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Style Never Dies: Designer Criselda Lontok, 81
By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter
CRISELDA LONTOK, the designer of choice for Manila high society women’s ready-to-wear outfits, died in the morning of Sept. 22. She was 81.
Her son, John Fernandez, confirmed the news with a Facebook post on Sept. 22. “It truly breaks my heart to announce the passing of the very first queen in my life, my mama, Criselda R. Lontok,” he said.
“God can be so full of surprises that I sometimes wonder why Mama?? But I have humbly learned to accept His will and respect the greater purpose of this very, very sad moment in our family’s lives,” he continued.
Batangas-born Ms. Lontok was a local beauty queen in her hometown, but later became a model and a society swan after being discovered by fashion designer Ben Farrales. In an interview with BusinessWorld in 2018, she said that she modeled for six years in the 1960s before marrying and setting up her own family.
“I’ve always had the idea of giving comfortable clothes, and something that’s very practical, because I’m a very practical person,” she replied when asked how these experiences molded her own style sense.
In 2018, Ms. Lontok celebrated the 35th anniversary of her eponymous label for Rustan’s. She began working for Rustan’s as a merchandising manager in the 1970s, during which she was taken under the wing of Rustan’s co-founder, Gliceria Rustia-Tantoco. Mrs. Tantoco discovered her talents and awarded Ms. Lontok her own line, which began in 1983.
Calling Ms. Lontok an “Esteemed House Fashion Designer for Rustans,” a statement from the Rustia-Tantoco family read: “The management and the staff of Rustan’s wish to express their heartfelt condolences to her bereaved children, grandchildren, and other loved ones, and request the pious readers to join us in prayer for her eternal rest. It was an absolute privilege knowing Criselda. She will always be remembered for her personal touch and incredible attention to detail, as a fashion icon continuously reinventing the Philippine fashion retail industry, and as a loyal and steadfast member of the Rustan family.”
The Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines said in a Facebook post: “(The) Fashion Designers Association of the Philippines is in deep sadness for the passing of Philippine Fashion Icon Ms. Criselda Lontok. It was a colorful and inspiring journey you have shared with us. Thank you so much for all the wonderful memories and for the love and support you have shared with our humble organization.”
Ms. Lontok became known for dressing older women of Manila’s higher social strata, but it hadn’t always been that way. According to her, when she started the line, it wasn’t meant exclusively for older women. She did, however, favor, loose, casual, but elegant tailoring in her clothes, which appealed to bigger customers. It was just incidental that the bigger women also happened to be older.
“These women, they go for elegant styles, which I always carry,” she said. “You know why I got the older women?” she told BusinessWorld after being queried if her line had once been young. “There are so many things to hide.”
Her designs, with flare, flounce, and doses of elegance, seemed to be meant to be worn for photo spreads in society magazines. She kept her designs current by checking out the styles online and on different magazines. “I don’t take [the fashions] as [they are]. I always adjust it to my clients, so they won’t be fashion victims.”
“I want them to look pretty and elegant at all times.”
As late as 2019, Ms. Lontok had been innovating, coming out with her own line of bags and shoes. Asked then if she planned to retire. She said, “No — as long as I’m alive, as long as I’m strong.”