As managing director and heir to the US$300 million Century Properties’ empire, Robbie Antonio is renowned for courting the world’s glitterati.
With A-list partners including Paris Hilton, Donald Trump, Philippe Starck and IM Pei (the Pritzker prize-winning architect behind the Louvre) having collaborated with him on iconic developments, and friends such as Damien Hirst and Tommy Hilfiger, he has earned a reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s biggest and most glamorous developers.
By combining his passions of fashion, architecture and art, not to mention his family’s A-list connections, Antonio has hit upon the most valuable marketing tool: the power of celebrity and brand. Working with his three brothers and under the guidance of his father, Joey, revenues almost doubled in the first nine months of last year to US$180 million.
Since 2010, Robbie Antonio has orchestrated a flurry of new developments, growing the company portfolio to a huge 45 million square feet of developed and managed property. There were the first fashion-branded real-estate developments in the Philippines, including the Versace-backed Milano Residences; and a brightly coloured collaboration with Missoni, Acqua Livingstone. He says both are 95 percent sold. Antonio went on to work with Donald Trump on the Trump Tower Manila, the tallest building in the Philippines, and with Paris Hilton on the Paris Beach Club at Azure Urban Resort Residences. His most recent project is Acqua Iguazu, a residential project in partnership with Yoo: an interior design company founded by Philippe Starck.
But it is not just the skyline of Manila that Antonio is keen to transform. He says that given his fortunate position he owes his country a lot and that he has helped put the country in a different light for foreign investors. “These developments are a win for the country. The perception of the Philippines has changed from being the sick dog of Asia to one of the fastest-growing economies and, yes, I do feel that we helped shape that reputation.”
Century Properties has been riding a wave of growth. The economy of the Philippines grew 4.8 percent in 2012, while large-scale investments in infrastructure and burgeoning private consumption, driven by a growing middle class and social reforms, are encouraging more and more private international investors.
“There is a lot of international money wanting exposure to the Philippines’ fundamental growth story and we have given it an inroad. And, yes, maybe we made it a bit sexier.”
And what is next in the pipeline? There will be another big condo project associated with a cool Hollywood name, to be announced later this year. Price tags will be in the higher range, up to around US$3.6 million.
Also, another surprising move: downmarket. A new 2,300-condo development, called CommonWealth is in construction in Quezon City, the country’s most populous metropolis. The first apartments will be ready in 2015. “Right now we’re reaching out to the more affordable market. Sure, we’d like to cater to the top two percent but it would be unwise to ignore the rest,” said Antonio.
In addition to forging a path in business, fashion and architecture, Antonio is also one of Asia’s youngest and hungriest art-collecting elite.
As the most significant collector of Western art in the Philippines, his preferred artists are Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons, but he also has a number of works by Picasso, Rothko and Hirst. He displays many of these in his new US$15 million Manila house designed by über-architect Rem Koolhaas. To satisfy his art fetish he flits around the world, packing in as many art fairs and biennials as possible, of which Switzerland’s Art Basel is his favourite.
“I collect art voraciously because it partially defines me, my sensibilities and my predisposition. It is also sharing a common language with very interesting like-minded individuals,” he adds.
Unfortunately, between his pied-à-terre in New York and his apartments in Manila, he doesn’t have much room to display and admire his collection. “They’re mainly in storage,” he says ruefully. “Although that is not the long-term plan.”
But when it comes to his private life, the 35-year-old Filipino keeps a surprisingly low profile. “Believe it or not, I refuse to have a Facebook or Twitter account,” he laughs incredulously. So who are his best celebrity friends (BCFs)? He shies away from name-dropping and says, coyly: “I know a few Hollywood people, major fashion designers, world-famous architects and top artists.”
Does he lead a crazy party lifestyle? “Not really. I get about seven hours of sleep a night.” Is he married? No, he says hesitantly, but adds: “I am not married at the moment, but this will change very soon!”
So with wedding bells on the horizon, it seems that in both love and life, Antonio has inherited the Midas touch.