sorely I've missed the hours of typing on the keyboard with the fragrant waft of coffee next to me as my thoughts flow, the search for that perfect image or video that catapults those thoughts, and the bit of cleaning up on the HTML as I deliver that final post. It's thrilling to be actively back on Window Views!

16 August 2018

EPITAPH : Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

ARETHA FRANKLIN (1942-2018), Whitney Houston (1963-2012), and Barbra formed an indelible soundtrack to the way we were as children of a passing generation. Their music flowed straight from the heart and soul, and we understood what it truly meant to sing, to dance, to love, to r-e-s-p-e-c-t, to be part of a society that knows no barriers to race or religion.

With Ms. Franklin's departure, it is even more poignant to remember the empowerment that she fought for, and how much we have been given to help make this world a more united one. Farewell, Ms. Franklin, and thank you.

18 July 2018

FOCAL POINT : Nelson Mandela, "Homeland"

THIS YEAR marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. In commemorating the event, his family has partnered with WeTransfer to reveal previously-unseen illustrations by Mr. Mandela. They are sketches done after he retired from the presidency in 1999 as a way of making sense of his historic life.

View the exclusive online exhibition of Mr. Mandela's elegiac “Homeland” series (2002-2003).

"Without art which captures our culture, we don’t have history."
- Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

16 July 2018

Viva la France!

THE FRENCH won over the Croatians in one of the most surprise-laden tournaments ever, the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Congratulations to the people of France and their followers! To further sweeten their victory, let me offer a now-trending, limited-edition variation of one of my favorite childhood snacks.

23 June 2018

EPITAPH : Feliza Ancheta-Rellosa (1925-2018)

LAST NIGHT, my father's last surviving sister, Feliza Ancheta-Rellosa (1925-2018), fell peacefully into slumber, sang with the gentle breezes of her dreams, and drifted tenderly to the celestial world. She moved on with the same elegance and grace that she showered on us in her long, beautiful life. Thanks for all the memories, Tita Fely, and see you again.

18 June 2018

The summer flowers of Biba

BIBA'S BEAUTIFUL summer is about to end; those flowers in the windows are about to be plucked. Kudos once again to the hardworking visual merchandising team of Biba for helping make the windows bloom.

08 June 2018

The tragic loss of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade

ANTHONY BOURDAIN (1956-2018) left the banquet before his main course is served, and Kate Spade (1962-2018) left the runway before her final bow is done. It affects me that they both belong to my generation, and that they are not ordinary angst-filled young people. They led highly successful professional lives and even helped others build foundations for their own careers. The greatest tragedy is not in how Mr. Bourdain and Ms. Spade ended their lives, but in how the happiness that they served to others evaded them in the end.

06 June 2018

TIME covers drones covering TIME

This week's TIME magazine has arguably its best cover in a very long, er, time. In this case, TIME doesn't just cover drones: drones cover time, literally. And the outcome is both as hopeful and ominous as its well-written coverage. Read about this special coverage (with a special cover) online.

Like Google, TIME's brand authority is so potent that it can totally manipulate its logo and remain recognizable. TIME changes with the times, but the face is still the same.

12 May 2018

EPITAPH : Virginia Somonod-Toledo (1953-2018)

VIRGIE TOLEDO stared at me with mock annoyance, her arched eyebrows ready to fly out of her stern face and zap me. "Ano? Apat na taon kang nasa Israel, wala ka pa ring asawa? (What? You spent four years in Israel, and you're still unmarried?)" We were seated in the capacious living room of a mutual friend in Phnom Penh, and we were meeting for the first time since I left Manila four years earlier. "Virge, wala ka kasing clone, kaya single pa ako (You have no clone, that's why)", I retorted. She bellowed forth that laughter I so missed, then dabbed tears off her eyes. If there was someone I could drive to tears of laughter, it was Virgie.

This steely woman of undeniable resolve and strong opinion could shut her detractors off one day, yet shroud them with genuineness the next. The goodness of Virginia Somonod-Toledo (1953-2018) was in always doing the right thing. The best memories of living in Manila in the nineties included late night and early morning spiritual conversations with Papa, Virgie, and her husband Tony at the park, by the poolside at home, in our living room, in theirs. We debated. We bonded. We laughed, while she shed tears, always.

It was my turn to shed tears today, when I learned that Virgie passed on this week. Oh boy, those stern eyebrows must be so busy acknowledging her dear family and friends in the other world. And there must be a lot of loving going on there right now.

Bell's Palsy, six months later

CHANGE IS constant in life, and so is goodness if you will it. Bell's Palsy is now slowly ebbing away, six months after engulfing me with unwelcome affection. As it ebbed, it is leaving behind new sensations. I can't fully smile anymore. The right side of face twitches by itself. There is always a sense of thickness on the right cheek. Fortunately (and unfortunately for Mr. Palsy), I have the big chunk of my face back, and so is my laughter. Nothing can ever change such goodness. That's constant.

04 March 2018

This thing called Bell's Palsy

ONE HUNDRED days ago, I lost my face to Bell's Palsy. This unexpected ailment paralyzed half of my face, making it agonizing to chew, blink, read or smile properly. The neurologist has extended two more months of therapies for full recovery. The wicked disease has failed in stealing my spirits, though: I've been laughing much more than ever before, usually at myself. To paraphrase an old song, my looks may be laughable and unphotographable, but my sense of self has become a favorite work of art!