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Rocio Olbes' Love Affair With Manila and Madrid

With her wide eyes, doll-like features, woman-of-the- world confidence, and impeccable fashion flair, Rocio Olbes embodies, inside and out, the best of what makes up her heritage: Spanish and Filipino. She considers two cities on either side of the globe as her home: Manila and Madrid. 

A passionate artist and avid traveler, she professes her love for both Manila and Madrid. “For somebody who traveled so much,” she says, comparing her hectic schedule that had her traveling every other quarter every year for seven years in her early 20s as an internationally renowned bag designer, to her relatively geographically rooted job in the Philippines these days as the chairman of the family foundation, “It’s nice to sink your roots.”

“Because I honestly believe that this is one of the best countries in the world,” she declares. “And I’ve been fortunate and blessed enough to go around. I’ve been humbled by all the opportunities I’ve been given (to travel), and to see this place now—to see much it’s grown—it just astonishes me. I haven’t had time to travel lately, but I’m enjoying my time being here.” 

And this time has been well spent doing a lot of humanitarian and lobbying work for The Scholarship and Community Building Foundation. It was founded in the late ’60s and it has always been in her family. When Olbes’ mother made her chairman in November last year, Olbes threw herself wholeheartedly into the work. “I work in a lot of livelihood projects for women—battered women, especially, and prisoners. I’m developing some projects now, and spoke twice in Legaspi for that, pushing for prisoners’ rights.” 

She’s also planning on studying more for this big role she has taken on. She is already studying international humanitarian law online. “I can never practice, it’s just to learn,” she clarifies. 

Olbes believes that giving one’s time to help people is a more powerful agent of change. “I always say this: Everybody deserves a chance to be better, and you can always give a donation, but if you have time, you can give time. Your time can mean so much to somebody. If everybody can give time to something worthwhile, then we can really make a difference.”  

Not that she has left fashion and design for her new job. She has a new artisan label named Henry for bespoke luxury travel bags. She also works with her brother in his app development company.

And she still travels. Lately, she just came from Kota Kinabalu for her friends’ Indian wedding, and she is planning on spending the summer in her second home: Madrid. 

 When asked to describe Madrid, she says, “It’s home. When I was working a lot in my early 20s in Europe, when I got to Madrid, I would feel like I was home. It’s so vibrant! Our cultures are so similar. And we have family there. That’s why, aside from Manila, it’s my favorite city.” 

She’s always been comfortable in Madrid because, for her, it feels much like Manila. Imagine, finding home, in Europe! No wonder she loves it so much.  

“The last time I was there was a year ago,” she confesses, “I don’t get to go there as much as I would want to (these days), but when I do, the idea that I’m going hits me, the feeling of, ‘Yey! I’m going home!’” 

While she takes the opportunity to go to Madrid in any season, the first thing that she does when she gets to Madrid is to have tapas at a local bar, and to see her cousins. Since the city is already home for her, she eschews all the touristy conventions. “I just go there to be a part of life,” she says. “The best part of the day would be waking up, having breakfast with my mom and my tita, then meeting up with my cousins later in the afternoon—they don’t take siesta,” she adds. “I go and watch them play football in the local park.” 

This summer, she plans to visit her family there and enjoy some downtime with them. Since Madrid is really hot in the summer, the city will be practically empty and they’ll have it all to themselves. After her busy year so far, Olbes deserves some down time. 

Even after all this time, and after more trips to Madrid than she can count, the city still surprises Olbes by how wonderful it is. She isn’t blind to its flaws, just as she acknowledges that Manila takes you out of your comfort zone (and she believes that you should let it), she firmly believes that one has to embrace the place you are in, be open-minded to understand the culture and get the best experience. “Sometimes, you get tired of cities, but I believe that it’s because our cultures are so intertwined, I feel less of the frustration in Madrid. The frustration that you feel there is the same frustration that you feel in Manila—with all its quirks and challenges. It’s like an in-house frustration. It’s still home.”


Article originally published in Metro Society's May 2015 issue / Photographs by JC Inocian / Makeup by Geraldine Carlos for Revlon / Hair by Gia Lalu