Thank you, Tonichi, the quiet presence in our corner

Philippine fashion honors the low-key designer, a pioneeer in RTW menswear, the people’s person who helped jumpstart the careers of colleagues, the archivist, the kind soul

Tonichi Nocom
Anthony ‘Tonichi’ Nocom, Jr.: The quiet mover of Philippine fashion

Don’t rely on the promise of tomorrow, renowned journalist Jullie Yap Daza told our Bulong Pulungan reunion over lunch just about two weeks ago.

Last Saturday, our friend Tonichi Nocom, the low-key RTW designer of SM who was responsible for the kaftan-dressing trend during the pandemic lockdowns, was gone; we were together just days before. That was when Jullie’s words came to mind—indeed, don’t put your trust in the promise of tomorrow. It may never come.

Anthony “Tonichi” Nocom, Jr., one of the quiet movers of Philippine fashion, passed away June 29, 2024, a month before his 65th birthday, of a heart attack.

Tonichi Nocom

Tonichi Nocom (second from left) with Randy Ortiz, Thelma San Juan, and Gerard Ramirez at the birthday celebration of Joy Rustia June 22 in what would turn out to be Tonichi’s last social (Photo by Gerard Ramirez)

Just a weekend before that, we were together at the grand birthday celebration of leading entrepreneur Joy Rustia. He asked that we ride home together right after dinner and the show—no need to wait for Randy Ortiz, who designed Joy’s drop-dead long dresses for the celebration, he said, and asked that I drop him off in his house. This routine was nothing new—Tonichi and I, with some friends, had been used to meeting in his home to go to events together; we called his car our “school bus.” This time we would be in my car.

On the way home that night, we had a good chat—how he’d been with SM for 40 long years now, how we missed friends who had gone too soon, like designer Cesar Gaupo, and that since he acquired Cesar’s collection and Auggie Cordero’s sister Neng has preserved Auggie’s collection, we could mount a retrospective of both early next year—masters from the ‘80s–2000s or what were, arguably, the golden years of Philippine fashion design. We even agreed to meet in the next weeks to discuss it.

Little did I know that that car ride would be our goodbye.

Tonichi Nocom

Katrina Ponce Enrile posts a recent photo with Tonichi Nocom.

Tonichi Nocom

Henri Calayag posts on FB a photo of Tonichi Nocom as a model in the ‘80s.

Tonichi’s sudden death came as a shock to everyone, especially his life-long friends Katrina Ponce Enrile—they had been best buddies since Katrina was 18 or 19 and her firstborn was still a baby— fashion director Jackie Aquino (whom Tonichi himself nudged into directing fashion shows decades ago), and fashion designer Randy Ortiz. Tonichi was studying at the Philippine School of Interior Design when he struck a friendship with Jackie and Randy, who were students at De la Salle College. Completing the group were veteran PR man Toots Tolentino and top hairstylist and makeup artist Henri Calayag.

Tonichi Nocom

Life-long friends gather on the first day of the funeral vigil for Tonichi Nocom: (from left) Randy Ortiz, Jackie Aquino, Katrina Ponce Enrile, Henri Calayag, Toots Tolentino

This group, who brings fun, laughter, and hilarious moments wherever it goes, was inconsolable the first night of the wake, especially Katrina, who didn’t believe the initial messages from friends that Saturday afternoon, until she walked into the private chapel in her family compound expecting to see Tonichi, as usual, for the Saturday anticipated Mass—which Tonichi attended almost without fail. When she didn’t see Tonichi in the chapel, she broke down—the text messages from friends were true. Just the day before, Tonichi had complained about stomachache, so Katrina had some meds sent over to him.

What a jarring turn of events. Just last April Tonichi was among those helping out in the celebration of Katrina’s birthday celebration. He had been by her side through the ups and downs of her life, her failed relationships, the political upheavals she had gone through, including the 1986 Edsa Revolution—“he was there so worried about me and ready to bring me food,” Katrina recounts in this video interview with us at the wake.

In a dog-eat-dog fashion industry, he lent his expertise and support unselfishly—without a hidden agenda

Not only with Katrina. Tonichi had been a quiet presence in the lives of many, always trying to do what he could to help. In a dog-eat-dog fashion industry, he lent his expertise and support unselfishly—without a hidden agenda. He opened the door to the fashion industry for many, from his friend Jackie Aquino, who became a leading fashion director, to the young designers he prodded to go into fashion design, and some of these young talents paid their last respects last Monday. In his video interview, Jackie said, “Me and Randy wouldn’t have gone into fashion if not for Tonichi.”

Not known to many is the fact that the milestone fashion show series, Metrowear, was Tonichi’s idea. It was December 28 in early 2000s; we were having our holiday dinner with Tonichi, Randy Ortiz, Jackie Aquino at El Cirkulo, when Tonichi thought—why not mount a big fashion show with all the FDCP (Fashion Design Council of the Philippines) designers and Metro magazine, of which I was the founding EIC and editorial director then? Randy, I think, was the FDCP head then. We all got excited, Tonichi said it would be workable to get sponsors, and our brainstorming produced the name Metrowear.

Metrowear became the biggest fashion show that year and the following years. The maiden show was staged in the biggest TV studio at that time at the ELJ Center in Quezon City, since Metro was the flagship title of ABS-CBN Publishing. That would become the venue of Showtime and other top-rating shows of ABS.

Metrowear became a barometer of Philippine fashion, a review of the creative output of the country’s top designers. It became the ultimate fashion show series, every year, that would put together in one show all the major players—and fierce rivals—in Philippine fashion design. For me, Tonichi, and Jackie, getting the likes of Inno Sotto, Auggie Cordero, Pitoy Moreno, Ben Farrales, Pepito Albert to come together in one show was like walking a tightrope.

Moreover, Metrowear set a precedent in local fashion show production in that we paid each designer an honorarium for his or her participation of two or three designs.

A year or two later, Tonichi introduced us to Marco Protacio, the dynamic general manager of Waterfront in Cebu. And that was how the Metrowear Cebu Wedding edition came to be.

Tonichi supported me throughout my career in publishing and journalism. He has always been the constant presence I needed in my corner, even now that we have moved over to the digital platform and social media.

Many called him the archivist of Philippine fashion design. He was. Name the news clipping, material, newspaper or magazine copies, chances are he would have it properly filed away—from old issues of the extinct Manila Women’s Wear magazine, news clippings about top designers, even invites to the luncheon fashion series of the ‘70s at Hyatt La Concha, to photos of fashion designers living and dead, and their runway collections.

He was like the nurturer of everyone’s career, like a parent keeping in storage the precious souvenirs of the offspring. Sometimes at the end of the day he’d text me how he had just finished “pressing and ironing” newspaper clippings so that they could be filed properly. Ironing the newsprint!

After he acquired the collections of Cesar Gaupo this year, he’d make sure they were kept in good condition, taking photos of them for the record, sometimes pressing the clothes himself, and hanging them on the racks. The racks are in a part of the living room.

Tonichi was a diligent student of fashion, its history and current events. Friends and colleagues are so used to his regular sharing of fashion stories—the latest buzz he would get wind of, whether on websites or YouTube. He remained loyal to Women’s Wear Daily even after I had switched to Business of Fashion.

Katrina is right when she told us that Tonichi was an underrated fashion designer. I believe it’s in large part because he didn’t really promote himself, not then, not now. This, in a profession and in an industry anchored on hype.

His initiation into fashion was through interior design—in the store display and as merchandiser for the eponymous SM Boutique Square which introduced to the RTW market such design talents as Caloy Badidoy, Mike de la Rosa, Cesar Gaupo, Efren Ocampo, among others. He also became the Boutique Square fashion stylist, and in time, designed some house brands and his own, Anthony Nocom. In a way he helped pioneer menswear RTW, an old-timer at SM long before it became a conglomerate. He rose from the ranks, an all-around professional in Philippine fashion. He was a model on the runway and in fashion editorials. And he was also an assistant fashion director in the series of luncheon fashion shows that were the vogue in the ’80s. His was a steady hand in fashion retail, and his commitment to SM clearly steadfast. He was one of the fashion design pillars at SM, multi-tasking like the SM old-timers did, from merchandising to design and even helping out with marketing and promotion.

I remember how, right after the 1986 Edsa Revolution, in Manila Chronicle, in the People Power euphoria, we set out to do what had never been done—mount a fashion shoot at Camp Crame (or was it Camp Aguinaldo), amid the tanks and military arsenal. We got permission and brought to the camp the clothes of the country’s top designers, with the designers in tow, including Gaupo, Caloy Badidoy for SM.  Tonichi helped style that milestone of a fun shoot.

Indeed, Tonichi would be the equivalent, in retail, of a “military brat,” like the military officials whose families grew up in the camp. This “retail brat” grew up at SM, in part because he loved fashion, and also because his father, Anthony Nocom, Sr., was a close friend of the SM patriarch Henry Sy. The two pioneering entrepreneurs forged ties going back to their Binondo years. Tonichi or Anthony Nocom, Jr. was the youngest of six siblings, who lived with his father until the death of his old man. In that was rooted Tonichi’s “malasakit” for the Sy family of SM, and in turn, the Sy family’s reliance on Tonichi.

Tonichi Nocom with Tessie Sy Coson and Katrina Ponce Enrile (Katrina Ponce Enrile FB)

Gaupo and Tonichi loved to fuss about the wardrobe of Tessie Sy Coson, the head of SM conglomerate and reputedly Asia’s foremost businesswoman, who, as many know, is a no-fuss dresser. After Gaupo’s death, Tonichi would go out of his way to recommend a designer and wardrobe to Ms. Sy Coson.

When the world went into lockdown during the pandemic, Ms. Sy Coson had the ingenious idea to meet the demands of women confined to home: kaftan dressing. She tasked Tonichi to design the kaftan line of SM Women, which later flew off the shelves. It was then that we branded Anthony Nocom the “kaftan king.”

Recently, Tonichi had been designing lingerie or nightwear for women, again upon the bright idea of “TSC.” A month or two ago, he messaged me his POV, because he was quite excited about the market response:

“When I was told to develop a lingerie collection to complement the SM WOMAN undergarment brand, Gigi Amore, I knew it’d be a challenging task as it was the first time SM would be introducing lingerie on the market—intimate wear. With this new category, SM WOMAN has everything a woman needs on her wardrobe. And I thought, if not now, when? The Filipina has come a long way from being conservative to now daring, outspoken, independent. And I know they aspire to wear lingerie and feel sexy too for their partner.

“What I have in mind is a total confident woman—with  good body or full-figure body (‘the forgotten woman’). Each has her own of way being ‘sexy.’ No age limit.

“I have lots to consider…type of bra cup, silhouette (fitted like a corset or babydoll), fabrics in stretch tulle, chiffon lace, and trimming. Colors  are black, red, blush pink, beige, pastels. The cutting is specialized for lingerie, it must fit well, correctly proportion, look good on any body shape.”

Surprise: the lingerie/robe set with “marabou” feathers became the bestseller, especially in Visayas and Mindanao. Tonichi couldn’t hide his delight.

Finally he could show how he had the pulse of the market, following the lead of TSC.

In March 2023, on a rare occasion, Tonichi joined a fashion show—Algodon produced by Dr. Joven Cuanang and Pinto Art Museum, to showcase the versatility of Ilocano cotton. Tonichi had a most wearable line in the show—clothes built away from the body, silhouettes so accessible to today’s men and women, yet well tailored. He captured in a way the style zeitgeist of the era, one not rooted in the stereotypical notion of slim-and-fit that this generation, which coined “body shaming,” is so averse to.

Tonichi Nocom, early morning, prepping Auggie Cordero’s long formal dress for the Auggie Cordero Memorial in December 2022 (Photo by Thelma Sioson)

However, over and above Tonichi’s niche in Philippine fashion design, his colleagues and friends will miss the kind soul that was Tonichi. He was not only a people’s person, he would also go out of his way to help and brighten up the day of his friends. When foremost designer Pepito Albert was terminally ill, Tonichi and his friends started the routine of Sunday lunches in Tonichi’s home. Pepito and his close friends would gather for a potluck lunch in Tonichi’s home every Sunday, talking and laughing the day away—lunches that would run into early dinner. He helped make Pepito’s last years happy.

In our case, I will not forget the day of the memorial for Auggie Cordero that he helped me organize. It was in December 2022, two months after Auggie’s death in October. We wanted to display a few of Auggie’s masterpieces. He said it was not as simple as putting them on mannequins; they had to be mounted elegantly, befitting the Auggie Cordero style. He knew what to do. As early as 9 in the morning he was already at the venue, prepping Auggie’s couture gowns, hanging them properly on the mannequins, stuffing the sleeves just right. The set-up was beautiful. Again, Tonichi worked quietly behind the scenes.

Thank you, Tonich. Rest in eternal peace now. But linger with us just a bit longer behind the scenes.

Read more:

Auggie Cordero: Friends’ terms of endearment

About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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