‘Hija, you have to keep your poise’: How Pitoy Moreno molded Filipino girls into Bb. Pilipinas beauties
When the Binibining Pilipinas pageant celebrates its emerald year on March 18 at Smart Araneta Coliseum, it will pay tribute to designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno, who selflessly dedicated his services to the organization. Moreno died last Jan. 15.
For over three decades, Moreno volunteered as style arbiter and coach to the candidates, transforming them into poised and well-mannered representatives of the country.
“He started helping without my asking him,” recalled Colombia-born Stella Marquez Araneta, chair of the Bb. Pilipinas Charities and president of the national franchise of the Miss Universe and Miss International pageants. (Mrs. Araneta is the first Miss International in 1960.)
“He taught the girls how to walk, say hello, wave, and behave before the crowds. He knew how to handle people. If a girl did not conduct herself properly, he would speak to her, ‘You can’t be like this or like that.’ He was a great partner. I could have done those things, but it was better that he spoke to them in Tagalog.”
Marquez, a former Miss International, met Moreno when she married the business scion Jorge Araneta and settled in the Philippines in the early ’60s. She became Moreno’s client.
Seeing the pressures involved in running the pageant and dealing with the contestants, Moreno offered to help. He sat through the interviews, the preliminary sessions, the swimsuit, evening gown and national costume parades until the pageant night. He lent accessories and costumes. He helped organize the winners’ traveling wardrobe and tapped them to model in his fashion shows.
The contestants had diverse backgrounds. Some came from the provinces, naïve about etiquette and grooming. Although the candidates underwent rigorous training in personality development, makeup and wardrobe and poise, Moreno went the extra mile by polishing the girls some more.
“He would tell them, ‘You’re slouching,’ or ‘Move with the dress in this way.’ He taught them how to wear the gown or how to project in a bathing suit. As with his models, he aimed to create the the most elegant and well-mannered ladies,” said Conchitina Bernardo, one of the country’s top models and a longtime member of the Bb Pilipinas executive committee.
Attention to detail
Raymond Villanueva, the last director Moreno worked with, recalled how Moreno paid attention to the minutest detail, such as demanding the perfect bun and its correct placement on the head. He advised candidates if their makeup wasn’t flattering.
Showing no preferences, Moreno scrutinized all the candidates, making sure they were perfect from head to toe, and that their look would be appealing.
When a candidate committed a faux pas, he would give her a stern eye, hoping she picked up his signal. If she didn’t get it, he would pull her aside and talk to her.
“Hija, you have to keep your poise. All eyes will be on you. You must show dignity,” he would explain.
“Pitoy didn’t like it if the girls spoke too loudly, giggled too much, or were boisterous,” Bernardo said.
Loyal and caring
Sometimes, stage mothers tried to sway Moreno to pay more attention to their daughters. He never flinched.
“He handled things well. He had to maintain his reputation. He did what he needed to do, and not what other people wanted,” Araneta said.
One of his “wards” was Binibining Pilipinas Universe 1994 Charlene Gonzales. Asked by a journalist whom he was rooting for in the Miss Universe 1994 contest, the designer underscored there was no other candidate for him but Charlene. Donning Moreno’s T’boli costume, Gonzales won the Best in National Costume award.
Although Moreno was inactive in the committee in the last five years of his life, his friends and colleagues keep his memory in their hearts.
“Pitoy was determined about everything. He was determined that everything he did had to be the best,” Villanueva said.
“If you were his friend, he would be loyal and caring. He never forgot a birthday and he always sent buko salad for Christmas,” Bernardo said.
Araneta was inspired by Moreno’s sense of purpose and wholeheartedness. “He was earnest in everything that he said and did. I learned that from him.” –CONTRIBUTED
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