In celebration of Philippine Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2014, we put the spotlight on two of the hottest models of all time: Marina Benipayo and Apples Aberin. Starting out in the early '80s, there was a time when these two were always the stars of the runway, as in one of them would open the show and then the other one would close it. For more than 20 years, they have continuously been at the top of their game and threading new horizons that they never expected would come their way.
Equally beautiful and always in tip top shape, these two are a sight to behold with strong personalities to boot. And if their personalities are polar opposites, so are their career paths. While Marina is still active on the runway, juggling between acting gigs and teaching stints in SoFA, Apples retired from modelling and ventured in the corporate industry as the PR Head of Unilever.
So how does one stay relevant in a cutthroat industry that's always on the lookout for a fresh face? Read on to know how these two started out with their careers and find out the greatest lesson they've learned along the way.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BECOME A MODEL? HOW WAS YOUR CHILDHOOD LIKE?
MARINA: My childhood was very action-filled. I grew up playing agawan base, patintero, and tumbang preso in the streets. I was sort of like a tomboy, but there were guys who’d have a crush on me. (laughs) Believe it or not, I wanted to become a nun, because that was what I was exposed to in school. But really, no familiarization at all in fashion.
APPLES: I never thought of it and never expected that I’d become a model. Although my mom says when I was around three or four years old, whenever we would have visitors I would bring out my clothes one-by-one and show off. I’ve always liked fashion, I like dressing up and even with a limited budget I would find ways to put something together. So I think it was in my DNA, but never wanted or thought of being a model ever.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO MODELING?
MARINA: When my father passed away, it wasn’t easy for the family. My mom depended on him a lot so when I was in college, I started working already. I applied at a McDonald's in North EDSA, because back then, if you worked there, you had free food. My allowance then was P12.50 which only covered transportation. So my routine was go to school, then head straight to Mcdo to eat and work.
I was discovered by Arnel Savella from Cinderella. Their office was just across McDonald's. Since I’m tall, he noticed me and offered me a job. That was my first exposure in modeling. After that, Renee Salud included me in his shows. And the rest is history.
APPLES: Mine was accidental. We had our gowns made by Malou Veloso, we were the dancers for an event directed by Boy Saulog. Since then he started getting me for shows and I joined the Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP) and became President during 1996-1997.
WHEN YOU WERE STARTING OUT, WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST INSECURITY?
APPLES: I never thought of myself as pretty. I knew I was okay-looking, tall enough but not as tall as the likes of Marina, so I guess that would be it. But I realized that it’s not about that. It’s about being professional, disciplined, and then being able to transform, play different roles, and be a chameleon. I think a lot of my success in the industry comes from the fact that I was really easy to work with. If anything, that’s one thing that I’m proud of.
MARINA: That I look like a man! (laughs) Honestly, insecurity was not even in the picture. My mindset was more on how I will be able to pull it off. I can’t remember of any specific insecurity but I can remember I was nervous because I didn’t have any formal training. So I just observed the other models and I was lucky enough that they were kind to me.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH?
MARINA: My height.
APPLES: In my case, it’s professionalism. I’d be there on time, do my homework, understand who the designer I’m working for in terms of how he designs his clothes, so I can show it off really well.
SHARE WITH US YOUR MOST UNFORGETTABLE WINNING MOMENT.
APPLES: Oh, I have two. One was that show of Randy Ortiz in Limits back in the mid-90s where I did the opening and the finale. At that time, I was probably one of the more in-demand models in Manila so when I would go out, people would actually applaud me and call out my name. It was quite rewarding to find that they were appreciating me for what I did.
And then another one would be when we produced Rajo Laurel’s first gala. I remember I was the finale and I was nervous because PMAP produced the show and I was the President then. There was a lot of tension going on and it was raining and I was about to go out the stage. I even remember Marina telling me to forget about everything and just go out there and feel the moment. So I did my thing and I was glad that everything went well.
MARINA: I think the recent Jewelmer show was really a memorable one. I don’t do mainstream shows anymore, but I noticed that whenever there’s something hard to carry or hard to walk in, they call me. In that show, there was this boat headdress made out of pearls and Swarovski that weighed about 10 pounds. Albert Andrada and Robbie Carmona advised Jewelmer that no one could carry it except me.
Then in the same show, I was also tasked to do the finale. It was a video-mapping of a gown that needed movement inspite the non-movement. It was such a surreal moment. I even cried right after because I felt that I brought pride to our generation.
APPLES: I agree. I actually told Robbie that no one else could do that but you, Marina.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER AS THE TOUGHEST PART ABOUT BEING A MODEL?
MARINA: Platform shoes, 50-kilo capes, 10-pound headdresses. It’s more on the physical aspect for me.
APPLES: Marina’s right, it can get quite exhausting. People think it’s just all glam but when you’re doing one show after another with multiple hair and makeup changes, it’s bad for the skin, bad for the hair, and painful on the feet. But still, it’s a charmed life, I have nothing to complain about. I guess for me the toughest would be overcoming that model stereotype.
WERE THERE MOMENTS WHEN YOU FEL T YOU WANTED TO GIVE UP MODELING?
MARINA: Oh never. To quote our 1984 Miss Universe 3rd runner-up Desiree Verdadero, “If they want to get me, they get me.” I never thought of quitting. In my case, I know that I can’t be just a model forever. So early on, I already started doing other things.
When I reached 45, I consider all the shows I did after that as a blessing. As with Apples, we don’t see things as bad challenges or hard pressure; it’s either good pressure, or good challenges. I think that sets us apart from others.
APPLES: Everything I did in modeling was a stepping stone to get where I am. So I never thought of giving it up, because I loved what I was doing—it enriched my life and it made me who I am today. So whenever friends or people from the industry that I’m close to would ask if I can be part of their shows, I don’t say no because I’m so grateful to them. Marina’s the same, we don’t say no especially to friends who’ve helped us along the way.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR MOST EMBARRASING MOMENT ON THE RUNWAY.
APPLES: Well, I’ve tripped going down the stairs, my petticoat fell down when I was walking down the ramp but those are things that normally happen. Over the span of 20 years, it’s impossible to not have those little mishaps. You just take it in stride.
MARINA: I can’t really remember, well maybe because every time I go out on stage, I keep in mind that I have to do it right the first time.
DO YOU THINK THE MODELS NOW HAVE IT A LOT EASIER?
MARINA: I think they have it easier now, compensation wise. Back then my talent fee was only P500 or a gift certificate. The new models now get compensated very well.
APPLES: I think both easier and harder. Easier because there are a lot of platforms available to show off their skills. There are quite a lot of magazines now compared before, and during our time the magazines were in newsprint. So if we wanted to get our photos and build our book it was really difficult. And because of social media, they can easily become stars in the industry because their names can be easily sent out there. So if you’re good at what you do and you’re beautiful, then you can be a star in an instant.
Now it’s also difficult because they are a dime a dozen now. There are models left and right, and everyone claims to be a model so now, challenge is to stand out in a sea of pretty faces or tall women.
BOTH OF YOU ALSO DABBLED INTO TV. WAS THAT PART OF YOUR CAREER PLAN?
APPLES: It just happened. When I was modeling, I was already asked to host shows or do a movie but I can’t act. Unlike Marina, I’m not an actress. So I thought maybe I’d just stay in my field because this is my area of expertise. But as you know I love fashion, so Project Runway was the right thing for me. I was also an editor then and I had great insights to share so I accepted it.
MARINA: Oh, in my case, I love going out of my field! (laughs) My first acting stint on TV was a blessing. It came at a time when I really needed it. It just so happened that the star of the show, My Binondo Girl, was Xian Lim—a tall, good looking, and fair-skinned guy—and they needed an equally tall, good looking, and fair-skinned mother. So they really searched for me because I fit into that mold. They got me the night before the first taping, so no acting workshops whatsoever but I pulled it off because the role called for a personality similar to mine so it wasn’t like acting at all.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT YOU?
MARINA: That I’m a snob. But only I look it because my eyebrows are way apart from my eyes. Although I get to change their minds after five minutes. (laughs)
APPLES: People think I’m also a snob and when they get to work with me, they realize that I am. (laughs). Just kidding. Well, I can be blunt, I can be very matter-of-fact, I say what’s on my mind but at the end of the day I’m very thankful for people who work hard. I appreciate hard work and striving for excellence all the time.
SPEAKING OF BEING PERCEIVED AS A SNOB, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF EACH OTHER?
MARINA: I first saw Apples in our waiting area for a show back in the ‘80s. She was chatting away with Tweetie and Bea, and in my mind I was like “My gosh this girl is so sexy!” Then her voice was so soft, her color is so nice, her face is so beautiful, everything that I’m not! (laughs)
APPLES: I’ve always found Marina funny. But I do remember seeing her for the first time in Bodyshots. Everyone was talking about this girl who’s so tall, who has character, who’s so good at the ramp so when I finally saw her I was like “My god this girl is so tall! She’ll definitely go places in this industry!” So it was mutual admiration, for sure.
HOW DID YOU BECOME FRIENDS?
MARINA: I think when Apples became President of PMAP. Right, Aps?
APPLES: Right! Marina was part of the board and I would depend and vent on her a lot. She was my great support during that time when I was president of PMAP. She worked so hard and I think that drew us closer.
LET’S NOW TALK ABOUT MOTHERHOOD. WHEN YOU FIRST GOT PREGNANT, DID YOU HAVE WEIGHT ISSUES?
MARINA: Not really. I gained 68 pounds during my first pregnancy but I went back to work a couple of months after I gave birth to my eldest son, Mark. Sometimes the designers would just give me something flowy until I got back to my original size.
APPLES: I was determined to get back in shape so the moment I gave birth, thankfully it was a normal lamaze delivery. I hit the gym after I gave birth. I only gained 30 lbs.
WHAT’S YOUR FITNESS REGIMEN?
MARINA: I do aerobics at the gym and then I do housework.
APPLES: After I gave birth I’d go to the gym three times a week, I got a trainer to help me out. Today, sadly, I have yet to start a new routine. I haven’t had a chance to work out for maybe four or five years now. So I just try to balance everything I eat. I lead a pretty active lifestyle but I realized that I do a need healthy workout routine.
DO YOU FOLLOW A SPECIFIC DIET?
APPLES: I eat every thing. I’m a carbs person, I need my rice. I get cranky when I don’t eat, but I try to moderate when I need to. I tried that juice cleanse before but by lunchtime my head was so painful, I was ready to scream at everyone so I gave up, went straight to the kitchen, got some food, and snarfed it down. (laughs)
MARINA: I’m not a carbs person, I like vegetables. I grew up not eating beef. In the past years, not even too much pork. It’s not because I’m following a certain diet, it’s just what I’m used too. I got hepatitis when I was young, so my liver is slightly damaged so I can’t consume rich food.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED IN THE MODELING BUSINESS?
MARINA: Perseverance. Even with my students, I always tell them that I am living proof that perseverance goes a long way. For me, the secret of youth is to keep your brains and body moving, just continuous movement and productivity.
APPLES: I learned to always be open to new experiences. The world out there is so big, you meet a lot of creative and intelligent people and you just have to keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to learn new things and continuously grow.
WHAT ARE THE FIVE BEAUTY PRODUCTS THAT YOU SWEAR BY?
MARINA: Cetaphil gentle facial cleanser, Cetaphil Ultra Hydrating Lotion because I have very dry skin, Pond’s Age Miracle Foam Wash, Pond’s Age Miracle Night Cream, 6F Sunblock SPF 45 by Dra. Six Foronda.
APPLES: I’m a big fan of Creamsilk hair conditioners because my hair is so damaged from too much styling, from coloring, and all that so I feel that it works. Of course, I use Pond’s Age Miracle like Marina I find that it really moisturizes my skin, it helps it stay smooth and supple. I’m also a big fan of Jo Malone, I’ve been using it for quite some time now. Then I also love Dove lotions and my Carmex lip balm. I think it really starts with good skin care and then the rest will just follow.
FOR MARINA, WHAT ARE YOUR TOP FIVE MODELING ESSENTIALS?
Oh I just have three—Cetaphil, makeup remover, and a pair of shoes.
FOR APPLES, WHAT ARE YOUR OFFICE ESSENTIALS?
People at work laugh at me all the time because they’re all young and they think I’m old school because I still love my Moleskine notebook. When they want to align with my schedule, it’s all in my notebook so I would die if it gets lost. Of course, I have to bring my computer, and then the power bank and booster for my iPhone 5. I get so paranoid when I lose my signal because I need to be always on.
NAME A TREND THAT YOU’D NEVER TRY.
MARINA: Platform shoes, because I’m so tall.
APPLES: For me, never say never. Because at some point in time I’d always still want to experiment. I always did, and I’ll always will. I’ll always inject whatever trend there is to my classic wardrobe because that’s basically my style, quite eclectic but more classic.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO AND WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’D BE DOING IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
MARINA: Oh, I’d be 50 by then. Well, most likely I’d still be teaching and coaching. I do it because it’s very fulfilling when you have students who are happy to have you as a teacher, participants who are glad to listen to you and actually take down notes and quote you. That’s very fulfilling.
I don’t want to say I’ll retire, so as long as they believe that I can make the audience happy, I’ll continue doing it, even when I’m already 70.
APPLES: I really love what I do that’s why I do it. Even when I was in Singapore with the global team I loved it already. I felt like I was creating something new with Unilever, threading new territories, pioneering PR stuff there. When I came back home it became deeper than that because you really see immediate results. At this stage in my life, it’s really rewarding to work for a company that does so much in return, that’s why I do what I do. I really want to impact Filipino lives, help Filipinas be more confident about who they are and what they do so they can shine wherever they are.
Five years from now, maybe something accidental will happen. I just want to do a good job wherever I am. No long term plans as of now, for all I know I would still be in Unilever hopefully making a difference but whatever it is, I will continue to do it well.
Want to see what's inside the bags of Marina and Apples? Click on the gallery to find out!
Shot on location at Pino Resto Bar, #38 Jupiter St., Bel-Air, Makati City. For reservations, call (632) 550 1781.
Photography by Miguel Miranda.
Hair and Makeup by Ren Bautista (Apples) and Ferdie Santiago (Marina).