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Teyet Pascual, master of fabulous style and humor: So lovingly and laughingly remembered

CYBER PROUST - Jojo G. Silvestre (The Philippine Star) - November 25, 2012 - 12:00am

In his lifetime, Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet ” Pascual was a man loved, admired, talked about and, now and then, disliked. Or maybe loathed. Top couturier Pitoy Moreno, in an interview, once said, “He was mean to me.” He might have been right, in that Teyet dressed up his maids in the couturier’s most elegant creations, ternos all, while they served his illustrious guests who dined on caviar and pâté de foie gras in china and crystal not unlike the ones used in the palaces of reigning monarchs.

Well, Teyet was an emperor himself. Not only of elegant style and the good life but also of wit. King of mean, he might have been, as some people claim, but Teyet certainly had his guests, friends and intimates laughing over his pronouncements — and quoting them again later, of course.     

For example, Teyet loved to say that this hero whom everyone reveres was a closet gay, for who else would think of writing a poem a few hours away from his death? To his listeners’ enjoyment and feigned dismay, Teyet claimed that the man’s publisher was his lover. It was all for fun, of course, as Teyet loved to exercise his tongue.

While Teyet was loved for his notorious exaggerations, he was also admired for the many weddings that he styled. He claimed that the first ever was the Greggy Araneta-Irene Marcos nuptials in 1983 when he was, he said, asked by his dear friend, Don Luis Araneta, the father of the groom, to help decorate the Santa Monica Church in Sarrat town. As far as Teyet was concerned, it wasn’t just about sprucing it up for a wedding of national significance; it was transforming it into a church meant for a royal wedding.  Upon “instructions,” as Teyet would claim years later, without mentioning where they came from, he “directed the whitewashing of Luis Ma. Araneta’s 18th- and 19th-century wooden torcheres with their precious patinated polychromy, which were to decorate the main altar.” This bit of high society information came from Toto Gonzalez who, in his Remembrance of Things Awry, society’s e-bible, said Don Luis “became terribly upset” with what they did to his most prized torcheres.

Be that as it may, it turned out to be Teyet’s baptism of dazzling fire, for he would soon be asked to style almost all of the society weddings in the coming years if — and that’s a big “if” — they were his friends. They need not have worried about Teyet painting over their candelabras and all, because he had his own warehouse of such priceless and unique bits and pieces.

That he was the chosen stylist, if that was the term used then, for Irene’s wedding was not surprising at all. Teyet, along with couturier Pitoy Moreno, were two of the most frequent guests in Malacañang, along with the Blue Ladies.  As everybody’s favorite society blogger, Toto Gonzalez wrote, “Oh yes, Teyet controlled all matters artistic in that circle.” 

On the other hand, some social observers claimed that the two were practicing their trade right at the Palace. What did one really need? In the case of a designer, maybe a tape measure for the wife of a state visitor? In the case of Teyet, only his tongue, this time to inform his would-be buyers of the latest antiques available in his Saint Peter’s Gallery along Mabini in Ermita.

 

The First Lady, Imelda Marcos, they insisted, was his number one client. It was also assumed by many that he was responsible for the purchase of some of the most precious paintings bought by Ma’am. The Conde de Makati (aka George Sison), in his pre-martial law Graphic magazine column, wrote about this doctor–cum-gallery owner who, according to a San Francisco museum curator, “Very recently outbid us by half a million dollars for a Picasso, a Chagall and a Rubens and we were most certainly astounded.”

“Now who do you think our good doctor was bidding for?” asked the Conde in his column. “He once told me he was the chateau-keeper of You Know Who in Switzerland. I believe him.”

He then continued: “And speaking of paintings, the purchase of the first batch of ‘originals’ from a London Gallery by You Know Who was done, according to a True Blue, like she was buying dresses from a bargain basement. ‘Is that a Picasso? — I want that. Is that a Braque? — I want that. Is that a Chagall? — I want that...’ After she had left, our good doctor took over and bought some more originals by ‘lesser’ painters. According to him, ‘Would you believe I bought one at 300 (no currency specified) and sold it to her for 80,000 and she bought it?!’”

Incidentally, Teyet held a doctorate in chemistry; that’s why he was called a doctor. He acquired his graduate degree in Zurich, Switzerland, from the very institution where Einstein researched and formulated his Theory of Relativity.  

If there was a number two client, that would be Puring Aquino, the wife of a congressman, whose large house along Mariposa in Quezon City was filled with the most beautiful antiques. It seemed that when Ma’am did not like what Teyet was offering, all he need do was call up Puring who was more than willing to empty his shop. It wasn’t an extraordinarily beautiful house, one of Teyet’s friends claims, but the antiques that she bought from her were to ogle and marvel at. 

Years later, Teyet transferred to an old house along Vito Cruz, which he rented from Balbinit Lacson, an Old Guard grand dame. Here, antique collectors and matrons came although this time his “store” had no name.

 

Through all these years, he would be seen in the company of a very handsome actor from the north who eventually became an art gallery owner. He certainly learned from his mentor for he is known to have an expert knowledge of anything he sells. Their friendship, we are told, came only after Teyet’s supposed partnership with two foreigners, one an Austrian.

BF, one of these foreigners, was a regular in the so-called Mabini Group, composed of successful artists, craftsmen and creative entrepreneurs who dined, partied and traveled together, sometimes with their boyfriends. The only muse was Techie Bilbao — unless they all thought of themselves as muses. Anyway, it is common knowledge that two of the members, Pitoy and Oscar de Zalameda, fought a duel of knives and forks. This drama ended in the courtroom with Oscar found guilty years later. So, where did Teyet come in?  A close relative of Pitoy, appraised only of the story as she was away in Paris, suspects that when Oscar threw a knife or plate or some cutlery in the direction of Pitoy, he actually meant it for the good doctor. For what reason, no one can now explain. The relative conjectures it might have had to do with the sale of a painting, since the assailant was a painter and Teyet was a gallery owner. What many would prefer to believe is that it was more about anger caused by jealousy. And that, insiders claim, the good doctor, being jocular, couldn’t resist adding more wood to the raging fire. 

For some reason, Teyet was a magnet for intrigue and scandal. Although it was not necessarily about him all the time or that he had anything to do with it. Remember the story of this beautiful and voluptuous woman who kept banging at the door of her lover’s apartment? It seemed that he was about to dump her and there she was creating a scene in his high rise, on the very floor where Teyet lived. Disturbed by the violent noise, he opened the door, and seeing who she was, asked her to come in and somehow assuaged the woman who, by then, was hysterical and inconsolable. Well, that was then. Today, she lives very happily with her lover who continues to stand by her, notwithstanding his mother’s disapproval. Unfortunately, they could not marry and have their wedding styled by Teyet.

When I visited Teyet in his Pacific Plaza residence more than a decade ago, it was to interview him about his plans for the wedding of Mikey Arroyo to his distant cousin Angela Montenegro.

It was an experience like no other for me. Right at the entrance, I was mesmerized by what I saw. As I later wrote in my lead, ““Elegance is not the only word that comes to one’s mind when entering the home of art collector Eleuterio Pascual. Madness too, as one strains to look up at the ceiling and wonder at the sight of masterpieces that should perhaps be kept in a bank vault.”

Of course, I didn’t even know what I was beholding. Right at the foyer, he told me later, was the Hidalgo masterpiece “La Banca” which Teyet referred to as the “Pascual La Banca,” for everyone to know and remember that it was he who owned that particular work of art, although someone told me that there was another “La Banca” by Hidalgo in the home of a gentleman of Hispanic roots. 

Anyway, over fresh lumpia and okoy, which looked very rich because it was served on exquisite crystal and china by a manservant in white uniform, Teyet, who was seated in an imperial chair, explained to me his philosophy of styling. “I always aim for suitability in anything I do,” he said. “And there has to be a logic.”

Proudly, he talked of his plans for the wedding. “For the first time, Manila will see artworks that I brought home from my house in London.” He was referring to his collection of rare lithographs showing “Filipino types” in their Filipino costumes, among them a Tagalog peasant, a Manila porter, a young mestiza named Rosita, Fr. Pedro of Manila, a boatman, and a Filipino carrying a cock on his way to a cockfight. They were to be enlarged.

It was, he said, the first time that he was styling a Malacañang wedding reception, and he mused: “How, for example, do you complement the stateliness of the place?”  He had a sure answer, of course, as he would bring to the Palace “30 of his crystal candelabras to match those magnificent chandeliers.” He was also going to use “my white lace tablecloth that I got from Zurich years ago.”

Seeing that I was amazed, my bulging eyes giving away my awe, he explained that his Quezon City home served more as a storage for his artworks and antiquities, including hundreds of yards of piña tablecloth, silverware of sterling quality and thousands of pieces of chinaware. “Limoges, Meissen, Flora Danica,” he enumerated, as I grappled with my spelling while scribbling in my notebook. 

I wondered aloud how much it cost to avail of his styling services. “Among friends, money is never discussed,” he stressed. But if the client-friend must insist, Teyet merely asks for a “token fee, which is just 10 percent of the value of the things that I bring with me to a wedding.”  Of course, he did not require insurance for the treasures that he hauled all the way to the church and reception. Just to give me a rough idea, he said that one family gave him P1.2 million.

He emphasized that his “clients” through the years actually are friends, or friends of friends “who become my friends too, because as we conceive these special events in their lives, I get to see their families in informal and let-down situations. And the closer we get, the more I make sure that I do the best for them. That’s why every wedding for me is singular, a realization of the couple’s dream. And of course, it is always a masterpiece.”

He recalled the Araneta-Marcos wedding, “for which Don Luis and I consulted each other every day all the way to D-Day. I designed those gigantic terra cotta pots that lined the aisle. We were the first to have them made. The colonial jewelry of the ninangs came from me. We brought everything, including the chairs and the carpet. Of course, it was a provincial wedding, so we made it look really provincial, but refined.”

 

Four years after, when the Marcoses had fled, he styled the wedding of Noel Bautista and Liaa delos Reyes Cojuangco, daughter of Marcos oppositionists Peping and Tingting Cojuangco. He recalled, “It was going to be held in Fort Santiago. Immediately, I saw the need for tents, so I told Tingting we should set up tents and embellish these with exquisite accessories. She wasn’t too keen on the idea, afraid that it might be perceived as being too grand or, well, Imeldific. But I told her, ‘It is just fitting for the wedding of a descendant of traditionally rich and prominent families. I don’t think anyone would question the place of the Cojuangcos and the De Los Reyeses in high society.’ Tingting was somehow convinced and, of course, it turned out to be one of the most memorable weddings of that decade, and touted by the press as the Wedding of the Year.”

That he should be chummy — that soon — with the occupants of the other side of the political fence, so to speak, was not surprising at all. Teyet’s maternal uncle happened to be Justiniano Montano, the pre-martial law legislator who tried to impeach Ferdinand Marcos. Teyet’s favorite sister was Irene Pascual Sarmiento, the wife of anti-Marcos oppositionist Abraham Sarmiento, who had for a law firm partner another staunch anti-dictator, Senator Gerry Roxas. So, who said he was crossing over to the enemy’s side? As time would prove, of course, when the Marcoses came back to the Philippines, he became a constant companion of Mrs. Marcos, for whose birthday he dressed up Manila Hotel’s Fiesta Pavilion with 3,000 roses. A favorite moment of Teyet’s took place in his apartment when Imelda Marcos and Fernando Poe sang together, with Josie Natori accompanying them on the grand piano. “Wasn’t that surreal?” he asked.

If the intimate dinners he hosted at home were talked about in rarefied circles, with all those Lunas, 17 of them, and Amorsolos adorning all four walls, not to mention the other masters staring from the ceiling and defying gravity, his weddings continued to be the talk of the town. For the Madrigals, he converted their New Manila swimming pool into a fountain. “All of it, a fountain!” exclaimed Teyet.

And then, of course, the old Chinese families came to him too. For the Go-Chua wedding reception for 800, Teyet decorated the tables with 2,500 pieces of flowers made of crystal. The guests brought them home, with not a single piece left for the bride’s remembrance. Teyet quipped, “It’s good they didn’t bring home the candelabras.”

Interestingly, the bride, Ingrid, became a protégé and collaborator in styling other events. They worked together on the Arroyo-Montenegro wedding and, after that, the launch of the “Imelda Collection” accessories line. For the latter, she coordinated liaison with the international media.

“I was more of an assistant, if you will,” says Ingrid, who now writes the lifestyle blog, Bag Hag Diaries. “It was always real fun to see him working. He always had these grand ideas and here I was thinking, ‘I don’t think that’s logistically doable.’ And then he would laugh and tell me, ‘My dear, nothing is not doable’ and then he’d proceed to tell me how he managed to style events in the past given only a few hours to do it.”

 

Theirs was a special kind of relationship in that Teyet sort of “adopted” Ingrid as a protégé. Not only did he teach her the intricacies of his work, he also introduced her to his friends like Sonya Mathay (who also passed away this week.), Lulu Tinio, and of course, Imelda Marcos.

“I would see them together because when they came to his house, he would ask me to join them to dinner. I have since wished that when I reach their age, I would want to have that kind of friendship. His friendship with Mrs. Marcos, for one, is genuine. They have nothing to gain from each other and yet they give each other everything — love, concern and respect.”  

Ingrid is grateful to Teyet for having “taken me under his wing. I was this society greenhorn, I knew nobody and he just warmed up to me. I had nothing to give him. And when I had my share of successes, he was proud of them too.”

As she was not an art enthusiast in a serious sense, “but only someone who appreciates this and that because they are pleasing to my eye, he would teasingly reprimand me about not knowing these things. He talked about his collection but that somehow escaped me; but one thing I do remember, he wanted young people to know more about the arts, and his wish was for his paintings to be kept intact by the family. I hope they are exhibited for everyone to see them,” shares Ingrid who occasionally was given the trinkets that she admired among the bibelots strewn about his apartment.   

 Truly, Ingrid was lucky to have known Teyet so well, as he was one man who was often misunderstood, first because his jokes were sometimes taken seriously. He was, obviously, not the everyday normal guy. He did not watch television, he told me. He did not read the newspaper and half-jokingly said, “I prefer to be like Greta Garbo.” That was more than 10 years ago, of course. His idea of a good time, he said, was reading “because that’s how you get your capacity for discernment. You know if this one is a real work of art because you have read a lot, and you have been exposed a lot from your travels. ”

At the time I interviewed him, Teyet had just had a falling out with Pitoy. He was mad and hurting. “Some would pretend to be a friend when they just want to borrow your things. The next thing you know, they’re using your things for business. Or some would use your connections, ingratiate themselves with your friends, and the next thing you know, they’re sowing intrigue between you and your friend. Besides, I don’t like any kind of deceit,” Teyet said.   That was his version of the story. Many people say it had to do with a grand dame who, all of a sudden, shunned him. 

“I demand a sense of honesty from my friends and would-be friends. And I am not choosy when it comes to friends. I am not a snob. The ones selling second-hand things in Bangkal, they’ve been my friends all these years. And I always host parties for them every Christmas. But they are honest people and I like them. They also do not take advantage of our friendship,” he pointed out. Without mentioning a name, he said that some publishers and authors would borrow from his collection, have them photographed and publish them in a book with hardly a reference to the fact that he, Teyet, owned them.

“I was talking with Ricky Reyes. He says he does not mind if people call him mangungulot. After all, it is his profession. What is galling is when some people, for example, would pretend they are couturiers when they are no more than a mananahi. There is nothing wrong with being a mananahi, but when you say you are a couturier and you are not, that is a lie. In France, you could be jailed for misrepresenting your person or your profession. Me? I don’t care if I am called a florista. I only care that I do my best in anything that I do.”

 

He said he was completely aware of his detractors. When he published his book of Luna drawings, a famous artist said the Luna drawings were fake. “How could he say that? He hasn’t even seen them. Besides, I am a doctor of chemistry, while he has not even finished high school. I know my arts because I have been exposed in my travels. And I could afford to buy the authentic. My helpers are even more knowledgeable than he because they reached at least second-year college.”

Some people, he related, were spreading rumors that he was a drug addict. He retorted, “How could that happen? If I were a drug addict, then everyone else is. Who needs drugs when these beautiful things around me are all I need to give me equilibrium?”

If there was anything he was addicted to, he said, “that would be weddings. Masaya naman. They give me an adrenaline high. And of course, to me, every wedding is a battlefield for the distillation of the soul.”

He shared his secret formula: “Anything that I do, it’s always with a pinch of madness, two dashes of refinement, a grain of effort, and a few heartbeats. Now, they should do it this way too.”   

To the young ones who would follow his path, his advice was “to keep on dreaming and going for their dreams by working hard like me, and never to do anything halfway. And they should always be known for something, like my weddings are always aristocratic in sentiment. And I always try to achieve classical purity. They should always work from logic. You don’t put something in a room for no reason at all. Worse is, of course, if you put it for the wrong reason.”  To Ingrid, he said, “Never sweat the small stuff.”

He also believed in reinvention, which he claimed he did to himself. “I reinvented myself many times. A doctor of chemistry, I later became an art gallery owner. And them, I became a florista. Another time, I wanted to prove I could decorate corporate spaces, so, with my protégé Johnny Ramirez, I decorated a suite of executive offices of the PLDT. I don’t know what’s going to be next. I just know that I am always after that elusive alchemy called creativity.”

He couldn’t resist a jibe: “Now, they’re saying I’m a magician because I could turn a ‘czarina into a sastrina.’” Of course, he was referring to a feud with Pitoy that eventually tapered off to its natural death. People forgot, there were newer topics to talk about, and the protagonists realized there was no point to it at all. Besides, after briefly taking sides, members of Manila’s 400 realized no one, in the end, was bound to win.

 

The envious, of course, gloated over the end of an otherwise strong friendship that saw them being together practically all the time at the Palace, in the grandest affairs and even in travels abroad. They were part of the coterie of elegant and well-coiffed zombies who waited on Imelda Marcos as she held court and expounded on the true, good and beautiful ‘til the wee hours among people she was not exactly close to. They were walkers to the Blue Ladies, advising them on the refinements of life, and they were allies when it came to parrying away attempts by interlopers to become part of what was then the most exclusive clique. Not that it was solid all the way as Teyet was known to have a running grudge with a jeweler to the fabulous and with the faithful friend of a grand dame, a hall-of-famer in all of Manila’s Best Dressed lists.               

On a few occasions, Teyet and Pitoy went through the motions of reconciling, egged on by their common friends.  One time, Pitoy was supposed to have tapped his shoulder from behind and then, the couturier chose to disappear fast into the crowd. For sure, Pitoy has nobly chosen to forgive and forget. He doesn’t even know, I have been told as of press time, that his one-time friend and one-time enemy — “frenemy” in today’s lingo — has passed on.    

Ingrid recalls Teyet once telling her, “‘At some point in all our lives, we will get talked about, in either a positive or negative way.’ He always waved his hand and said, ‘Let them talk,’ and then he would laugh.” 

There was that side of him that only a few saw. Ingrid shares, “What he taught me were things that he never talked about. He let his actions and gestures speak about the person that he really was — his kindness to those who work for him, his undying loyalty to his friends, and his sincerity and generosity to people.”

That’s probably how Teyet will be judged in the life hereafter.   

* * *

 For comments, please write to cyber.proust@yahoo.com.

 

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