The Very Best Shops for the Very Best Gifts

Drop by the universe of stores under SSI, the luxury retailer that celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Now is the perfect time to talk about shopping. 

As soon as the spooky day candy turns into a memory and an overdose of fairy lights invades your eyeballs, a nagging feeling begins to infest your brain, reminding you to really start doing something right now: buy gifts

We're here to help. Just yesterday, we got a call from a nervous husband who'd like to get “a pair of shoes or a good bag” for his wife, but had absolutely no clue what it should be and, more important, where to get it. 

At once, as the foremost experts on spending, we suggested vertiginous pumps with a pretty bow, a tote so big and so deep you can deposit your baby within it, and this Frankenstein sandal that is now considered cool. 

When asked where these goods are available, a common thread was revealed: They're all found in the universe of international fashion labels under the stewardship of Store Specialists, Inc. Group (SSI).

Anton Huang, SSI Group president, and wife Nina celebrate the 30th anniversary of SSI in grand style. IMAGE: SSI

That's not a coincidence. Owned by the Huangs, the luxury retailers (who also founded cool-mom hangout Rustan's) have been curating a beautiful life for Filipinos by bringing the best of the world, fantasy shoes included, to the country for 30 years now.  

No need to fly to Paris to find a perfectly pre-distressed sneaker or the US to buy that sweater adorned with a furry bear. Just pop into Greenbelt or your preferred shopping haunt to pick up the goods.

You have to hand it to SSI for keeping the faith in physical stores and, indeed, growing them even more. In a time when brick-and-mortar locations are being outpaced by online portals, it's nice to know that there remains a champion of the true shopping experience—see it, feel it, try it on, think about it, buy it—for old-school nerds like us. 

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Nedy Tantoco, Rustan Commercial Corporation chairman and CEO, and Amb. Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., Rustan Commercial Corporation chairman emeritus. IMAGE: SSI

And though the shops in Manila are not as grand as compared to the gargantuan emporiums found abroad (the luxury stores in China will swallow you), the scale means the selection is taut, the edit strict, the mix expressly built for the palate of the Filipinos. 

That's really the job of SSI: to tune you in to what you want and keep you in step with what's happening around the world. It also plants the seed of a dream, which, for some, can be a trophy watch and, for others, just a pair of monkstrap shoes that doesn't make their toes hurt.

On that note, we're listing down some of our favorite stores under the 30-year-old company—the tried-and-true labels that we've worked with over the years.

This season, find a gift for someone or yourself at these shops. Your hard-earned holiday bonus will be well-spent.  

At Lacoste, There is the Polo

IMAGE: Lacoste

By virtue of its Frenchness, the 85-year-old crocodile has become a staple in the wardrobes of Filipinos, and its L.12.12 polo shirt is the perfect stocking stuffer for your grandfather, your brother, or that person whose preference you do not know at all. To give: this Mickey Mouse collab hoodie. 

At Boss, There are Actual Clothes

The German label, which re-opened their Greenbelt store with a really good party, is one of the few sources of premium men's clothes in the country. To give: Keep the clothes for yourself and give a calf leather card holder to your assistant.  

At Coach, There is a T-Rex

Coach has reinvented itself from a leather bagmaker that your aunt loves to a fashion house with personality. The treatments are light-hearted (their mascot is T-Rex named Rexy), making the merch more appealing for the young. Its first stand-alone store in the Philippines at Power Plant Mall is very welcome. To give: For men, it's just bags and accessories here. Grab any of the Academy Packs (like a backpack but more compact). 

At Gucci, There is Guccy

Who knew that attic-chic would resonate to so well with the Instagram crowd? Because its designs appeal to the eye and are exciting to wear, Guccy, as the youngs call it, is one of the most wanted brands now. To get: That's not to say there are no sober items here like the iconic horsebit loafers, but if you want to Guccify yourself, pick up the interlocking G buckle belt.   


At Bottega Veneta, There is a Secret

The leather-weave specialist feels like a secret. It doesn't make as much noise like other fine labels, which just makes it more special and actually the most luxury among all. To give: a taste of that interciatto magic in the form of a bracelet.  

At Ermenegildo Zegna, There is Young Stuff

Dev Patel and Javier Bardem buddy up for Ermenegildo Zegna's Defining Moments campaign. IMAGE: Ermenegildo Zegna

If you really want top-shelf menswear like suits of the highest order, this is it. But go to the shop in Rustan's Makati. The mix is younger (read: more Z Zegna) and the service, in our experience, better (read: friendlier). To give: Cufflinks are tasteful statements. 

At Cartier, There are Trophies

On our wish list is the Juste un Clou bracelet and any of the square-shaped watches: the Tank Française, the Santos-Dumont, the Panthère. The precious objects of Cartier is for the upset wife. She's upset because you bought a watch without consulting her, so get her the bracelet. To give: bracelets, plural. 

At Zara, There is Everything


We're ending the list with a dose of instant gratification. If you want a trend that just went live on the runway, it's here. If you need to build a look, any kind of look, it's here. To get: An overlooked category is leather shoes. These may not be made-to-measure, but they sure look good. Happy shopping!

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Clifford Olanday
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