As one of Cagayan de Oro’s renowned fashion mavens, Benjie S. Manuel has few peaks left to climb.
As Founding president of the Mindanao Fashion & Entertainment Force (MFEF), Founder and Creative Director of The Model Workshop, the first and the longest tenured president of the Oro Fashion Designers Guild (OFDG), and Fashion Designer at Benjie S. Manuel (stylized as BSM), he’d already shown the world what he was about, and the world likewise beat a path to his door for his creative pizzazz.
“Then a good friend, the late James Magdalan offered to create scents for me, at that time I was going back and forth to Manila with my bestie Atty. Samantha Tan. I wasn’t thinking of competing with other brands, just wanted to have my own and see whether it would sell or not.”
He started with a few scents, and had an instant hit with his PLU (People Like Us) geared towards the LGBT community, which became his best seller.
“I started selling to close friends via social media, but also had had individual sellers, I had some boutiques carry my fragrance, but my individual sellers sold more, so I preferred direct selling.”
When he brought a few samples to Canada during a fashion tour some years back, it sold so well that they were sold out by the time they arrived in the United States.
One of the selling points of Benjie’s scents are his prices, which are very affordable to the target market at only P400-600 per 60 millimeter (ML) decanter.
Among the best-selling BSM Fragrances are PLU: the gay pride scent with citrusy lemon, mandarin, orange and grapefruit. Recommended use: Daytime.
Liquid to Wear Men, a vibrant fragrance with Fig Leaf, Green Mango, Sage, Hydroponic Basil, Vibrant Moroccan Cedarwood, Cucumber, Amber and Woods. Recommended use: Casual.
BSM Black Sage with Hydroponic Basil, Vibrant Moroccan Cedar wood, Cucumber Heaven + Earth citrus notes, rosemary spiciness, jasmine, hint of wood and ocean breezes. Recommended use: Casual.
BSM Luxe Men with green apple, icy woods, jasmine, cedar leaves, patchouli and white musk vetiver. Recommended use: Formal; and, not the least,
Woman of the World (WOW a.k.a. Woman of Wisdom) a modern scent of jasmine, bergamot and orange with a hint of musk. Recommended use: Casual.
While James created the scents, Benjie decided the final choice of scents, and also designed the attractive decanters of his signature scent line himself, which James then printed for their exclusive production.
“A signature scent says something about you without saying a word. It’s an extension of your personal style—what you wear and do that causes people to remember you. Perfume is also one of the most personal accessories you can wear, which is why a “signature” scent works so well.”
To date, the available inventory of BSM Scents has been limited, since Benjie only produces a fresh batch when an order merits it.
Benjie met James while studying at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan when he designed the uniforms for their Business Management practicum group.
Although not a chemist, James had a nose for creating scents from pre-mixed fragrances, which were then sent to Benjie for final approval.
“I remember one time when he created one I really liked. Unfortunately, he forgot how he came about creating it!”
Although James also thought of going into the fragrance business since he had connections to the suppliers, he chose to focus on his logistics brokerage which was doing so well until his untimely demise in 2016.
The BSM Story
While he was born in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon many moons ago, Benjie grew up and went to school at the Father Saturnino Urios University (formerly known as Urios College) in Butuan City, Caraga Region.
Even as a youngster, Benjie already displayed a talent for drawing and sketching. When he found Architectural Drafting not to his liking, he shifted to AB English. It was during his college days when he started gravitating to his present avocation as an in-demand stage choreographer for the school’s beauty pageants.
On top of that, he also enjoyed being a disc jockey for clubs and parties where the MTVs inspired him to focus on fashion designing.
When his family moved to Cagayan de Oro during the early 1990s, Benjie opened his first of many shops at Gaston Park. When his shop at Divisoria was burned some years ago, he found inspiration from his fellow designers who all got together to help him get back on his feet.
These days, his shop is situated at the posh RER Subdivision where a loyal clientele keeps a well-worn path to his door.
His panache for fashion events continued to shine in wildly successful shows such as Fashiondayag, a long-gown competition for the Miss Kagay-an Beauty Pageant, and The Mindanao Fashion Summit.
“Sa Malaybalay ko natawo, sa Butuan ko nagdako but Cagayan de Oro is my place. Even if I would be a New Yorker or open a boutique there, my main office would still be here in Cagayan. Diri pod nako na experience ang mga bad and worst. Dinhi gyud akong hometown.” (with a report from Michael Ray Ungab)