It was a delightful privilege to be in the grand “sala” of the Lopez “Nelly Gardens” mansion in Iloilo on a cool July morning, seeing a light mist blanket the vast front garden, and listening to The Raconteur recount stories of Old Iloilo [ and Bacolod ] Society as he expertly played wonderful songs on the grand piano…
“Oh, so many wonderful, and not-so-wonderful things happened here, and are still happening. So many parties. So much laughter. I remember She [ a Lopez lady ] stood right there…” he recalled as he gestured towards the center of the grand room.
“She liked to sing. She liked to think she could sing. Her ‘piece-de-resistance’ was the song ‘Ang Maya’…”
“Back in those days, no hotel in Iloilo would accommodate her because she liked to sing ‘Ang Maya’ accompanied by sixteen live ‘maya’ birds let loose around her. You can imagine the mess…”
“But because this house, the ‘Nelly Gardens,’ belonged to her uncle, Don Vicente Lopez, She could do as she pleased. So she arrived with the sixteen ‘maya’ birds in cages for her recital.”
“After several songs, it was time to sing her ‘piece-de-resistance,’ ‘Ang Maya.’ Her staff let the ‘maya’ birds loose and some did settle on her as she began to sing the lilting melody. ‘Ah-hahah-hahah’…”
“ICK!” she winced as a “maya” bird pecked on her hand. The family and their friends smiled at each other but bit their lips.
“Ah-hahah-hahah…” she continued. “ICK!! ICK!!” she screeched as two “maya” birds pecked on her arm. The family and their friends stifled their laughs.
“Ang Mayaaa…” she continued. “ICK!!! ICK!!! IIICCCKKK!!!” she shrieked as three “maya” birds pecked on her alabaster white shoulders and neck, which were exposed by her beautiful “terno” dress. The family and their friends started giggling. So much for politesse!!!
“So She was ducking the pecking of the pesky ’maya’ birds all throughout the song… It was hilarious!!! She had all these red marks afterwards!!!”
“I will forever remember that crazy afternoon!!!” The Raconteur declared as he shook his head and laughed heartily.
In a Northern American city, in a multimillion dollar penthouse overlooking a great park and the sea, lives Tita Fabulous…
She has more in common with the sharp and sophisticated wives of New York billionaires, the intellectual and cultured peeresses of London, and the soignee grande dames of Paris than the inevitably dowdy ladies of Forbes Park, Dasmarinas Village, The Fort, and Ayala Alabang.
Her immediate family is still the richest branch of a prominent, wealthy, and elegant Spanish mestizo Manila family [ with its wealth, as always, rooted in its Chinese antecedents ].
Her mother was the daughter of a famous Visayan family, which, even today, is associated with staggering wealth. In her pampered youth during PreWar, She was given over to elegant jewelry, to expensive dresses by a young Ramon Valera, and to the endless parties of a truly cosmopolitan Manila. But as World War II neared, She developed a sense of social responsibility which was only heightened by her chastening experiences throughout The War. In the PostWar, She became a beacon of charity, of work, and of simplicity. The jewelry, the dresses, and the parties — although still parts of her life —were no longer the priorities of her existence. She became a real partner in the actualization of her visionary husband’s manifold plans. Her tireless efforts contributed significantly to the formation of a business empire which included vast holdings in real estate, manufacturing, and education, among others.
Her father, dashingly handsome and expensively educated, was an aristocrat of the Old World. His eminent father, of good family from the Visayas, had made a fortune from his excellent legal practice in Manila, but it was his mother’s birthright — her Spanish mestiza lineage and her blood relations to the best and the brightest of insistently Spanish Manila [ even in the 1910s - 20s ] — that assured his unimpeded entree to the corridors of Power and Influence. In his late age, he very nobly donated a substantial part of his large fortune to an educational institution which would educate the marginalized youth of the country.
This Sunday afternoon, I received a call from a dear friend. She was looking for some discreetly luxurious trifles to give her loved ones this Christmas and She was wondering if I had any ideas…
I simply adore my dear friend and her husband. They TRULY are one of Manila’s most stylish couples. Viscerally, from the guts. That means that their Style is innate and highly individual, and it does not come ”store bought,” meaning that it does not emanate from the mere possession and use of ”things” from Hermes, Asprey, Bulgari, Christian Louboutin, Philippe Starck, et. al. — which, stupidly enough, to a lot of Manila ladies [ and gentlemen too ], is already The Essence of Style. *rolls eyes*
For me, they are the Manila equivalent, in taste and style, of the legendary tastemakers [ Vicomte & Vicomtesse ] Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles of 1920s Paris. For their style is essentially French and specifically Parisian, not at all Manila, and not at all Philippine. Style — a very cerebral one — oozes from their pores. Like the two legendary Parisians, their home is filled with contemporary art [ "But only from friends." they say. ], artistic furniture, unusual and rare “objets,” walls of good books, and absolutely contemporary living. Like the two, their circle includes the most talented and most avant garde artists of our time — painters, musicians, poets, writers, etc.. Their gatherings at home are like French “salons,” with the best of people. Like the two, their style of living is effortless and spontaneous, and rather devoid of rigor. But completely unlike the two, their romantic lives are uncheckered, as they are totally devoted to each other.
And the best thing — indeed the mark of authenticity — is that they claim they do not have any style at all.
“And how is your beautiful home?” I asked her.
“The same as usual.”
“I know it’s “social death” for you two, but I’m sure magazine editors have approached you wanting to feature your home…”
“Oh, they do. One Editor — of that magazine one only reads at beauty salons — sent a writer to interview me and a photographer to take test pictures.”
“The Editor took one look at the photographs and declared: “It’s not grand.”
“Grand”???!!! Laughoutloud!!! But “Grand” as an “IT” adjective went out with the 1980s!!!
Some people just don’t know what Style is even when it’s already staring them in the face!!!
*snickers like “Muttley” the dog cartoon character*
I’m having a field day watching the ballet greats on YouTube: Anna Pavlova, Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, Svetlana Zakharova, Rudolf Nureyev, Yuri Soloviev, Fernando Bujones, Mikhail Baryshnikov, et. al.. I was simply born too late to be able to watch them perform live in their prime.
Watching the great performances reminded me of [ yet ] another funny story from Old Iloilo…
True to their “sweet” nature, the heiresses of Old Iloilo were invariably taught to play the piano and to dance the ballet, among several other social graces. As befitting the daughters of the province’s two grandest families, the daughters of the Lopezes and the Ledesmas were subjected — oftentimes tortured — with piano and ballet lessons, with many of the other “social” arts thrown in.
One of the Lopez ladies [ famous for her unique and highly personal style of maquillage and coiffure ] did like to dance the ballet, enough to do it for years. She even went to New York and studied at a renowned ballet school [ I forget which one ] to hone her dance skills. To cap her arduous training, She learned to dance “The Dying Swan,” a solo act choreographed in 1905 by Michel Fokine with and for Anna Pavlova, set to the music of “Le Cygne” by Camille Saint-Saens.
Back in Iloilo, the proud ballerina announced to Everybody that she would dance “The Dying Swan” at an evening performance. And so Everybody, curious to see what she had learned in faraway New York, came to watch her.
Everybody was initially beguiled, and quite teary, at her interpretation of “The Dying Swan.” There were already sniffles heard in the audience. But somehow, The Swan was taking too long to Die. Much too long. The Swan kept on flapping her wings and bowing, about to expire, when she would flap her wings and bow again, and again…!!!
A smart-alecky male friend of The Swan heckled from the audience: “Manang!!! Dapat mapatay ka na!!! Hay, ka-dugay man sa imo!!! Nga-a indi ka pa ya mapatay???!!! Sige dalian na!!!” [ "Hey, Lady!!! It's time for you to die!!! You're taking too long!!! Why don't you die already???!!! C'mon!!!" ]
The crowd started to snicker and giggle… But The Swan, unperturbed, proceeded with her Death slowly, slowly, slowly…
Now, that’s what’s called Poise!!!
Eldest Presidential Daughter was having a fitting with Talented Designer in her bedroom at the Malacanang Palace in the 1970s…
The First Lady peered into the room and saw her daughter fitting a beautiful gown by Talented Designer.
“O, Mommy, ano’ng tingin mo rito?” [ "Oh, Mommy, how do you like it?" ] asked Eldest Presidential Daughter.
“Maganda, maganda.” [ "Nice, nice." ] replied the First Lady, who already had a practiced eye for fabric, cut, silhouette, and details. She appreciated the beautiful gown.
She turned to Talented Designer and asked: ”O, kailan mo ako igagawa ng gown???” [ "Oh, when will you create a gown for me???" ]
“Ikararangal ko po, Ma’am!!!” [ "It would be my honor, Ma'am!!!" ] replied Talented Designer enthusiastically.
“O sige, gawin mo na. Ipadala mo na bukas ng maaga para masuot ko na.” [ "Alright, make it already. Send it early tomorrow morning so I can wear it already." ] commanded the First Lady in her charming, and alarming, manner.
It was already six in the evening…
Out of Sheer Fear, Talented Designer and his staff, like the fairy tale elves, worked all night to design, cut, embellish, and sew the gown. Of course, it turned out beautifully. Out of Sheer Fear.
The instant but exquisitely beautiful gown was already at the Malacanang Palace by 6:00 a.m.. And true to her word, The First Lady wore his gown that day.
The First Lady liked the gown. She made it known that she wanted more…
Eldest Presidential Daughter called her friend, Talented Designer. She asked him: “Bakit hindi ka na pumupunta rito sa bahay???” [ "Why don't you come here to the Palace anymore???" ]
“AYAW KO NA!!!” [ "NO WAY!!!" ] refused Talented Designer. Out of Sheer Fear. Lest he be commanded to do overnight gowns again!!!
[ Note: This is a story which the senior couturiers like to recall about their legendary colleague SLIM Salvacion Lim-Higgins. When I inquired with SLIM's children Sandy and Mark Higgins if it was true, they didn't know if it was. However, they admitted that SLIM was occasionally "fetched" on orders of the First Lady Imelda Marcos during ungodly hours for discussions about the latter's dresses. ]
Friends in the fashion industry were reminiscing about the “Bagong Anyo” fashion show which was staged during the Marcos years.
All the fashion designers involved were required to be present at the venue by 4:00 p.m.. They were to present their creations directly to Madame Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, who would approve or reject them. All the fashion greats of the time were present at the appointed hour.
Lo and behold, Madame Marcos finally arrived nine hours later at 1:00 a.m.. Everyone got up and put their best foot forward for the very powerful First Lady. Remember, it was the Marcos Era and one wrong move…
The models strutted the runway. Madame Marcos nodded in approval at some of the gowns.
And then there was one number that did not please her…
“Ano yan??? Parang “amoeba”!!! Hindi ko gusto iyan!!! Mamaya fully-beaded na ito, hah???!!!” Madame Marcos commanded. [ "What's that??? It looks like an amoeba!!! I don't like that!!! Make sure it's fully-beaded later, OK???!!! ]
There was a sudden commotion at the back of where the fashion designers were standing. The designer of the offending gown had fainted at the prospect of fully-beading her gown in a matter of hours, or even beading it at all.
It was Salvacion Lim-Higgins. One of the greatest of Filipino fashion designers ever.