Rusty Lopez—the man, not only the brand—in our lives

Today’s generation knows him as a brand. We knew him as the man—talented, quiet and kind

Rusty Lopez pioneered the Philippine Ready to Wear (Photo from Rusty Lopez FB)

Rusty Lopez in recent photo (FB post of Al Banzon)

Thelma Sioson:

Larrie Silva was breaking into sobs on the phone last Monday, June 20, as he broke the news that Rusty Lopez has just passed away—a sad news which we already got that morning. Apparently Rusty had been battling cancer briefly. Rusty and Larrie had always hung out together—since the 1960s—not inseparable but almost always together, especially in social events or doing the town, Rusty being the quiet introvert and Larrie being the extrovert with biting wit.

Yet the ties between the two went beyond the fashion and social scenes—they were bosom friends who started their careers in the fashion industry together.

Rusty Lopez was a pillar of the Philippine fashion industry—even before it could be considered an industry. He went into the Philippine ready-to-wear in the ‘70s, at a time when the country’s elite women were used to going to custom-made designers or their own seamstresses. Even as early as then, he designed collections pegged on Summer and Holiday, and used the regular luncheon fashion shows as platform to give his fashion statement, like many of his designer peers. He was fortunate to have enjoyed the patronage of Cinderella, with Therese Coronel-Santos at the helm. She would become his bosom friend.

The Philippine RTW scene was bustling in the ‘70s and ‘80s and Rusty Lopez was on top of it. Even as women were used to elaborate, flamboyant and extravagant designs, he pared them down to very wearable, almost minimalist yet chic lines. His summer look of white eyelet off-the-shoulder dresses became iconic, among his other designs. In no time, Rusty Lopez became a name synonymous with wearable feminine dresses. In no time, Rusty Lopez became a brand.

He sold this brand eventually so that to the younger generations of Filipino style consumers, Rusty Lopez became synonymous with shoes and accessories. Hardly did they know that Rusty Lopez was a living individual who was a game changer.

Hardly did the Philippine fashion market know that Rusty Lopez the man didn’t have a big ego in an industry full of big egos. His cozy home—which always bore his style statement— was always open to us, through the decades, into our newspaper and magazine publishing years. Rusty was always there to support and collaborate with us.

Here, his close friends Glenna Aquino, Therese Coronel-Santos and Larrie Silva share their thoughts about the man who occupied a meaningful space in their lives, and whom they will miss greatly.

When fashion designers were the real influencers

Glenna Aquino:

Rusty Lopez’s passing marks the end of a vibrant, exciting and storied era in Philippine fashion when designers began pioneering forays in fashion capitals of the world, when bright-eyed models ruled the catwalks in hotel noontime shows and extravagant productions, when processed information from the internet was unheard of, and fashion designers were the real influencers and purveyors of what was courant and what was passe.

They relied on pure talent, guts and wits. It was fun and thrilling but never easy for them. I suspect, this was the reason for their hilarious sense of humor; they needed this to cope with various hindrances that a newly developing fashion industry presented at that time.

I will always remember Rusty’s feistiness, barbs, humor and fierce determination. It was never easy to befriend him but once you hit the right buttons, he would become a guardian angel and confidante for life. He was this for me, in sickness and in health, making sure my sense of humor was always intact.

It’s a sad day, I mourn his passing and the era he was a major part of.
Go Rusty and shine your light from behind the stars on me.

We were both ‘away-bati’ (fight and make up)

Larrie Silva:

My good friend Rusty is gone now. He underwent surgery and I got to visit him only once because he hardly accepted visitors. I feel very sad, devastated even, because we’d been friends ever since, in the ‘60s, even before we became designers.

We’re both September-born, and our close friends knew we were both “away-bati” (fight and make up). We’re opposite characters—I’m the gastador (spender), he’s the kuripot (tightwad), so that he was the one who became rich! Ha ha. We’d traveled here, there and everywhere.

In Paris in the’70s, Rusty Lopez (second from left), Larrie Silva, Therese Coronel-Santos (far right) and Rusty’s best friend Jaina Perez

We were both very competitive. We both joined the famous Ramon Valera Awards in the ‘70s and discussed it and decided we would join different categories so that we didn’t have to compete against each other. I joined the RTW category, and he, the Innovative category. I won in my category by unanimous decision. Rusty lost, but honestly, ang ganda ganda ng kanya! (Paging Oscar Atendido…he he) Rusty’s Fantasy collection was so beautiful.

How did we first meet? He was a good friend of my cousin in their FEU (Far Eastern University) days. Small world. (Rusty was from Alcala, Pangasinan.)

Not too many know that Rusty began with Syvel’s (landmark department store) in Escolta. This was before Cinderella, which became the defining era of his career. Therese (Coronel-Santos) played a very big role in Rusty’s career and life because she was the first to believe in Rusty’s design ability, and she got him even if Rusty was difficult to talk to because he was an introvert. She also asked me to talk to Rusty.

Now, I have to see my friend’s remains before cremation, and it still hurts. But I have to—it was Rusty’s request that I see his face one last time.

He did his White Collection for Henri Bendel and Bergdorf

Therese Coronel-Santos:

I’ve known Rusty since the ‘70s. I remember him visiting our new store (Cinderella) at Harrison Plaza and on his own, he meddled with the window display.

Then I invited him to design for Cinderella. He was among the pioneers of RTW.

For us, my favorite was his White Collection which he did for Henri Bendel and Bergdorf in New York.

Rusty was very kind and was always there when you needed him…a true friend…from the beginning. I guided him in his career path. He eventually helped Cinderella establish a leadership in the Philippine RTW.

The fashion scene will miss Rusty Lopez.

In 2019, during birthday celebration of Lydia Castillo (seated, center), Rusty (standing, middle), with Larrie (standing, right), Thelma Sioson (seated, left), Conchita Razon (seated, right) and Lydia’s sister Leda

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