PARDON US as we make this observation — hair, jewels, waistlines, and net worths get bigger as the number of one’s age increases if one is to judge from Criselda Lontok’s fashion show for her 35th anniversary, held on Aug. 2 at The Peninsula Manila. We’re not trying to be impertinent; we’re trying to be reverent.
Ms. Lontok has been designing for 35 years for Rustan’s, though she first spent time climbing up the corporate ladder, beginning as a merchandise manager and eventually becoming a foreign buyer. With such a long history behind her, it’s no surprise that she has been trusted by many society women as they grew older. She estimates that some of her clients are 80 years old, and at her fashion show, old friends congregated by the front row, as if they had not seen each other in church or at lunch earlier that week.
Ms. Lontok was mentored by Rustan’s co-founder Gliceria Rustia-Tantoco who spotted her talents, and eventually Mrs. Tantoco awarded her protege with her own line. In a video shown before her fashion show, Ms. Lontok expressed how much she missed Mrs. Tantoco.
Ms. Lontok noted that when she started the line in 1983, older women weren’t exactly her target market. But Ms. Lontok favored loose, casual elegance, and these clothes appealed to customers who were a bit bigger, and it was just incidental that they were also older. “That’s why they like it,” she said. “These women, they go for elegant styles, which I always carry.”
“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.”
It’s funny that she says this since the Criselda Lontok woman was born to stand out. Heavily bejewelled society matrons who stepped out of the pages of a glossy society magazine are her clients, and, judging from the clothes, they looked proud.
Ms. Lontok’s aesthetic is elegant but bold, showcasing flare and flounce and bold prints. Particularly memorable pieces during the fashion show were gowns that recalled Givenchy is his heyday as Audrey Hepburn’s favorite designer, and ensembles with bold prints, ranging from polka dots to birds and butterflies. These all went down the runway to French hits from the 1960s, and the guests cheered daughters, friends, and sisters who were on the runway. The models, selected by Ms. Lontok, were either friends or family of familiar clients.
Ms. Lontok has an interesting history: before she worked for Rustan’s, she herself was one of the swans she would eventually dress as they matured together. Ms. Lontok had been a model and a beauty queen, and when asked for how long, she thought she was being asked how long ago, so she answered, “Oh my God.” It turns out that she was a model 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.
Ms. Lontok pointed out four or five styles worn by younger models on the runway. She notes that the younger women in her mind are about 30 or 40 years old. While style never dies, people do. “That’s why we’re developing new ones,” she said. — Joseph L. Garcia