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Café City Club: A Love Letter to Metropolitan Manila

Marvin Conanan for Café City Club

What does modern Manileño menswear look like? Homegrown, multifaceted brand Café City Club, established by visionary Marvin Conanan, hopes to provide pieces woven with intricate storytelling to guide the gentlemen of today. Inspired by Metro Manila culture, the Filipino creative studio is a very personal passion project to “[channel] my personal stories, history, and understanding of the city I've lived in all my life.”

Marvin tells Complex PH, “There are only a handful of brands out there that deeply explore Metro Manila—the nuances of it, the fabric of its society, and the uniqueness of its city culture. Ultimately, the question I aim to answer is: “What will the exploration of the city look like; in stories, garments, and objects?”

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Metro Manila Research Office T-shirt worn by musician Eco Del Rio

With the unfortunate incident involving the Manila Central Post Office, a heritage structure dating back to the 1920s engulfed by a six-hour fire on May 21, there’s more reason to preserve—and celebrate—cultural sites that have exceptional historical significance for the Philippines.

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The Tailored Errand Shirt and Welcome to the Club T-Shirt worn by entrepreneur Brian Corella

“It's not a gated community anymore—still not easy to get in, but ultimately, it's now open,” Marvin shares on how he perceives the ever-growing streetwear culture in the Philippines. From upcycled streetwear that champions sustainability to reimagined staple pieces for daily wear, the modern scene now has more to offer than the simple everyday graphic tee.

From handmade scented candles that elicit nostalgia to embroidered secondhand caps that explore our resourcefulness as Pinoys, Café City Club is purveyor of designs that celebrate the megacity.

Get to know more about Café City Club ahead in this exclusive one-on-one. 

How do you perceive the streetwear culture in the Philippines? Has there been a shift from when you created the brand to present? 

Streetwear culture in the Philippines is potentially in its teenage years—it now has a bit of purchasing (or economic) power, a voice, limited but growing knowledge, and still lacks the experience and maturity that other streetwear cultures globally have. 

I started to be present in the movement in 2010 and officially participated in 2012 through PURVEYR and other endeavors. From that time to today, huge shifts have definitely happened that shaped the culture we are enjoying. It's a whole other conversation if we will do a deep dive into the whole scene, but if you're pertaining to Café City Club which I started in 2020, I think the biggest shift would be the acceptance from the core community that streetwear culture is actually already in the mainstream domain. Not just because of the likes of Supreme, and numerous highly sought-after sneakers and releases, but also because of the many local streetwear labels that are thriving. It's not a gated community anymore—still not easy to get in, but ultimately, it's now open.

What's the story behind Café City Club? What is it about your love for Manila's rich history that distinctly sets your brand apart from other streetwear brands in the country?

First and foremost, I don't think Café City Club has enough cred to be called a streetwear brand. There is definitely a heavy inspiration from streetwear, but visually and stylistically, I don't think people will put it side by side [with] local streetwear brands out there. 

Café City Club was born in 2020 as a creative outlet, it was designed to be a channel where I could explore my other creative tendencies and interests. However, in that process of exploration, I landed on wanting to ground all the ideas into a stronger point of view. This is when I eventually started to hone in on pointing the creative lens of Café City Club toward the direction of Metro Manila culture.

Also, it’s not really about just setting it apart from other brands. “Metropolitan Manila Research Office” is more about channeling my personal stories, history, and understanding of the city I've lived in all my life. I don't think you'll ever end up the same with another brand if the root of what you do and create is based on who you truly are and your own experiences—we all live very different lives, anyway.

Can you give us a behind-the-scenes of your creative process for your most recent collection highlighting the Keeper Vest?

Currently, the two main principles that guide Café City Club’s design philosophy are: first, it should come from an idea, moment, or concept based on my perspective of and experiences in living in Metro Manila; second, it should be something I will use myself or I personally enjoy.

So with that, the idea of the “Keeper Vest” came from the inability to layer clothes in the city due to our tropical weather. The t-shirt is everyone's best friend in Manila, but how can we elevate that simple t-shirt with pants ensemble without sacrificing comfort? The vest came to mind. And then to ground it on Metro Manila culture. I looked around to find the places and moments where vests are worn in the city. Ultimately, I landed on the idea of the tanod—so I built upon that as the base of the garment.

What you [see] is the first version of the Keeper Vest where it's stripped down to two pockets. Its main idea is that it should be a simple piece of clothing that you can easily put on over most tops or any outfit. The second version, which will be released in the future, is designed more for utility, a bit more pockets that are meant to be used and a look that's closer to its inspiration, the “tanod vest.”

You describe the piece as your interpretation of “naka-porma.” What are foolproof ways that you personally dress up a casual everyday outfit?

I think more than the vest, the concept of “layering”in the local context is actually the real interpretation of naka-porma.

If the casual everyday outfit is a t-shirt and pants/shorts combo, I think the best way to dress it up is through what I mentioned above which is “layering” clothes. It doesn't have to be a thick jacket; a lightweight overshirt on top of a t-shirt can offer a very different look from just a t-shirt. But if you're up for going further, the fit of clothes is one of the most important and pivotal ingredients in fashion and style—a simple t-shirt will look different on you depending on its fit: tight, loose, baggy, etc.

Do you create pieces with previous collections in mind? Do you think about how pieces can be successfully layered and mixed and matched? 

Yes! I built Café City Club with hints of being a multifaceted fashion brand in the future. I still go at it day by day to see where I can take it, but there's definitely an inkling to pursue a fashion path for the brand. So in designing the garments and any piece we produce, I definitely try to create some sort of cohesion. Every piece should fit the vision, the philosophy, and the world of the club.

You recently collaborated with olfactory brand Saan Saan. What are homegrown brands that you hope to collaborate with in the future?

I'm very lucky that other brands see the value of Café City Club enough that they're open to collaborate with me. So before I share some other brands and concepts I'd like to work with, a proper shout-out to Saan Saan, Brutalist Pilipinas, The Curator, Happiness Research Facility, Bagasao, Sometimes, Nooke, and The Maverick for trusting us. 

And for future collaborations? I'll go with the big guns, probably Burger Machine, Landmark, JRS, Filbar's, and Pancake House.

Explore Café City Club on

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