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    Beauty expert James Cooper has led a charmed life.  He was the first Filipino make up artist to Hollywood stars like Farrah Fawcett, Victoria Principal, Barbara Carerra, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Maude Addams; and worked with Sylvester Stallone in Staying Alive.

    He worked with celebrity Beverly Hills hairstylist Jose Eber, and later was the first Filipino to be featured in French Vogue, and the first to introduce his make-up line from LA.

    Yet he chose to come back to Philippines in the mid 1980s, bringing a new perspective to beauty with the cosmetics line he established – choosing the SM Department Store as one of its outlets. A major reason for returning – was to be with his family in Lucena, where he has since spent much time with his business and civic projects.  Here, he talks to us about beauty and why he gave up the Hollywood life to return to his roots.  This is his Lucena.  This is his SM.


    At the My City, My SM launch at SM City Lucena, Lucena’s Pride world renowned beauty expert James Cooper and Buddy’s Restaurant owner Nova Veluz with SM VP for Marketing and My City, My SM project head Millie Dizon.

    Philippine Daily Inquirer:  As an international beauty expert, many people find it surprising that you come from Lucena.  What was it like growing up there?

    James Cooper:  My family migrated to Lucena in 1958 during my last years in elementary.  I spent my entire high school days in Lucena, which I would say is a favorite chapter in my life.  Being in my teens, it was a time for discovery.

    I remember that Lucena was very beautiful way back then.  It was not as crowded or as commercialized as it is now.  I remember being amazed at the bountiful harvest of seafood at the Dalahikan port.  Containers full of different kids of fish, squid, prawns, and crabs were a common sight at the port.

    All the rivers  were clean back then.  You could see your feet through the clear waters. I wish people were more conscious of the environment back then.

    PDI:  How did you get into the beauty business?

    James:  “After high school, I took fine arts in UE, where I spent two years before completing my college course at the Long Beach City College.”

    “I later moved to New York, where I got a job as a gift wrapper at the Henri Bendel.  Right in front of the store was a Max Factor make-up counter, which fascinated me to no end.  When I was not busy, I wound put on make-up on the salesladies.  One day, the Max Factor supervisor saw me and apparently liked my work.  She asked me to join them, and that’s how I began my career as a make-up artist.  The first model I worked with was Beverly Johnson.”


    James Cooper at the Beauty section of the SM Department Store in Lucena. Beauty by SM also carries his new makeup line in selected branches.

    PDI:  You must have been star struck with all the celebrities you got to work with.

    James:  “Yes, it was amazing.  I got to work at Calvin Klein cosmetics where I was a supervisor, and then for Halston.”

    “I had the privilege of working with Cher for eight years, and doing make-over sessions at the Phil Donahue Show.”

    PDI:  Why then did you choose to come back home to the Philippines?

    James:  “When I was working in Beverly Hills, Ricky Reyes asked me to come home to conduct a seminar for Filipino hairdressers.  He told me that they were so proud of me, but at that time, I was like “what am I gonna do there?”  I was having the time of my life.  I had been away for twenty years, so I said no.”

    “But Ricky never gave up.  He kept on asking me, and on the third year, my sister, whom I haven’t seen since I left the Philippines called, telling me that my pamangkins were growing up without knowing me.  So I said yes to Ricky Reyes and decided to come home for two weeks.

    After the seminar, which was attended by 3,000 participants, Ricky took me around.  The two weeks went by so fast so when my pamangkins took me to the airport, I started to cry.   That was it.”

    When I went back to the US, I realized I left my head and my heart here.  So I started coming home more and more until I finally decided to settle here.

    PDI:  Apart from establishing your very successful beauty line in the Philippines, you have become very active in civic projects in Lucena. Is this your way of giving back?

    James:  I have been Chairman of the Pasayahan, a non government organization dedicated to promoting Lucena and improving the lives of its residents, for two years.

    During my term, I helped build an eight classroom school through the generous sponsorship of SM Foundation and the Office of the Mayor.  I thought of going into the school project after visiting the old school, and the sight of the dilapidated school building made me cry.

    I am still active in the school project, am in the process of finishing a nice library and getting sponsorship for computers for the school.

    I am also active in Lucena’s cultural events like the Santacruzan, and the Chamihan Festival, which I initiated.  Chami is our own version of the pancit, and we help promote this through events like the Chami eating contest, the making of the longest Chami noodles, and street painting, the works of which we display in SM. With all of this, I was happy to be awarded as a Son of Lucena by the Mayor.




    Lucena, a city of happy, fun-loving people, is well-known for its sumptuous Chami that’s made of tasty noodles cooked with pork and vegetables.



    The Pasayahan Festival, the Philippine’s own mardi gras, held in Lucena during the last week of May. Originated in 1986 in honor of St. Ferdinand, the patron saint of Lucena, the Pasayahan is filled with much revelry. Pasayahan means “to make happy.” 


    James Cooper with friend Malou Martinez, owner of homegrown restaurant F&M popular in Lucena for its food selection and its delicious Chami.

    PDI:  How do you think SM has affected the lives of people in Lucena?

    James:  “SM has become a part of the community, re-defining shopping standards through its mall.  SM has also participated in projects like the construction of the school, and takes an active part in our cultural festivals.  It really has it all”

    PDI:  Do you shop at SM?

    James:  “I actually do business with SM.  After launching my cosmetics line in SM Makati in 1984, I have put up James Cooper cosmetics counters in other stores.  I has been almost twenty five years since I opened my cosmetics counter at SM.

    “When in Lucena, I am in SM almost everyday.  I love to eat in the mall’s dining places, watch movies, buy groceries, and shop for toys with the children.  I know of people from nearby provinces who shop at SM City Lucena.”


    SM City Lucena has brought SM’s one-stop shopping, leisure and entertainment excitement to Quezon province.