“Life continues… We just evolve.”
In 1995, when Mark ‘Jappy’ Gonzalez opened multi-label concept store Homme et Femme in Shangri-La Edsa Plaza, he valued being “irrelevant but relevant” in the retail industry.
Gonzalez effectively disrupted the fashion retail scene by product and brand curation. By stocking brands like Rick Owens to Dries Van Noten, Homme et Femme became the go-to store for people who shopped for high-end pieces to match their identity.
Ten years later, that idea of being different yet compelling instigated him to launch H&F Retail Concepts. The group currently houses luxury multi-brand store UNIVERS and brings Balenciaga, Lanvin, Off-White, Fred Perry, Lanvin, Y-3, and Comme des Garçons to the Philippines.
With the foresight of what would resonate with the Filipino luxury fashion buyer, Gonzalez was included in Business of Fashion’s “BoF 500” list in 2017. Alongside him are fashion industry powerhouses Tom Ford, Anna Wintour, Kendall Jenner, and Alexander Wang, to name a few.
The entrepreneur is one of only three Filipinos included on the prestigious list. The other two homegrown awardees included in BoF‘s list are style influencer Bryan Grey Yambao (better known as “Bryanboy”) and fashion media veteran Stephen Gan, who were both awarded in 2013.
The names selected by BoF editors (such as its chief executive Imran Amed) are the people shaping the $2.5 trillion global fashion.
Shift to digital
The pandemic boosted the relevance of e-commerce platforms, which pushed physical stores to focus on digital retail. Still, the shift to digital was already at the forefront of Gonzalez’s mind before lockdown began.
“Digital has been part of us since the end of 2019, and having said that brick and mortar stores are the backbone of online business, at least for us, Gonzalez shares. “As we move forward in our physical stores, plans are parallel with our online stores. Online stores just have more permanence in recording our history.”
He adds that the experience from a brick-and-mortar store can and should be replicated in the consumer’s online shopping experience. He lists that the service, tone, and operations are key factors to consider when launching online.
The idea to constantly evolve has always been Homme et Femme’s company vision for two decades and counting. On how the pandemic affected the luxury goods market, Gonzalez actively sticks to the point of progress.
In fact, he believes that the pandemic was just another hurdle for us to overcome in our lifetime. “Life continues—just as [a civilization] will always exist. We just evolve,” Gonzalez insists.
He relates the struggles the lockdown presented to the rest of previous times his company faced any difficulties. “It’s been a continuous learning since we opened, thus said, we continue with all the influences [of society] and the world in general,” he says.
“It was purely interest that [evolved into being] part of the business of fashion,” the entrepreneur says on why he entered the industry.
In fact, it was a summer job at the now 70-year-old clothing retailer Cinderella that Gonzalez started making an influence on what we see displayed on store shelves. He was only 20 at the time. Before that, he also worked as a stylist for magazines before fully immersing himself in retail.
Since then, Gonzalez has let his own personal beliefs bleed into how he runs his businesses. According to him, he stays forward-thinking while remaining “respectful of the past.”
Today, UNIVERS d’homme et femme houses less mainstream designer pieces and offers lifestyle products. A tab on their website titled “market” will drop down for options from books and magazines to candles and home fragrances to home decor and even skincare.
However, even before the pandemic, the multifaceted outlet has always been offering a diverse selection—but having a one-stop shop for your contemporary luxury needs has never been more valuable than before due to the changing lockdown restrictions.
It seems that Gonzalez’s mission to stay “irrelevant but relevant” for his shops transcends life before the pandemic to what we’re all still going through today.
This story first came out in the October 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.
Banner Photo by Regine David, courtesy of Jappy Gonzalez