When all one has to go on are the images from the photographs and footage that have defined Anna Bayle’s career, the inevitable happens. The visuals become the impression. And Anna Bayle, the first and only Filipino model of international stature, is forever imprinted in the mind’s eye as not just one but many personas. In turns, the Bayle of legend is mercurial, dramatic, sensual, unperturbable, icy, worldly, and always unattainable. All the qualities associated with the models from that distant age when it took more than just youth and an ability to walk, in order to inhabit (not just wear) the clothes of the greatest couturiers of the 20th century .
The word “Supermodel”—with its connotations of flighty, spoiled celebrity status—does not quite apply to Anna. Nor to her confreres, Iman, Dalma, Amalia, Mounia, Marpesa, all one-name wonders whose stature was defined by their tenacity and professionalism, as well as by their marked Individuality on the ramp. Ahh, but among them, only Anna had that walk. Tributes lovingly posted by friends on Anna’s social media account immortalize the fluidity and innate femininity of the Bayle walk. And frankly, one is hard pressed to see any relationship between Anna’s serenely dignified glide and today’s In-your-face-bump-and-grind that is more becoming of a drag queen than a mannequin de monde.
Unfairly, that image of Anna traps her in our nostalgia for a gilded age of Fashion long gone. The fact that she retired way after the usual age for models attests to the street-smart survivor instinct that led one international fashion journalist to dub her the “Steel Butterfly.”
The truth is that she is much more vital, much funnier and sweeter now that she is free of even Nostalgia itself. Mother to Callum, occasional writer, successful real estate agent, homemaker and gardener in a cozy property in upstate New York where she feels most grounded—these are the roles that most define Anna Bayle now. Still, she was game enough to reminisce and confront the gossip that forms a part of the Bayle legend. But there is no regret, no longing for past grandeur. Besides the memories, the one thing that Anna took from the world of Fashion when she left it behind, was the ability to live and breathe the Now.
And Now is where it always begins for this Original.
You love basketball. It is said you dreamed of being a member of a professional, an-all female basketball team. True or False?
I love basketball, only because, to paraphrase an old song, it was “where the boys were.” In fact, I dated several basketball players from the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). Fun times…because PBA basketball players were treated like gods in the Philippines. And whenever you were out with them, everyone treated you very well
simply because you were with Philippine heroes.
In truth, I did not love basketball—basketball loved me. And only because I was tall. Nothing else. I was a terrible player. I was the center, and I was supposed to rebound the ball and shoot it. Forget it—I could rebound the ball but it would take me several tries before I could get the ball in. My basketball skills were pitiful. So, FALSE.
‘I did not love basketball—basketball loved me. And only because I was tall. Nothing else. I was a terrible player’
Here is the real basketball story though. When I was about 16 years old, I was hanging around the basketball court in Fairview where I lived, and I was working at the scoring table. After the game, a whole basketball team, coach and all, approached me and told
me they wanted to sponsor me as a contestant in the Miss Phillipines beauty contest. Huh???? Moi????
They told me that the winner of the contest was going to the Miss World finals in London. They said the magic word: London! Nothing else made sense to me except that this was a chance to travel to one of the places I have been dreaming about since childhood. There was no illusion in my little heart that I was beautiful. I thought I was smart, but never beautiful. That discovery would come later only because beauty was the commodity that I was hired for. However, the fearless person in me said yes only because of my desire to travel out of the country. I did not even tell my parents, but I had to tell my older sister Joy, so she could take me to the place where the contestants had to be sequestered.
Here starts my story of modelling. The organizers told me I was going to win and that I was to practice my acceptance speech and coronation walk. But come the night of the beauty contest, subconsciously, I probably did not completely want to be a beauty queen. I flubbed the Question and Answer portion. I was too cocky and confident. My sister, Joy, advised me that if I did not know the answer to the question, I should politely ask that the question be repeated and think of an answer while the announcer repeats the question.
The question was, “If you were to win the title and were to spend a day in London with a man of your choice, who would it be?” I was very knowledgeable about current affairs from reading the newspapers. At that time, Prince Charles was looking for someone to marry. So, in my mind, I had the answer. I disregarded my sister’s advice to collect myself before answering.
I went, “If I were to win the title and had a day to spend with the man of my choice, it would be…Prince Albert.
My mind had the answer but something else came out of my mouth. Ta-daaaah! The whole Araneta coliseum went silent. All I could hear were the judges tossing away their pencils.
Needless to say, I lost. And when my sister picked me up backstage, she said to me “Why are you crying?” I said, “I am crying because I did not win.” “Gaga, you didn’t win because you DIDN’T want to win!” my sister Joy exclaimed.
I lost but I gained an important lesson. Sometimes God gives you something better. I did not become a beauty queen, but I became a model. I would have hated being a beauty queen. The winner that night ended up doing bold films after her reign.
All the fashion designers watch beauty contests, and here was where I was discovered. My very first fashion show was for Chito Vijandre and Larry Leviste.
When you were starting out in Manila, fashion show director Gary Flores once referred to you as “Miss Bisugo” (Miss Goatfish) because of your pouty lips. Were you hurt? Who has the last laugh now?
I did not know he called me that. I don’t doubt it, because when I first started modeling in Rome for the haute couture shows, my agent Guy Heron of Cosa Nostra (the agency of Jerry Hall, Pat Cleveland, etc.) asked me why I pointed my lips when I was on the runway.
I did not have an answer for him, but I can only surmise that I pouted my lips when I was walking down the runway because I was very nervous. I worked on my flaw, and soon I was able to control this bad habit of mine.
As for Gary Flores, who was the very first fashion director I worked with, I want to say “thank you,” as his actions motivated me to become who I am today. Wait, it wasn’t about revenge. For me, it was always about that Pinoy attitude, “Makikita mo!” or “You’ll see!”
Okay, here is the truth. Before I left Manila to try modelling abroad, I was very hurt because Flores blacklisted me from all the local fashion shows he handled. I had been rehearsing for the Auggie Cordero show for weeks, Auggie Cordero being the designer I am closest to. I spent hours and hours in Auggie’s atelier to listen to stories about fashion. He was my mentor, and he shared a lot of knowledge about the fashion industry—which was ammunition for when I started to work internationally. I would not be who I am without Auggie. Gary Flores gave Auggie Cordero an ultimatum: If I and Wanda Louwallien were doing Auggie’s show, he would resign as director.
This was not an option for Auggie Cordero, as he had spent months and months on his collection. But for the very first time in my young life, I was given the importance I needed, which taught me my self-worth.
The nobility and finesse of Auggie’s actions was a very big lesson to me
Auggie took all my clothes out of the show and did not put them on any other model. Then, he invited me to sit up front and center in the VIP table of the gala show. The nobility and finesse of Auggie’s actions was a very big lesson to me. If people are important to you, make them know it and make the world know it.
Now, why was I blacklisted by Gary Flores?
When I started modelling at the Hyatt, there were other new girls—Wanda Louwallien, Dorothy Tysman, and me. Wanda became a very good friend of mine. She had always called me Anna Banana. Beautiful Wanda was very flirtatious and, being a charming mestiza with a great sense of humor, a great favorite of men. You were always laughing around her. As for me, I was the scholar from the University of the Philippines, and I
exuded a very goody-two-shoes image. Wanda took advantage of my image by always using me as her “beard.”….
Anyway, you know that Wanda eventually became a top-notch fashion show director, who took all the jobs from Gary Flores. So, there is much truth to the saying “No good deed goes unpunished.” Things happen for a reason. At that time, I thought it was very unfair of Gary Flores to do that to me, but the love and respect that I got from the great Auggie Cordero was priceless.
In the end, what Gary Flores did to me propelled me to take the steps to show everyone that he had made a big mistake. I had many detractors in my youth. Gary Flores was only one of them.
Another fashion legend, Ruben Nazareth once told you, “The world is but a small village. Go for it” What did that piece of advice do for you?
Love Ruben Nazareth! The famed embelliseur. If Auggie was my mentor, Ruben was my mother. I met him at my first fashion show at the Hyatt. Ruben Nazareth and Petusa were introduced to us as make-up artists who just arrived from the collections in Paris. The veteran models at the Hyatt would not let Ruben or Petusa do their make-up as they were used to doing their own. I, however, was willing to learn from people who certainly knew more than me.
Ruben took a liking to me because I just sat there to be made up in quiet acceptance. Ruben took me in from that very first day we met. I took to Ruben like a little chick following a mother hen. He was teaching me everything to know about being stylish and I would emulate him. He would dress me in the shortest of shorts and we would go to Quiapo and buy dozens of roses, and everywhere we went we were always a spectacle.
He would always do my make-up in the shows when no one else wanted their faces touched by him. Soon, seeing my success in the fashion shows, every other model would be lining up for him. But he always made sure he would do my makeup last. Ruben was more like my Yoda. He would teach me lessons of the spirit and impart his
philosophy in life. He was very generous with his network of friends.
I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and Ruben Nazareth was the Good Witch
I am a learner and I easily sponge off people who can teach me. I was with Ruben Nazareth, morning, noon and night; we were inseparable. With Ruben, there was so much to learn. He had this incredible lightness of being and I was drawn to him because of how it made me feel when I was with him. He was always very positive and had a fairy godmother-like spirit about him. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and Ruben Nazareth was the Good Witch. He had many witticisms, and this statement was one of them. “The world is a small village. Go for it!”
I asked him what he meant and he said, “Ay, iha, maliit lang ang mundo. In every village, there is a Mang Juan, a Mang Tomas, etc. Deal with everyone one you encounter like you would deal with Mang Tomas, Mang Juan…and you will be fine.”
So even when I was working in Paris, Rome, London, New York, I dealt with people like I would in my hometown. This advice was very helpful, as I was never intimidated by being in the haute capitals of the world. If I comported myself like I did in my own small village, in every city I went to, I would be okay because we are all human beings and react to kindness, generosity, and goodwill the same way.
It was a very important life lesson. We are all the same. I will always treasure Ruben for making it so clear and so simple.
The famous Thierry Mugler ads which he shot himself, the ones with you on the iceberg and on the edge of a cliff. Some say those iconic ads were photoshopped. You say?
I am the model who has traveled the most times with Thierry Mugler and shot on location. The first trip was to Los Angeles and Arizona—climbing mountains, buildings. The second was to Miami, climbing Art Deco hotels. The third was to Mexico—tall stone walls, villages. The fourth was to Greenland, climbing icebergs..
I had just moved out of New York, where I was doing mostly catalogue work, and I was very new in Paris. Thierry took a chance on me. I remember, he told me to go to his apartment and he shot a few slides, with me posing in front of his blue wall. It was a photo test. He was the first photographer to actually photograph his clothes for Parisian magazines, Elle and Marie Claire.
That first trip to Los Angeles and Arizona, we were a team made up of myself, model Beth Todd, and Thierry’s good friend Juan Fernandez, model/actor and the ex-husband of Pat Cleveland. Beth Todd did not want to climb any mountains, so she got all the close-ups, while I wanted to give everything to this man, who saved me from mediocrity in New York City.
‘Thierry Mugler told me, “I will make you a star, but you have to do everything I say!” So, I would hide my fear and get up on top of the building
There were many scary moments, but when you want to please someone you will do everything to prove yourself worthy. Thierry Mugler told me, “I will make you a star, but you have to do everything I say!” A star I wanted to be. So, I would hide my fear and get up on top of the building, on the cliff face, on the floating glacier. Nothing was photoshopped. Those photos are all blood, sweat and tears. The perils of being a model are numerous and daunting. And the travails of becoming a star, herculean. But those ads did make me a star in Paris, and they are part of fashion history. I am still grateful.
Is it true that Giorgio Armani would repeatedly ask for you to do a go-see but not use you because you refused to cut your hair? And that you got so tired of doing the go-sees that you told Mr. Armani’s people, “Tell Mr. Armani that I am
Miss Anna Bayle!”
This is true. If you notice, Armani’s style is almost androgynous. He likes it very clean-cut and he does not want it to look very feminine. I did understand why he wanted me to cut my hair for his show, because he has an ideal type of woman. However, his staff always chose me from the composites, his assistants knew that Armani would love me. Everyone in the fashion industry loved my hair, Armani did not. Why would I destroy what really defined me in the modelling industry for one designer, no matter if he was Signore Armani?
Everyone in the fashion industry loved my hair, Armani did not
To be fair, I did walk in some of his shows, and I also did editorial work for him, That is how we met. But when the requests to cut my hair became more frequent for go-sees and fittings, I would tell my Italian agency bookers, “Please inform Signore Armani, that this girl he always picks from pictures is Anna Bayle, the one who will not cut her hair for him.”
In one word, describe the following models from your batch of runway legends.
Iman: Diva-licious. Dalma: Sister. Amalia: Sensual. Mounia: Artist
Of the legendary designers you worked with, whose shows were the most exciting to do, and why?
Just confessed this to a friend recently and it is the truth. The night before a Christian Lacroix couture show, before I would go to bed, I would kneel and pray that God help me the next day in my passages. I always felt that Lacroix did not necessarily give me the most beautiful and sexy gowns, but he surely gave me the most difficult gowns to model. My passages were all entrance pieces. When I did other shows, I knew that designers gave me the sexiest gowns and dresses. But I felt different in a Lacroix show. I would think about every dress given to me and imagine how I could present them best the next day.
Of course, my very first Yves Saint Laurent show was memorable to me. And as you already know, I would do everything for Thierry Mugler. Looking back, the ‘80s and ‘90s were really about grandeur and excess. And I fit the bill. In every show I am challenged to give them, the designer and the audience, what they want—to do that I needed to maintain the culture and heritage of the house, to understand the lines of the clothes I was wearing, to manifest the designer’s ideal of the woman he was designing for.
With wholehearted honesty, I enjoyed every show I did, because they were outlets for my creativity. It was never a matter of just walking down the runway. It was never a matter of just selling the clothes. I loved doing them, as there was always a new outfit. And there was always new music to walk to, a live audience to show you their appreciation. It was like being on Broadway where people gave you standing ovations . But in modelling, they gave you ovations just because you were beautiful in the garment.
You made good money modeling. But you made an even bigger pile as a real estate agent. True or False?
Working as a model, I did not stop for many years. I did Ready-to-Wear and Haute Couture which was two seasons a year, Spring and Fall, plus I did the rounds of Milan, Paris, New York London, Tokyo. I also did the resort collections in between and the Men’s collections, as well. And I did it for many years straight. I was part of the fashion calendar, and one needed to be the fashion soldier without stopping, as fashion is very fickle, and you really are only as good as your last show. (Something Auggie told me over and over again.)
‘Fashion is very fickle, and you really are only as good as your last show—something Auggie told me over and over again
Working as a real estate agent, I have my own schedule. I will make as much money as I want to work. And as you all know, the real estate business is cyclical. Sometimes it us up and sometimes it is down. This job is the best for me because I have never worked under anyone in a corporate world in my life and I never had to go to an office. This is freedom. The best.
You only got married once, and that was because you wanted a child. True or False.
Probably true. I met my ex-husband in Manila. It was a Russian Roulette move on my part to marry a person that I only knew for six weeks. If people are reading this article—don’t do it!!!!
In fact, when I presented my husband-to-be to Auggie Cordero, in his house one morning while he was having breakfast. I said, “Auggie, meet Simon, I am going to marry him.” Auggie did not even look up from reading his newspaper, maybe so he could mask his disdain and displeasure and under his breath, he told me, “Ano na naman and pinaggagagawa mo?” (What nonsense are you up to again, now?)
Auggie loved me though, so he gave me a beautiful gold wedding gown for my wedding at the Villa Escudero.
I have been in very steady loving relationships all my life. They lasted for four to six years. I remember calling a very good friend in Paris to say I had met someone in Manila while I was on vacation and that I thought I was in love.
Trevor Rodriguez, my fairy godmother in Paris, was whom Ruben Nazareth sent me to. My mother Ruben told me that Trevor would be my mother in Paris, as Ruben was far away from me in Manila. Trevor, who knew my dating history and all my boyfriends personally, said to me over the phone in French, “Boyfriend -boyfriend again? Before you know it, another six years have passed! Then what? ” At that time, I was about 38 years old. I quickly did the math and what Trevor said was true. If I didn’t do anything now, it would probably be too late as my biological clock was ticking.
Friends who really know me have said to me in many ways, that I am an excellent sociological example of survival of the species. I got married only to have a child.
It might be true. All the men I have been with wanted to marry me, but I have always feared the commitment. So why then?
Your son, Callum, is the biggest love of your life. Yes?
Ahh, this is what a friend reading my palm about my love life said, and I totally believe him. “You will not love any man more than your son.” I call Callum my Coca Cola, the Real Thing.
True confession: If I had all the pregnancies I have had come to term, I would be that Mama Duck with the little ones waddling behind. Motherhood is a choice, and we as women should be able exercise that choice.
I have been blessed with the birth of my child, Callum. Of all the numerous beautiful blessings God has bestowed on me, being a mother to Callum is the best one.
I am extremely grateful that I have someone to love.