Accidental shopping

Today I wrapped my first Christmas present of the year. As schedules go, I am (again) very late this year; I seem to be getting more and more so as time goes by. Other people say that the very thought of Christmas and the tangible things that come along with the season already sickens them because it has become too materialistic — the stores have all these deals to entice the buying public to exercise maximum purchasing power, the carols start as early as August, the solicitation letters arrive in the mail by the minute, and the essence of the season is all but lost.

But is it, really? I don’t see it that way. Everyone is taking advantage of kinder hearts, more generous hands, and we all step up to the call, consciously or otherwise, in “the spirit of the season.” If only for that, how can it be all that bad?

That said, I love Christmas and the gift-giving that is attached to it like hand to arm, even if it translates to significant dents in the wallet. It only means I have built meaningful relationships and met new people that I want to keep as friends over the years to come, and the season — ushered in by the rains, the cooler days and nights, the songs on the radio — is one of the best times to thank them for their presence in my life.

Especially for those people who were nice to you but whom you never got to thank, Christmas is your second chance to do just that. It really is not all about expensive gifts (unless that really is your preference and you can afford it) but regardless of the cost, thoughtfulness is a must. Always. One does not always follow the other. The gift should not aim to impress the eye; it should impress the heart first.

That is precisely why I keep a gift closet that I stuff with finds that I buy in bits and pieces all throughout the year. The hoarder that I am, I still have beautiful items that are maybe five years old already that I cannot part with but this year I decided that most everything in my gift closet must go. I want to start with a clean slate, and make fresh space for the new treasures I know I will find, or will find their way to me, whatever the case.

I find that it is best to shop when I do not set out to do so. There is less pressure to find something for the mental list I always carry and as such there is a pureness in the whole process of choosing, handling and, finally, buying.  The excitement is not in the actual purchasing but in the knowing that comes after: when you unwrap the item at home and know that you found a thoughtful present the recipient is sure to love. And when even that fails? At least you know you were fueled by good intentions. Sometimes that is enough.

One night a couple of weeks ago I was in Rockwell’s Wrap Shop to buy a full year’s supply of ribbons. I always time it at the end of the year because that is when they stock up on the best materials in preparation for the Christmas season. Although you can buy by the meter or yard, I opted for full reels of wide pastel-checked wire-edged ribbons in yellow, pink, mint and lavender, and classic grosgrain spools in colors like hunter green, burgundy, navy, beige and chocolate. I also bought delicate tissue in sorbet colors — peach, pistachio, lemon and raspberry plus some in festive silver and gold. I now realize I forgot to get the boxes that I love assembling myself. I must go back there soon.

Precious package in hand, I wandered through my favorite stores there. I was pleasantly surprised to rediscover Bench Rockwell and its brand-new rustic interiors, wonderfully designed by Miguel Pastor. It was another one of those moments when I was even more proud than ever to be one of its endorsers. The ambience is warm yet mod, dynamic and stylish at the same time. I especially loved the wooden accents and the vintage collectibles and paraphernalia scattered over the whole area, like little surprises waiting to happen. It is a visual treat, an aesthetic mini journey best enjoyed nook by nook, so you don’t miss anything.

When asked what the inspiration for Bench Rockwell was, Ben Chan says that coming up with a new look was  “not enough” and that it should also be given “a new life.” The new interiors take their inspiration from the first Bench store in Park Square, established 20 years ago. With new lighting technology, the vintage appeal of elements like old rustic wood, white painted bricks, colored glass, distressed metals alongside quirky items like old-fashioned traveling trunks, empty frames, and carefully chosen vintage toys provide a delightful backdrop to the merchandise that, like good wine, just keeps on getting better and better. The same theme is carried through all the way to the fitting rooms.

The nonchalant way in which items are displayed encourages customers to touch and feel the fabric of the denims, pick up the bags, try on the tops. The mannequins don’t just stand like stiff soldiers on duty; they sit and slouch, too, and are dressed in a way that inspires you to embrace the look they sport and make it your own.

I hoarded the knit tops in jewel tones, trimmed prettily in metallic thread that could be worn alone or layered over a close-fitting collared woven shirt. I also saw classic sweater knits but in tunic lengths which I got in gray and black, soft slouchy shirts ruched at the bottom in black and white with metallic stripes, perfect for the holiday season. I loved the bubble tops that fit snugly around the bust area, perfect for those times when you want to just eat a whole cow and a flat tummy is your last priority. I found big tote bags that my stylist friends adored and all but grabbed from me the moment they saw it two days later at work, until I told them it cost under a thousand pesos and they rushed (yes, rushed!) from our taping to the store to get their own. I got several pairs of denim pants in the New York Cut; I love its dark color as much as its slimming effect. The men’s line is super, too, with denims and shirts and sweaters and underwear in styles that flatter, colors that speak, and quality that lasts. The classic tees have been so tweaked, with metal buttons along the top front that mismatch stylishly, the inside seams of the collar trimmed in velvet and metallic ribbon — the emblem, too. The quality plus attention to detail, considering its affordability, is nothing short of a gift to the Filipino market.

The items found in the Bench Rockwell store are an edited version of the regular items seen in a regular Bench store. Ben Chan says he “hopes to collaborate future editions with other fashion-cum-celebrity personalities to present a more dynamic choice of pieces that will speak of the upcoming trends of the season.” A lot of the pieces will be available in limited quantity and a lot more is “being brewed” for when the 2008 summer collection is unveiled.

Today I wore a bubble top in fuchsia (because my husband and I went to a great steak place that I will tell you about in a couple of weeks!) and as I was fiddling with the menu, waiting for our order, my hand brushed along something that was protruding from the bottom of my top. It was a tag that simply said “Herbench” and under it “Born in Manila, Sold Worldwide.” With world-class products this affordable, I already know that 70 percent of my Christmas shopping will be done in Bench alone.

Armed with shopping bags, Richard and I moved on to Kashieca, which is actually attached to Bench, where he sat patiently while I shopped. Again I saw beautiful knit tunics with puffed sleeves in blue gray and cream that I just had to have, flirty skirts that are either ruffled or bubbled, and great belts.

There was a one-size-fits-all polka-dotted black top that was long and slouchy and had interesting things happening along the sides. I saw adorable bag charms and key chains and necklaces and bracelets that are so pretty they just fly off the hooks! The salesgirl says they are so popular that they sell out on the same day they are displayed.

Kris and I have also launched our line of tops under the label Best Dressed by Kris and Lucy for Kashieca and I am inviting you all to drop by any Kashieca store and take a look at it. The materials are soft and cut in flattering shapes, spruced up with festive touches — a sprinkling of rhinestones here and there, a border of beads, sequins, too. It is, after all, the holiday collection. Halter tops in satin and cotton that fall loosely and softly are forgiving to the figure but at the back some of them are slashed open, allowing skin to show as you move while keeping everything else decent. For the really conservative ones, a tube worn under is a stylish option. There are logo cotton tees and satin tops and cropped jackets that are very popular, too. The Best-Dressed line, in keeping with Kashieca’s look, is at once casual and feminine, sleek and flirty. Kashieca will be a perfect stop for my girl friends (of all shapes and sizes) and even for the older mommies I know.

Over at Aldo, a brand I had loved long before it made its way here, are fabulous finds for the shoe and bag addicts among us. There are many styles to choose from but if I had to get just one pair of shoes for the season it would be the clear glass-colored stilettos I saw there. They are sexy and, because practically colorless, they make your legs appear like they just go on forever and ever.  Plus the stilettos match any color outfit. The open-toe patent shoes with the clear wedge and the platform shoes in bright colors make the feet and the legs look fab, too. What I really love about Aldo is the comfort that even the highest heels give. With this brand I do not need to use the padded shoe cushions that I have grown accustomed to wearing.

I saw some classic clutches in gold and silver (sorry, I got the last two pieces there for two of my girlfriends but you can check with the other branches if you want, they might still have them) and huge tote bags that are perfect for traveling or for shoots when you have to lug around a lot of things. The accessories are chunky and there’s enough bling to go around for everyone this holiday. For the men there are stylish shoes and belts in popular European styles.

I ended my shopping at Fully Booked at The Fort, where it was also just as easy to find presents for the book lovers I have on my Christmas list. I got several copies of books by one of my favorite authors, Joel Osteen, some Eckhart Tolle, cookbooks, children’s books, and a bunch of material on arts and crafts.

I went home armed with Christmas presents and ideas for more of them for my loved ones without even planning it. Like I said earlier, that is the best kind of shopping: spontaneous and pressure-free.

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