Fashion designer Criselda Lontok remembers her mother. 


She has more than three decades under her belt as a fashion designer whose signature silhouette — loose yet elegant — has been a perennial favorite of the ladies-who-lunch set ever since she debuted in 1983 as one of Rustan’s house brands.

“I always liked elegant styles,” Criselda Lontok told High Life in an interview in late August at her boutique in Rustan’s Makati.

Criselda Lontok

Known for her impeccable and figure-flattering styles for mature women, Ms. Lontok takes pride in having dressed a generation of women. And now, the daughters of her longtime customers have also started gravitating toward her brand.

“My designs are based on whatever is the trend, though I don’t follow them completely because I have to adapt them to our customers because my customers are more on the older side. But now we’re putting in size sixes so we can get the younger ones,” she said.

Ms. Lontok started out as a merchandise manager and foreign buyer in Rustan’s in the 1970s and was tasked to select items from luxury fashion houses — Gucci, Lanvin, Christian Dior, among others — before eventually developing her own line in the 1980s.

Rustan’s matriarch, Gliceria R. Tantoco, brought over a few sample blouses over one day and asked her to create a similar design. Ms. Tantoco liked what she did and, in 1983, Rustan’s launched the first Criselda Lontok collection and the rest, as they say, is history.

Looking back on her journey, Ms. Lontok frequently mentions two people: Ms. Tantoco and her mother, Isabel Lontok, who was her biggest cheerleader. “My mother was very happy and supportive,” she said.

It then made sense that when asked what her favorite thing was, the fashion designer mentioned a picture of her mother: a “simple woman” who liked elegant fashion “but wasn’t fussy over it.” 

What was your mother like?

She was a very good mother and very caring. My father passed away at the age of 33 and she was only 31. There were men who wanted to court her — she was pretty — but she didn’t allow it. We’re from the province — Batangas — so we’re a bit on the conservative side.

Tell me more about the photograph.

It was taken a long time ago. She passed away in 1996 but that picture was taken when she was in her thirties. All of my siblings and I have that exact picture in different sizes.

The frame was given to me by my brother from the States. It’s placed prominently in my house together with other family pictures.

Isabel Lontok

What was your most vivid memory of your mother at that age of the photograph?

I was a beauty queen and she was with me all the time. She helped me with my gown and she took care of me all the while: through the interviews and all that. She was always with me.

What traits of hers did you inherit?

Not her cooking skills (laughs). She cooked very well but I never had the talent. I think what I inherited from her was my being hardworking. She would do things one after another.

And her PR skills — she loved talking to people. I love talking to people and she was kindhearted as I think I am. And being humble. She would always tell us to put our feet on the ground and then I tell my children the same thing: “Always be humble. Don’t brag.”

Do you want to have the same picture of you handed down to your children?

They should have one of me (laughs). When I pass away, I should have already chosen the picture they should display (laughs). I haven’t chosen one yet because I have several favorites.