Criselda Lontok: Everything I have achieved in fashion, I owe to Glecy Tantoco

Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Everything’s coming up roses for Criselda Lontok, one of Rustan’s top-selling designers, who’s staging her 30th show on Monday, Aug. 5 at 6 p.m. at the Fairmont Ballroom. La Vie En Rose focuses on the rose — make that a flaming, scarlet red rose that speaks of pure passion, breathtaking romance, and unadulterated beauty. The show is also about Criselda Lontok’s tribute to the late Glecy Rustia Tantoco, the well-loved Rustan’s matriarch.

“GRT (as Glecy was called) was very hardworking,  you just had to be as hardworking, too,” Criselda fondly remembers her mentor. “I truly admired her foresight. She had the drive. She taught me that I must be sure of myself and only if I was sure should I pursue whatever I wanted to do.”

Criselda was a budding talent when Glecy gave her her own line. “My mom Isabel and Glecy, who was an unica hija  (only child), were good friends back in Lipa, Batangas,” Criselda relates. “Glecy brought some sample blouses which she saw in a magazine and she wanted me to do something like those designs. We came up with five Italian-sounding labels (think Ferretti, Damiani, etc.) but all locally made.  They were under one title: Mod International. Nobody knew I was behind it. And it was displayed on the ground floor, right where the Diane von Furstenberg line was. Then I started adding pants and more categories, until it became a full department and it was brought up from the ground floor. Sales soared, ang ganda ng sales! Then Larrie Silva and Vicky Lopez joined me, so we became three. But all this time, my name wasn’t there yet. GRT was never impulsive — she’d observe you first. And so, with the sales soaring, GRT said it was time Rustan’s launched me, to put my name on the label.”

Criselda  for Rustan’s was born and the rest, as they say, is fashion history.

Criselda’s launch show was held at Makati Sports Club in 1983 with all her dear friends in the front row seats, among them the late Mary Prieto and Josie Lichauco. Then came a shower of shows, including one in LA in 1991.

Through the years, Criselda has dressed Manila’s elite. Known for promoting Filipino craftsmanship and fabric, Criselda’s contemporary line of day and evening wear has attracted a faithful following through the decades.

“Thank God, my line has maintained its top-selling position,” says a blooming Criselda, amid a garden of really stunning creations by foreign designers at the Gallerie in Rustan’s Makati.  Amid these blooms, Criselda’s own designs in head-turning fuchsia make great picks, too.

She adds with a big smile, “My target market became sort of fixed because my style is loose. So I developed the market for medyo bigger women. But I do have sizes from 8 to 22.”

Happily, Criselda has always enjoyed a candid relationship with her clients. So, what if a client wants a style that does not fit her? “I tell her gently, ‘This one will look nicer on you, why don’t you try it?’”

Or if she’s having a big argument with a client who’s put on tons of weight, she’d tease her, “Eh kasi ikaw naman, lunch nang lunch.”

Among the famous women who wear Criselda are socialite Meldy Cojuangco, Dr. Loi Ejercito, Dr. Elenita Binay, and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

For her 30th (“though I’ve been with Rustan’s longer than that”) show, Criselda picks the summer rose as her theme. “Yes, I’ve always loved the rose,” she says with a blush, “because it’s so feminine, it smells good. It represents life — sometimes it’s rosy, sometimes it’s not. It’s also got thorns, meaning in life, there are challenges that you have to meet, those are the thorns of life. But when you overcome them with prayer, the victory is sweet. The rose also represents my passion for work. I cannot afford not to work, even at home. I’m retired now, but I’m still a consultant at Rustan’s. And I look forward to working every day. When you’re not looking forward to something, it’s not sane. Keeping busy also wards off Alzheimer’s.”

Of course, some of Manila’s stylish women that Criselda has dressed up over the years will  be attending her show. Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco is flying back from New York in time for Criselda’s show.

Amid the hectic preparations for her show, Criselda looks as fresh as a rose in spring.  The former beauty queen and fashion model shares her beauty secrets: “I sleep early, but not as early as people think, not 9 p.m. I sleep at 10-10:30 and I wake up at 4 a.m. Maybe because as you age, your sleep gets shorter. Of course, the first thing I do is to thank the Lord for another day and pray that I follow His will. Then I fix my face and do all my rituals — soap my face, wash with lukewarm water, I use Pond’s cleansing cream, rinse, and put toning lotion. Then I put some eye cream.  I use a variety of products, I don’t stick to one.”

Criselda can put on her makeup, like her Chanel eye shadow, in  just 10 minutes and look like she just stepped out of a beauty parlor.

Criselda thanks her fast metabolism for her ever trim and slim figure. For breakfast, she eats fruits (a saba, which she says is better than latundan banana, a papaya or an orange) before she chows down her chorizo with rice and egg. Or some home-cooked pancakes.

“I’m organized, we have a menu for different days of the week so the yaya does not have to ask what to cook,” Criselda shares. “For lunch, I have soup, I always start with a soup, to line my stomach; then for the main course, I have veggies and chicken more than pork. And I always have dessert, I can’t do without it. I have a fruit salad, jello or ginatan, my cook makes very good ginatan. Sometimes, a cake. Dinner is the same as lunch, but with smaller portions.”

While her spiritual works (she’s with the Cofradia, Handmaids of the Lord, and Mary’s Way) are enough to give her a high, Criselda gets her endorphin rush from brisk walking and doing the Zumba, with the help of a video, in her bedroom. “You really perspire; I really love to dance, I love Latin music,” she gushes.

Surely, for Criselda, it’s been raining roses.

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