She was Lola Charing’s best friend.
They were both Pampangan girls from good, old families: she was of Gutierrez David descent from Bacolor, my grandmother was of Arnedo descent from Sulipan, Apalit. They had known each other in high school in the late 1910s but lost contact afterwards. Their friendship was rekindled postwar after their spectacular marriages; both had married very successful and immensely rich men. As widows, they got together frequently to share their difficulties and sorrows, and their occasional joys and triumphs.
She visited with my grandmother at least twice a week. They would sit together on the white-painted wrought iron chairs in the front porch and talk for about two hours. There was always apple juice — expensive in those times — reserved in the refrigerator, for that was what she liked to drink.
Lola Gely [ pronounced “Helly” ] was Angelina Fajardo de Lopez [ nee Angelina Fajardo y Jacinto ]. Her parents were the famous Dr. Jacobo Fajardo of Bacolor, Pampanga and Manila and Antonia Jacinto of Malolos, Bulacan. She married the landowner and industrialist Francisco “Pacoy” Lopez y Tongoy of the famous and wealthy Iloilo clan [ the Marcelo Lopez y Jalandoni and Julita Villanueva y Felipe branch ]. Their children were arts patroness and travel magnate Asuncion “Sony” Lopez-Gonzalez, financier and entrepreneur Teresita “Titchy” Lopez-Marquez Lim, and businessman and art collector Arturo “Macky” Lopez.
She was not the usual affluent dumpy lady. She was slim. She was, even in her sixties, a pretty lady with Chinese mestiza features.
As a child, I did not like her a lot. It seemed difficult to be around her. A child had to be bathed, dressed, combed, brushed, powdered, poufed and puffed before being presented to her! I resented being disturbed and mangled by my “yaya” whenever Lola Gely came to visit Lola Charing and we grandchildren, cute and otherwise, had to make the required appearance to esteemed guests.
She was justly famous for her jewelry, which was of unstintingly high quality. The only reason why my own Lola Charing, essentially an innocent provincial lady whose only diversion in life were her beloved roses, accumulated a decent collection of very good jewelry was because of the guidance of Lola Gely Lopez. That same jewelry had miraculously survived the exigencies of the succeeding decades and is now with the Gonzalez-Arnedo granddaughters.
Even the Lopez ladies of her generation — Victoria “Vic” Lopez de Araneta, Lilia “Lil” Lopez de Jison, Pacita “Nitang” Moreno de Lopez, and Maria Salvacion “Mariquit” Javellana de Lopez — rich [ and richer ] as they were, marveled at Lola Gely’s magnificent jewelry, of which even they did not have much to compare. Lilia remembered Lola Gely’s matrimonial bed entirely spread out with expensive jewelry during Lopez family visits. Lola Gely’s daughters remembered that those were 16 sixteen “estuches” [ cases ], approximately 18 inches wide and 24 inches long, containing suites of serious, high quality Burmese ruby, Colombian emerald, Indian blue sapphire, and natural South Sea pearl jewelry. Every suite was composed of dangling earrings, a Czarina-type necklace, a big, wide bracelet, and two rings [ one for each hand ]. Lola Gely always referred to her high quality Burmese Mogok rubies as “sangre de pichon” [ pigeonblood rubies ], and never merely “rubies.” Those sixteen suites in “estuches” were casually wrapped in a big silk “bandana” and stored in a high shelf in Lola Gely’s elegant bathroom for easy access when family and friends were visiting. They were her amusements: her personal collection, certainly not for sale, and she liked showing them to visitors who appreciated fine jewelry. However, her collection of high quality diamond jewelry, which included many large diamonds, the best collection in the Philippines at that time, were kept in various bank vaults.
Many of Manila’s better jewelers sold their best stocks to Lola Gely. She received them at her desk in the anteroom of her second floor bedroom. Among the frequent callers were Old Lady Carapiet, Ines Lugue-Sarmiento with her daughters Fe Sarmiento-Panlilio and Luz Sarmiento-Panlilio, and Elisa Salgado-Miranda with her daughter Erlinda “Liding” Miranda-Oledan. Many years later, both Erlinda Miranda-Oledan and Fe Sarmiento-Panlilio proceeded to become bigtime jewelers in their own right, nationally and even internationally.
At a time [ late 1940s-50s ] when overseas air travel was only for the rich [ and not to work abroad as a domestic helper 😛 ], Lola Gely thought nothing of hopping to British Hong Kong for the weekend to buy silk dress materials and to have gemstones set into jewelry. Because Lolo Pacoy was a shareholder of the Imperial Palace hotel, Lola Gely frequently occupied the presidential suite for a month while she indulged in her favorite pastime: shopping for serious jewelry.
It’s easy to imagine her. Do you remember the uberstylish Baroness Elsa Schrader played by the beautiful Eleanor Parker in “The Sound of Music”? The chichi one who liked to put down the ingenuous Maria played by Julie Andrews?
It was only in my twenties, when I finally entered the affluent, elegant, and sophisticated world of my Pampango forebears, that I realized Lola Gely had that elusive quality known as High Style…!!!
She was fastidiously groomed. Her flawless complexion glowed. The fair skin, even in late age, was tight. Her hair was full, black, and lustrous. The eyebrows were deliberately contoured. Her nose was aquiline. The intact teeth, so unusual for her generation, were white. I never saw her perfectly manicured nails colored. She had flawless, shapely legs visible through her stockings. She had a feline elegance about her.
I realized that her dresses were usually made from beautiful and rare Swiss fabrics and had been meticulously cut to accentuate her slim figure. The flattering silhouette hardly varied and certainly took inspiration from the 1930s couturier Mainbocher. Even in the hopelessly tacky 1970s, she had irreproachable style!!!
I realized that she wore stylish French and Italian shoes, and that these were polished even on the instep which showed when she crossed her legs.
I realized that her hair was always coiffed, that even the rare occasional stray curls were deliberate.
I realized that she was always perfectly made up, with just the right amount, whether it was morning, afternoon, or evening.
I realized that her characteristically uncommon and expensive French perfume, probably top-of-the-line Guerlain, certainly not eau de toilette, was applied correctly and discreetly. She did not reek of it like other ladies. Instead, it wafted elegantly in the air, creating a beguiling atmosphere which announced her regal, gracious presence…
I realized that her fans, which she wielded with elegant dexterity, were French, Spanish, or Chinese and were of expensive ivory, mother-of-pearl, or inlaid black lacquer.
I realized that her bags were stylish and mostly expensive French or Italian ones. The leather ones gleamed lustrously but discreetly. I was told by my Mommy that all of Lola Gely’s bags contained a mirror, an expensive fan, a handkerchief of French lace, and French face powder.
I realized that her natural South Sea pearls were white, fully rounded in shape, lustrous, invariably set in white gold, and of a tasteful size appropriate to her ears. She did not wear Mikimoto much less Majorica. And she would be abhorred by the synthetic Chinese pearls so prevalent in the market today. Her famous diamonds, worn in the evenings, set in geometric white gold or platinum, were of invariably high quality: always white, always clear, always brilliant. Although she possessed legendary parures [ suites ] of diamonds, pearls, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires, her personal style was elegantly disciplined and there were none of the flamboyant excesses of her contemporaries.
Western Style prides itself with the likes of Consuelo Vanderbilt, Mona Williams, Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, Jackie Kennedy, and Princess Diana.
Filipino Style prides itself with the likes of Josefina “Pitang” Buyson-Eusebio, Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal-Vazquez-Collantes, Imelda “Meldy” Ongsiako-Cojuangco, Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, Maria “Baby” Araneta-Fores, and Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.
Lola Gely was right up there as far as High Style was concerned. But contemporary style pundits do not know who she was because the grande dame was aristocratic, private, and even haughty. She probably would not even have given them the time of day.
Goodness, the current generation of social and fashion aspirants have a lot to learn and a lot to spend!!! That is, if they can! 😐