What in his childhood in Panama prepared him for his success today, we asked Preston Bailey over dinner last Sunday.
“It’s good you ask that, because I ask myself that as well,” he said.
After a brief pause and a distant stare, he turned to us again and said candidly—“You know, we didn’t always have food on the table. We were five in the family. My father would have to be up very early morning to work—he was a carpenter, he did all sorts of jobs. And he would be home late in the evening. He worked, worked. As early as then, I guess, I knew hard work.”
Bailey, a style celebrity whose designs of famous events—especially those of his good friend, Oprah—have been chronicled and talked-about, doesn’t have the airs of a celebrity. He’s a warm, gracious person who made those around him at the intimate dinner feel quite at home.
The moment he got up to say hello to guests, one felt at ease with this style icon. No ice breaker needed. He seemed as interested in the guests as they were in him—the mark of a fine-mannered celebrity.
And—obviously he’s quite proud of his humble beginnings. He was 19 when he migrated to New York from his native Panama.
Eye for design
We asked where he got his eye for good design and his fine taste. “You’ll be surprised,” he said. “It’s not really an eye. One just has to be a good student. Just to pay close attention (to everything around you).”
Bailey tried to connect to almost every person around the table.
The dinner was hosted by Bulgari head Mario Katigbak in honor of Bailey, who was in Manila last weekend to conduct a workshop marking the 18th anniversary of Rita Neri’s event planning firm at Peninsula Manila.
The Old Manila was reserved for the intimate dinner—one long table decked elegantly with red roses and candlelight.
We were surprised to learn that Bailey, at 62, is a triathlete. In New York, where he lives, he wakes up early to do his routine—bike, swim and run.
“It’s like my prayer early in the morning,” he says of his antidote to his stressful life.
He’s worked and mixed with so many celebrities; a few stand out on his mind, apart from Oprah whom he describes as a “fun, warm and real” person.
Another is the legendary Diana Vreeland, the Vogue editor who stood for the fashion, glamor and drama that was the ’60s and ’70s, and who nurtured a pantheon of designers, photographers, artists and models.
“I was a model then and just tagged along to a dinner,” Bailey recalls. “I didn’t know this dinner would be in the place of (Vreeland). It was in red”—the color so associated with the fashion legend, from her red apartment to her red lips.
“She held court and she was truly a nice, interesting character.”
There is one celebrity, however, whom Bailey himself hasn’t met and would like to meet—Imelda Marcos. Thelma San Juan