Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Jappy Gonzalez has always envisioned Univers as a box of stories. The managing director of H&F Retail Concepts, the company behind the concept store, has thrived in assembling — or “curating,” following today’s buzzy branding terms — a varied stable of clothing and items that signify Univers’s refusal to be holed specifically as a “luxury concept.” The Ed Calma-designed store in One Rockwell is a neutral vessel in presenting Gonzalez’s vision of a holistic store that caters to all senses. Coffee table books lie side by side with niche publications; streetwear brands occupy the same space as high fashion labels. “We’ve always seen Univers as a place where we can experiment,” says Gonzalez. “The desired result is for you to enter the store and have that feeling of excitement — like you’re experiencing the world all at once in your hand.”
The store, which celebrates its fifth year next month, has gone through what Gonzalez calls “a constant reinvention,” which, according to him, ranges from “what we stock to how we do visual merchandising, even the books that we carry.” This season has seen the introduction of four new brands: Robert Clergerie, a French shoe brand with unique takes on classic footwear styles; Mansur Gavriel, a New York City-based bag and shoe company that champions minimalism and a vast range of colors; Giamba, the ready-to-wear women’s line by the Italian designer Giambattista Valli; and Simone Rocha, a womenswear brand named for the Irish designer. The latter two both specialize in intricate dresses with distinct color palettes that redefine the feminine look; Gonzalez says they are “almost dreamlike — they take you to a fantasy.”
The effort to reinvent Univers extends to its constantly updated selection of literature and periodicals from Manila and the rest of the world, some of which are exclusively available at the store. The stocks are culturally diverse: There are art books, tastefully bound collections of conversations between prominent figures in art and music, the biannual women’s magazine The Gentlewoman, the life interiors magazine Apartamento, and even Japanese fashion magazines like Popeye.
Gonzalez is well aware of the distinction between Univers and its sister store, Homme et Femme, which has played a part in the decision to move some brands from the former to the latter, in order to further “reflect their characteristics.” “Univers is the daring one, willing to take more risks — a more directional approach to fashion,” he explains. Meanwhile, “Homme et Femme is iconic, the more refined counterpart — it’s [for] the person who understands fashion but is also nonchalant about it.”
Gonzalez is quick to point out that the concept behind Univers relies less on trends and more on instincts. “When we opened Univers, we didn’t have any parameters for it,” he says. “It was more of a feeling that we wanted to put out. We knew that we wanted to share a different point of view to our clients — that was clear. If I have to sort of frame it, it’s our interpretation of ‘dynamic’ retailing.”
After five years, he adds, he feels that the idea has materialized. “We [indulge] people who like to try and encourage bold but clear choices,” he says. “As long as there are people who have that [impulse], who crave that feeling, then we’ve got it, we’re set.”
Styled by Jappy Gonzalez
Modeled by Jay Jackson and Anya Benedicto
Univers is located at Ground Floor, East Tower, One Rockwell, Estrella Street corner Rockwell Drive, Makati City.