In the Beginning...
Tatler Philippines|September 2021
We take a look back at how it all started, the valuable lessons learnt, as well as what brought us to where we are today
Marge C Enriquez

Naysayers pooh-poohed the launch of Philippine Tatler in 2001. Some went as far as telling Anton San Diego, that this society/general interest magazine would not survive. He was then writing society columns for Philippine Daily Inquirer and Metro magazine and for both gigs, he’d been tapped precisely for his apparent persuasive powers over the high and mighty. Still, taking on the job of editor-in-chief for another new luxury magazine seemed like a leap of faith.

Beneath his suave demeanour, San Diego has always been tenacious. Plus, he was gifted with an eye for aesthetics and a nose for what was appealing to readers. He envisioned Tatler as a magazine of superior quality that would “present the Philippines to the world in the best possible way”.

Twenty years later—following changes in ownership and management, economic crises and a pandemic, the magazine, rebranded Tatler Philippines, is still flexing its muscles with a thick glossy issue every month. That’s a certifiable feat, considering that many competitors have folded, cut back on their circulation, or gone fully digital. Steered by the new tenets of Tatler Asia, and with the team’s steady editorial voice, Tatler has become the trusted resource in bringing its readers the best in Power, Influence and Style.

Behind the eye-candy pages and stories of the high life lies the magazine’s heart, a well-oiled machinery headed by publisher Irene Martel Francisco. During Covid Lockdown 1 in 2020, Tatler remained resilient while many magazines were paralysed. Francisco kept going, increasing influence and circulation by sending free copies to individual readers when shops were shut down and giving free access to the digital edition, replete with the ads, via Magzter.

The boss lady conducted Zoom meetings with aplomb despite her own bout with Covid. “We resolved to hang on and continue. Cutting down on frequency would have been a disruption of our commitment to advertisers—and readers tend to forget,” says Francisco. The staff has unflinchingly “rolled with the punches”, she adds.

San Diego himself quotes an idiom: “Pure gold does not fear the flame. We created some of the best issues in the last 16 months [as of this writing], given the situation. We took out elements that were no longer significant and stepped up on in-depth writing while being faithful to the Tatler DNA.”

At the least, Tatler has remained in step with the times. The National Economic Development Authority reported that the Philippine economy recorded its strongest post-Asian crisis growth in the early 2000s. Reflecting widespread optimism about the country’s structures, the inaugural cover in September 2001 presented First Daughters Luli Arroyo-Bernas, Imee Marcos, the late Jo Ramos and Jackie Ejercito offering a toast. (Kris Aquino had her own cover in another issue, dressed in a sheer, rhinestone-encrusted top by Joe Salazar and surrounded by Adonis-like hunks—much to the shock of her conservative mother, former President Cory.)

In 2002, a sustained positive outlook for the country made it a good time to launch the Tatler Ball. Francisco recalls that, unlike its counterparts in prosperous Asian neighbours, the Philippines had to be a little more prudent. The Manila event took on a charity ball format, becoming the only one of its kind among Tatler black-tie affairs in the region. The entire funds raised went directly to the first beneficiary, Makabata Foundation, an education and feeding programme for street children.

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