It would be the next best step after studying fashion design and after a year of working as a fashion merchandiser, then 23-year-old Loralee thought. She would complete a master’s degree in Fashion Brand Management in Milan, one of her favorite cities in the world, at Istituto Marangoni. It would only take a year or so of being away. And there would be no better place than this global fashion and design capital to teach her more about the business side of fashion, which piqued her interest more than actually making clothes.
Her parents, Rolly and Berna Baron, encouraged this dream of their eldest, as they always have. They were confident Loralee would manage living abroad, having been a global traveler all her life. “I was used to being away for months,” Loralee recalls. “Every year, our parents would take us to different destinations abroad where we would spend our entire summer vacation. My earliest childhood memory would be of traveling.” She was born in May, so most of her birthdays were spent traveling with her family. She still remembers all the details of their trip around the U.S., Mexico, and Hawaii when she turned seven. “My parents loved to travel, and they eventually bought time shares of vacation homes in a number of countries, which my siblings and I looked forward to enjoying in the summer,” she says.
When she packed her bags for Milan in 2003, she brought everything her parents had taught her too. “It’s all about attitude and outlook,” she says. “My parents taught me that no matter what happens to me, it’s how I see it and react to it that matters. So it’s about having a positive outlook,” she says. In Italy, she met Amina Aranaz Alunan, who was also studying at Marangoni and who would in 2007 become her business partner in the School of Fashion and the Arts, of which Loralee is co-founder and executive director. “SoFA was my thesis at Istituto Marangoni,” she says. “I couldn’t be any prouder of what it has become today.”
In the year she spent in Milan, the thought of making a career there became a possibility too. “I actually didn’t want to come home anymore,” she says. But Cupid would have his way, and she got to know an old acquaintance, Marc Soong. They had met through Marc’s best friend, the late Christian “Per” Yap, “who was my prom date, set up by my grandmother,” Loralee says. Marc often traveled to Italy to meet suppliers and so he decided to drop by and see Loralee when he learned she was studying there. He and his sister had planned to stay at Loralee’s for just a weekend, but everyone enjoyed each other’s company so much that they ended up extending their trip for three more weeks and going around Italy and the rest of Europe with Loralee and some friends.
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A highlight was their 24-hour trip around Italy. The group rented a car and drove over 1,000 kilometers from Milan, going from one city to another. First stop was the marvelous Italian Riviera villages of Cinque Terre, with pastel-colored houses that face the shore, views of the Mediterranean atop terraces and winding uphill walkways, fishing boats that line the sea, and its people tending to their vineyards or making wood-fired pizza or selling flowers. “We really had a great time there. Marc is so easy to be friends with. I remember he was just hanging out with us, and we both weren’t thinking of anything then really,” she says.
From Cinque Terre, the group drove to Florence, which was less than two hours away. Restaurants, cafes, and bars surrounded piazzas so they decided to have dinner alfresco. They had enough time to walk around the areas of the famous Duomo, before hitting the road again to make it to Siena in Tuscany at midnight. After basking in the views of the medieval buildings, they headed to the fishing village and resort of Portofino for sunrise. “It was like a first date but it really wasn’t because there were so many of us. But I was seated in the front of the car and he was the one driving and everyone else was asleep. And so Marc and I were engrossed in conversation the entire time,” Loralee says. “I guess that’s how we got to know each other.” On the last two days of their three-week adventure, Loralee and Marc realized how much they enjoyed each other’s company, and as they say, the rest is history. “I was about to finish my masters then, and the timing of Marc visiting was perfect because before that I really didn’t want to go home anymore,” she says. “Meeting him made me reconsider.” After graduating summa cum laude, Loralee went home for good.
Loralee worked for three years as a buyer for Rustan’s when she got back, till she eventually decided to venture out on her own. She put up SoFA with Amina and had a clothing business with her college best friends. Not long after that, Marc proposed, and they tied the knot in a sunset ceremony on November 11, 2007. “I never really dreamt of a big wedding. I actually only wanted 30 people to be there, but it was impossible,” she says. “So we prepared invitations for a hundred family friends. Two hundred seventy people showed up,” she adds, laughing. She soon gave birth to their children, a set of twins, Gabbie and Noelle, who have since become their constant travel companions too.
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Loralee has been to six continents and over 40 countries so far, and each destination, she says, has its own lessons to teach, cultures to experience, and moments that enrich you for the rest of your life.
On the same day four years later, “eleven-eleven-eleven,” says Loralee, “we got married again in a church in Italy, our magical place, where everything really happened and where a lot of our happy memories were made.” It was supposed to be a get-together with friends, a small gathering that would include a church ceremony and a reception. Loralee prepared the itinerary, as she does on every family trip, and with no formal invitations, they ended up with over 40 close friends and family joining them on a food and wine tour in Tuscany before the wedding. “We rented cars and convoyed going around. Our parents joined at the last minute. We had friends from different groups come. We all got to bond as I wanted,” she says.
Loralee’s church wedding was not grand, but it was a dream. It was held at Locandia dell’Amorosa, once a village in Siena built in the 1300s that has been converted into a boutique hotel. The property retains many of its original structures and overlooks Siena’s beautiful countryside—grapevines and olive groves, hills, centuries-old trees, and stretches of woodland that change colors with the season. “It’s simply enchanting,” Loralee says. Guests were booked in the suites that were converted from old bakeries, and the reception was held in the property’s restaurant that used to be a stable. “It was a very relaxed, no-frills wedding for me. I never really dreamt of a grand wedding, walking down the aisle to be seen by hundreds of people. I wanted it very intimate. This was my dream wedding and I got it.”
With her twins on Mount Pulag
As a family, Marc and Loralee take their twins to explore new destinations abroad once or twice a year, and as a couple, they go on their travel dates two or three times a year. Every other week or so, they make sure to go out of town with the children, whether it’s camping in the mountains of Tanay or off-roading in Pampanga or spending a weekend at the beach. “Traveling bonds families,” Loralee muses. “There were times during my childhood I’d feel sad I couldn’t stay in Manila and play with my friends over the summer, but looking back I have nothing but gratitude and joy knowing that all those days we traveled were what really made us stronger as a family.” Loralee has been to six continents and over 40 countries so far, and each destination, she says, has its own lessons to teach, cultures to experience, and moments that enrich you for the rest of your life.
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Loralee in Machu Picchu, Peru
Her trip to Peru with her mom, dad, and sister, for instance, is one that will always stand out. “My mom and I read the new age novel The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield,” she recounts. “And that made our trip to Machu Picchu in Peru, where it was set, most moving.” It was not the easiest trip to make from Manila. They had to fly to L.A. and take another eight-hour flight to Lima. From there, they flew to Cuzco, then took a car to Machu Picchu. “It was a very long trip,” she recalls. “After we got to the base of Machu Picchu, we had to sleep there so we could take the morning bus to the top.” On their 10-day trip, they also explored Lima, Peru’s largest city, which most people tend to skip in their hurry to get to the top of Machu Picchu. “Lima was beautiful and offered really great food,” she says. Loralee prides herself on being an excellent planner who puts down every detail in an Excel sheet, from food budget and shopping allowance to food tours, tickets, and in-land transportation. “We get to see more when travels are planned. That’s also one of the reasons we can afford to travel often.”
With her husband Marc in Varanasi, India
Two years ago, Loralee and Marc traveled to India, which she says was one of the hardest to plan, but one of the best trips of her life. Using the book The Love Guide, she got everything planned and pre-booked even before they landed in India, which helps a lot if you’re going to there, she says. “Even the airport taxi and rickshaw driver were booked in advance, because the moment you arrive at the airport, you can get mobbed by everyone offering their services and you’ll have no idea if you’re being overcharged,” she says.
Loralee prides herself on being an excellent planner who puts down every detail in an Excel sheet, from food budget and shopping allowance to food tours, tickets, and in-land transportation. “We get to see more when travels are planned. That’s also one of the reasons we can afford to travel often.”
For Loralee, a huge part of India isn’t about luxury, but culture. The roads may be the most chaotic she’s ever seen, the buses the most fully loaded, but it’s all part of the same rich culture where every meal is served and made with passion. “We had Indian food at every meal for 10 days,” she says. “We went around downtown Delhi and hired a guide to take us on a walking food tour. We went to Varanasi for the Ganges river and met with friends into pranic healing, meditated there, and praised the sun while we were on a boat. We went to Jaipur. We went to the countryside of Rajasthan. We went on an elephant safari. We made friends with a waiter from a restaurant, who gave a tour of the town and introduced us to his family. It was truly a marvelous and enriching trip.”
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Memories make the best souvenirs, and friendships are the best mementos. The manager of the camp they booked in Africa? He went over to visit the couple in Manila. The guests they met at wedding they attended in Germany? Marc just invited them over too. The waiter who toured them in India? He is inviting them over again for an authentic Indian dinner. “That’s what is nice with Marc. He is able to make genuine friends with people from all walks of life. He has that ability to unknowingly make an impact on everyone he meets. That’s why we have friends all over the world.” Case in point, the day they got stuck in Italy after being left by a train. “Somebody picked us up and let us sleep in his house,” Loralee recalls. “It was Marc’s friend who was an OFW based in Lake Cuomo.”
With Marc in Botswana, Africa
A lot may have changed since 2007, but many of the crucial things remain. “For me, what’s really important is to find something that binds and connects you to each other,” the newlywed Loralee told us 10 years ago. “My husband and I love traveling and that’s just one of the things we’ve been doing together.” She had just gotten pregnant at the time and had assured us that children would not get in the way of their passion for traveling, rather, they would be part of it. True enough, they now are. Traveling makes great storytellers, and the ones you explore the world with make it all the more beautiful, Loralee is reminded every time she unpacks her suitcase. She’s arrived. And will depart again. And again.