“You don’t know Teyet? How could you have forgotten Teyet?” I pressed on.
Pitoy just shook his head, rather weakly, and kept his smile. He really couldn’t remember.
He invited me to lunch that day in 2008 in his atelier/home, the structure with a glass display window facade and awning on Malvar street, which became a Manila landmark from the ‘60s onwards. I haven’t driven by that place lately, I’m not sure I want to see if the awning bearing the name J. Moreno is still there or not.
If it is, it would bring me a blitz of memories. If it isn’t, it would still invite memories.
This lunch, I could feel that Pitoy honestly had no memory of Teyet, his best friend-turned-worst foe. Theirs became one of Manila’s most talked-about friendships, later feuds, which people ask me about to this day, mainly because I was right smack in the center along with a few of their close friends like Imelda Cojuangco and Marietta Santos. (The idea to write this came from a Comment addressed to me by Isidra Reyes in Facebook’s Manila Nostalgia.) It’s the dish Manila has lapped up a quarter of a century. To me, however, it wasn’t amusement. Pitoy Moreno and Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual gave me enriching and precious moments that lent my career and life some spice and cliff-hangers.
However elegant and grand Teyet’s weddings were, they were not as talked about as the party he designed and hosted to celebrate Pitoy’s 60th birthday.
Jose “Pitoy” Moreno was a defining presence in Philippine fashion and in Philippine society from the ‘60s onwards. He was a friend to the powerful, from the Philippine presidents (Carlos Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), their wives (especially Imelda Marcos) to the political opposition (Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., former Vice President Salvador “Doy” Laurel were his “brods” in Upsilon), to leaders of business and industry (tycoon Eugenio Lopez, Jr. was a cousin), and the buzz makers of high society.
He loved to tell us how, in the early ‘50s, Doy and Ninoy gave him a hard time during the Upsilon initiation rites when they and other “brods” made him dance the ballet in tutu on stage, as the curtain fell, after the last full show in a Manila cinema, or how they made him sneak into the Anatomy room of the UST Medicine building in the middle of the night—to be with cadavers.
Such were Pitoy’s permanent ties to the two men who would rule the political destiny of the Philippines, that in August 1983, on the day of the mammoth funeral procession of Ninoy, Pitoy joined the crowd lining the route, stood on the sidewalk incognito, holding an umbrella over his head in the intermittent drizzle. He rushed there—he loved to remind us—coming straight from the Mass at Malacanang Palace hosted by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. He said he simply had to say his goodbye to his “brod” Ninoy.
Time was when Pitoy and Teyet were considered honorary “Blue Ladies,” as the women around Imelda Marcos were called prestigiously or otherwise, depending on which side of the political fence you were in. The two obviously enjoyed providing mirth and comic relief in the corridors of power, and with their commentaries, putting the country’s Who’s Who on the edge of their seat. In laughter, Teyet would recount to us how, after one gala performance at Cultural Center of the Philippines, Mrs. Marcos, already in her presidential limousine, signaled for him and Pitoy standing in the CCP driveway to join her in the car, in full view of Manila’s chi-chi set waiting for their ride. Oh no, they must have been thinking, a naughty Teyet was amused by the memory, what would they talk about with her this time.
That day I realized that Pitoy no longer remembered Teyet.
Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual was a doctor of chemistry who studied in Switzerland where he would scour antique shops and flea markets on weekends. Upon his return, he joined the early committed Filipino collectors of Philippine art and antiques. He was a close friend of Don Luis Araneta, the foremost art and antiques collector in the ‘60s who would land in the news and society pages in the early ‘80s as the best friend of TV and high society doyenne, the livewire Elvira Manahan, and as the father-in-law of Irene Marcos.
One of the rare times Don Luis was in the national spotlight was the day Irene married his only son, Greggy, in June 1983. Don Luis, an antique cane on his arm and holding a fine salakot reminiscent of the Spanish colonial era, looked so patrician as he walked down the aisle of the church in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte. Teyet would recount to us how he worked behind the scenes in the wedding of Greggy and Irene Araneta, a red-letter-day when the country sat up and watched, drawing droves of the local and foreign press to Ilocos. AP bureau chief David Briscoe even hitched a ride in our private jeep, rented by proudly Ilocana Josie Darang, that took us from Josie’s hometown Laoag, Ilocos Norte, to the wedding in Sarrat. Squeezing his body at the back of the jeep during the entire trip, Briscoe caught the sight of the endless rows of colorful “bougainvilleas” that lined the road leading to Sarrat, which he later described in his story as paper blooms installed to prettify the scenic route.
Teyet, however, had more than that passing view—he helped his friend Don Luis decorate the church, theirs being a confluence of fine cultivated tastes, and in the process, he’d tell us, locked horns with a stylist/decorator working in the wedding.
That was Teyet—never get in his way when he was executing his concept or his taste, or he would come charging at you in a most, uh, unfriendly way; he simply couldn’t stand crude taste.
After the Araneta-Marcos wedding, Teyet was asked by more and more friends to do their children’s weddings, and he acceded, using his fine furniture and home object collections, including chandeliers and life-size candelabra, his best silver, china and fine cutlery. Sometimes he would lend paintings from his collection that would become conversation topics at the wedding or dinner he was styling.
It is no tall claim that Teyet began the glamorous practice of wedding styling in the Philippines—without expecting that a later generation of stylish entrepreneurs would turn it into a bustling industry. While others before him did only floral arrangements for weddings and other formal functions, Teyet raised the bar by decorating the setting with his own renowned fine objects to create the elegant ambiance. Teyet introduced the ambiance of rich elegance, if not exclusive affluence, in Manila’s weddings, by merely imposing his taste and aesthetic sense.
When Manila’s social set began talking about the weddings Teyet had styled—from the luxurious Phalaenopsis arrangements lining the church aisle to the crystal candelabras used as table centerpieces—Teyet became in demand, especially his antiques and fine home pieces he would lend friends’ weddings. For instance, it was Teyet who made in vogue the use of tiffany chairs at wedding receptions—goodbye monoblocs.
However elegant and grand his weddings were, they were not as talked about as the party he designed and hosted to celebrate Pitoy’s 60th birthday. This was in the house Teyet used to stay in in Vito Cruz, Manila. His garden became the al fresco setting of different design vignettes—clusters of furniture and home objects—inspired by the gods of Paris haute couture. In one setting were the sofa and chairs wrapped in rich glossy taffeta, in vibrant orange, red, and colorful floral fabrics, tied into giant bows at the backs of the chairs (the first time I saw chairs wrapped in luxurious fabric bows—chairs in grand “skirts” would become de rigueur in the coming years). If it was vermillion and theatrical, it could only have been Lacroix; it was Teyet’s tribute to Christian Lacroix. Beside the Lacroix were Teyet’s furniture settings inspired by Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent (the black-and-whites). Under the moonlit sky, guests lounged in this chic Parisian setting.
Indoors, old world elegance characterized the ground and second levels, with delicious hor d’oeuvres and main courses laid out on tables greeting guests who mingled from one floor to another. A string ensemble serenaded guests who lingered in the roof deck to enjoy the view of the Manila skyline when Malate was the epicenter of Metro Manila’s nightlife.
This was in the mid-‘90s. Pitoy was a happy honoree welcoming guests who were the Who’s Who of society. Pitoy was assiduous in keeping his social ties to the end. That night in Teyet’s Vito Cruz home, I chided the two friends that since this birthday party would run in our Manila Chronicle, people could always refer back and know when exactly Pitoy turned 60, for the record. “That’s Teyet’s making sure you, nobody, could lie about your age later on, Pitoy,” I said, and we all laughed.
I shared much happy, rollicking laughter with the two who, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, stood in the axis of power. Some evenings, they’d pick me up in my Chronicle office, after my deadline, so we could have dinner and talk about anyone. Teyet helped Pitoy organize some of his grand shows (retrospectives) by giving his inputs on Philippine history and culture, and Pitoy would let Teyet use some of his pina and manton de manila collections for his events. Theirs was a reciprocal relationship, as far as I experienced—a loving symbiosis with naughty flavors.
In truth, I think the naughtiness simply got out of hand. As far as I knew, there was no single incident that caused their falling out which would soon turn into nasty encounters. Rather, it was a gap that widened and became more palpable with each dinner, lunch or social event where the two, previously inseparable, would no longer be seen together. Our lunches or dinners for three stopped. I noticed that instead, Pitoy and Teyet would ask me out separately. When I asked Pitoy why he was going solo, he told me he and his woman friends were no longer comfortable with Teyet and his glib jokes. Teyet, for his part, became more disparaging of Pitoy and his designs.
I can never forget the day I saw for myself how hurt Teyet was to be cut off from their social clique. We were doing a shoot of Teyet’s Ramon Valera terno collection in his Vito Cruz home one noon. Our Chronicle Lifestyle team wanted to show how Valera could be contemporized for the new millennium. We made top model Joyce Orena don the straight column terno, dripping with white beads, without its inner layer, and made her stand at the door against the noonday sun. The result was a stark transparent silhouette of an elegant Valera terno, defined only by Joyce’s statuesque body.
Teyet was ecstatic over the shoot—until we asked him if he was going later that night to the big opera gala at CCP and if he wanted us to go together. No, he said and turned livid that he didn’t even get an invitation from the very same people whose events he had styled. He didn’t hide his hurt at this exclusion, which to him was nothing less than betrayal. That moment was the first time he opened up to me about his falling out with Pitoy and some of their common friends.
Teyet loved to recall how the morning after the “stabbing” incident, Mrs. Marcos, with a retinue of Blue Ladies, drove by the “scene of the crime” curious about where the “stabbing incident” happened.
Until then, I wasn’t used to thinking of Pitoy without Teyet and vice versa. Together we’d always get a good laugh from Pitoy’s recollection of the opening night of Larry Cruz’s Solana restaurant in Ermita in 1981—that notorious “stabbing” incident which Manila talked about for years even if it didn’t make it in the news. Given the many times it’s been retold it is almost like an urban legend, except that it did happen.
It happened near the buffet table in the restaurant’s second level. Pitoy said he couldn’t stand the snide remarks of this prominent artist and the way he glared at him. So when the artist walked up to him with more acidic remarks, Pitoy saw red, grabbed the fork nearest him at the buffet table, and lunged at him. Pitoy would describe to us how he repeatedly poked at the artist’s chest but before he could rip the artist’s barong, the security detail around them stopped what could have been a battle royale in the Marcos years of the ‘80s.
Sometimes we’d chuckle at this constant retelling and I’d remind the two that perhaps what got the artist’s goat was Teyet’s repeated jabs that the artist’s painting had been relegated to the restroom of Pitoy’s atelier/home—that, and other mischievous loose talk. Then Pitoy would look accusingly at Teyet and we’d all laugh again. Teyet also loved to recall how the morning after the “stabbing” incident, Mrs. Marcos, with a retinue of Blue Ladies, drove by the “scene of the crime” curious about where the “stabbing incident” happened. Then the three of us would be in stitches again trying to imagine the First Lady’s postmortem convoy of 1981.
But even if the recollection was always funny, Pitoy was serious about his perceived affront and filed a libel and oral defamation suit against the artist. The legal case dragged on, long after the Marcos years. We would cover some of the court hearings up to the last hearing, after it was elevated to a higher court. Teyet made sure we sent a writer to cover the handing out of the decision—at 8 a.m. Pitoy won the case, and the indemnity—two pesos! Pitoy, who was wont to litigation to begin with, just wanted to make a point. (Pitoy had a go-to litigation lawyer to begin with, his Upsilon “brod” Joker Arroyo who would become senator.) Our Manila Chronicle carried the story of the talked-about case that involved a P2-crime.
I saw the highs and lows of their relationship, until it was finally over. Already estranged, the two would have run-ins in some of Manila’s stylish dinners, which would be gist for the city rumor mill for months to come.
It is true that a couple of times, Teyet displayed Pitoy’s gowns for guests to see—one was at a dinner he hosted to celebrate the birthday of Mrs. Marcos in his condominium unit. He draped the formal gown on a chair in his foyer, and guests, who were coming to and from his and Mrs. Marcos’ neighboring unit, would ask with amusement what that was about. It was interesting and ironic how tight the friendship of the four used to be—Mrs. Marcos, Teyet, Pitoy and Imelda Cojuangco— that they bought neighboring units on the same floor of a high-end condominium; such was their strong ties in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Perhaps it didn’t occur to them that in the future, they would have a falling out in a scenario which one of their good friends titled, tongue-in-cheek, “Sarte’s No Exit.”
Another time, when Teyet designed a very stylish wedding in Tagaytay, Teyet pulled a surprise that not even we and the bride saw coming.
I was seated at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Tagaytay, two pews behind the principal sponsors Imelda Cojuangco and Judy Roxas, who were bosom friends of the mother of the bride, when after Communion, as everybody else remained seated, two young women dressed in fuchsia evening gowns with rather stiff tops inched their way to the chairs adjacent to the two prominent ninang and sat there. They didn’t really make heads turn during Mass. It was only at the reception later that we learned from a victorious and amused Teyet that he had dressed his two househelp in Pitoy’s gowns (Teyet kept a collection of designers’ clothes) and instructed them to take those chairs beside the ninang. He didn’t let any of us in on that plan.
Not only were we too incredulous to laugh at Teyet’s prank, we were also so in awe of how glamorously and elegantly he had styled this wedding on the Tagaytay ridge that we overlooked such well-crafted distraction in the church. And the bride’s mother was too busy to focus on Teyet’s antics. It would be some years later that we’d recall it repeatedly with Teyet who then would laugh at the memory, like a schoolboy who got away with a mischief.
Fast forward to 2008, these memories whirred in my head as Pitoy and I sat down to lunch. This moment made me feel sad. It was as if he had blocked Teyet out of his memory. This must have been in 2008 or the beginning of 2009, after I rejoined Inquirer from ABS-CBN Publishing.
We were alone at his dining table, about to eat our Jollibee sandwiches which he had had delivered. “So do you still see Imelda?” I asked him about the former First Lady.
“Hindi na eh. Kasi yung furniture collector na yon,” he said, explaining who drove a wedge between him and Imelda and why he hadn’t been with her. Looking back now, I’m no longer sure if he meant Imelda Marcos or Imelda Cojuangco, both of whom were close to him at one time.
“Collector?” I was puzzled and gave the name of the furniture maker/collector I knew.
“No, no,” he said.
“You mean, Teyet?” I said. He shook his head. I said, “Don’t you remember Teyet?”
Again, he shook his head.
“Don’t you remember we even covered your suit against (artist’s name) and you won it? We were with Teyet.”
“No, I didn’t sue anyone,” Pitoy said, rather firmly. That day I realized that Pitoy no longer remembered the lawsuit or his well-known legal tussle with the artist, or even Teyet.
BUSH TO PRINCESS MARGARET
What he wanted was for us to go over his many “baul” of photos from his stellar career so we could make a book out of them. Looking around his dining room and living room, sitting across from him at the table, I felt nostalgic about our precious lunches that would run into the afternoon, the signature Pitoy Moreno lunch of home-cooked kare-kare, rellenong bangus, adobo, chicken binakol and frozen buco salad. Those lunches were what I missed when I moved to ABS-CBN, and now that I was back at Inquirer, I was looking forward to having lunch with Pitoy more often, not knowing that lunch would never be the same because his memory was fading away.
Pitoy’s vibrant career was a footnote to any documentation of contemporary Philippine society, no matter the political administration. That time, it was hard to imagine the social and cultural scene without Pitoy—his social networking was unparalleled; he told me how he had a funeral wake to drop by almost every day—such that it never occurred to me that Pitoy would soon fade into his twilight years.
There that afternoon, I still felt Pitoy’s incomparably powerful career just by looking around at the display of framed photos in his living room. The pictures represented at least four decades that Pitoy Moreno ruled Philippine fashion, when his was the name introduced to royalty and heads of state. To this day, no other Filipino fashion designer has staged that many shows abroad as he had, before foreign leaders. In one photo he was being congratulated by US President George Bush and wife Barbara, in another by Britain’s Princess Margaret, and so on.
In Pitoy Moreno, fashion crossed over to the turfs of power. A Pitoy Moreno terno or evening wear or barong became known not only for its design but also for who wore it.
Little did I know that that lunch would be my last normal moment with Pitoy. His health continued to deteriorate after that. He was bedridden in the hospital and in 2014, I joined some of his close friends (like Carolyn Masibay Garcia, Meg Paris, Celia Diaz-Laurel) invited by his sister, the poetess Virgie Moreno, to celebrate his birthday in his hospital room.
Pitoy Moreno passed away in 2018, and Dr. Teyet Pascual in 2012. The two never got back together. Theirs was a relationship whose ending I never wanted to write about—until now.