No matter how desired a male model is, there’s no denying his disposability. One day, he’s wearing the clothes of the moment; the next, he’s considered worn out. In an industry of fleeting trends, there will always be fresher faces, firmer bodies, and foreigners flown in for the next flash-in-the-pan look.
But amid countless photos snapped, memories can be made. There are models whose mere smirk or torso defined an era—or spurred a teenager’s coming of age. As foreign faces have dominated the look of local fashion, BENCH BLOG tracks down some legendary Filipino male models to show us how to wear today’s menswear and, with some age on them, teach us a thing or two about life.
37, Bench Body Hall-of-Famer
Your billboards were iconic. And then you just disappeared.
The reason why I left in the first place was bad management. Overpricing by my manger at the time, which I didn’t know of. I was never given the option of “Oh, will you accept this commercial for this much?” I was never given the opportunity to say yes or no. When I heard they were charging like one and a half, two million per project—I don’t need that kind of money. I just need a regular, steady job. I think because of that, people stopped asking for me na. “Ah, too expensive.” Plus there are so many upcoming younger guys—a lot of competition. When I came back from Cebu, out of sight, out of mind. It was hard to get back into modeling and showbiz because I was gone for so long.
What did you wind up doing?
Because it wasn’t so easy to get work anymore, I’d look for regular jobs. I taught English. Now, my fiancée and I are both endorsers of Quantum Plus multivitamin. We’ve been doing that…we’re on our second year now. Aside from that, most of my time, I’m doing exhibition basketball games in provinces. We entertain the locals there. My future plan is to get out of Manila and settle down in Baler—open up a resort maybe.
Is modeling something you’d like to leave in the past?
‘Di naman. I don’t think I’m done. I know the gigs I can get are a different age level now. Also in the past, I’m honestly glad I left and went back to Cebu. When I started with Bench, I was I would say a bit arrogant. I’d be really picky. No, I don’t want to do this. No, I don’t feel like doing that. “Oh, you should learn Tagalog” and I’d say, “No, I don’t want to learn, everyone speaks English.” It’s just my way or no way. I’m glad I left. It humbled me.
What I do want to say is that I was always grateful to BENCH and Ben Chan for the opportunities. I don’t think I ever showed it or let him know enough. I think I was with them for six years and I might have come across as “Oh, it’s just work.” But I really do appreciate the company for everything it did for me. My career started because of BENCH.
Are there things that you’ve discovered about your body lately?
[My hair is] kind of getting thin in the back. That’s why I’m growing it out now. Enjoy it while it lasts.
“I was born in the ’70s,” Modeled BENCH Shanghai campaign & erstwhile actor
What do you do for a living now?
I work in a bank, the treasury department. I’ve been in banking for seven years now. I got an economics degree before I did all of that modeling and showbiz stuff.
How do you feel about your modeling days?
Not everyone gets to do it. The only thing about that is I’m behind in terms of my retirement because I enjoyed that part. Back then, it was about having fun. It was new. During my time, talagang mestizo gusto nila. I wasn’t really what the market wanted. So when sila Ben [Chan] picked me to be part of the very first Bench underwear campaign in Shanghai, that was a proud moment for me. That was with Marc [Nelson] and Lu Yan. I heard that we’re on the wall in the Bench Tower somewhere.
When did you decide to do get into banking?
Circumstances made it in a way na I couldn’t really pursue modeling and TV acting. There was a relationship that wasn’t conducive to pursuing it and when I tried to go back, they didn’t want me anymore. Syempre, there’s always somebody younger, more aggressive, somebody new. Fresh faces are the foundation of this business.
Can you compare how you deal with women now compared to 10 years ago?
Very easy! Actually, it’s with everything, except for employers. I want what I want. I’ll try to adjust but I’ll be very clear about what I want. It’s very difficult to live in a way na everything’s up in the air.
10 years ago, you were…
More accommodating? I’ll be specific, ha. If they asked me, “Anong girl ang gusto mo?” I’d say this much work experience, ito ang look, ganyan-ganyan. I don’t believe in the idea of trying to win someone over with your winning personality. Superficiality is something you can’t deny. It’s who we are. At the end of the day, I feel that there’s always someone you’ll be attracted to who has a personality to match you.
Are you surprised that we sought you out?
The weird thing is yes and no. Yes, ‘cause I don’t expect it anymore. No, ‘cause ever since I’ve started exercising again and getting back in shape, people in stores…in the grocery, gas station, restaurant, they’ll tell me, “O, sir, showbiz ka dati.” And you’re like, “Yeah, right. Whatever. Give me the name.” I joke with them. And then when they say Kenji, it’s been happening more consistently lately.
What have you noticed about your body lately?
One year of effort in the gym now is equivalent to about, without exaggeration, mga three or four months back then. It’s more than doubled, the amount of time it takes to get to a certain condition. So I just have to work harder and more intelligently.
JACK DE MESA
51, The face of all malls
We found out you own Ideal People Models. Was owning an agency something you really sought to do?
Not really. It was really more my sister’s plan. It just came up one day when she was here on vacation from New York. She said, “Let’s do a business” and I’m not really a businessperson. So my sister did all the legwork and I gave her all the contact numbers. Then she flew back to the US, so naiwan sa akin. It’s been running since 1997.
Were the modeling gigs waning at that point?
Not really. I had a full-time job when I was modeling so it was a part-time thing for me anyway. I was just very busy, that’s why they thought I was a full-time model. I did all the department stores. I did SM for a long time, I did Rustan’s for a long time, I did Cinderella. A lot of shoots for malls.
How does one wind up becoming the face of all malls?
I was surprised because I didn’t think of myself as a model then. My first modeling job was a campaign for SM. I was a student at De La Salle and I knew one of the guys who shot for the studio, si Raymund Isaac. He was a neophyte for Shadow Visual, the studio where SM would do their shoots. They shot me for two years and that’s where people saw me—designers, then the commercials came after.
What were you studying then?
BS Biology. My mom is a doctor and I had three older brothers, none of them took up medicine. I got tired of it, as well. My campaign for SM was ’85. It was easy money. To get paid just posing for a few hours, why not?
What are things about the modeling industry that frustrate you?
Wow, a lot. In terms of the agency, collection. When we do projects, sometimes clients—Bench is good (laughs)—suddenly forget about payment. It sometimes takes six months, even a year. Also, there’s a lot of competition now. Lots of fly-in models. I started it. When it was just our agency, it was easier. If the industry rate was 200,000, more often than not, the client agrees to it. These days, there are a lot of new agencies that charge for less.
How do you feel about aging?
When I was younger, I wasn’t satisfied with what I had. But there must have been something that they saw and that I didn’t see. If someone could appreciate me, why can’t I appreciate myself? So I accepted my flaws a long, long time ago.
DR. JB ABESAMIS
54, Former president of PMAP (Professional Models Association of the Philiippines)
What do you specialize in, doc?
In the Philippines, I am the approved doctor for Filipino seafarers going to Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK. The other flag’s Panama so if they don’t pass through my medical, they can’t board the ship. Simple as that.
You were balancing modeling with med school, is that right?
Yes, that was way back in the ‘80s. We had school fashion shows and my first stint was modeling for Silvano, one of the high-end clothing lines of Rustan’s.
I was found by Larry Silva himself—he was one of the pioneer local designers who had training in Europe. We did shows local and international. From then on, I worked for Auggie Cordero, Ben Farrales…
Do you think you’d like being a model in this era?
I would think it would be more difficult because of competition. For example, with Fashion Week. Now, my daughter models and if you have 300 competitors and they only get 10, that’s big rejection, you know? And now with technology, you don’t know what’s true or false (laughs).
Anything you’ve noticed about your body that wasn’t there before?
In the aging process, what goes up must come down. Your life changes. Your priorities change. I got married. This Saturday is my silver anniversary—25 years. And I have two wonderful children. I’m satisfied and looking to live longer.
Are there things or people you miss from your modeling days?
One colleague of mine who passed away two or three years ago—Leo Ravago. Famous for SM. But our group in the PMAP, we’re still solid up to now. One group, we call the Shet Girls with Tweetie de Leon. The older group, we call them the Ates.
It’s nice that you’ve been part of the industry. You learn to be more flexible to know other people. The most important thing is that you know how to handle yourself. When I started before, I had stage fright. I could not talk in front of colleagues in school. But when you walk on a ramp and people look at you, that erases everything. When I started modeling, I had to come out in swimwear. What was in before was the Conan—thongs, you call it now. Speedo. That was what we wore onstage. We were 15 guys supposed to go up on the ramp. Suddenly, there were just three of us (laughs). But you have to be professional.