Truly pinoy,truly pitoy

- Ching M. Alano () - August 8, 2004 - 12:00am
Think Pinoy fashion and probably the first name that comes to mind is Pitoy Moreno. Who doesn’t know this man once hailed as Asia’s fashion czar? His collections have girdled the globe since the 1960s: Paris, Rome, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Athens, Sweden, Vienna, Moscow, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Honolulu, Teheran, Morocco, Tokyo, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, China, among other cities. He’s dressed up royalty, First Ladies, heads of state and assorted VIPs. The barely five-foot-tall Pitoy may as well have stood 10 feet tall as he wowed ’em all in shows here and abroad.

To salute the man who put the Philippines on the fashion map of the world, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Gawad Kalinga are staging "Ginintuang Moreno: A Tribute to J. Moreno" on Oct. 26 and 27 at the CCP. Imelda Cojuangco, one of Pitoy’s muses, is chairperson for the gala night on Oct. 26 while Tingting Cojuangco takes over on the second night, Oct. 27. And yes, there’s going to be a third night, with co-chairpersons Marissa Concepcion and Vicky Cuisia, though no date has yet been set. The show, directed by Floy Quintos, features JMoreno’s timeless couture for the benefit of the CCP’s Arts for the People Program and Gawad Kalinga. To keep things humming are featured guests Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company, Ballet Philippines, Philippine Ballet Theater and Philippine Madrigal Singers.

Truly, Pitoy has reaped what he sewed. "All these 40 years, I’ve been putting up shows all over the world," says a truly proud Pitoy. "It’s not about me – it’s about the best of Philippine fashion, the best Filipino models, the best Philippine material. Everywhere I go, I try to promote our culture. I’ve exposed our piña, hablon, and accessories like tambourine. That’s why they called me the fashion czar of Asia. The tag came from a review that appeared in Honolulu Standard. A kababayan went up to them and said that if Jackie Kennedy had Oleg Cassini, we have Pitoy Moreno, the best in Asia. That’s how it all started – it was picked up in Manila and then spread all over Asia."

It was former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, a veritable walking advertisement for the terno, who asked Pitoy to do a lot of shows to promote Philippine fashion via Bagong Anyo.

And so came one show after another, one client after another, and sew forth and sew on. Nancy Reagan looked really regal in her Pitoy Moreno gowns as she graced the pages of a magazine in New York. Of the 13 clothes featured, seven were by Pitoy. President Lyndon B. Johnson had him called to do the gowns of his daughters. Pitoy has also made clothes for the Einsenhowers, the Carters and the Bushes. He once made a truly lovely kimona in piña for Queen Sirikit. His creations have also gotten Queen Sofia’s regal nod.

"Pitoy is really so good at what he does," says awardwinning actress and former Pitoy Moreno model Gloria Romero, almost in excelsis. "I really learned a lot from him, he’s a real pro."

Of course, it wasn’t all bliss. Gloria remembers all too well the blisters, too. "I had so much fun joining the Karilagan shows with the late Chona Kasten, Joji Felix Velarde, Conchitina Bernardo and Mary Prieto," Gloria begins to relate. "We brought our show from San Francisco to Los Angeles to New York to Honolulu. But then, I wasn’t able to join them in New York anymore because my ingrown nail was really bothering me and I was already limping from the pain. In fact, I modeled with my big toe all bandaged up."

That wasn’t the only tight spot Gloria got into. "I was already skinny at 97 lbs., but to get into those fully-beaded, slim-waisted Pitoy creations, you had to be skinnier," Gloria stoutly asserts. "I would sneak out to eat my favorite pancakes at Dollar Pancakes. Eventually, I put on some weight so come showtime, they would have a hard time zipping me up. In desperation, I had to wear a girdle."

It was one painful lesson learned. But Gloria, already then a mother of a toddler, did it all for love. "We didn’t do it for the money, it was more of charity work," she says. "But the friends we made and the experience we gained were something that money can’t buy."

"Yes, we did it mostly for charity," says Cherry Pie Villonco-Lazatin. "At that time, there was no professional association of models. We did not get paid for modeling. It was really just among friends, a barkadahan sort of thing."

Yes, they were all friends and this friendship has endured to this day. "Once somebody asked us, ‘What about intrigues? It’s like you’re in a convent school.’ Even our antics were very wholesome. Probably the most daring thing we had ever done was to watch the really risque movie Curious Yellow."

Cherry Pie was only 18 and fresh out of Marymount when she got her teeth into the fashion pie, modeling for Pitoy, Ben Farrales and Aureo Alonzo, among other designers. She relates, "At that time, Tita Conching Sunico would work it out so there were times when we would go abroad. And that was the time I looked forward to because it gave me a chance to see the world."

But as much as the glory, Cherry Pie remembers the gore. "I remember in Rome, we were asked to model shoes by an Italian designer that had a lot of beads," she recalls not-too-fondly. "Our feet became sore from the heavy beads and soon, they were bleeding as we were walking down the ramp."

If only Pitoy could sue the shoe designer for what he did to his models’ pretty feet!

If pain was something not-too-Greek to Pitoy’s models, Greece was something else. "Touring Greece before our scheduled show, we visited a museum atop a hill," Cherry Pie relates. "While we were in the museum, Joji Felix Velarde felt dizzy and sleepy and asked me to accompany her back to the bus. While we were resting in the bus, Joji said to me, ‘You know, I feel so dizzy, the bus is moving.’ From atop a hill, our bus just went rolling down. We were going forward and backward and when the bus landed, we jumped out of it. We were both bloodied. The vendors selling Turkish coffee and oranges saw us and took pity on us. One vendor peeled an orange with his dirty hands and handed it to us while another gave us Turkish coffee that tasted like mud. Then Pitoy and Tita Lina came out of the museum and saw us. Pitoy said, ‘You’re having merienda?’ Joji told him, ‘Pitoy, look at us!’ ‘What happened?’ Tita Lina asked. So the next day, we modeled with matching bruises on our knees and legs. They were so visible when we wore those miniskirts."

But certainly, there were no bruised egos here.

Bruised or not, Pitoy’s lovely models were sought after by some of the most eligible bachelors in town. For one, the statuesque Assumptionista Maita Gomez caught the eye of the son of the King of Saudi Arabia, Prince Majid. He would invite her to dinner. "But Pitoy is a strict disciplinarian, we always went in a group," says Cherry Pie.

Of course, after a brief modeling stint and a failed marriage, Maita made a quarter turn to the Left and fled to the mountains.

What about the time when Cherry Pie found herself with nothing to wear?

"Oh, yes, at the beginning of every trip, each one of us would have X number of clothes to model, which were tailor-made for us," says Cherry Pie. "We were modeling 15 to 20 clothes each, with Toti Evangelista doing our hair and makeup with Ernie Balgos. When we went to South America, the First Lady of Colombia bought all of Pitoy’s clothes which were my size. So by the time we got to our next stop, I had nothing to wear anymore!"

"Every single day was memorable," says a still stunning Toni Serrano-Parsons who now lends her beauty through those lovely floral arrangements she does. "The guests were always different. The location was always different. It was so much fun! Pitoy has remained a dear, wonderful friend."

Cherry Pie has her share of celebrity guests to remember. "We were in Rome then when I saw Chona Kasten at the lobby of our hotel with actor Gilbert Roland. Chona called us, ‘Ven aqui, ven aqui.’ So we joined them. Gilbert Roland taught us how to drink tequila with lemon. Those were our cheap thrills!"

Modeling for Pitoy was a eye-opener of sorts for the young Oriental beauty Jeannie Lim Goulbourn. "Pitoy told me not to put on eye shadow because he wanted my eyes to be as Chinese-looking as possible," says Jeannie. "This was really hard for me because one of my hang-ups as a child was the fact that I did not have big eyes."

Of course, when Pitoy wasn’t looking, Jeannie would cheat. "I’d put blush on my eyes to open them up. Pitoy wanted me to simply put on eyelashes and just an eyeliner to look as natural as possible."

Named one of the Philippines’ top models (with Chona Kasten, Toni Parsons, Pearlie Arcache, Maita Gomez, Tina Santos, Joji Felix Velarde, Baby Santiago and Cherrie Pie Villonco), Jeannie went around with her hair in a ponytail – yes, like that of Nancy Kwan. "I used to wear a fake ponytail that reached down to my waist," Jeannie recalls.

Truly, Pitoy banked on Jeannie’s Oriental looks at a time when the catwalk was dominated by mestiza-looking models. "In Rome, I thought the press photographers would go after the mestiza models," says Jeannie, "but they kept taking my pictures. I told Pitoy, ‘You were right. It pays to look Asian.’ Pitoy certainly knew what Europeans wanted. He knew the right approach. He wanted each of his models to have his/her own individual look."

Jeannie started modeling for Pitoy at 16, "as soon as my braces came off."

"Pitoy kept telling me to go out with nice, handsome men, but I was very much involved with my journal, where I would write all the places I went to, etc.," says Jeannie. "I could only take so much disco partying. So they were teasing me, ‘Jean Margaret, you’re wasting your time. You have to know how to french kiss.’"

The best thing about modeling for Pitoy?

"Pitoy is a great showman," says Jeannie. "He’s such a charming man a lot of people really enjoy meeting him. He’s not so tall so they really find him so cute, especially because he wears such attractive clothes. He has a certain trademark, a certain style that even through the years you can recognize as unmistakably his."

Beauty queen Carol Masibay knew she didn’t make a mistake when she hopped on a train to join Pitoy and a group of models to France and Monaco. "From Paris, we took a train to Monaco," Carol relates. "We were all so tired and sleepy from partying the night before so we almost missed our stop. Sleepy-eyed and in rollers and all, we had to get out of the train, lugging 30 suitcases in 10 minutes. Good thing we had our male models to do that."

Carol especially remembers how cool Pitoy was even under extreme pressure. Few were the times when Pitoy would lose his cool. Carol relates one such instance, "We went to an ice cream place in Honolulu and Pitoy ordered a small scoop of ice cream. A lady came and gave him a really small scoop. Pitoy told her if she could make his scoop a bit bigger. The lady told him it was the only scoop he was gonna have for that day. An angry Pitoy told the lady that she shouldn’t be in an ice cream parlor as she belonged in a funeral parlor!"

No more small scoops of ice cream for Pitoy today – only fresh scoops about this workaholic man who continues to make headlines. To this day, Pitoy works eight days a week, attending to his clients with untiring dedication. He makes it a point to be there for his brides at their weddings so he could supervise every little detail, from putting on the gown and shoes to the cutting of the cake.

"I like doing it, I like to coordinate from day one," says Pitoy. "Sometimes, I have two weddings in a day so I hop from one place to another."

He continues to dress up some of the country’s best-dressed women. On top of Pitoy’s list are Imelda Cojuangco, Nene Quimson, Nelly Gonzalez, Vicky Quirino, Mercy Tuason, Chito Madrigal, Conchitina Bernardo, Celine Heras, Mila Drilon and Gretchen del Rosario.

Pitoy is up by 7 a.m. and starts his day with a light breakfast (hot tea, oatmeal, fresh orange juice or bread and white cheese or soft-boiled egg). But before that, he nourishes himself with food for the soul. "I pray," he says. "Then I read the newspaper, go to the working area, have lunch, go to the workshop-office-shop, have dinner, pray and then sleep."

Pitoy goes to the gym to keep fit. He stays away from meat. And he stays away from worries. "I try not to have tensions or enemies, but Manila is such an exciting place," says Pitoy.

The man, who dreamt of being a lawyer – or a politician or a social worker – certainly wears his heart on his sleeve.

"I wish that the economy would improve so that the local fashion industry would flourish," Pitoy muses.

Long live the fashion czar!
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