In a week that brought news of pandemic deaths every day, it was truly a good morning to wake up to a message that bore good news. It was from my good friend Anna Bayle: “Someone sent this yesterday early morning to me but I thought it was an article in the ‘80s, but it is current!”
“This” refers to the latest story in harpersbazaar.com titled The 20 Top Supermodels That Dominated Fashion in the ’80s. Its subhead reads: “From Iman and Anna Bayle to Jerry Hall and Brooke Shields, these are the names that defined the era of excess.”
For one who’s settled down into regular life for more than a decade now—the exact opposite of her toxic, killer schedules of the ‘80s when she literally flitted from one runway show to another—Anna was understandably surprised that one of the world’s top magazines would remember, and ranked her among the top three supermodels in the world, just after Ines de La Fressange and Iman. She even came before the pop culture icon Jerry Hall (ex of Mick Jagger) and Elle Macpherson.
“There are a lot of superstars on this list. I am happy with where I landed and really happy about my writeup,” Anna told me in our morning chat. (By the way, Anna was among my friends who egged me on at the start to do TheDiarist.ph. Right after my retirement from the daily journalism grind, she advised, it was time to pursue writing as an “art form.” Her words, not mine—I and like-minded writers really just like to write away without, as they put it in news lingo, having to chase ambulances anymore.)
Harper’s Bazaar described the ‘80s as “a time when flaunting excess was de rigueur, when designers like Christian Lacroix, Claude Montana, Carolyne Roehm, Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, and Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld piled on the pomp and pageantry. And there to strut down their runways and grace their campaigns were the top models. They served as muses, walking embodiments of the glamour they sought to present.”
Harper’s Bazaar put the supermodels in historical context: “From Iman and Anna Bayle to Jerry Hall and Brooke Shields, these veritable icons paved the way for the It girls of the ’90s, the perceived heyday of the modeling industry when Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell reigned supreme…”
Then it described Anna as “Asia’s first supermodel.” It wrote: “Anna Bayle sashayed down the catwalks of Valentino, Christian Lacroix, and Oscar de la Renta; fronted the biggest campaigns; and graced countless magazine covers, including international editions of Harper’s BAZAAR. All this was a far cry from her days as a premed student at the University of the Philippines. Since leaving her storied modeling career, she founded an eponymous line of lipsticks and dabbled in journalism. The fashion industry may be long behind her, but her legacy, her being the first Asian to reach the heights of her profession, continues to inspire today.”
Anna told us upon reading Harper’s: “I am super humbled and super honored. I am happy that my hard work is recognized by the fashion industry.”
In the ‘80s, the New York Times even coined the term “the Anna Bayle walk” to describe her distinctive way of gliding—with attitude, so to speak—on the runway.
After her supermodel days, Anna wrote very engaging columns for us in Manila Chronicle—first-person accounts about interesting fashion names, episodes and insights on lifestyle only she could write.
She settled down in New York City, actively raised her son Callum, a fine student who studied child development. She and Callum would vacation in the Philippines, meet up with old friends. On their latest visit in 2018, we had dinner hosted by Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo in their Makati home of rich interiors.
I remember how at that dinner Anna was talking about how she never went on diets after her supermodel days—indeed she has put her glamazon days all behind her.
There’s even an #ANNABAYLE gif—short clips of her signature runway walk
And we totally understand why, having written about the great pains she went through to have a 20+-inch (or was it 19?) waistline to slip into the world’s finest haute couture.
But while to Anna, supermodeling is a thing of the past, she has many fans around the globe who sustain an Anna Bayle Facebook showing iconic images of her. There’s even an #ANNABAYLE gif—short clips of her signature runway walk.
I want to share her story about her arduous climb to the top of the fashion modeling world—one of the Filipinos to go global in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Excerpt from the Anna Bayle chapter in my book i’m afraid of heights (or why i can’t social-climb) published in 2012:
Manila fashion scene is meandering along. No new faces. No intrigue—or nearly none.
So whenever Anna Bayle comes home, as she did three weeks ago, the fashion circuit assumes a fresh face, and not only figuratively.
Her contemporaries, the catwalk goddesses of the ‘70s such as Pat Cleveland and Dalma, have long receded from the glitzy scene—Pat to open her own modeling agency and Dalma to settle down in some posh domicile—but Anna Bayle remains in international high fashion orbit.
After 17 years in the fashion industry, Anna has kept not only her fresh features but also, more importantly, her energy and perspective. She has reached that enviable stage when the tangible and intangible attributes fuse quite gracefully, and what reigns is character.
The Anna Bayle of the ‘90s has the edge of character.
Our Chronicle Plus staff is winding up lunch arranged by good friend Annie Ringor at Roma, Manila Hotel, when a staffer freezes halfway into his sip of coffee, his stare fixed on the carpeted foyer beyond the door. We all follow his gaze. Anna Bayle is making her jaw-dropping entrance at Roma—with neither effort nor self-consciousness.
Unmindful of the eyes collectively taking in her 5 ft-10 1/2 figure that is adequately bared in a body-hugging Azzedine Alaia, Anna walks up to our table, air-busses me, settles down on a chair.
Suddenly it feels like old times.
The only Filipina to this day to have scaled the peak and stayed there the longest
I first met Anna in the early ‘80s when she was about to be the toast of the runway in Paris, and through the years I have written about her as one of the top 10 fashion models in Europe and later New York—the only Filipina to this day to have scaled the peak and stayed there the longest.
Since she left for abroad in the late ‘70s, Anna has come home regularly.
Each time, her visit had been fleeting but always memorable, sometimes for reasons beyond her control. She was here when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, lolling on the beach in Boracay and waking up one morning out in the open air to see her body all covered with white powder—not Boracay sand but Pinatubo ashfall.
The Mt. Pinatubo eruption left her stranded for days after the flights were canceled. Meantime her New York agent had been burning the lines to her friend Auggie Cordero (Anna couldn’t be reached in Boracay), frantically asking when she could take the first flight out since the New York collections were about to begin and Anna was booked in almost all collections.
She barely made it in time for the New York shows.
In 1989 she was about to take the flight to Manila, just as the December military coup attempt was underway. She aborted her homecoming in the nick of time, and spared her New York agent from cardiac arrest.
So now I chide her, what disaster has she brought? “Nothing” she laughs, “ordinary typhoons.”
Anna, in fact, brings us laughter, sweet relaxing laughter, more so on this visit, her longest in years, when for a change, she is not poised to hop on the next flight to catch a collection in Tokyo or in New York.
Anna is taking a breather from the New York-Paris grind in a way she’s never done. She’s just been to Calatagan with leading Manila photographer Pancho Escaler, and before that to Bali and Hong Kong to visit friends.
We blurt out the question that must be on everyone’s mind: is she finally retiring?
“Nobody wants to hear that you want to retire,” she says.
But is she tired?
“My mind is never tired. I’m always thinking and planning. If you stop this, you cease to exist, to live.”
However, the body has every cause to get tired. All her contemporaries have stepped down from the catwalk, and even the fashion icons, who came after her, such as Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, now have to jostle with the new faces in Vogue, the Waif Generation of Kate Moss.
The New York Times has coined the phrase ‘the Anna Bayle walk’ to describe Anna’s signature movement on the runway
Anna has graced the covers of the world’s top fashion magazines (from Vogue to W). She has been photographed by the world’s best (from Avedon to Helmut Newton). She has modeled for the fashion gods (from Saint Laurent to Isaac Mizrahi). She has introduced to world fashion the image of the exotic Filipino beauty and thus has paved the way for the demand for Oriental beauty in world fashion. The New York Times has coined the phrase “the Anna Bayle walk” to describe Anna’s signature movement on the runway.
Indeed Anna has nothing more to prove.
But Anna is not the type to be daunted by change.
Seeing how she’s steered her career or even her life, I realize that if there’s a secret to her success it is her fierce sense of independence. Anna is never one to follow the standard course. She always feels the compulsion to be different. She thrives on competition. And this is probably why, while her contemporaries have opted to retire, Anna is plotting yet another stage in her fashion career.
Just look at her background. The third in a brood of seven, born to a chemist mother and civil engineer father, Anna had been an honor student all her life, from Stella Maris to Philippine Science High School and finally at UP, in pre-med.
On her third year in Biology, she got waylaid into the Miss RP beauty contest where she ended a runner-up. It was in late 1975, while she was doing the Miss RP fashion show at Philippine Village Hotel that designer Auggie Cordero spotted her. “This very tall, dark Filipina attracted me,” Auggie recalls.
Auggie called her over to his table and asked if she wanted to be a beauty queen or to try modeling. She chose the latter, so Auggie put her in his luncheon fashion shows at Hyatt, which in the ‘70s was the venue of fashion shows—the breeding ground of designers and models.
As early as then, Anna showed how driven she could be—she’d commute by bus daily from her UP class to the Hyatt show.
“I encouraged her to be confident,” Auggie says—an advice that was apparently heeded, for in two years, in 1978, Anna had enough guts to move to Hong Kong and try out the modeling scene.
At that time Hong Kong was already a ready-to-wear hub. Anna modeled for department stores, Hong Kong designers, other foreign shows and even galas.
In 1979, she came home to do Auggie’s gala and had a run-in with the then god of fashion shows, the choreographer Gary Flores whose word was law, even among top designers. His friction with Anna brewing, Gary, on the eve of Auggie’s gala, made Auggie choose—junk Anna or he wouldn’t have a show. A tearful Auggie had no choice—Anna had to be dropped from the roster. Anna relented and became just part of the gala night audience. In deference to Anna, Auggie “killed” all the clothes Anna was supposed to wear on the show, instead of letting other models don them.
That night Anna told the victorious Gary—“I’ll never let this happen to me again. I’ll be the best f—ing model you’ll ever meet in your life.”
Anna made good that vow. From Hong Kong, she went to New York where Auggie introduced her to his friends in the rag trade, such as fashion illustrator Maning Obregon, who could push Anna on into the modeling industry.
But then no neophyte model ever starts in New York; the Big Apple is only for the famous ones—a model starts in Europe where she can build her portfolio and only from there can she hope to crash into cutthroat New York. Anna learned this the hard way. She had a year of rejections in New York.
While Anna was starting out as Thierry Mugler model, Mugler’s assistant designer was Azzedine Alaia. This shared beginning explains Anna’s bonding with the now famous Alaia
It was at this point that she decided to try Paris. There she would meet the Thierry Mugler who took her in as a cabin model. (Interestingly, while Anna was starting out as a Mugler model, Mugler’s assistant designer was Azzedine Alaia. This shared beginning explains Anna’s bonding with the now famous Alaia.)
In those early days, Mugler would tell Anna that she couldn’t be booked with other designers because she “looked different.” Europe then was not that adventurous when it came to exotic beauties.
This inspired Anna to develop her now famous approach to modeling— “I’ll be what you want me to be—an Asian, a South American, a black.” Anna’s ability to change her looks became known and good copy for global fashion media. She would be the fashion world’s most accomplished chameleon.
In two and a half years, Anna made a name in Paris—through rigid discipline, strict work ethic, and incredible aggressiveness.
By 1984, she was one of the top 10 models in Paris.
Few really know what it took Anna to climb to the top.
For months, she virtually starved in Paris, living in a pension place and paying $20 a day for lodging, subsisting on nothing but mineral water, French bread and cheese. This she did, not merely to keep a 23-inch or less waistline but more so, to save money to build the best wardrobe she could wear when she went to a “go-see” with a designer.
Here was her intelligence at work—to a Claude Montana go-see, she’d wear a Montana or a Mugler (whose style was close to Montana’s) to show the designer at once that she was the model he needed. Preparing for a Sonia Rykiel, she wouldn’t eat for two days just to be able to look frail and feminine. She would spread powder on her face to achieve paleness, because the frail, pale, feminine look was Sonia Rykiel’s stamp.
Anna followed a physical regimen that would faze even prizefighters. She’d take six kinds of vitamins every morning—four of each kind or a sum of 24
Apart from such cunning, Anna followed a physical regimen that would faze even prizefighters. She’d take six kinds of vitamins every morning—four of each kind or a sum of 24—to keep her looks and stamina for a grueling schedule: fittings with a designer from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. or from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Throughout these hours, she’d be on her feet.
By 1984, she was doing shows for all major Paris designers, except the Japanese (she restricted herself to Kenzo and Issey Miyake). By 1985, she was the signature model of Yves Saint Laurent.
In 1987, at last, she felt she was ready for New York.
Without an agent, she walked into Elite (its runway modeling unit) in New York. She preferred to do this herself, instead of letting her Paris agency do the advanced work in New York, not because she was that daring but because like a full-blooded Ilocana, she wanted to save. She didn’t want to spare the 15% for her Paris agency.
At Elite’s door she stood with her portfolio. In seconds, she was rebuffed by the booker who told her she couldn’t see the manager because she had no appointment. “Then it’s your loss, not mine,” Anna told the booker and turned to walk away.
But—such twist of fate—the head of the agency, seeing Anna through the glass walls, recognized that face from the Paris shows, told the booker to “get her, she’s the most sensational girl in Paris now,” and ran after her, catching up with her as she was about to press the elevator button.
On the spot, the manager told her to go to 550 Seventh Avenue (where New York’s top designers are housed) for a “go-see” with the designers, then “call me.”
That same day, Anna did all of 550 Seventh Avenue and in less than 24 hours, got 27 bookings with such major designers as Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Carolina Herrera, Bill Blass.
That day, New York met Anna Bayle. The Big Apple was ready for the conquest by this Filipina.