Make way for the new, auspicious Barong Tagalog

Guess who’s out to set a new trend in formal men’s wear.

Mr. Washington Sycip, SGV and AIM founder, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for International Understanding, and social advocate, that’s who.

Wonder no more if you see him in formal functions wearing the Filipino barong tagalog in exciting colors other than the traditional white or off-white. His fashion statement will also bear traces of his Chinese roots. If you look closely, the barongs may be designed with the Eight Auspicious Symbols of feng shui—clearly, an added feature to attract good luck for the wearer.


The business icon’s formal wear are from the creative team of Frigga Charmed Life headed by London-based international feng shui master Marites Allen. Marites has been trained and certified in several feng shui disciplines and is the consultant of choice of popular personalities in media and government. She has parlayed her knowledge of feng shui into her latest venture, the auspicious fashion brand labeled Frigga ( She also completed fashion courses at the University of Arts-London College of Fashion.

The fabrics used in the barongs were designed exclusively for Mr. Sycip by the Frigga creative team composed of award-winning London fabric designers. “Each of the eight auspicious symbols reflected in the barong tagalog represents a specific type of luck,” Marites explains. “The conch shell, for example, is for protection and prosperity during travels. The Double Fish is for abundance, the Wheel for wisdom, and so on. When you combine all these powerful symbols you attract harmony, luck, and prosperity.”

She adds that Mr. Sycip himself chose the colors from a wide array of swatches. At 93, the very fashionable business icon believes in feng shui and the use of auspicious colors in aligning different types of elements to further enhance luck.

But rule out male vanity; his fashion choices are driven by a nobler thought. In a big social affair he was quoted saying: “one should wear a different color of barong every day to give more business to the industry. I wish that the men would be more colorful, even in these big affairs, instead of just wearing black tie.” But then again, Mr. Sycip has always been one for creating new business opportunities to boost the economy.

Now, men can look dapper in barong, help create livelihood, and attract good luck.

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the three-point advantage?

How to not act your age: Lessons from Mr. Washington Sycip


It must have warmed the cockles of many people’s hearts when lifestyle and business columns picked up on the presence of Mr. Washington Sycip in the June 6 concert of Taylor Swift, a wildly popular young musical artist. Why the buzz? Mr. Sycip is the highly esteemed accounting guru and founder of SGV & Co., and is one of the most visible and talked about nonagenarians in the country today. His June 6 outing with some business associates was reportedly part of his market research to understand why young people behave the way they do over foreign performers.

Mr. Sycip, long retired from the company he founded in 1946 when he was only 25, has not really retired from the business of learning.

Washington-Sycip pink barong
Ramp model at 92 (Google photo)

At 92, he once agreed to be part of a fashion show for a cause, along with ambassadors and their spouses. Wearing a pink barong Tagalog, he gamely did the catwalk—his first time to do so.

Noting the dizzying pace at the backstage—with the models getting prepped before they walked on the ramp—he quipped: “I learn something new every day.”

A section in his biography, Wash: Only a Bookkeeper by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., provides further insight:

Wash takes an active interest in his grandchildren, who call him Angkong, Chinese for grandfather. “I learn a lot from these young people. My associations and everything are with the older generation. When you talk to these young people, it’s good to get their viewpoint, to see what is happening in the world. Otherwise I would lose touch. And if I were to advise companies I have to know what the young are thinking of.”

He credits a granddaughter for introducing him to the iPod. He has kept one in his office for several years now, still loaded with his favorite music ranging from Rachmaninoff pieces to Barbra Streisand songs.

An avid supporter of the arts, the business icon is not beyond taking his associates and friends after a business dinner to Club Mwah, a Folies Bergere-type of entertainment performed by mainly gay dancers—whether at the tony Resorts World or at the club’s original venue in Mandaluyong City. During a performance two years ago, he was called onstage where he claimed, “I’m 91 and still surviving because of Club Mwah.”

In one SGV Homecoming event that I attended, former SGV employees and guests admiringly watched him dance as violinist Jay Cayuca played one of his favorite tunes.  And if you’re wont to dismiss the Mr. Pogi pose as juvenile stuff—think again.  Mr. Sycip has pulled off that one, too!

dancing sycip
(Photo source: SGV & Co. Facebook page)


mr. pogi pose
(Photo source: SGV & Co. Facebook page)








My main takeaway from all this is best expressed by the industrialist Henry Ford:  “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

Young heart, young mind (Photo source: SGV & Co. Facebook page)

Mr. Sycip, who sits on the advisory boards of many large companies and is rightfully regarded as ‘the man to see’ in Asia, is celebrating his 93rd birthday tomorrow, June 30.

May there be more healthy years added to his life and more wonderful life to all his years!


[This blogger worked with SGV & Co. for several years, starting as Administrative Assistant with the Computer Audit Group. She was part of the pioneering team of the Institute of Advanced Computer Technology (I/ACT), the computer school put up by the firm. She went on to become Marketing Manager of the  school years later. She left the firm in 1993.]

Yes, feng shui is also for the rich and famous

(Full text of the article published in The Philippine Star (Lifestyle section), January 31, 2014)

It is perhaps a reflection of the country’s precarious economic state that most of the questions directed to Marites Allen, International Feng Shui Association (IFSA)-certified feng shui master, are related to ways to increase income opportunities. The queries raised on her websites and during public talks since she started practicing feng shui are variations on the same theme: how to make more money, how to facilitate work travel abroad, how to grow one’s business, and how to get rid of negative energies that prevent one from having a better life.

Makes one wonder: Do these concerns even figure in the lives of those who have millions or billions to their names?

“Yes, and even more so, the richer one gets,” comes the quick reply from Marites. “Rich people have much more to lose and so the pressure that comes with their large fortunes is commensurately great.”

Marites is uniquely qualified to make that observation. She is, after all, known as the go-to feng shui consultant of famous persons in business, media/entertainment, and politics. Months before the coming of the Chinese New Year, she is invited to their houses to chart lucky and unlucky sectors—an activity known as feng shui audit, and to recommend solutions such as the proper cures and enhancers.

Auditing  the Bookkeeper

Who’s Who: With business tycoon Mr. Henry Sy, SGV founder Mr. Washington Sycip, fashion icon and columnist Tessa Prieto-Valdes

Recently she was at the office of SGV founder Mr. Washington Sycip, to conduct her annual feng shui audit. The Ramon Magsaysay awardee for International Understanding (1992), Mr. Sycip is dubbed as “the man to know in Asia;” yet, he refers to himself as “Only a Bookkeeper,” which is also the title of his biographical book. The 92-year-old business icon has been a regular guest in all annual feng shui events of Marites, and is all praises for co-host  Boy Abunda for making every convention even more amusing. Mr. Sycip has given the feng shui maven many valuable business advice. At one time, he jested that perhaps Marites should think about putting ‘sexier’ messages inside fortune cookies to make them more interesting.

Mr. Sycip has even found time to share his thoughts on feng shui, which is posted on Marites’s official website:

“I do thank Marites Allen for keeping good feng shui at my home and office for many years now, especially for briefing me on ideal days for important decisions.

I remember that in choosing a date to celebrate my 90th birthday with friends and business associates, the odds favored Thursday, June 30th. As it turned out, the day was extremely lucky. On that day, President Benigno Aquino III conferred upon me the Order of Sikatuna, the highest presidential award. I was also able to raise funds amounting to Two Million Dollars (U$ 2 million) to be used for basic education and microfinance projects.  For my health and longevity offering, Marites together with my family released 168 birds at our home in Forbes last June 30.

As I’ve said, there’s no harm in getting to know about feng shui and there’s every possibility that you might benefit from it.”

SGV founder Mr. Washington Sycip with Marites Allen: Observing good feng shui at his home and office

Marites notes that Mr. Sycip has several symbols of the turtle in his office. Stone turtles also adorn a park in the central business district named after him. In feng shui, turtles are known longevity symbols. The Rooster-born tycoon sometimes graces formal occasions in dressy barong tagalog adorned with roosters, his zodiac animal sign.

Feng shui for health

Another post on the feng shui master’s website concurs with Mr. Sycip’s comments.

“We met Marites Allen at Wash Sycip’s birthday celebration five years ago. This meeting turned into an introduction to feng shui.

Subsequently, we have been fortunate to be able to tap Marites Allen’s expertise and this has been very helpful, even CRUCIAL in the precarious health issues Joly has been battling with in the past decade and a half, exacerbated by almost nine years of kidney dialysis and recently heart and lung complications in addition to psoriasis in its extreme case.

The medical team headed by veteran Dr. Claver Ramos has successfully given superb medical care to date ‘over and above’ the statistical norm. Yet, they have accommodated the additional input from feng shui master Maritess Allen. All these plus the prayers have kept the family hopeful that ALL the forces are being explored for Joly’s well-being.

We agree with Wash Sycip…it  can’t hurt, but it has definitely helped us, so far!

Dr. Jose Conrado “Joly” Benitez and Joanne de Asis-Benitez: Feng shui was helpful in battling his health issues

The testimonial was shared by Joanne de Asis Benitez, the New York investment banker wife of Dr. Jose Conrado “Joly” Benitez, former Human Settlements Deputy Minister. Dr. Benitez had a surgery done just over a year ago for a kidney ailment for which he was earlier given a slim chance for survival. The Benitez couple had sought the help of Marites who recommended favorable dates for the operation. Now up and about again after his long ordeal, Dr. Benitez thanks the medical team for accommodating the dates suggested by Marites. “It was probably Marites’s day, because had it been any other day I think I would have been gone,” the former Deputy Minister says.

The American heiress

Never in her growing up years had Marites imagined herself rubbing elbows with highly influential people. Owing to her feng shui practice, she has memories of her encounters with many important personalities, a virtual A-list of Philippine society, including two former presidents (Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada). Those are occasions that she considers the perks of her craft.

Her close association with the Benitez couple led her to being invited to a pre-celebration for the 92nd birthday of Mr. Sycip in New York last year. The exclusive gathering was organized by Ms. Joanne de Asis Benitez, a long-time New York resident who honed her financial skills on Wall Street for over 20 years. It was a very exclusive group of less than 20 that included people who, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “are different from you and me.” In this gathering, Marites met the likes of Bill Dudley, the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, as well as Sondra Gilman, whose family donated a wing at the prestigious New York Metropolitan Museum and who chairs the famous Tony Awards (the Broadway equivalent of the Oscars) and found herself in a conversation with Alice Walton, heiress to the Wal-Mart fortune and the richest American as per Forbes Magazine.  Marites was then wearing a formal dress designed with antakahrana prints, which caught the attention of the American heiress. Marites had to explain the significance of her luck-enhancing dress and her newly launched Frigga fashion line. Fascinated, the black pantsuit-clad Alice Walton was soon asking Marites for some fashion advice.

With American billionaire Alice Walton

Weeks later, Marites received an e-mail requesting for her updated contact details and other information to be included in the personal database of the sender’s employer. The message came from the personal assistant of the Indian princess Jeet Nabha Khemka, another distinguished philanthropist Marites met at Joanne’s New York reception.

NY Federal Reserve President Bill Mudley and wife Anne, with Joanne Benitez
NY Federal Reserve President Bill Mudley and wife Anne, with Joanne Benitez
Joanne Benitez, Alice Walton, and Sondra Gilman
Joanne Benitez, Alice Walton, and Sondra Gilman
Marites Allen, George and Barbara Sycip, and Joanne Benitez
Marites Allen, George and Barbara Sycip, and Joanne Benitez

Feng shui, indeed, knows no social bounds.