Gary G. Flores, who invented the luncheon fashion show in the ’70s and was Manila’s most influential fashion director until he left Manila for good in 1986, passed on peacefully in his sleep on March 22, in Virginia, US.
Flores came back to Manila only once—in 2007, for a grand reunion of the Bighani Models and fashion designers of Hyatt in Chito Madrigal’s home in Forbes.
He had planned a second grand reunion in Manila this March 22-29. But his doctors diagnosed him with cancer in August last year, dousing his dream of a last fashion extravaganza.
Flores was the first to professionalize models’ pay rates and contracts in his Bighani Agency, which had a stable of tall, beautiful and pedigreed (good family, good schools) male and female models.
In 1972, at the start of martial law, Flores was hired by First Lady Imelda Marcos to create Bagong Anyo, a series of fashion shows that used the famous Bayanihan dancers to showcase world-class modern Filipiniana and featured 50 Filipino fashion designers.
This national template became the Marcoses’ favored entertainment for visiting heads of state, diplomats, royalty and
When he left Manila to be with his estranged ailing father in 1986, Flores settled in Virginia. He was hired as a butler of a rich influential couple in Kentucky. He also taught aerobics classes and worked for Lord & Taylor in America.
Friends remember him with sweet anecdotes—about the highly choreographed moves and steps that he popularized on the ramp, how Flores started out as a musical-theater actor at the University of the Philippines, how he launched a major lifestyle trend in Manila society with the very entertaining luncheon fashion shows that featured the most attractive Filipino women who would become special friends of his to the end, led by Bessie Badilla and Celine Magat-Lopez.
Fashion director and jewelry designer
I was directing the musical “Hair” at UP in 1969 and Bobby Caballero introduced Gary Flores to me. We needed Gary to be dressed as a discreet matron who suddenly disrupts the play, makes a sermon to the cast and audience, then breaks into song called “My Conviction.”
The audience loved Gary protesting and screaming in the middle of Act 2. This scene with Gary was hilarious. A star was born. The discreet attire was eventually turned into a more high-fashion costume by the bakla cast members such as Ube Abeleda and Broxie Abrera.
But a bit of clarification, it was I who started the idea of a luncheon show with Tita Chito Madrigal. It was not yet at La Concha at that time. I guess the Hyatt manager, Peter Jentes, was still unsure whether it would work or not, like the regular lunch shows at the Hilton with “Tita” Conching Sunico.
But the first luncheon show with Ube Abeleda, Joe Salazar, Pando and Auggie Cordero was a smashing success. It was also during this time that Tower Hotel was acquired by Rene Knecht, and I was asked to do the lunch shows.
Enter Gary Flores, who also had a talent for dancing. He was recommended to Tita Chito, the social director of the Hyatt then, to continue the staging of the luncheon shows.
I guess his background as advertising man also helped, with his organization skills and exposure to art, giving him the tools to pull off unique formats for the fashion shows. Luncheon shows then were 60 percent entertainment, 40 percent fashion.
So his format was like a revue; he requested designers to fashion clothes of the same style with variations of colors in two, three, four or even eight exposures. He would choreograph them to very precise steps and beats.
Models who were offbeat were usually scolded even during the show, for he was very strict. Counting the number of steps was the norm for every model appearing onstage at La Concha. He minced no words when it came to disciplining them.
Hyatt Regency Hotel general manager in the ’70s
Gary Flores was a trendsetter, making Hyatt the first hotel in Southeast Asia to have a luncheon buffet with a designer
fashion show, six days a week for a decade. No other hotel anywhere in the world had this new invention.
As GM for Hyatt who had to bring back a hotel from the brink of bankruptcy, I felt that Gary was a godsend; we had low occupancy and no money to spend, but his shows soon became the talk of the town, helping us become the No. 1 hotel in Metro Manila.
Gary, the late Chito Madrigal and also Monette Recio were the team to beat, and while Hilton continued to be a bit conservative, we opted to be different by introducing young designers such as Auggie Cordero and Ernest Santiago.
Under Gary’s leadership, the Hyatt Regency Manila models and designers caught the eye of then First Lady Imelda Marcos, who hired Gary and the late Bobby Caballero to create the epic Bagong Anyo fashion shows for her famous visitors.
We also went overseas on several occasions, and Gary assisted in the choreography when I decided to bring famous fashions from Europe, like the Valentino summer collection, to La Concha and the Crystal Ballroom.
When he began working as a choreographer at the Hyatt, I would accompany him to Father Reuter’s recording studio at the Jesuit house in Paco.
Sister Sarah was always our recording engineer for all the rehearsal and master tapes we recorded throughout that era of luncheon fashion shows, plus the spectacular one-night shows by visiting foreign designers.
For the very first fashion show at the Hyatt, Gary included me among the male models, with Ces Mathay, Ruval Magpayo, Teddy Perez.
The designer chosen for this historic show was the hottest and most innovative designer at the time, Romulo Estrada, and the show was called “Superstrada.”
The music was from the soundtrack of the first rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.” The show was such a smash hit that the whole cast was sent to Hyatt Hong Kong to repeat the fashion extravaganza there.
Gary called me his BFF even before the fond term was invented. I was then an awkward 18-year-old. Gary made me shine by allowing his best models to do a solo walk on the catwalk; the countless highly choreographed solos he gave me will remain the highlight of my modeling career.
Gary was a great, giving mentor who taught me to be dependable, to be on time and to deliver always. He mined the talent he saw through my crazy antics. For every insult, every screaming curse attached to my name—sometimes over a microphone—“This was love,” as he so tenderly confirmed during our last conversation.
Gary taught me the true meaning of friendship; he was my best sounding board. He listened intently, was never judgmental, said words of wisdom and kept every secret until his final breath.
I began my modeling career with Gary when Auggie Cordero discovered me for his luncheon fashion show at Philippine Village Hotel.
Since the regular Bighani in-house models were out of the country, Auggie and Gary were desperate for fill-ins. Also, Gary was under pressure from Tita Chito to bring in new faces. That’s how six young, inexperienced girls ended up at Philippine Village Hotel face to face with the terrifying “Gary G.”
Tantrums, thrown objects, curses and screams frequently punctuated Gary’s rehearsals.
The final test for us was a gala evening fashion show. We were scared. We couldn’t keep up and change fast enough.
Finally, Jaja Gonzalez, one of the new models, said, “This is too much.” She walked to the sound system and turned it off. “Now we can change.”
Although we were backstage, we could imagine what was happening out front. We knew Gary must be seething. With a fuming Gary G, the gathering after the gala was anything but a party.
Gary threatened that the luncheon better be nothing like the gala, or we’d never walk the runway again. And somehow,
some days later, miraculously, we managed to pull off the luncheon.
Much later, I became a fashion choreographer using many of Gary’s sequence guides and scripts for precision modeling.
What I recall fondly of Gary is he would usually assign me to take note of our musical cues in a choreographed set if we were a pair or a group of four models. I always enjoyed doing his shows and did not feel like it was work.
He was truly a great model mentor, and eventually a good family friend as well. We respected and loved him dearly.
Ling Ling Gonzales
I was never really close to him unlike his “Gary’s Angels,” except when we would chance upon each other at the Elena Apartments of Celine and Atom Lopez after the shows, where we would have a sing-along until dawn.
Though there was a bit of tension between us during the Hyatt days due to our equally strong characters, though we both knew we liked and respected each other professionally. I remember when he would ask me to execute an L2 walk. It was Gary and Atomic Lopez who baptized me with that name, L2—the patented ramp move of walking backward before exit.
Beauty queen (Miss RP) and model
I am deeply saddened by the death of Gary, one of the best choreographers the Philippines has ever had.
I remember him as very focused and very creative, listening to lots of music to try to find the right music for a particular piece in a collection that would match the movement of the body.
He danced, he smiled—oh, that beautiful smile, as beautiful as summer flowers; he giggled and marveled at his own shows. He enjoyed the journey.
Miss Universe 1973
Gary Flores played a significant part in my youth, as it was the time I performed in public as a model.
As my mentor on the catwalk, in the way I had to show bearing to exhibit the designer’s creations, I credit him for the self-confidence I gained. This experience I brought to Greece, and surely it contributed to my winning the Miss Universe title. As I pray for him, I send him my deepest gratitude.
Gary G. Flores was a mentor to many Filipino fashion designers and models. But with me, Gary was not only a mentor, he remained a best friend till his last days.
One valuable lesson I learned from him is being able to laugh at oneself and not to take yourself too seriously. His infectious smile and his outrageous sense of humor were precious gifts!
My husband Chris always tells me that he never heard me laugh so much and so hard as when I was on the phone with Gary.
The hundreds of fashion shows he directed and choreographed for over a decade created such a superb template, starting with the scintillating musical soundtrack choices that served as the buildup to every presentation.
Gary had a natural gift, a classy instinct for drama and flair. This talent he brought to America when he moved there in 1986, and carried over even to his position and workplace in Virginia, US.
Even his coworkers at Lord & Taylor in Virginia were in awe of the many facets of his character and his personality. They admired his professionalism and excellent work ethic. They grew to rely on his invaluable advice and recommendations.
They made that extra effort to drive long distances to visit him, bring him meals and spend quality time with him when he could no longer drive to work.
I was lucky enough to have met Gary at his peak, when he was the most in-demand fashion choreographer and director. I modeled for him from 1978 to the early ’80s. At the time, he was handling the simultaneous luncheon fashion shows at Hyatt’s La Concha, Silahis’ Stargazer and Holiday Inn’s Braukeller.
He always called me his Eliza, and he was my Professor Higgins. He had big dreams for me to go international, and I managed to deliver somehow as modeling agencies in Tokyo and Milan signified their intent to sign me up.
But his dreams for me didn’t coincide with what I wanted in life, as I got married early.
Gary directed my very first fashion show at the Philippine Center in New York, May 1991. Tesa Totengco organized the event with the Ateneo Alumni Association East Coast Chapter.
It was a more relaxed, laid-back Gary, not the stressed-out, hyper Gary shouting at the models, way back in the Hyatt days in Manila.
The barong Tagalog portion of the show was dramatic; Gary had the male models come out one by one, each holding a lighted candelabra. I thought the scene looked like something out of “The Phantom of the Opera.” But that’s Gary, that’s drama.
I first met Gary in the early ’80s at Hyatt’s La Concha. It was a go-see for a luncheon show and, like all the other models, I was made to walk, turn and pose. Names that were called out were to remain, while the rest, known as the “thank you girls,” were not chosen.
And that was how it all began.
We developed an extra-special friendship through the years; he was, after all, my husband Atomic’s best friend, which Gary described as a bromance in its truest sense.
The models he handpicked were trained and expected to carry themselves properly with class on and off the runway. No jeans on socials, nails had to be polished and lips red at any place, anytime, anywhere. I remember bumping into him at the Stargazer disco and he literally pulled me aside to check me out head to toe.
He treasured friendships, so he collected pictures of his friends throughout his lifetime.
When I came to see him last month, I was amazed at how his bedroom wall facing his bed was filled with pictures of friends, those he dearly loved. He would look at them every single day and smile.
He held my hand and whispered, “Marami ding nagmamahal sa akin.”
Quite a number of his models, whom he fondly called Gary’s Angels, came to see him in Virginia. Others called regularly to send him their love.
His sisters, relatives and friends from work took turns visiting him, holding his hand, bringing him flowers, food and, most important, love and healing vibes to the end of his life.
Gary had planned to come home for a Hyatt models reunion. He had it all laid out last August 2014.
He was in constant communication with Bessie Badilla, Ces Artadi, Maricar Totengco and myself. The theme and the list of models and designers who would participate were all set. The week-long reunion was titled “Celebration of Life,” to be held March 22-29.
We were all looking forward to this wonderful occasion.
But in October 2014, after a physical checkup, doctors diagnosed him with cancer. They told Gary his health couldn’t take the trip.
He stayed away for a while, preferring to be alone. He had accepted his fate but hated how he was no longer in control of his life and how he had to depend on others for care.
But Gary was in control till the very end.
The Celebration of Life reunion became a celebration of his eternal life.