I was almost a Pitoy Moreno bride in 1961. Pitoy seemed the logical and practical choice: He was the couturier of the era, and my groom had been a longtime friend since their University of the Philippines days. Pitoy might even have been expecting it.
We had gotten as far as meeting with him, and he had already made me a sketch of, surprisingly, a very modern, exquisite gown for a price too embarrassingly good to be true. He knew how to draw and had, at one time, imagined himself becoming a portrait artist, but fate had other plans for him.
He was one of the earliest advocates of the Maria Clara gown, but he thought the style might overwhelm the 21-year-old and 97-lb bride. If it seemed strange that the groom took initial charge of choosing the couturier, it was only because his bride was not your couturier-going type.
But I had my own suitable connection. Marina Reyes Antonio, just as famous for her bridal gowns, was first cousin to my dad and very close to both my parents. When she learned I was getting married, she told my mom my gown would be her wedding gift to me.
It was an offer I—we all—could not refuse. And I was thrilled!
Tita Marina was well-known for her sophisticated figure-hugging ternos and her perfectly shaped and comfortable butterfly sleeves. I wasn’t exactly, again, the sophisticated or the terno-wearing type. She thought a dainty maria clara-inspired gown would be best for me.
It turned to be really beautiful, but my short hair took away from the intended image. I had cut it at the last minute, before the wedding, and it could not be restored. I must have looked too girly in that mature and voluminous gown. But the wonderful surprise was that Tita Marina’s generous wedding gown gift included a baptismal gown for my firstborn, Gianna.
From a Marina Antonio baptismal gown, only daughter Gia grew up to become one of the lucky Pitoy Moreno brides I myself did not, but almost did, become. This time, her dad’s old friendship as well her own groom’s family’s closeness to Pitoy made it happen.
For her groom’s family, there could be no other couturier. Pitoy suggested my daughter and I fly to Hong Kong for the material he wanted. Because he did the entire entourage, as mother of the bride I finally had my first Pitoy Moreno gown.
I remember how impressed I was that, with very few fittings for a first-time customer, he got me right. I especially liked the way the material of the sleeve, designed slightly off-shoulder, stretched so I had no trouble moving my arms. It had just enough beadwork on the bodice. I loved the way the long bias-cut skirt hugged my hips and gently fell to just until my ankles so I could walk and sit comfortably.
Pitoy suggested we meet with him and Toni Parsons to discuss the color motif and the flower arrangements. Toni suggested lunch at Bianca’s in Makati. I found Pitoy endearingly casual and familiar. He refused to order any food. I thought he might have already eaten or was on his way to another lunch. At first, I was surprised when he started picking French fries from my plate and some garnish or whatever from everybody else’s, like it was the most natural thing to do.
I don’t remember why, but Toni ended up not doing the flowers for the wedding; instead, we hired the flower shop of the Mandarin Hotel.
Our brief experience with Pitoy impressed my daughter, too. He was a true and thorough professional. He had flown to China for a fashion show and had gotten stuck there for a week after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, on June 15, 1991, the very night of Gia’s despedida de soltera. There was no way he could fly back as planned. That unforgettable night, the ash from Pinatubo in far Zambales blanketed Metro Manila.
It must have taken some doing, but he landed home at 3 a.m. on wedding day. With no time to rest, he worked on the finishing touches of the butterfly and dragonfly beadwork on the bodice and around the skirt. He finally arrived in our house, in White Plains, Quezon City at about 3 p.m. for the wedding at 4, at Mary the Queen’s in nearby San Juan. He had neither eaten nor slept, so we insisted he have at least a proper lunch.
Anyway, the dress was accompanied by the yaya of the gown—every Pitoy wedding gown had one. While Pitoy ate, she dressed the bride and made sure everything was as it should be; she arranged the gown’s train properly.
Pitoy was in the church and even attended the reception, looking pleased with his work. I was praying he wouldn’t collapse from exhaustion. He stayed on like the caring friend and pro that he was.
Our would-be National Artist was a simple, humble and lovable human being with no pretenses. I’m grateful for having known him and witnessed his genius, indeed proud to have once upon a time worn even just one of his creations.