MANILA, Philippines - An ordinary object on Pitoy?s desk caught our eye?a card holder. It held the calling cards of Pitoy Moreno.
How interesting?the country?s premier fashion institution (or icon, the overused-abused term these days) still finds the need to hand out calling cards to whoever would need it, as if there were still many people who didn?t know the name Pitoy Moreno. Even our kikay niece fresh out of high school knows of Pitoy Moreno.
But then that?s Pitoy for you. Even with a career?and social stature?that span more than half a century, Pitoy is still at it, toiling away in his atelier every day, attending parties (and funeral wakes) and social networking many nights a week, receiving clients every morning in his home/atelier, so driven as if he was a neophyte, or as if he was going hungry tomorrow. (He?s not.)
Today, Pitoy gets a kick out of staging a fashion show?and being in national centerstage?as much as he did perhaps in 1962, when he showed his collection to a world audience in the Seattle World Fair. Since that career coup, Pitoy, as the regional Asia Magazine wrote then, ?has never looked back.? (It was Asia Magazine in this 1972 story that dubbed him the ?Fashion Czar of Asia.?) He has met and staged shows before the world?s royalty and celebrities, dressed the country?s famous women (all the First Ladies from Mrs. Carlos P. Garcia onwards), made friends out of the powerful and the famous who cut across politics and business. And it?s safe to say that he?s most financially successful among the designers.
Fashion legends Pierre Balmain and Pierre Cardin once saw Pitoy?s show in Paris, wanting to see Philippine costumes; they were surprised to see that these were a couturier?s take on national costumes.
So?what more does Pitoy want?
?Wala na,? he told us over his trademark lunch of rellenong bangus in his house.
We don?t believe him. Just now he?s spread out before us his photo archive?a precious trove?from the past five decades. This is in preparation for this Wednesday, Sept. 10, when he receives the 2008 Gawad CCP Para sa Sining award for his ?outstanding contributions in the field of architecture, design and allied arts (fashion design).?
Other awardees are Tita Radaic (Dance), Gilopez and Corazon Kabayao (Music), Monino Duque (Theater), Francisco Coching (Visual Arts), Malou Jacob (Literature), Manuel Conde (Film), Rodrigo Perez III (Cultural Work), and the Philippine Folk Dance Society.
This is not Pitoy?s first tribute and it won?t be the last. Pitoy?s designs have run the gamut of modern Philippine fashion aesthetics, from costumes to ball gowns and barong. They were products of various eras, from the early ?60s when fashion was formal and inspired by native costumes, to the turbulent ?70s when fashion was the turf of the powerful, to the socially aware ?80s, ostentatious ?90s when the rich expressed their wealth through wedding gowns, to the new millennium, when Philippine fashion design was taken over by the young.
Yet while Pitoy may not have the full uninterrupted reign over design, he holds sway over at least two generations of Filipino women, and has done so for four decades: his peers and the daughters of his contemporaries.
An upstart in the ?50s, he came upon the era of glamour and gentility. He began his career when women were glamorous, elegant, and elite families prodded their women to model. Pitoy?s models were and still are the socialites.
Pitoy has a terse but interesting description of the women then??They were obedient then and came on time.?
However, many of these women are now gone, including Pitoy?s best friend, the late Corito Araneta Kalaw, a fine woman who was known for her finesse and involvement in the visual arts. It was with Corito and her family that Pitoy would spend weekends, Christmas and New Year.
But Pitoy doesn?t live in the past. He?s always lived in the here and now, and always is vigilant of the future.
For more than 20 years now, he?s had the Jose Moreno Foundation which has sent scholars to college. He wishes one thing: ?a school of sewing and cutting? so that young ones may learn to make clothes.
Indeed Pitoy isn?t only a fashion designer. He is a social institution. TSS