Fashion and Beauty

Gerry Katigbak: The fashion rebel who amazed us and made us laugh

BEEN THERE, BEEN THAT - The Philippine Star

Because he was both a designer and photographer, Gerry was the Thierry Mugler of the Philippines — he was Gerry Mugler!


His unexpected death last Saturday morning sent shock waves throughout the fashion industry. Gerry Katigbak was 64, but looked at least a decade younger — and acted as though he were even more decades younger, what with his mirthful aura and infectious joie de vivre. 

 I do not recall the first time I met Gerry K (or GK, as Gerry was fondly called), but I will never forget and will forever cherish the few but indelible memories I am fortunate to have of him. We weren’t very close, but as the countless many whose lives intersected his will attest, he always made everyone he interacted with feel like they were.

 Known for his penchant for the unconventional, Gerry always chose to rebel against the norm, whether in his fashion designs, photography, even down to his choice in models. As an upstart model in the early ‘90s sporting a lock-shorn, square-jawed, androgynous look, you could say I was thrilled beyond words that this avant-garde designer and photographer had taken a fancy to me. He “got” me, and I got him. Little did I know that I would certainly “get” a whole lot more from him as time went by.

 The shoots we did together resulted in beautiful, surreal images I will always treasure. His imagination had no limits, and his style had no boundaries. Recalls an admirer of Gerry’s work: “In those days, the models struck formulaic, contrived poses that generally controlled the look of the shoot — right hand on the waist, left hand on the neck, pout and point your toes. But he was different —he positioned models according to his vision and made them emote. He really captured the soul of the model in split-second timing. It also helped that the models trusted him completely because he was the go-to photographer for models’ portfolios at the time. Because he was both a designer and photographer, Gerry was the Thierry Mugler of the Philippines — he was Gerry Mugler!

 I’ll never forget the first Gerry K show I did at Kudos disco in 1989. All of us models were made up and had changed out of our street clothes, ready for our first outfits. The show was supposed to start any minute, and the audience was growing impatient waiting, but Gerry was nowhere in sight. We had nothing to wear! Then, in the nick of time, Gerry came rushing backstage, with nothing but a duffel bag in tow. “Where are the clothes?” we exclaimed in worry. “Andito lahat,” he chuckled, and nonchalantly proceeded to hand each of us (there were about 10 of us) a black piece of stretch fabric which he would later, in split-second precision, artfully and masterfully drape around, twist and envelop our bodies in to create one-of-a-kind body-hugging dresses (“The Infinity Dress” decades ahead of its time!). He even thought of a “sea” backdrop made of extra fabric for us to intersperse around us, then shake to create “waves” during the show.

 This collection-in-a-bag anecdote is just one incarnation of many similar stories and fond memories expressed by models and designers. Sometimes, the duffel bag would be a small paper bag (“He handed me just a deconstructed mermaid skirt and a long-hair blonde wig — no top!” recalls one model), or sometimes, a garbage bag (“His entire collection was just crumpled up in the bag — dump-and-wear, because the clothes were all iron-free!”); but each tale is a testament to his creative genius and talent for making art out of the unexpected.

But even more than his incredible talent, what’s consistently echoed in these accounts are his laughter, his warmth and happy disposition, his kindness and generosity. If a legend is defined as “a collection of stories about an admirable person or a person who is the center of such stories,” then Gerry Katigbak has become a legend in his time. And no other fashion legend, it seems, has been more beloved than the late, great Gerry K. 

Here, his friends and colleagues look back on their favorite memories of a beautiful life and body of work that provoked our minds, inspired our imaginations and touched our hearts.

MICHI CALICA-SOTTO, fashion designer: Gerry would tell me that when he was waiting for inspiration, he would move things around his atelier, and restyle his surroundings until something sparked within.

I was so in awe of his “eye” for fashion that I hired him to style my major fashion shows. I did not trust anyone but Gerry K to do this. It was Gerry who taught me the difference between styling for real life, and for fashion shows. Everything had to be highly visual to Gerry, and everything had to make an impact in the first five seconds.

 LULU TAN GAN, fashion designer: In the mid-‘70s, Gerry K and I were “flower power” students in fine arts at UST. Gerry K belonged to an era of fashion designers whose design aesthetic exuded how they imagined, lived and loved life. It was the time when fantasies and aspirations were vivid and expressed.

I can still see the joyful Gerry K flitting about in his (trademark) attire: flowing toga, tunic with an embellished high collar and (drop-waisted) pants.

TWEETIE DE LEON GONZALEZ, model and TV personality:  Gerry, with his signature man-bun — a hairstyle he had worn long before the teenagers caught up — looked like a deadly samurai in his Japanesque fashions. But looks were deceiving in his case; he was one ultra-gentle man who used the choicest words when he spoke or delivered one of his jokes, careful not to offend anybody. There was never an instance when Gerry was found to be at odds with anyone in the fashion industry. 

 DESIREE VERDADERO ABESAMIS, former model:  The legacy that Nympha K (as some of us fondly called him for some intimate reason) left behind? His laughter and positive disposition in life. He always told me to “live life to the fullest, problems will always come and go but just laugh them off and this will leave happiness in your heart!” He always joked every time I asked him, “How are you?” His answer was always, “Heto, sariwa, batang-bata at punong-puno ng sarsa!” 

DENDEN ABESAMIS, former model: Gerry K and I first traveled together on the Supermodel Road Tour in 1991 and went to several places in the Philippines. I clearly remember Gerry rearranging and redecorating all the hotel rooms we stayed in: he used the lace props from the fashion show and the curtains from the hotel. It was hilarious every time I walked into his room and saw the transformation. I remember Gerry saying: “I like my hotel room to look like my own room!”

JC BUENDIA, designer:  Gerry K was one of those in the business who found his own fashion voice. His trademark style: flowing, ethereal, Maria Clara meets Frida Kahlo. He transformed chiffon and lace into poetry, using loose and fluid silhouettes that were sensual and romantic at the same time. He was a true artist, yet he was never pompous. He was well loved by both his contemporaries and the young designers who lovingly called him “Inay.”

 PATTY BETITA, former model:  I met Gerry K in 1990. I modeled one of his creations for a fashion show. I was a bit hesitant about my outfit, which was completely bare from the back to the sides with very minimal coverage in front, but he just said, “Di ba modelo ka? Panindigan mo ‘yan, hija.”

 JOJIE LLOREN, designer: I have great respect for Gerry, not only for his good heart but also for his design aesthetic, a fusion of exotic influences that always resulted in a theatrical, yet wearable garment. Injecting Filipiniana into his designs made them all the more unique and undeniably his own. He was a master when it came to combining different patterns, textures, and surface embellishments. Even with black as a staple in his collections, his clothes neither exuded gloom nor doom, but a different kind of opulence and mystery with hints of seduction. Gerry’s creations were dramatic, easy-to-wear timeless pieces that only he himself could possibly come up with. You knew right away if a dress was a Gerry K. That’s his lasting mark in Philippine fashion.

OLEN LIM, former model, personality development coach:  I would bump into him quite often at Magallanes Church or doing our Visita Iglesia or at gatherings. He inspired me to continuously inspire others through the work that we do. He once invited me to be a guest speaker for his students at St. Benilde, and I understood why he was always young at heart: he was very giving of his talents. His presence alone made the world a better place.

TONICHI NOCOM, fashion designer:  I met Gerry through our fellow designer Marden Iglesias, and we became a trio of the only menswear designers at that time. We worked together on the first Bodyshots modeling competition in 1986, and the rest is history. Gerry and I clicked because of our love for the visual aspects of fashion: photography, visual concept, and styling. Not everyone knows this, but Gerry was also a stylist. Everything to him was visual.

RAJO LAUREL, fashion designer: My fondest memory of Gerry K? Once, when I was still a design assistant for Louie Mamengo. The whole backstage was busy. As he entered, there he was, all by himself with just one bag in tow. I remember another designer asking him, where was his collection? He lifted his bag, and said, “Here it is!” The entire 12-piece collection fit in one medium-sized bag! I thought that was so modern and new! At the end of that show, he was the most applauded and most appreciated.

JACKIE AQUINO, fashion show director: I met Gerry when I was just starting out in the industry, and from the get-go, he made me feel I belonged, and even made me laugh at myself, with and at him — and laugh even harder until I cried. We all used to tell models, “You are not a model until you have modeled for the one and only Gerry K.” Many shows and years later, we are still laughing all the way.

 MARINA BENIPAYO, model: I will always remember the laughter he drew from everyone around him and the positive energy that never failed to emanate from his kind and gracious soul.

I can only describe his legacy in the following words: Quirky. Fun. The colors of life. Intelligent.

 OGEE ATOS, fashion show director: When I invited Gerry to join the annual Flores de Mayo by the Congregacion, his reaction was "Pwede ba ako doon?" and yet he did and surprisingly won. He said he was just first-time lucky. Really humble.

With reference to the black hibiscus gown, I remember him saying: "Mapapagalitan kaya ako ng Matanda? (Referring to Mang Ben). Bahala na si Batman!!! He didn't win this time, but got applauded nonetheless.

JOEY MEAD, model, TV host: Gerry created a completely different take on the barong Tagalog, for both men and women, so different from the traditional look I see often at weddings and other functions. I’d never seen that before. Also, his “Nomad in the City” pieces with a Matrix-ish feel. His work represented his character so much: lively, unique, and proudly Pinoy with a global twist.

MARIBEL LASTIMOSA-STEINMANN, former model: I am blessed to have been able to call him a friend all these years. I was lucky that in the past three months, Gerry K had photographed, styled and mentored my three sons (budding male models Akoni, Sacheen, and Clayton Steinmann). He left me beautiful works of art, images of them that I will always treasure.

 HENRI CALAYAG, hair and makeup artist: His work was always as hilarious and witty as he was. He was a man of many talents, and he shared them with everyone: he was a mentor, a teacher, a lensman, a director, and a fashion designer. There will only be one Gerry K. His presence always inspired me and now his memory moves me to be as lighthearted and hilarious as I can be. I will surely miss him deeply and dearly.

 RICARDO CEPEDA, former model, actor: I met GK in 1985, when my older brother Ronald was modeling for him. I was then a working student at UP and a fitness instructor. I loved the artistic creations of this surprisingly very down-to-earth man. I wanted to be around such creativity to a greater degree and this made me readily take the opportunity to be a model in the first Bodyshots competition in 1986. I can trace the start of my career to that moment of meeting GK and seeing my first glimpse into the world of fashion.

 RANDY ORTIZ, fashion designer: Gerry was very sincere to his craft and to the people around him. His dedication to fashion was very admirable because he never got tired of sharing his talents, skills, passion, and experience with youngbloods who were eager to learn. As one of the “nyoras” (señoras) in the Fashion Design Council of the Philippines (FDCP), he was always willing to cooperate as a leader and follower without ego getting in the way.

 ROBBY CARMONA, fashion show director: I will never forget how I met Gerry K. I went to his shop on Menlo Street in Pasay to have a suit made for my senior prom. My brief was, I wanted to wear something different from the usual black suits that others would wear. He made me a long-tailed suit with embroidered lapels, and he specifically instructed me to go to Henri Calayag to do my hair for the prom. I was totally a standout in my complete look!

IZZA GONZALES-AGANA, former model: He was not a classic designer in the mold of Pitoy Moreno, “Mang” Ben Farrales and the late Aureo Alonso, but his fashion style had a rebellious streak. He was inspired by Eastern influences, which he fused with Filipiniana. I will always remember Gerry K as a simple Batangueño who was full of life and happiness. There’s nobody like GK.

 BARGE RAMOS, fashion designer: It was always a fun-and-laughter experience working with Gerry. I guess that will be the way I remember Gerry: he taught us how to live in the moment and share the gift of joy and laughter with people.

 VITTORIO BARBA, fashion designer: He was one of the more approachable senior designers when I was a newbie, and because he was always genuinely warm. His work was very distinct as it always evoked the exotic and the ethereal. He stuck to his vision, and you always had the feeling of being transported into another realm when you saw his collections.

AMINA ARANAZ-ALUNAN, founder and executive director, School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA): It isn’t easy to be both a practitioner and a teacher. It requires commitment, a generous heart, and a sincere willingness to share your craft. Gerry had all of these. He was a devoted teacher and was well loved by his students.

 RISSA MANANQUIL-TRILLO,  model and beauty entrepreneur: I remember falling in love with his pieces — modern Filipino designs that never conformed to trends yet stood out on their own; never tight yet hugging the woman’s body in all the right places. I begged him after the show to let me buy one of his beautiful dresses. I trekked all the way to his shop in Manila just to make it mine. He always had integrity in his work.

APPLES ABERIN, model and beauty industry executive: Gerry thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing and it showed in his work, in his demeanor, and in how he related to everyone around him. He inspired me to always see the bright side of things and to always have a sense of humor in the direst of situations.

GEM PADILLA THOMAS, former model:  He was loved by everyone because of his light and hilarious nature. He was unafraid to express himself, just like his creations. I interviewed him once, years ago, for the Philippine STAR. I cried from laughing the whole time. Thanks for the laughter, GK. Our Christmas parties and Miss Millennium (the fashion industry’s traditional beauty pageant featuring fashion designers) will never be the same without you.

JING MONIS, hair and makeup artist: As a photographer, he had a very good eye for capturing the natural movements of his models. He was one of the first photographers I worked with then who loved using natural lighting, which resulted in images that looked so natural.  







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