By AA PATAWARAN
It was a shock to know that French luxury icon Philippe Charriol had passed away. The news came to me close to midnight via a text message from Nedy Tantoco, chairman of the Rustan Group of Companies, whose Stores Specialists, Inc. (SSI) carries his luxury brand in the Philippines and with whom he had been very close not only as a business ally but also as a friend.
On Wednesday, Feb. 27, on the Circuit Paul Ricard, home of the 2018 French Grand Prix Formula 1 at Le Castellet near Marseille in the south of France, Philippe died while piloting his race car. He was 77.
A FRIEND OF THE PHILIPPINES
It was a shock, particularly for the Tantocos. Philippe was expected to arrive in Manila on March 8 to do his usual visit to the Philippines. “He had confirmed a dinner upon his arrival! It was a shock to learn that he passed in a racing car accident,” Nedy said.
Although in 2017, I ran into him and his son Alexandre Charriol at the Tatler Ball at the Shangri-La at The Fort, the last time I really sat down with Philippe Charriol was many years ago. We were at the Conservatory of the Peninsula Manila—or was it at what used to be Red at the Shangri-La Makati? He was excited about Instagram or some other relatively new thing on the internet. “I tell you,” he said. “You post something and, in an hour, thousands of likes.” He was raving about this “new” phenomenon.
It was just like the Marseille-born entrepreneur to be excited about such a thing. It was a new frontier, a new playground. An adventurer, he liked to play. He liked fast things like cars. He was a sportsman, a race car driver, who drove race cars not only on the track, but also on ice, driving precariously across ice rinks for the thrill of it. He was a risk taker, as well as a lover of beautiful things, what he called “beautiful objects,” especially antiquities or things from the past that “you can never bring back, so I try to surround myself with relics from that era,” that era being 18th century France where, merging with the Renaissance period, history took the leap from the Middle Ages to modernity.
The luxury goods impresario cut his teeth at Cartier, with which he worked for 13 years. He was at the helm of the house’s Asian and North American subsidiaries by the time he left, itching to do something different, something that was new even to him.
THE SEARCH FOR UNIQUE
Philippe found what he was looking for at a London museum, the twisted cable designs of the ancient Celts and, interlacing them with his own ideas, using actual steel cable to update such heritage pieces, he thus launched his eponymous brand, Philippe Charriol, in 1983.
In those heady days of the early 1980s, when nearly all Swiss watchmakers operated from the Place Vendôme in Paris, Philippe set his sights on the “Far East,” from which, offering his Celtic designs as a maiden collection, he grew his brand, unaware yet that he was, in fact, building an empire that would span across the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas.
“I knew that area (luxury sector) quite well, so when I started Charriol in ‘83, I did a lot of the promotions myself,” Philippe told Manila Bulletin Lifestyle in December 2017. “I really pushed myself to get involved with many business trips, promotions, and public relation affairs. The hard work and grit, I guess, are the reason the brand is well known, especially in Asia, where I focused most of my business.”
The rest is history. Philippe Charriol, headquartered in Geneva and still a family-run company in this day and age of conglomerates, has since become an international luxury empire of high-end Swiss watches, jewelry, and accessories with exclusive rights to trademark gold and steel cable style.
In 1984, barely a year since the brand was founded, the Rustan Group brought Charriol to the Philippines, the first in Asia to carry it. In no time at all, the cable motif watches and bracelets became a statement piece among Filipinos. Twelve years later, in 1996, moving to SSI, a subsidiary of the Rustan Group, Charriol set up a standalone.
SSI Group president Anton Huang shares, “We, at the SSI Group, mourn the sudden passing of a valued partner of the Rustan Group and a dear friend of the Tantoco family, Mr. Philippe Charriol. His dedication to the art of luxury retailing is truly an inspiration to his business partners, employees, and friends. Mr. Charriol was indeed a man of passion, and his success and the Filipino’s inherent love for the Charriol brand is a true testament to that. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”
But Philippe was a friend not only to the Tantocos, but to the Philippines, which he had begun to visit in his early 30s. On his many visits after he partnered with the Tantocos to grow his brand in the country, he had also established ties with local NGOs such as the Foundation for Professional Training, Inc., which offers technical-vocational training for women, and Carewell, a cancer support foundation. To date, the Philippines remains among the largest markets for Charriol, which is available at 17 points of sale across the islands, including Cebu and Davao.
No doubt, Philippe was a man of many passions. The Frenchman did not only have the knack for business, design, and racing, which he all merged by designing limited-edition watches such as the Venturi Chronograph and the Diablo Chronograph, both inspired by his experience driving his own Lamborghini Diablo. Also reflective of his many interests is his brand’s multi-product portfolio that includes Swiss watches, jewelry, accessories, fragrance, optical, ready-to-wear, and even fine Bordeaux wine. But he did more than business. He was a true epicurean, fascinated by travel, architecture, culture, and the arts. He created the Philippe Charriol Art Foundation in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand that has for two decades helped fund the Paris education of young painters and sculptors.
L’ART DE VIVRE LA DIFFERENCE
Philippe was alive to the very last second and even then he was going at full speed. “When you race, there are only two things that you do—you accelerate or you break,” he told us in 2017. “It’s just like business, especially with the intense competition that exists. You can’t break because, if you do, all the others will swiftly go past you. You need to go full throttle at all times.”
To that very last moment, he was practicing his personal and business mantra, l’art de vivre la difference, the art of living differently.
Philippe Charriol is survived by his children, Coralie, Alexandre, and Laetitia, and his spouse Marie-Olga Charriol. He will be laid to rest next week in a family funeral service in Marseilles, where he was born. His life will be celebrated at a memorial service in Paris at the end of March.