Manila, 2014

res-0021An invitation to the Leica Manila opening landed on my office table three weeks ago courtesy of a friend. It said attire: cocktail chic. While it wasn’t exactly a big surprise, I had my enthusiast hat on and imagined a cozy gathering of like-minded folks having wine or beer while talking about photography and, well, gear in general. Little did I know that it was going to be anything but a cozy gathering.

I arrived early partly because I was excited to finally see the place and partly because I wanted to avoid the rush hour traffic (the store was boarded up for the longest time with the opening date being extended so many times that many were starting to lose interest) . As I ascended up the escalator from where I was parked, I saw Leica standees scattered strategically across the mall. I say strategically because at the outset one can already sense that Leica was very keen on establishing its luxurious presence in Manila’s well-heeled consciousness. In each of the boutique entrances to name brand watch stores, a Leica standee was placed as if to tell the uninformed that, hey, I am as prestigious as Chopard or JLC or Audemars Piguet. While it might seem a bit in-your-face, I thought it was a pretty good idea being that Leica wasn’t exactly a known brand here. I can’t blame the group who brought Wetzlar into Manila as they’re the same group that brought in Patek, AP, and JLC among others. Gilt by association can be a good thing not to mention cost-effective.

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The Legend has arrived

On my way to the Ayala Museum (a slight detour to check out lecture schedules as I was early after all), I was greeted by a huge Leica logo outside the mall. And, yes, more standees!  I don’t recall seeing that kind of marketing when the big name watches came to town. It slowly dawned on me how serious and focused Leica marketing is… which shouldn’t really be a surprise but continues to amaze anyway when you experience it upclose.

At the registration area, I saw several familiar faces and immediately felt at home. There were a couple of cocktail tables in front of the store, some carpeting and a smattering of collaterals here and there. I thought, hmmm, cozy. There were a lot of event photographers snapping away at our group. It seemed a bit overkill considering the venue size but, hey, who was I to complain.  I was starting to have fun after all. We had our photographs taken a la Oscar awards night with a backdrop that had Leica logos all over it.

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Alfred Schopf, CEO, Leica Camera AG

Then Leica Camera AG CEO, Alfred Schopf, arrived. What? Really? Not some regional VP to cut the ribbon?  There was no V in this P! I started to feel a bit out of place even though I was wearing a pair of nice leather shoes (my feet aren’t socially used to it.  I’m a New Balance kinda guy after all).  So now more than ever, cocktail chic sinks in and I started to see unfamiliar faces, albeit famous and popular, Manila’s beautiful, so to speak.  It started to get more Town and Country and less Leica Users Forum.

Anyway, the not-so-cozy gathering was ushered to another place in the mall. A bigger venue. To accommodate a bigger crowd. There was a fashion show. And some beauty pageant was also invited to grace the event. But the people were really more interested in the food, I suppose. It wasn’t a sit-down dinner of the type that I am used to seeing in small watch affairs hosted by the likes of Lange or JLC. It was more like Leica’s version of Jesus feeds 5,000 although in this case, it was a buffet stand-up affair feeding Manila’s 400 and then some. Needless, to say, my feet were already killing me and I really didn’t feel like lining up for chicken or beef.

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Leica boutique opening night

The crowd was a mixed bag of posers, enthusiasts, celebrities, wanna-be endorsers who probably never used a Leica in their lives, down-to-earth rich folks, diplomats, and a good chunk of Manila’s 400 who can probably buy the rest of the 400 who wasn’t in attendance. A lot of media folks were present, and, yes, it included Town and Country. Now I realize why the event photographers were all over us when we arrived. They were probably testing their exposure and white balance on our clueless mugs in preparation for the bigwigs and probably reformatted their memory cards when Herr Schopf arrived.

Ironically, I got introduced to a nice gentleman who was with the media group that publishes T&C and really enjoyed an arguably practical discussion on whether to go 35 or 50. If you want to know how that conversation went, you have to buy me coffee and a 35lux. Oh, you don’t know what a lux is?  Peasant.  Hahaha!!! 😛

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Leica models

After awhile, it really just got to be loud. So I decided to leave the event with one of my shooting buddies real reason being was that I was scared that the media folks might get all the loot bag!  I went back to the store and got my stash. Luckily, the store manager was there attending to prospective clients.  We got to chat with him for a bit. My friend was interested in a flash for his M. I was more interested with Leica Manila pricing.

From experience, prices here for these sort of goods are usually higher than, say, prices in HongKong or Singapore.  There’s a reason why people fly to these neighboring countries to buy watches.  Back then, the price difference was more than enough to cover for a cheap ticket and a nice hotel room along Orchard Road! Much to my surpise though, the price difference with Leica isn’t so bad. It’s quite tolerable. In fact, my friend went back the following day to get the flash.  Ok, so you might think that it just applies to small ticket items. Well, it doesn’t. We inquired about the 21lux. My friend started punching numbers in his phone and compared it with the US prices. It wasn’t bad granted that you could probably buy a decent point and shoot with the difference.

I think most enthusiasts would be in agreement that Leica’s market here would be the nouveau riche or politicians who overbudget for constructing things, like, parking buildings.  That explains the in-your-face prestige association with more popular luxury brands.  Enthusiasts more often than not would have already established some form of relationship with dealers in HongKong, Singapore or the US.  Then there are folks like me who have friends who have already established some form relationship with dealers in HongKong, Singapore or the US 😉

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Emerson Yao, Managing Director, Lucerne

In the days succeeding the event, I’m happy to have observed that Leica marketing was starting to take effect on the general public’s awareness.  In one of my office lunches, we were seated at a table near a group who I knew weren’t exactly photofreaks.  Well, there was one freak there but he probably couldn’t operate a rangefinder even if you put the damn thing on “A”.  Anyway, they were talking about Leica like how one would talk about a Manny Pacquiao fight the day after.  Of course, I just brushed it off and thought, The Legend has indeed arrived.

The weekend after the opening, I dropped by the boutique to inquire about an item. I wasn’t exactly in a good mood that day as I was in between errands. But my frown turned into a smile when I entered the store. The lighting was just right.  The lines were very clean. Everything seemed to be in its place. After swapping opening stories with Jay who was helping me out with my inquiry, I was handed out an info sheet that I had to fill up for their database.  I usually hate doing these things but found myself effortlessly writing down my name and number.  In the remarks section, I wrote, “”Nice store.  Great staff.”

IMG_0039There are a lot more interesting things to say about the whole Leica affair but I want to end this article by thanking Emerson Yao, managing director of Lucerne, for extending their hospitality to enthusiasts like myself.  Judging by how everything went, Leica and Lucerne did a pretty good job of introducing the brand in Manila.  The event was organized to German precision.  The boutique is first rate staffed by people who are quite patient and accommodating.  The ambiance inside the boutique is anything but snobbish and I hope that folks who have been hesitating to set foot on their store would finally do so.  The area at the back is as quiet as a Leica shutter release and provides the newbie an opportunity to get to know the brand more with very tasteful photographs on display and copies of LFI magazine dating back to several very interesting issues.

The Red Dot, finally, makes its mark in Manila.  Congratulations, Leica!