As a kid, all I knew about Pitoy Moreno was that he was in a lyric of a song my mom and dad usually played during the summer. He was the Pitoy, we would joyously sing out loud in Hotdog’s “Bongga Ka ‘Day”, the 1974 song now immortalized in movies, radio, and even in throwback spins at party venues.
But now that I’m thrust in the world of fashion, the song has become, to me, a most fitting way to describe the man who shaped Filipino fashion. “Bongga,” to say the least.
On January 15, news of Pitoy Moreno’s death at 87 years old populated my feed. As expected, the world of the fashion elite went into mourning and came out with tributes to the man who earnestly upheld Filipino identity in his designs that would then be celebrated around the globe.
Exactly a week ago today, his remains were buried at the Manila Memorial Park. But not his legacy. I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about Mang Pitoy, as he was fondly called by insiders, and his work. To know him, is to live in a time when dressing in a Pitoy Moreno design is to be part of the elite and envied by many.
His creations were a spectacle on their own. The man has an eye for the grandiose and the majestic. And why not? He was dubbed the Fashion Czar of Asia with a formidable list of clients including Queen Sirikit of Thailand, Nancy Reagan, Queen Margarita Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Bulgaria, Queen Sophia of Greece, Princess Suga of Japan, Princess Margaret of Britain, not to mention a long roster of local “royalty” like Imelda Marcos, Bb. Pilipinas Charities’ Stella Marquez-Araneta, former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz, Tingting Cojuangco, Toni Parsons, Conchitina Bernardo, Crispy Santamaria, and Aurora Pijuan.
His illustrious career, spanning more than 50 years, was synonymous not only with mastery of his widely-popularized 19th-century inspired ternos or the Maria Claras with the vertical butterfly sleeves, cinched waists and panuelo draping, but of expert manipulation of locally-sourced fabric, intricate embellishments, beadworks, and handpainted materials.
He has staged more than 43 shows in Moscow, New York, San Francisco, Rome, Madrid, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Athens, Washington D.C., and even Paris, that caught the eye of luminaries like Pierre Cardin and Pierre Balmain. In fact, in 2009, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, awarded Moreno the National Award in Fashion Design. Unfortunately, the conferment was rescinded when claims of Arroyo’s blatant disregard of the national award selection process surfaced.
In 2011, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to cover a show that paid homage to the man who first to put the Philippines on the map of fashion. The show featured 100 stunning designs championed onstage with a combination of veteran supermodels Isa Gonzalez, Patty Betita, Suyen Chi Marina Benipayo and a new breed of supermodels Michelle Panemanglor, Jasmine Maierhoffer, and Danica Magpantay.
Geographic and cultural differences were never a problem for Pitoy’s classic creations as he proudly showcased classic and even tribal numbers with ease. I remember the show’s opener showed a Muslim tribal creation with gold materials partnered with lamé tapis, accented by rope belts and embellished coral headdress. Then came the Maria Claras he was well known for along with a reinvention of the classic terno, tweaked by using a splash of colors and elaborate details.
Not long after, Moreno’s devotion to promoting the Filipino heritage was highlighted by parading an assemblage of wedding downs that represents different regions. Beyond the mélange of meticulously-designed gowns, each creation showed Moreno’s respect for the female form.
The show was bannered by Bb. Pilipinas beauties Nina Ricci Alagao, Dianne Necio, Bianca Manalo, Patricia Fernandez, Marie Ann Umali, along with Venus Raj and Shamcey Supsup.
The show’s finale turned into a poignant moment not just for me but for everyone who witnessed the show, when a then-80-year-old Moreno walked carefully onstage with no less than the Manila Symphony Orchestra playing beautifully in the background. It was a celebration that felt well-deserved.
For valiantly shaping Filipino artistry and for bringing it to the global stage, maraming salamat po, Ginoong Pitoy Moreno!