By Ed Biado
Elegant, relevant, interesting. These are the three words that describe the Philippine Tatler, according to managing director Irene Martel Francisco. As expressed by editor Anton San Diego, the three words are premiere, frontrunner and interesting. They were obviously being modest.
Catering predominantly to the AB female demographics age 25 and above, the Philippine Tatler is the most recognized publication in high society circles. Giving their readers a peak into the intriguing lives of the affluent and the powerful, the magazine unapologetically mirrors the aristocratic lifestyle, honestly depicts it and ultimately, influences it.
Arts and culture, business, food and wine, trends and travel are the center of the Tatler world; a mélange of everything classy, exclusive, glamorous and definitive. To say that the Philippine Tatler is an authority is an understatement.
Lunching with socialites
Over dimsum at Shangri-La Makati’s Shang Palace, Francisco and San Diego let me in on what the upper crust magazine, and the upper crust itself, is all about.
“First of all, the Philippine Tatler is under the Edipresse [Group] umbrella, publisher of the Asian Regional Tatlers,” Francisco clarified. The Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Shanghai and Beijing Tatlers make up the Asian Tatlers franchise. “We are not affiliated with the British Tatler, although we share the same roots.”
“When we first started in 2001, we were the only ‘society’ magazine in the Philippines,” stated San Diego. Back then, critics were convinced that a “society” magazine was not viable in the Philippines due to the country’s unstable economic fabric.
San Diego explained that to beat the skepticism, they made it a point to aim really high. Their first issue had the “First Daughters” on the cover, Luli Arroyo, Jackie Ejercito Lopez, Imee Marcos and Jo Ramos.
And hit the mark, they did. That virtually controversial cover sealed the deal. Because of the unprecedented success of the Philippine Tatler, other publishing houses scampered to come up with their own Tatler equivalent. However, the Tatler remains the benchmark in “society”-magazine panache.
San Diego recalled another first in publishing history—their first anniversary cover with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and then-Cabinet members in a “Men in Black” pose.
He illustrated that every photo shoot is a milestone because they mostly shoot elusive people in radical concepts. He then went on about how exhilarating it is shooting someone out of their comfort zone and extracting something special out of them, and that how different it is with models and actors who are used to the flickers of the camera flash.
Their July 2007 issue was augmented with the expertise of noted fashion photographer Nigel Barker, where he captured the luminescent shots of 12 of the country’s most beautiful women, including Kit Zobel, Ina Ayala, Lucy Torres Gomez and Ruffa Gutierrez.
Speaking of “the most,” the Philippine Tatler also prides itself in being the pioneer and raising the bar in “society” list-making. Through the years, they have come up with the most exquisite lists such as most invited, best hostesses and most eligible singles. What’s next, then, for the “spirit of high society?”
“Our September  issue is the biggest so far. It’s a tall order to surpass that,” revealed San Diego. The cover, which I saw a digital copy of, and 16 pages of the magazine will be dedicated to Madrid-based Filipino journalist, model and mother of pop superstar Enrique Iglesias, Isabel Preysler, whom the Spanish press fondly calls “La Reina de Corazones” (the Queen of Hearts).
San Diego admitted that this is his favorite and gleefully raved about how wonderful it was working with Preysler, but claimed, “The current one is always my favorite.”
“High society now is less static,” disclosed Francisco, describing how it is getting more fluid and flexible.
“The social climate is changing,” San Diego added. He meant that more and more are being educated on—and interested in—the finer things in life. This manifests in the progression of the magazine as it got bigger, in terms of number of pages, until it reached its biggest in 2006, coinciding with the strengthening economy.
That also means that taste evolves. The Philippine Tatler recently underwent an editorial revamp in order to keep up with the advancement of technology and to accommodate the younger reader. The content and layout changed, though ever so slightly to preserve the Tatler feel.
“You can go a little bit to the left or the right. Just don’t go too far from the center,” San Diego uttered, motioning with his hands.
That’s Filipino for “to give care.” That’s also the latest Tatler advocacy. The magazine has chosen Gawad Kalinga as the beneficiary for the 6th Philippine Tatler Ball, to be held on Sept. 29.
For this year’s anniversary celebration, their aim is to build a Gawad Kalinga Village of 30 homes. The Philippine Tatler will pay for the construction of 10 homes at P75,000 per home. They hope to raise enough funds to foot the bill for the remaining 20 homes.
“Any wealthy person can help,” Francisco started to expound, putting on a more serious face, which wasn’t the case when we were talking about the glitz and glamour side of the magazine. She said that not everyone has the means to spread the word and found it humbling to have the opportunity to be able to use a medium, like the magazine, as a vehicle to help those in need.
Corporate social responsibilities have always been part of the Tatler itinerary. Just last March, the Philippine Tatler raised P4.2 million to aid breast cancer patients through their Pink for Life campaign.
“In a Tatler Ball with 400 guests, we can urge them to support a cause. It’s like a captured market. We don’t sell tickets, it’s all invitational. But we still manage to raise funds for our elected beneficiaries,” she explained, citing their project for Operation Smile that helped 533 children with cleft-lip as an example. Their total yield of P3.2 million was the single-biggest donation the organization received last year.
“It really becomes a responsibility. You do it once, you have to do it again,” said Francisco of the Tatler’s CSRs, showing her fervent affinity to sponsorship programs. Following all her involvement in benevolent work, through the magazine and otherwise, she grew to be more passionate about using her voice—and machinery—to create awareness among the “society” crowd to push her philanthropic agenda.
As much as she maintained that the magazine, through its fund-raising auctions and balls, is still the ideal channel for her to execute her social responsibilities, Francisco articulated that if to put up a charitable institution, she prefers that it be a scholarship foundation.
I had a brilliant time lunching with the Tatler heads. In between plate changes, we would swerve a little from the interview and talk about tons of other things, like the last CDs we purchased, musicals we want to see, the difference between Zara and Gap, out-of-the-country trips and the like. Though disappointingly, there was nothing in the grapevine.
At one point, San Diego joked about feeling like the interviewer because he was asking me assorted questions; what college I went to, how I got into the industry and other résumé-like queries.
We even got into a discussion on the future of high society, specifically the Greenbelt-flocking, club-going cliques. Politically correct opinions were expressed on how “young society” will mature and outgrow the insistent partying. Francisco very understandingly called it a rite of passage. She did, however, establish that it really is exceptionally different from the house parties in evening gowns that she was used to in her youth.
In the course of two hours—from high noon to 2 p.m.—until we reached the conclusion of our meal and were scooping out the last of our dessert, we would pleasantly be interrupted by other socialites that were dining at the restaurant.
Time does fly by when you’re having fun. My lunch with Francisco and San Diego was hearty, juicy, informative and highly inspiring. I can’t wait to do it again.