fresh no ads
Seven-inch heels & bare midriffs by Cary Santiago: Yes, the senyoras can! |

Sunday Lifestyle

Seven-inch heels & bare midriffs by Cary Santiago: Yes, the senyoras can!

LIVIN’ AND LOVIN’ - Tetta Ortiz Matera - The Philippine Star

Have you seen the shoes, ateh?” my model contemporary Izza Gonzalez-Agana asked the minute I walked into the Isla ballroom for the Cary Santiago show rehearsal.

“They are seven inches,” added Nineties supermodel Tweetie De Leon-Gonzalez with a worried look on her face.

“What the heck!” I blurted out to Tweetie, my one-time mentee in the Eighties, dreading the impossibly high (and potentially dangerous) stilettos that were being distributed as we were having this exchange, waiting for our names to be called.

“Kaya ako nag-request ng five inches kasi alam ko hindi ko kaya ang seven (That’s why I requested five inches, because I know I can’t do seven),” chimed in Suyene Chi-Sia, one of the senyoras (a more sosyal version of senior), as our batch of models is fondly called.  

As I walked to get my shoes, I began praying in my mind, saying, ”Lord, today is Cary’s day; the show is all about her so please do not let me trip, fall or slide on the runway and be the talk of the town rather than Cary and her collection.” I kept repeating these lines until I stepped off the runway at the end of the show.

I formally left the modeling industry in 1992, the year I got married. Since then I had only walked the runway once upon the cajoling of my model friends for a benefit held for typhoon victims. After a rather unfortunate and hurtful dealing with a fashion designer following that benefit show, I vowed never to walk the runway again. I have been asked over the years following that incident to participate in several noteworthy fashion shows, but I always said no, until Cary came along.

I really did not know Cary until about three years ago when I came up to congratulate her on the beautiful collection she presented together with other designers at a Metrowear show. I had heard her name being mentioned among the fashionable crowd and had seen some of her clothes in magazines and was eager to finally meet her that evening. “Hi, Cary,” I said, nervously approaching her in the dressing area after the show. “My name is Tetta.” Before I could continue, Cary came towards me and gushed, “Tetta Ortiz, oh, my God, I used to watch you; you were one of my favorite models and I’ve always wanted you to model my clothes.” Star-struck, I stared at Cary, momentarily at a loss for words. After listening to her speak, honored and humbled, I told her how much I loved her collection and that I would be more than happy to model for her if the opportunity arose. In his lilting, Cebuano-accented Tagalog, she took both my hands and said, “Promise, ha.”

So, there I was on the morning of Oct. 13, at the Edsa Shangri-La ballroom, fulfilling a promise I made to one of the kindest, most charming, passionate and truly talented Filipino fashion designers I know, seven-inch stilettos and all. Together with some of my model besties, whom I spent almost every day with in the Eighties, our papa bear of a fashion director, Jackie Aquino, and the current batch of models, we all converged to pay tribute to Metrowear icon Cary on her 25th anniversary in fashion.

I flew in on Cebu Pacific on Saturday, Oct. 11, courtesy of Metro magazine. I traveled a day earlier than planned to avoid a typhoon that was scheduled to make a landfall in Japan on Sunday. I was glad for the change of dates because I thought I would have the opportunity to fit my dress prior to the show. You see, while I had seen Cary over the summer in Manila, she did not have my actual measurements; I just sent them via text message. To tell you honestly, I pressed the “send” button with much trepidation because, although I am in good shape for my age (49), I am no longer the standard model size. And even if I wanted to grant Cary her wish, there was no way, short of starving and exercising myself to death, that I was going to lose two inches around my waistline in time for the show. So I sent her a long, loving and tactful text before departing Tokyo, expressing my concern; I told her I did not want my size to become an issue.  Dismissing my worries, she quickly dispatched a Viber message saying, “Hahaha, of course I want you in my show (punctuated with a smiley face)!” That said, I headed to Manila to do the show.



During rehearsals, clad in our towering heels (which looked intimidating but were actually quite comfortable, thank goodness), I gadded about with all my contemporaries about weight, size, girth, exercise and eating habits, topics we never had to concern ourselves with during our youth. Myrza Sison, the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine who, like me, came out of a long hiatus to model for Cary, visibly lost weight and was looking sensational. I told her, “Wow, Myrza, you’re looking real good.” She looked at me, feigned a pout and replied jokingly,  “I’m so hungry, I want to eat!” We roared in laughter while exchanging stories on trying to defy weight gain. Needless to say, when lunchtime came, we avoided all carbs and food that would bloat us to kingdom come! Suyene went on a self-imposed fast and took away her lunch for consumption after the show.

Like any major production, we had a technical dress rehearsal to get comfortable walking on the runway with the clothes assigned to us. One by one, the models changed and, outfit after outfit, I was taken in by the breathtaking Buddha-inspired, intricately handmade, technique-perfect design masterpieces of Cary. It was difficult to choose a favorite. Former model and current head of PR for Unilever-Philippines Apples Aberin, who came in midriff-baring attire, was given a discreetly revealing silver gray short dress with a cape to wear for the show. “Kaya ko pa ba ito? (Can I still do this?),” Apples asked with uncertainty when handed the dress; we unanimously answered yes and as Cary had probably pictured in his mind, Apples looked stunning in the dramatic ensemble.

My outfit was one of the last few to be transported to the dressing room and it did not get there until the middle of rehearsals. With no time to lose, I changed within seconds of its arrival, equally eager and nervous to see if it fit. I slid perfectly into it and without looking at myself in the mirror I ran to take my place behind the curtain, waiting for my cue to walk on the runway. The feeling was magical; I did not realize how much I had missed the runway until that moment. With my beautiful red caftan moving and fluidly flowing with me, I was on an indescribable high.  

With the dress-tech done, we were ready for makeup and hairstyling; the much sought-after makeup artist Patrick Rosas and his team were tasked to make us look beautiful for the show. Pusod, as we fondly called the chignon during our modeling days, was the hairstyle peg and dramatic eyes with black liner, falsies and nude lips were the makeup peg. I was ecstatic because in all the years I have known and admired Patrick, this was the first time he was going to put makeup on me.  A true genius, he effortlessly brought my Spanish eyes to life, and painted my face model-worthy without looking old or trying-hard for my age.

Call it preshow jitters, but I went to the ladies’ room countless times. I asked many of the current models if they still got nervous before every show and they all said yes. I guess the minute you stop feeling nervous is the moment you stop loving being a model. The wait was excruciating, as always; I just wanted to get the show over and done with. I kept thinking to myself, “I cannot keep taking peepee breaks, especially when I am already in my gown!”

At 7 p.m., the models began to change by batch. Cary, who had been stressed the whole day making last-minute adjustments to the clothes with his able staff, was finally relaxed and enjoying the banter inside the dressing room. He pulled me aside and said, “Tetta, what you are wearing is the simplest but one of my most favorite designs in the collection; I made it with you in mind and I know you will do justice to it.” My heart skipped a beat and tears began to swell in my eyes, then we hugged; his humility and honesty made me love and respect him even more.

On cue, we made our way backstage and found our places in the lineup. The lights dimmed, the music began and the show was finally on. One by one, the models made their way to the runway, applauded by a very appreciative audience. Cary, who was peeking through the curtains watching the show unfold, had a last-minute burst of creative inspiration. “Get the red headdress, I want Tetta to wear it,” she instructed her staff. Panicked and caught by surprise, I asked myself, “What headdress? I did not rehearse with a headdress!” But then, how could I say no? Then I saw one of Cary’s assistants rushing towards me with this absolutely regal and gorgeous headpiece and I knew I just had to wear it. I stooped down to get the heavy headpiece on my head, then Cary looked at me and asked, “Is it too heavy? Does it fit? Are you okay?” I flashed her a big smile and the okay sign, remembering the words she told me in the dressing room. I walked out, adrenaline pumping and ready to rock the runway for Cary. I worked the seven-inch heels, the majestic headpiece and the flowing red caftan dress like my 25-year-younger model self and it felt good. My dearest Cary, I sincerely hope I did your amazing red dress justice.  

* * *

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @tettaortiz.


vuukle comment










Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with