Veteran fashion designer Criselda Lontok died on Wednesday. Her son, John Fernandez, announced the passing of “the very first queen in my life” on social media. The well-loved designer had just celebrated her birthday on Aug. 9. Services for family and close friends will be at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park but Mass and novena will be broadcast via Zoom.
For close to 40 years, Lontok designed her eponymous line of ladies’ apparel for Rustan’s. Her clientele grew along with her through the years, and appreciated how she always designed with them in mind.
Lontok used opulent but forgiving fabrics that concealed perceived flaws but also showcased favored features. She had a proven formula for women of a certain age, such that power women gravitated to her brand.
Lontok was merchandising manager of Rustan’s years ago when its founder, Gliceria Tantoco, saw her flair for fashion, such that she asked Lontok to design a few pieces for her. In 1983, Rustan’s launched Lontok’s eponymous label.
Sense of gratitude
Tantoco’s grandson and Rustan Commercial Corp. president, Bienvenido “Donnie” Tantoco III, expressed his gratitude for Lontok’s “huge contribution” to his grandparents through the work she did.
“I am grateful to her, grateful to her family for supporting the work she did for us. She could have retired but she never did because she loved what she did, and because she had a deep and almost irrational sense of gratitude to Lolo and Lola. They say, ‘Our work is our love made visible’; she literally almost worked until her very last breath,” Tantoco said in a text message to Lifestyle.
“I have admired and respected how she kept setting new records, scaling new heights with her brand. What I admired the most is how she worked during the pandemic. While others were hibernating, Ms Criselda was adapting and innovating. From evening dresses, she pivoted to beautiful clothing to be worn at home. She always had a victor and not a victim mentality.”
As a reporter for another paper, I covered her 2012 holiday collection and was struck by the cocktail party-like atmosphere prior to the show. Guests milled around the venue, blowing air kisses and sharing conspiratorial whispers, I wrote.
As the show got on its way, one could hear a murmuring, “a low susurrus punctuated by women saying, ‘Ayan (That one)’ or ‘Gusto ko ’yan (I like that one).’”
Incredible sense of humor
One of her closest friends, publicist Susan Joven, said she will remember Lontok as many others will: as a beautiful, glamorous and stylish person, and for her contributions to the Philippine fashion industry.
“It’s the other side of Criselda, however, that I was really fond of,” Joven added. “Laughter was something she and I shared. We were often like giddy school girls sharing little secrets, jokes and simple joys. We had a wonderful, fun-filled get-together a week before the very first lockdown last March 2020. We just had to settle for calls and chats afterward, for very obvious reasons.
“Our exchanges always remained lighthearted, funny and spirited. She had an incredible sense of humor. Just a few days ago, she sent us a video joke that gets to me even after watching it so many times. It’s sad she left us. But I am comforted that I have volumes of joyful moments to remember her by.”
Joven will also have something tangible to remember her friend. “I loved her clothes, I have a whole cabinet of her collections.”
Tantoco recalled how Lontok never said anything negative about anyone.
“She not only had such grace but also this unshakable equanimity and generosity. For me, she was not only a member of our family; she was a hero of our Rustan’s and Tantoco family. We will always remember and be eternally grateful to her, including my 2-year-old granddaughter Yani,” he said.
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