Malu, Vicky and Letlet Veloso: The National Artist’s legacy through two generations
While many heritage homes are threatened by modernization, the residence of National Artist for Architecture Pablo Antonio in Pasay City continues to hold its own, remaining a heritage showcase, a tourist destination, and an exclusive dining enclave.
Built in 1948, the bungalow is a fine example of mid-century modern architecture that integrates the outdoors with the indoors in an open layout. It has a marker by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, identifying it as a historic and heritage site, protecting it from demolition.
The residential compound holds a lot of memories for the Antonio clan, helping nurture the creativity of its members.
Antonio’s daughter Maria Lourdes “Malu” Antonio Veloso, as well as Malu’s daughters Maria Victoria “Vicky” Veloso-Barrera and Maria Violeta “Letlet” have been organizing activities to maintain the place.
On Sept. 30, the Velosos will hold an art exhibit, “Love,
Marina,” and a salon fashion show.
September is the birthday month of Malu and the late Marina Antonio, Pablo’s wife and a well-known couturier in the ’50s.
The fashion collection will feature three generations of couturiers—Marina and her Filipiniana evening wear, Malu’s ternos and classic gowns, and Letlet’s au courant gowns. Clients, Vicky’s daughters—Hannah and Justine—and her niece, Verena, will model the clothes.
The event will also include an exhibit-sale of artworks by Vicky’s children, Joshua and Hannah, and their friend Nigel Villaceran. Malu and Vicky will prepare a high-tea menu.
The Garden Room
The Antonio clan consists of three generations of architects and fashion designers. Malu’s brothers are architect Ramon Antonio and interior designer Chito Antonio.
Since Marina’s death in 2006, Malu has been doing the upkeep of the Antonio compound. The house is now known as the Garden Room, and is available for private dining events.
Malu said her mother never cooked. Her father preferred a simple meal of fish and vegetables. To satisfy his sweet tooth, only daughter Malu started to bake his desserts.
Marina loved nature, so she freshens up the domicile with flowers.
Malu started a culinary career, accepting baking orders. Her interest, however, shifted to designing and making clothes when she had Vicky and Letlet.
Her father-in-law, Buenaventura Veloso, then a Philippine Airlines executive, facilitated her travels to Europe, where she bought fabrics and one-dollar shoes at De Pablos, a store in Madrid. The trips inspired her to make frothy dresses with matching shoes for her daughters.
“Back then, nobody wore pink shoes,” Malu said. “The mothers would get annoyed that Vicky and Letlet were better dressed than the birthday celebrator.”
Vicky and Letlet grew up in an environment conducive to design and creativity. “We were surrounded by fashion, architecture and art,” Vicky said.
The sisters grew up listening to the humming of sewing machines and seeing bundles of fabrics. As teenagers, they worked with seamstresses to make their own clothes. Instead of going to a fashion school, the girls learned the rudiments of dressmaking in their mother’s atelier. During school breaks, the girls worked for her. Malu said they would come to work at exactly 9 a.m.
Malu had three shops for children, bridal and formal wear, and day wear, with clients streaming into the Antonio home.
“Mommy never said ‘I’m so tired. I’ve had a rough day,’” recalled Letlet.
“Her work was her passion. She never felt it was work,” said Vicky.
Vicky and Letlet admitted that vanity ran in the family, and remembered how their mother stood out in parents’ gatherings in school, showing off her slender gams. Sometimes Malu would be mistaken for their older sister. (Malu stopped revealing her age after she turned 69, the daughters said.)
In the ’70s, with Philippine RTW still in its infancy, girls would ask Letlet to design their party dresses. When Vicky proposed that Letlet become her partner in the fashion business, the latter was ecstatic.
Among their first clients was Kris Aquino, who was then starting out in show biz. This was in the ’80s. Earlier, Pops Fernandez became a style setter when she wore their clothes in the TV show “Penthouse Live.”
The Veloso sisters gained front-page prominence when they dressed up Fernandez for her wedding. Sharon Cuneta wore the sisters’ dress to her secret wedding to Francisco Pangilinan.
Letlet, who loved to work with her hands, produced necklaces. Inspired by the elegant simplicity of Letlet’s accessories, Malu started creating chokers.
Letlet’s pieces are made of glass, some of which are
Murano-inspired. The necklaces are wrapped in dainty pouches and have become popular, affordable Christmas gifts.
Even with the influx of new players, Letlet has maintained her bridal wear business.
Writing and other passions
Vicky, who took up Literature and Philosophy, loves to write. She has written nine cookbooks and 40 children’s books which she herself illustrated. After marriage, she opened a culinary school for children, Tiny Kitchen, in Quezon City. She is pursuing a master’s degree in Creative Writing at De La Salle University.
Her children, Hannah and Joshua, have adopted her interests, from cooking to art. The Barreras encouraged them by bringing them to art fairs and allowing them to develop their own style before going to art school.
Despite their lack of formal training, Hannah and Joshua have shown their mettle in composition and color.
“Foremost, I gave them confidence to follow their dream,” Vicky said.
Vicky got her mother’s knack for cooking. As a toddler, she so marveled at wedding cakes and the sugar roses decked on them that she wanted to learn to make them herself. As her mother got more and more into designing, her father, Jose Veloso, bought her a Betty Crocker cookbook for children. She was a self-taught cook at 7 years old.
Vicky’s children took after her. Hannah makes perfect crepes while Joshua enjoys making pizzas and pastas. Justine teaches the basic course, which includes pizzas, pasta carbonara and lasagna, cupcakes, siopao and siomai.
The three children have been invited to cooking shows and eventually joined “Junior Master Chef” and “Pinoy Junior Master Chef.”
Asked what’s the common thread that runs through the family of design and culinary artists, Letlet replied: “Follow your dream.”
Vicky added: “All of us in the family, from my mom, my siblings, to our children, have pursued our dreams no matter
how impractical they seemed. You can’t have a passion and not do anything about it.”–CONTRIBUTED
“Love, Marina” will be held Sept. 30, 4 p.m., at 2650 Zamora St., Pasay City.
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