Proudly Kagay-anon: Benjie S. Manuel

“Not everyone can and will wear Chanel.” These are the words of Cagayan de Oro’s most celebrated fashion designer… Benjie S. Manuel. He is one of the very few that made fashion an industry. His works are as influential as the people that he has dressed. But, who is Benjie S. Manuel behind haute couture?

Loving family

Born on November 20, 1968 in Malaybalay City, Benjie is the eldest child of Benjamin Jacinto Manuel and Mila Azura Salcedo. Eventually, they transferred to Butuan City where Benjie spent his elementary to college years at Urios College, now known as Father Saturnino Urios University. As a young boy, he already taught himself how to sketch. Surprisingly, contrary to the common scenario of a patriarchal society, his father was very supportive while his mom was not that open to the idea. As time went by, his mom learned to embrace his passion. “I have a supportive and loving family and close kaayo ko sa akong mga igsoon, too close nga mag sige ug away,” says Benjie. It tickled me when he said that, something that I could relate.

College years

Benjie took Architectural Drafting but he found the course too boring and masculine. So, by some anomaly of life, he shifted to Bachelor of Arts in English. During college days, he was more of a stage choreographer. He used to direct beauty pageants at their school. Aside from that, he also found other means to earn. In fact, he worked as a disc jockey at a local FM station in Butuan City.

DJ Benj in the house!

His life as a disc jockey continued even after college. He worked at a disco club in Butuan and I’m telling you, he could spin a vinyl record! While people were partying, fashion videos were played on a widescreen. Those videos reawakened his passion and his love in designing clothes. Later on, he decided to go back to the world of haute couture.

First clients

The first client of Benjie is the sister-in-law of the famous actress and director Laurice Guillen named Gloria. He also got the chance to dress famous personalities in Butuan City such as the late Helen Sanchez, the wife of the former Butuan Mayor Guillermo R. Sanchez.

Moving to CDO

Benjie’s family decided to transfer in Cagayan de Oro in the early 90s. At first, he did not like the idea because leaving Butuan would also mean leaving his beloved relatives and friends. But Benjie took the challenge of going out from his comfort zone. He then opened his first shop in CDO, somewhere near Gaston Park.

Greatest Trial

His journey in Cagayan de Oro is a bitter sweet experience. After his first shop in Gaston Park, he transferred to several locations. He even opened in Elipe Park, Patag, Tiano Street, Corrales Avenue and in Divisoria.

Few years ago, his shop in Divisoria was doing well. It was at the second floor of the building where Hanabels Bakeshop was located. Benjie is not an early bird type of person. He would usually wake up late. But, one morning, it was peculiar of him to wake up early. He felt something was wrong but he opted to ignore it. While taking breakfast, he heard from an AM station that an establishment in Divisoria was on fire. It did not come across his mind that it might be his shop even if he heard that the fire was somewhere Tirso Neri Street. Until, a friend of him called and informed that the building where his shop was located was actually the one that was burning. He immediately left home and arrived at the location seeing his shop being swallowed already by the ferocious fire. Nothing left. Everything that Benjie acquired through the years, from his well crafted collections to his hard earned furniture turned into ashes.

The bright side

It was not that painful and difficult for Benjie to have experienced such tragic moment. All designers in Cagayan de Oro united and helped him recover. He was greatly touched by the enormous number of people who extended their assistance to him. He felt love and he even said, “imbes nasunogan ko, murag fiesta na man hinuon ang nahitabo. Bibo kaayo kay niadto gyud tanang designers.”

No place like home

There is no way but up. Benjie stood firm and continued his desire of bringing fashion into each and every Kagay-anon. He decided to open his shop at their house at Phase 1, Block 16, Paz Neri-San Jose Streets, RER Subdivision, Cagayan de Oro City. As time went by, Benjie slowly fell in love with his current location. Because the environment is quite and homey, he is more relaxed and could concentrate more than his former location in Divisoria. According to him, having a shop in the heart of the city was a different experience. Yes, sometimes he still lures being in the downtown. People there would come and go. He got the chance to mingle with a lot of people but the bane about it was that he had a hard time figuring out what these people really wanted. “Mga strangers man gud na sila. Wala ka kabalo sa ilang mga taras.” At home, everything he does has a sense of personal touch as most of the dresses that he makes are for his loyal clients who really follow him wherever he goes. He found his niche in RER where his ideas continuously flow.

Back to back success

With his intricate and sophisticated designs, Benjie easily penetrated the CDO market. He is the most sought designer in the City of Golden Friendship to date. He has accomplished a lot and his works have been featured in newspapers and magazines like the Philippine Star. Guess what? His creations have been showcased in the country’s biggest fashion event, the Philippine Fashion Week. He has also organized certain fashion shows in the city like the “Fashiondayag,” a long gown competition of Miss Kagayan. Another thing, he is also one of the men behind Mindanao’s biggest and most prestigious fashion event, The Mindanao Fashion Summit. He is the first and the longest running president of the Oro Fashion Designers Guild (OFDG).

Who wears Benjie S. Manuel?

Let’s admit it.  Being engaged in haute couture is a no easy job. Since we are talking about “fashion,” it has to attract people most especially those who belongs to the meticulous elite class. Today, Benjie’s clients are the bigwigs and political figures of CDO and Northern Mindanao like Miss Teen Philippines Stephanie Sol, socialites Atty. Samantha S. Tan, and Dr. Mavy De Leon to name a few. Mark Bautista was also one of Benjie’s loyal customers before he went to Folded and Hung. But, anybody could wear Benjie S. Manuel. He would love to dress those who are unafraid to try, someone who is free spirited, somebody who exudes confidence, and has a positive mindset. These are the traits of a person who could carry well Benjie S. Manuel’s collections.

What’s in?

February is the month of proms and graduation balls. Girls and even guys out there are thinking of what to wear and who to wear. The trend constantly changes. For prom gowns and suits, each school has its own motif every year. The colors of this year fall under the metallic and wet look materials. But, generally in terms of design, vintage and classic are the ones that dominate. For casual wear, the late 80s is coming back.

Name the price

For those who are dreaming to wear Benjie S. Manuel’s creations on proms or grad balls, the cheapest price that he could offer for students is P3800. Usually, beautiful gowns and suits would fall from P7000 to P12000. It may be a bit pricey for some but Benjie would like to point out that local designers should not be perceived as somewhat cheap. He expresses his sentiments on local sewers and Pinoy craftsmanship that are being underpaid and underrated. Creating a dress entails sleepless nights, a series of contemplations, and it could really be stressful. A well made gown deserves a good price and it takes three weeks to one month to make it. Rest assured that anything that Benjie makes is a well thought and well made masterpiece.

Benjie S. Manuel Scent

Recently, Benjie has spread his wings beyond haute couture. He introduced his own limited collection of scents. The People Like Us (PLU) for the gorgeous gay men, the BSM Luxe Men and BSM Black Men for the straight guys, and the Woman of the World (WOW) are his best sellers.  BSM Scents are not yet available in the market however they could be ordered.  BSM’s scent is already on its 150th bottle to date and is available at his shop in RER Subdivision. The grand launching will be held sometime this year.

Next move

Benjie is a risk taker. He is planning to venture into ready to wear clothing. Maybe this year, such plan might already be materialized. A BSM shop might open soon that would have affordable yet trendy RTWs.

Trivial Questions

I asked Benjie certain questions, just out of curiosity. These are trivial things that are already beyond the realms of fashion.

Favorite food: Kare-kare, Sashimi, and Sushi

Favorite past time: Facebook

Who among celebrities would you like to dress? Madonna

Most fashionable person in Cagayan de Oro: Actually daghan especially women. But if there is someone who really has it all from cosmetics to dress, it is Atty. Samantha Tan. He knows what he wants.

Most fashionable people in Mindanao: Mga taga Malaybalay. Lahi ra gyud sila. Even the choice of color.

If you’re not designer today, what are you? Dance choreographer

Who are your favorite designers and your inspirations? Lebanese designers Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, and Italian designer Giambattista Valli.

Favorite clothing brand: Liz Claiborne

Biggest dream: To open a lifestyle boutique in NYC that will be named “BSM Pinoy Couture.”

How do you want to be remembered? A passionate designer but in the real sense, someone who is cool.

An advice for the young designers

Most of the young designers have that dream to conquer the world. Well, designers come and go but to stay in the industry is another question. According to Benjie, a designer must know how to talk, first and foremost. One must be able to communicate well with people and deal with different personalities. “You have to be patient because you can’t expect everybody is nice.” On the other hand, sketching is not enough to survive. “Kailangan kabalo ka mo cut. Pag dili ka kabalo mo cut, wala gyud siya. Dili nimo ma achieve ang proportion and dili ka maka understand sa imong design. Dili pwede na magdrawing lang ka dinha dayon imong cutter mabuang ug construct,” says Benjie. A designer should always be at his shop so that he could easily be found by his clients. He also said that it is important to study materials and the different types of cloth and know how they fall. Every dress has its own story that is why an inspiration also counts.

What must be avoided?

A designer should not be fixated with the fact that he is a designer. It should not be a big deal. According to him, some would feel like a celebrity which is not supposed to be the case. Even in fashion shows, gone are the days when a designer would carry huge bouquets and take a ceremonial bow. In Paris, the famous ones would just wear as simple as a shirt and wave their hands or just take a peek. That’s it.

Even in fashion shows, gone are the days when a designer would carry huge bouquets and take a ceremonial bow.

Benjie is at the point of his life that he is already contented with what he has achieved. When he started, he had a big dream that one day he would conquer the world. He thinks that it is every designers dream too. With the experiences that he went through, a designer must embrace the truth that he could not convince everybody to wear his creations. He may only cater to a certain type of market. A designer’s brand is an identity. Thus, he reiterates “Not everyone can and will wear Chanel.”

“Sa Malaybalay ko natawo, sa Butuan ko nagdako but Cagayan de Oro is my place. Even if I would be a New Yorker or open a boutique there, my main office would still be here in Cagayan. Diri pod nako na experience ang mga bad and worsts. Dinhi gyud akong hometown.”

Benjie S. Manuel. A famous designer, an institution… PROUDLY KAGAY-ANON!