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Lauro Franco: The fearlessly stylish citizen of the world

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 26, 2022 5:00 am

Lauro Franco is a man I should not have met in Manila.

With his fearless and relaxed fashion style, I imagine I should have seen him while walking along the Ginza in Tokyo on my way to Dover Street Market, a fave store by Rei Kawakubo, she who created the famous Comme des Garçons line. Lauro’s clothes speak Japanese.

Or I should have bumped into Lauro at a Parisian sidewalk cafe. His refined and genteel ways reflect a European sensibility.

And yet I see Lauro with an Asian spirit. He seems to have some patriotic Chinese vibe, or is it his creamy skin that reveals some Oriental lineage? I should have met him then near the Yangtze River in Shanghai while watching the sunset.

Lauro Franco is a citizen of the world. And yet his heart and soul are Filipino.

Lauro Franco dons a batwing cape and deconstructed pants, both from Korea, with an old Celine bag and Dr. Martens boots.

“I grew up in a sprawling farm in Tanay, Rizal. It was a bucolic landscape with mountains and a waterfall. My father was a veterinarian working for an American family with a piggery farm,” Lauro explains. “My childhood friend was an American boy and we would take long walks in the forest and swim in the river.”

At the same time, he grew up devouring books given by his mother. “This opened my mind to a whole new world of infinite dreams.”

More so when he took a ballet class with Julie Borromeo, and a dancing/modeling stint with Conching Sunico and the Karilagan Group with its nightly cultural shows at the old Manila Hilton.

Vintage Ralph Lauren jacket patched with old fabrics from Shanghai, and an Italian suede bag from the ‘50s.

“With some savings, I started a children’s shoe brand, Pinky and Bosch, which led to listings in Cinderella, Rustan’s, and an account in Penang, Malaysia. With a Hong Kong business partner, we set up a small children’s shoe shop, Fit Feet’s at Tsim Tsai Tsui, handmade in the Philippines using Marikina expertise.”

Selling his business equities, Lauro enrolled in a Hotel and Restaurant Management course in Montreux, Switzerland, graduating with a diploma degree from the American Hotel & Motel Association.

“I was aware that I was sartorially different from my European and Asian classmates because I was wearing Japanese brands like Issey Miyake, Matsuda, and Yohji Yamamoto from secondhand stores in Hong Kong and hand-me-downs from my fashionable Hong Kong friends.”

A statement in re-engineered Japanese lace shirt, Korean wrap skirt, local Bidibidi flower brooch and bag

One of his classmates—a Japanese lady who lived in a small Swiss chalet and drove a Porsche—took notice of him.

“I was the only one in class who noticed her clothes, mostly vintage Chanel. Then she would bring me to Paris, Milan, and Geneva for her weekend shopping sprees, including appointments with Parisian ateliers for her fittings. Together we would go to vintage shops and cafes. This experience instilled in me a strong personal style, grace, finesse, and a sense of refined living.”

Tutoring his Asian classmates for extra French lessons enabled him to move to San Francisco to study at the California Culinary Academy.

“I studied and worked there for ten years until 1998. In 1999, I joined the Elite Group from Hong Kong and became part of the team that opened a group of restaurants, including Le Taxi at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Malate.”

After two years, Lauro received a call from China offering him a general manager position in Shanghai. This led to his working with a Hong Kong business partner from his Swiss hotel school days. They opened an F&B management consultancy company, ChowChina. For Illy Cafe Asia Pacific, Lauro was assigned to supervise the opening of the Illy Cafe at the Mall of Asia.

“After 30 years of living abroad, I packed my bags in 2018 and moved back to Manila. Upon the recommendation of Ivy Almario of Atelier Almario to Philip and Ching Cruz, I created a world-class concept for their Bloom Bar + Cafe in Greenbelt 2 in Makati with Carlos Chan as their partner.”

Lauro Franco with his valued finds: A ‘50s white jacket from Shanghai; Ann Demeulemeester tote bag; Japanese kimono and vintage jodhpur pants; and bag found in a Taipei market.

Right now, Lauro is affiliated with the company that promotes the vision of the Tsaa Laya brand. It’s a 100-percent all-natural organic herbal tea brand that creates livelihood programs for displaced families in Calauan, Laguna.

Lauro has a dream project. “I want to open a factory/workshop for young creatives and entrepreneurs. This will provide training and employment for the out-of-school youth, mothers and seniors. Inside this workshop, I will set up a vintage shop to showcase my collections; to create new clothes sustainably from factory rejects and ukay-ukay; and to teach sewing, Sashiko stitching, leather craft, and indigo dyeing.”

Lauro envisions a small cafe serving all-vegetable Filipino fare cooked in palayoks. In the evening, there will be a bar serving lambanog, tapuy, and tuba. There will be poetry reading and kundiman nights. And entrepreneurial seminars and workshops.”

What a dream to celebrate the return of the native! “Yes, I know, I am a dreamer,” says Lauro. “Let’s just say I am over 60, and grateful.”

Vintage, Sashiko, and a purpose-driven life

What makes a person stylish?

In the book Second Mountain, David Brooks said that life is defined by meaning and purpose. It is marked with a commitment to serve others, the loss of self, and a purpose-driven life. To me, this is a mark of a stylish person.

Sashiko stitching done during pandemic lockdown

How does a person acquire style?

You can’t create style with expensive branded clothes. It is how you were brought up, the books you read, the movies you watched, and the friends you surround yourself with. Style is informed by layers of experiences that create a certain perspective on how you view your life and present yourself to others.

What are your favorite clothes?

In my current wardrobe, I have four colorways: black, navy blue, old denim, and a little white and gray.

I love loose, free-flowing styles. I look for quality fabrics, craftsmanship, and small, subtle details. I collect vintage Japanese kimonos, army clothes, and American denim overalls.

What will you never wear?

Clothes emblazoned with branded names printed all over.

Who are your fashion idols and pegs?

I have always been interested in fashion, design, arts, and cinema. I have this fascination with old Hollywood films with Greta Garbo, Lana Turner, Ava Gardner, and Audrey Hepburn, as well as French noir films. The old-world glamour has probably been the foundation of my formative years in style and substance.

Designers like Michael Bergen of Norwegian Rain; Emiliano Salci of Dimorestudio; Poggy the Japanese creative. Women like Tina Chow, Daphne Guinness, Isabella Blow, Pauline de Rothschild, and Diana Vreeland.

The late Andre Leon Talley of Vogue, and the late Judy Blame were constant inspirations.

Who are the designers you follow?

The old Ann Demeulemeester brand, By Walid London, Mark Point Venezia, Chia Hungsu, Elena Dawson and Archivio J.M. Ribot. And, of course, my favorite Japanese designers.

What are your favorite books, mags, movies. TV shows?

I love reading cookbooks. All books of Elizabeth David, Jacques Pepin, and Julia Child. David Brooks has always been a favorite. Books of C.S. Lewis and Hermann Hesse.

I subscribe to The New York Times and Monocle. Every morning, I watch the NPR newscast. On weekends, I love listening to podcasts from the BBC: The Food Program, Desert Island Discs, the documentary All Things Considered, How I Built This, 99% Invisible, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History.

Do you advocate local?

Of course. Pre-pandemic, I loved attending provincial trade shows at SM Mega Trade Center. That’s where I bought a lot of baskets, bags and handcrafted seashell jewelry. I love Peter Torres for promoting local sewing crafts and traditions, as well as Bernadette de los Santos of #bidibidibrand bags, and Ann Ong. I find inspiring the designs of Ivy and Cynthia Almario of Atelier Almario.

What are the common fashion booboos?

Dressing to impress rather than dressing up for comfort and ease. Being enslaved by trends. Dripping with bling-bling to make you like a walking chandelier.

Why are you fascinated with vintage clothes and ukay-ukay?

Vintage clothes have marks that tell a narrative. I subscribe to the whole movement of reuse, recycle, reduce.

During the pandemic lockdowns, I started the principle of sashiko stitching, mending, patching, and re-engineering items into one-off styles.