Soft as her voice, gentle as her manners are our memories of Criselda Lontok

Published September 24, 2021, 5:30 PM

by AA Patawaran

IN LOVING MEMORY Amiga and designer to Manila’s well-dressed ladies Criselda Lontok

On Wednesday morning, quiet as her voice, gentle as her manners, fashion designer and longtime Rustan’s treasure Criselda Lontok made a graceful exit and, though Manila was shocked by her passing, they were soon calmed by their memories of her. In minutes, after I heard of the sad news, I wrote to the angels and said: “Hush, angels, keep your voices down / Bring out your ultrafeminine dresses in jewel tones / Play Edith Piaf softly or Cole / Criselda Lontok is on her way, though she will take her time, her footfalls making no sound on the clouds, the wind never tousling her hair / Speak softly, angels, like she does / In measured steps, in her glamorous gait, she will soon enter the pearly gates / Losing her forever is our pain, but, angels, rejoice / Her unruffled elegance, her softness of spirit, her gentle soul are heaven’s gain.

The former beauty queen and model came from a long line of Batangas beauties, such as her cousins Ching Montinola and Menchu Concepcion. Here are a few of the many great memories Criselda has left behind for many of us to cherish.

*****

Criselda and I have seen many moons together. What began as a professional relationship as colleagues at Rustan’s blossomed into a loyal and loving friendship. I admire her sophistication, style, and most of all, her humility. She never stopped outdoing herself. She was always very open-minded, collaborative, dedicated, and passionate. And boy, did we have fun! Beneath all her glamour was a playful, fun-loving, and extremely hilarious character.  Whenever I think of Criselda, I can’t help but smile. —Susan Joven

POWER WOMEN Criselda, Susan Joven, and Duday Tuason

Criselda Lontok exuded a gentle beauty, softspoken, always smiling. The former model and beauty queen had a keen eye for fashion. I will always remember her effortless elegance and grace when I look at her designs. —Duday Tuason

*****

I was a Criselda Lontok fan long before I became a friend. Her clothes were as feminine, refined, and stylish as she was.  One could wear them in a variety of ways and remain fashionable even if the ensemble was a decade old. Criselda first asked me to model her clothes in the late 1990s and my then teenaged daughter Natalia was included in her mother/daughter show in the subsequent year. Almost 20 years later, we once again modeled for her grand 35th anniversary show at the Peninsula Manila that was filled with her faithful fans of well-dressed ladies. I have too many stories of Criselda, one of which was when the teenage idol Neil Sedaka came to Manila in the 1960s and she was tasked to give him a bouquet of flowers. When he attempted to give her a kiss in gratitude, she pushed him away. That was Criselda, very Filipina. With COVID quarantine keeping us homebound this past year and a half, she would make sure to keep in touch with humorous texts, health updates, and loving messages. Goodbye dear, sweet Criselda. —Frannie Jacinto

*****

It was quite a shock to hear of Criselda’s passing. On Aug. 10, I greeted her on her birthday and she was telling me she was busy working from home. On Aug. 18, she greeted me on my birthday. Criselda was a good friend and a fine lady. She was greatly admired and respected not only in the fashion industry but by everyone whose life she had touched. Kind, generous, and hardworking, she was one of the most positive women I have ever known. I feel honored and privileged to have been one of her muses. I will miss Criselda and always remember her fondly. —Marivic Vasquez

TRES MARIAS Marivic Vasquez, Criselda, and Linda Ley

I had known Criselda since I was still single. She was my mom’s favorite designer and her closet was full of Criselda’s travel attire, kaftans, and casual wear. I remember going with my mom to shop at Criselda where she would spend hours shopping, grabbing everything. I’m a second generation Criselda shopper. Before the pandemic, I would text her to meet up at Rustan’s. I love how she designed her space, so cozy with couches and coffee tables. She made everything so easy, relaxing, and comfortable for her customers while we shopped. Memories of the legendary Criselda will live on forever in our hearts. Her fabulous fashion shows and the grand gala I was honored to be part of will forever be cherished. —Linda Ley

*****

PARTY PAL Malu Francisco with Criselda

“CRL,” as most of us at Rustan’s endearingly called her, was always larger than life, treading through our old office floors along EDSA with elegance and grace. When I first met her the year I started with Rustan’s in 1992, she was already a merchandising group manager while being the designer of her own brand Criselda. I was at once mesmerized by her grace, poise, and beauty, but even more so when I saw how the twinkly eyes, throaty laugh, and friendliness were all second nature to her and made her so approachable! Through the years, she carried that radiance and charisma as her trademark. Always smiling, always positive, with never anything negative to say about anyone, CRL attracted colleagues, friends, and clients effortlessly. People just naturally gravitated toward this extraordinary woman. She epitomized elegance, beauty, humility, approachability, charm, positivity. I was privileged enough to witness this even years after I had left Rustan’s, joined SSI, and would bump into her at events! The last time I saw her was January 2020, we were laughing at one another’s “costumes” at a Studio-54 themed birthday bash of a mutual friend.  She was and always will be the beautiful CRL I was privileged and blessed to know. —Malu Francisco

*****

CO-WORKER, FRIENDS Criselda with Nedy Tantoco

We deeply mourn the passing of our dear Criselda. She is not only family but she had been a Rustan fashion icon to her last day. We are eternally grateful for her contributions. My Mom (Glecy Tantoco) and Criselda go a long way. She adored my Mom and they worked beautifully together. She made a fast move up the Rustan corporate ladder working side by side with my mother, until she became a fashion designer in the late ’70s carrying her name Criselda. It had since been success after success. She was very goal-oriented and fiercely loyal. It was a great privilege working with her and being her friend all these years. She was kind and thoughtful. There will never be another Criselda. —Nedy Tantoco

*****

PATRON AND COMPANION Criselda with Nympha Javier

I first met Criselda because I was a fan of her work, frequently visiting her shop at Rustans. Eventually our mutual love for fashion blossomed into a friendship. Criselda was a true style icon, her sense of fashion was imbued with grace and elegance. She was a real beauty, but her soul was even more beautiful. Soft-spoken and gentle, she always went out of her way to be kind to the people around her. On a trip in Europe, I was amazed at how consistently put together she was from one outfit to the other, day after day.  Every year, Criselda, Mario Katigbak, AA Patawaran, and I would take a trip down south to Hacienda Amelia in Cavite to party with other close friends. The trip going there, the stories, and the laughter, we will always cherish. Those car rides will never be the same without you, Criselda. —Nympha Javier Valencia

*****

FRIENDS IN FASHION Louie Ysmael, Techie Bilbao, and her husband Mike

Criselda was a lady of genteel ways, an extension of that old school of refinement and values. A fashion icon, she always made an elegant statement. We were last in touch days before she died. I expressed how she reminded me in some ways of my Mopy, my mom Chona (Kasten). She found what I said such a compliment. She and my mom were quite close even if she was younger, like peas in their own chic pod. Criselda was the older sister I never had. She was sweet and loyal, and now a niche she had carved at Rustan’s for five decades sadly empties. Manang Ida, hug Mopy for me. Yes, I will still wash the silk pajamas from you in “woolite” and all the outfits you left with the guard for me at Leon Gallery last month. Be happier and at peace. We miss you already. —Techie Bilbao

*****

LIKE SISTERS Criselda with Tokie Tantoco Enriquez

I have known Criselda for more than half my life. She was, still is, and will always be one of the most important people at Rustan’s. Through the ups and the downs, she remained dedicated and loyal to the company. She was my friend and, most important, she was a sister. We will forever be grateful to her. She will be missed. —Tokie Tantoco Enriquez

*****

I was terribly shocked when I woke up to the news that my dearest friend, Ms. Criselda Lontok, had passed away. It was heartbreaking. She was such a beautiful and kindhearted lady. That’s how I will always remember her. I was introduced to her in the late ’90s at her office. We had an instant connection because she knew my Mom (Lilia Dizon) very well and my siblings Christopher and Pinky de Leon. Instantly, we had such great rapport. We would have endless conversations whenever we saw each other. I always made her laugh and she loved it. It was always such an honor for me whenever she would ask me to model some pieces in her collections in print. It was an honor to have been handpicked by her to be part of the roster of ladies at the last fashion show she staged for Rustan’s. —Toni Abad

*****

Seasons change, but like her timeless design aesthetic, my friendship with Criselda will never be diminished. It is imprinted in my heart. Hers was a smiling, beautiful face, a glowing charm, the compassion and warmth of a sweet gentle soul. As we celebrate Criselda’s life, though I admit my heart is broken, I am thankful of her friendship and all our memories I hold dear. It’s been a privilege to have known Criselda. We were family, not just friends, and I will carry her in spirit until we meet again. —Mellie Ablaza

 
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