Glamorous set flock to boost fashion culture
ALL is glittering splendour at Malacanang Palace, the stately Spanish mansion that is the official home of the Philippine President, as the country's glamourati circulate around the wooden-panelled reception room air-brushing each other's cheeks and picking at a buffet table weighed down with calories.
The aristocracy (and in the Philippines the term undoubtedly defines fabulous wealth, too) is at full strength - represented by famous family names like Cojuangco, Madrigal, Zobel, Quimson, Floriendo and Panlilio.
Many of the elegantly attired women were very much at home in the palace during the heady days of Marcos.
But in these comparatively austere times at Malacanang, they are making a rare appearance underneath the exquisite chandeliers. While their patron of old, Imelda, is conspicuous by her absence.
Also among this ultra-fashionable throng is Bonnie Gokson (with current beau Robert Kantor dutifully in attendance) making a statement of her own in a fetching number that looked like a Joyce version of the wide-sleeved Filipino terno.
There is a common thread that binds the female elite among the 500 guests who have gathered at the invitation of President Fidel Ramos and First Lady Amelita Ramos - they have all been dressed on important occasions like their weddings by Filipino couturier Jose 'Pitoy' Moreno who has been tagged 'The tsar of Asian fashion'.
The occasion was to launch a coffee table book titled Philippine Fashion which has been authored by the designer.
Explained Moreno: 'This book has been one of my dreams for almost 30 years. As a Filipino designer, I have always wanted to put together a historical account of how our people have dressed themselves.
'So through the years I have been collecting old pictures and even costumes worn by our ethnic tribes.
'Sadly, some of the tribes have already diminished so we have had to work from pictures. But the problem with that is that nobody has ever kept a proper and official pictorial record of our ethnic past, and that's such a shame.
'But it was always in my mind that I would do it sooner or later. But it is so bloody hard doing the research.' As the pre-eminent designer in the Philippines, Moreno has dressed all the first ladies from the presidency of Macapagal in the early 60s to that of Ramos. In between, he also provided gowns for President Cory Aquino.
But it was in the two-decade reign of Imelda Marcos that Moreno reached his zenith, being sent as a cultural ambassador all over the world with his collection under her patronage.
Every head of state visiting Manila was treated to a Moreno fashion show.
And soon the likes of Thailand's Queen Sirikit, Nancy Reagan, Princess Margaret, Queen Sophia of Spain and Cristina Ford had Moreno creations in their wardrobes.
But Moreno, who defines Filipino fashion as possessing 'brilliance of colour' claims he has never deserted his roots.
'Even though I have shown my collections from Tokyo to Paris and London to New York and the haute couture clothes were what any women in the world could wear, the Filipino influence has always shone through,' he said. 'I have always been and will always remain essentially a Filipino designer.' Moreno's hope is that his book will not only sit in the drawing rooms of the rich and famous but will be circulated widely in libraries and museums, but most importantly in schools.
Said he: 'I hope that, through fashion, young Filipinos will get to know a little bit of their culture and their history.'