It had its expected provocative moments and the squeal-inducing striptease that have made it the much-talked-about biennial show in town.
But even with close to 200 demigods, -goddesses and hardbodies onstage, Bench’s 30th anniversary underwear show, “Under The Stars,” was, surprisingly, its most grounded yet. And it was a good thing.
If those lucky enough to score tickets to Saturday’s jam-packed show at Mall of Asia Arena were expecting a staging as bombastic as in previous years, they were in for a surprise. Yes, it was risqué in parts—it was an underwear show, after all—but surely not risqué enough to ruffle feathers and provoke a House inquiry.
Saturday’s was Bench’s first underwear show after the controversial “The Naked Truth” in 2014, where actor Coco Martin drew flak for leading a female performer on a leash.
Bench’s 30th anniversary show was, by comparison, simpler and more straightforward. More than a parade of its stellar list of brand endorsers—movie stars, models, athletes, beauty queens and other celebrities, it was a fashion show—the Bench apparel and underwear were the true stars.
And that was precisely the point, according to award-
winning set designer Gino Gonzales, who collaborated with Bench creative consultant and fashion stylist Noel Manapat and director Robby Carmona.
Gonzales, who has worked on Bench underwear shows, created one single stage for “Under The Stars,” which had five segments. A massive nest-like structure, made of crisscrossing slabs of silver acrylic Mylar, was the centerpiece of the stage, which had one single runway.
No set changes
There were no set changes. The mirrorized set—Bench founder Ben Chan wanted to use mirrors—had to fit into all the show’s five chapters, from sports and varsity looks to ’50s pinup and the cosmos.
“Noel avoided costumes and dramatic scenarios,” Gonzales told Lifestyle. “In the past, there used to be a mise en scene surrounding each celebrity. Noel wanted more fashion this time, clothes that would actually be more relatable. They also wanted to put clothes that were in the stores. Before, it was all fantasy. In terms of styling, it was much simplified.”
Manapat worked with fashion designers Joey Samson and Jerome Lorico and accessories designer Dennis Celestial, as well as finalists and winners of the recent Bench Design Awards.
For this milestone year, Chan apparently wanted less nostalgia and a more forward-looking mood, Gonzales said, such that most of the celebrity models were either fresh(er) faces or hadn’t walked in a Bench underwear show before (read: millennials). The first Bench model, Richard Gomez, for instance, sat in the audience with wife Lucy.
“Under The Stars” opened with a screening of a mini movie, “Brooklyn Swagger,” from famous American fashion photographer Bruce Weber’s Bench-sponsored shoot of the 2018 V Man calendar, featuring male models in Bench Body underwear.
In between the parade of celebrity models that included Solenn Heussaff, Julia Barretto, Ruru Madrid and Gabbi Garcia for the first segment, were awe-inspiring circus acrobatic performances by The 7 Fingers (Les 7 Doigts), choreographed by Gypsy Snider.
Next came a bevy of beauty queens—newly crowned Reina Hispanoamericana WinWyn Marquez, Maxine Medina, Ara Arida, MJ Lastimosa, Bea Rose Santiago—who sashayed on the runway styled like 1950s Vargas pin-up girls.
The crowd favorite for the segment, however, was TV’s sweetheart Maine Mendoza, in white midriff top and skort, with a coterie of hot male “admirers” literally falling at her feet.
Theater actor/singer Markki Stroem set the mood for the racier third segment as he walked in wearing a ski mask. He then stripped off his skivvies, leaving but the tiniest of jock straps. (Said skivvies were tossed to the ecstatic audience.)
The sports-themed fourth segment had the likes of Kim Chiu and Tom Rodriguez, who showed off martial arts moves in his tiny briefs (swim trunks?), roundhouse kick and all. Can’t say them kids didn’t work hard for the money.
One of show-biz’s hottest young couples, Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, led the final segment, which showcased the brand’s 30th anniversary collection. The campaign’s star, Lovi Poe, showed off her toned bod in a tiny yellow bikini.
Italian beefcake Pietro Boselli, the Italian engineer and math teacher, closed the show in a shower of silver confetti.
“The feel was like one extended party, so it’s very millennial,” Gonzales said.