“People are eager to experience life,” says retailer Jappy Gonzalez, who has brought in brands such as Fred Perry, Comme des Garçons, and Maison Kitsuné to the country. “This forms part of that. This forms part of your daily life. Getting a haircut, going to the shops… getting yourself something, no matter how big it is.”
Prior to the Christmas holidays, Gonzalez gave CNN Philippines Life a tour of the newly opened Univers, a multiconcept lifestyle store that features a mix of niche and established designer labels. After 10 years in the business, Univers has opened a branch in the newly renovated Greenbelt 3. The shop is right beside the other brands under H&F Retail Concepts, of which Gonzalez is the founder: heritage French beauty brand Officine Universelle Buly (their newest undertaking), and streetwear label Off-White.
From the view of the Greenbelt 3 arcade, not much announces the Univers store. Understated glass double doors are flanked by the Thom Browne store on one side — part of a new permanent concept they call “shop in shop.” A strong presence stands at the door by way of a gargantuan piece by artist James Clar: an otherworldly spherical installation made of vehicular headlights. It’s chained to the wall and emits a low thrum as you pass by it. For Gonzalez, Clar’s work immediately had a clear place in the store.
“I saw it in the showroom [at Silverlens Galleries] while we were building this,” he recalls. “I said, ‘This is gonna look perfect’ where it sits right now. During the time, there were very few people who had any idea of how this store is gonna turn out.”
Gonzalez emphasizes the importance of something “natural and organic” for Univers’ third store, to build around what exists and incorporate the brand’s perspective from there. He turned to his trusted architect Ed Calma — who also designed the Univers store at One Rockwell — to execute this vision. Stark white walls reflect the universality of the labels featured in the store, which Gonzalez notes that from the blueprints resembles the shape of a bladder.
There are moments of play to be found in between racks and shelves. An imposing royal blue bubble-esque seat from Belgian designer Maarten de Ceulear’s Mutation series sits in the store’s nucleus, with its gray sibling — a longer gray bench meant for fitting footwear — rests near the counter and the store’s small coffee corner. (Coffee is available to customers gratis upon request.) During our tour, Gonzalez mentions that someone offered to buy the Maarten pieces from them after visiting the shop.
Hidden from the rest of the store, an Assouline book shop (the second shop in shop within Univers) sits at the tail end of the space; the other end of its bladderesque configuration. Huge coffee table books stand on the shelves and on glass counters, ready to be perused. With a direct view into a busy Makati street, the Assouline enclave features a lot of natural light, and provides an inviting atmosphere for reading. The H&F team shares that having Assouline instore was a practical decision — instead of having to lug the huge tomes from abroad, it’s much easier to simply purchase them locally. Gonzalez sees it as an end to a retail narrative that one takes upon entering the shop.
“I thought Assouline would be a great addition to cap it off,” Gonzalez says. “Your journey really starts with an artwork, then you get into retail, and then you end up with something that’s quite cultured, still.”
Art and culture feature heavily in this retail space, and indeed, Univers has taken great effort in making the experience holistic for its clients. Right by the fitting rooms is a blank space that is intended for temporary art installations. “This is going to be an art point,” Gonzalez explains, and says that they’re set to feature the work of Jose Santos III soon. Each installation will likely stay in store for a few weeks, giving art enthusiasts a reason to come visit regularly.
Aside from Clar’s installation, the other permanent piece is a triptych by Luis Santos, also a frequent collaborator of H&F. Santos’ mixed media work can be viewed from the street, and its corrugated metal pieces are illuminated in the evenings. It was a work that Gonzalez specifically commissioned for the window display, giving the artist a freehand to do what he’d like with the given specs.
“I think it’s easily missed, if you’re driving. But if you stop there, you can’t miss it. It’s very subtle,” Gonzalez says of Santos’ triptych. “But if you’re not conscious of art, you don’t think of it as art. You think of it as lighting.”
Prior to its newest outpost, Univers also has a One Rockwell store and a second one at Solaire Resort and Casino, with each one having its own distinct identity. Univers Greenbelt feels like the end of a trilogy, offering the kind of grandeur and accessibility found in its Solaire store while giving a taste of the creativity and playfulness in Rockwell.
It’s clear that this is what Univers has to offer in a sea of designer labels — that sharp edit and a space that speaks of a distinct perspective. It’s a brand philosophy that comes to life in Greenbelt, where the space ultimately determines its final form. “We’re very clear about our culture, what we bring in the landscape of things… in this case it’s retail,” Gonzalez says. “I think the journey is inspired through and through. That’s the whole point of coming to us. I mean it is commerce, but there’s something to gain.”
Univers is located on the ground floor of Greenbelt 3.