by Erwin Romulo
IN THIS MIDST OF THE MARKETING MADNESS, DEPRAVED CATTINESS AND PSEUDO-SEXUAL HIPSTERS OF THE FASHION WORLD, CELINE LOPEZ STANDS APART FROM EVERYONE AS A TRUE ORIGINAL: A CLASS ACT WHO KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT TO WEAR TO ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES.
“Evil is organic. The fight against it is what makes us human.” Celine Lopez has just come back from Delhi. Meeting up with her, it isn’t long—five minutes probably—before the conversation turns to the usual things: sickness, art, politics, fascists, Bowie, pornography, and the devil. The dark stuff. The remark was her answer to the question of whether she thought evil existed. It seemed apt only because it was also posed to both Barack Obama and John McCain during the last US election. If it was good enough for presidential candidates, then it was good enough to ask Celine. In fact, for the brevity and wit alone, she gets my vote.
We’ve known each other for several years now, actually. Both of us had columns in The Philippine Star: she was its new rising star, and I was its resident ogre. She wrote about fashion and going out while I styled myself a hoodlum critic. While she was (I imagined) hobnobbing, I was busy cultivating my being a snob.
I disliked her, of course.
In the office, we would stay at opposite ends. I don’t know if she ever noticed me then but I sure as hell noticed her. Effortlessly chic and pretty, she charmed everyone and everyone laughed at her jokes, including one editor who never said a word or gave a smile to me in the almost 10 years we worked alongside each other. God, I hated her then.
“Clothing has such a strong impact on who you are,” Celine tells me as she’s preparing for the shoot.
I mention to her the Black Pope a.k.a. Anton LaVey’s comment about the association of Nazism and fascism with Satanism—that it is aesthetic more than anything else. To elucidate, LaVey mentions meeting a Jewish girl wearing a long coat, “unmistakably a Nazi artifact.” He acknowledges that the two are irreconcilable psychologically “but on an aesthetic level they were understandable.”
Celine and I being David Bowie fans, I also tell her that the singer once claimed Hitler was the “first superstar” on the basis of aesthetics alone.
To this, she replies: “I think that when the Mitford sister [Diana], who was a sympathizer, voiced her support of Nazi Germany, her clothing caused an even greater impact than her actual beliefs. When Prince Harry wore a Nazi costume for Halloween, not only was it atrocious but also a telling sign of his vast ignorance. [Your clothing] says a lot about you and what you value in the real world, and how much you value history and its lessons.”
Then, is there supposed to be a moral in fashion? Or do silver boots have a happy ending?
“Purchase what you like. But don’t make it the end point of your existence.”
“There was a time when bags cost a small fortune,” says Celine. “I admit that there were times I acquired such things with the sole intent of just owning them. However, with times being hard plus the awareness that one’s closet does not equate to one’s self-esteem, I think there is a thing such as too much. I adore my classic or ‘forever’ pieces, and plan to pass them on to my daughter. However, just to buy a feathered shoe because Vogue says so can be a little corrupting.
“You deserve lovely things but in this world, there are things that are far more edifying than just a designer bag. I think it adds more value when you actually deserve to own such a beautiful piece.”
Celine adds: “Don’t get me wrong. I do love beautiful things, but it’s the greed aspect that takes the beauty away. When people notice the Birkin and not you, there is something wrong. Chanel is a personal favorite, but it’s a milestone thing, not a daily meal.”
She tells me that she “used to spend copious amounts of money on trendy things” simply because “they made me feel good.”
“Well, ridiculous amounts of money on caviar and haircuts… What a jerk I was.”
I react to this comment with a smile, which she’s gracious enough to accept. She smiles too.
“The truth is [that] it was a cover to my many insecurities as a young woman,” she continues, “I just feel if you try to cover up your sins with distracting clothing—meaning labels—for the sake of it and not for any design purpose, once again, something is wrong.”
“But if silver boots work, then you deserve an award.”
Apart from the doom and gloom, I manage to compliment her about how beautiful she’s looking these days, which she attributes to just gaining some weight.
She reminds me how we first met. Kinda.
“We’ve come a long way from Godard,” says Celine.
Although it’s embarrassing to admit now, I initiated first contact by writing her a note—a nasty one. Not a fan of her columns (which meant I read them religiously) I was ecstatic when I spotted a typo. She had spelled the last name of Jean Luc Godard as “Goddard.” Immediately, I sent her a note admonishing her for such an awful oversight. (In my defense I was younger then, and it was so long ago I didn’t even have an email account.) To her credit she never responded and even managed to give a smile when we’d see each other.
It made me sick.
Right now, we’re supposed to be discussing possibly writing a movie for a director friend of ours. (We have not started so I can’t say really anything about that.) And right now he’s late, so it’s just us.
“I have never been so at ease with my mind, body… and stomach,” she says over coffee and macaroons. “When I was younger I had to cut out carbs, sugar, and fat—all the good stuff. Now, I just eat what I want.”
“I decided to stop drinking for life. It was just one of those days I decided to stop being a cliché. I was getting to be a little bit of a spectacle, slurring while I made speeches and doing all these ridiculous things.”
“I can’t beat myself up about it though,” she adds. “In hindsight I didn’t really cause much damage. I got to know myself better.”
Her current style reflects her current state-of-mind. “I think the way I dress now is simpler,” says Celine. “I have learned to dress for comfort while at the same time nurturing my love for design, without being swayed by the bellwether of hip. It is all about knowing yourself, and translating who you are to what you wear. ”
I tell her I still like wearing my ratty punk shirts from years ago. No matter what, I certainly can’t be accused of being hip. Plus, I only wear shirts of bands I listen to. At the moment, that’s mostly all kinds of metal—hardcore stuff.
Did she ever like that kind of music? Not just listened, but also actually liked?
“I loved Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and, yes, Judas Priest, but they didn’t love me back,” laughs Celine. “I wore Perry Ellis grunge… poser.”
How about all the leather gear—the bondage stuff those bands wore on stage?
“Yes, but [on me] it never comes across as vixen. More like cave girl,” she says. “I remember having a party as a high school freshman. I wore a leather dress with five-inch bespoke T-strap shoes. I loved that dress, but again, I don’t think the feeling was mutual. I’m more Bam-Bam than Angelina, unfortunately.”
Her mother had a rule that she could wear no black until she was old enough. Everything else was okay. “My mom figured that I should just do all these silly things to dull the luster of taboo—so I wouldn’t be so curious and get myself into bigger trouble at a far more significant [and less forgivable] age.”
“I think I had already taken my first cigarette puff from one of my older cousins when black was legitimized in my wardrobe.”
In high school, Celine remembers that she was always admonished for having such a long skirt. “Whereas all the cool girls found reasons to keep them short and not get expelled.”
She does admit to an obsession with Aeon Flux, the title character of an animated series from the ‘90s, whose image and costume owes more to Irving and Paula Klaw’s bondage photographs of Bettie Page than any of Flux’s cartoon predecessors. “That’s the reason I had slicked back hair,” says Celine. “I even brought a photo of Aeon Flux to the salon Architects and Heroes in San Francisco twelve years ago saying, ‘I want her hair.’ If I can’t do the leather dress thing, I might as well settle for the hair. I even had subtle blue streaks.”
“I went through many phases,” she admits. “A lady of the night from Dorchester being the seemingly longest phase, full of tarty costumes and exuberantly high heels. I guess I assume a role when I go through them.”
Anything you really regret?
“I try to forget what I was doing when I was in my Dolly Parton-sans-tits phase. Loads of reprehensible things, I reckon. Thank heavens for my goldfish memory.”
Often, Celine describes herself as a “goldfish,” alluding to the oft-cited factoid that they are supposed to have extremely short memories. (Which isn’t exactly true, by the way, but I don’t tell her.) She says it is this quality that has helped her get through many a wayward choice, fashion or otherwise. Certainly, it helped her survive being the high society “It Girl” for a couple of years—and its subsequent vilifications. “I can’t believe the roar that was my twenties.”
(In a previous interview we did for the Philippine Tatler, she told me that, “I may not be the life of the party anymore, but at least I remember the party,” and described her twenties as a “run-on sentence.”)
However, if she’s forgotten much, she can always read her column to remind her. Coming out weekly in the Philippine Star, “From Coffee to Cocktails” proved popular among the broadsheet’s readers. So much so that they were collected into book form and published by Anvil. It was a surprise only to the author that it became an instant bestseller.
“I landed the coolest job ever,” says Celine, about being a columnist in a major daily while still in school. She credits lifestyle editor Millet Mananquil for giving her the opportunity as well as being her mentor especially during those first years. “I’m so lucky to have her in my life.”
That doesn’t mean she isn’t embarrassed by some of the things that she put out in her column. After all, she’s been writing it every week for several years. (Of all the rumors about her, the one about her having a ghostwriter was the only one she wishes were true. “Then I would have someone else to blame for some of the crazy things I wrote,” she says. “I swear if I did have one, my articles would be so much better than that. I would hear people claiming to be my ghostwriters and I would be like, ‘Are you crazy?’ It’s like owning up to the Michael Vick scandal. Milli Vanilli it is not.”)
“It’s ironic I was known for dressing up,” says Celine. “Yet in my articles I was completely naked. Looking back, I feel I revealed too much for everyone’s comfort levels. Knowing is enough. You don’t have to prove that you know. What you do with what you know defines the kind of person that you are.
“The art of shutting up is grand.”
Going through her more recent columns in the papers, it’s obvious that her writing hasn’t become less naked, or chaste. It’s more that her talent is not as raw. In fact, the bare confessional has developed into captivating burlesque—the metaphors serving to heighten rather than obscure bold truths. In fact, reading her is like being invited out to lunch at a chic restaurant frequented by a clientele of “ladies-who-lunch” and noticing that everyone is in the nude. To quote Beat novelist and Naked Lunch author William Burroughs quoting Kerouac, it’s about that “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.”
In one particular column, she wrote that the nuclear family has now been replaced by a “nuclear lifestyle,” referring to a state of “having everything and being incredibly boring.” She explains that always being unsatisfied is intriguing—“curiously unsatisfied, more specifically”—and adding, “Nothing is more tragic than seeing a self-satisfied fart.”
“I can be quite the Willy Wonka for words,” she admits, especially when it comes to fashion. (For example, she once did a profile of local designer Dennis Lustico, writing that his necklines could make “even Salvador Dali vertiginous.”) But she parries that by explaining it’s all about showcasing and pushing what she feels the Filipino market should be aware of. Every turn-of-phrase always has the perfect occasion to be paraded, no matter if it might be a little purple.
For that express purpose, she also co-founded and acts as creative director for YStyle. Started in 2002, the weekly section for The Philippine Star helped kick-start the careers of local fashion designers like Patty Eustaquio, Puey Quiñones, and Yvonne Quisumbing as well as photographers such as Mark Nicdao and Juan Caguicla—not to mention numerous stylists, makeup artists, and models. But Celine isn’t keen on taking credit for the successes of YStyle.
In fact, that’s how we became friends. Despite all the hate letters and remarks I made against her, she asked me to write for YStyle. She’d been reading me too, apparently. Despite everything, she wanted me to work with her. (That’s why I know she doesn’t have a ghostwriter, folks.) In fact, she made me produce the fashion show and event to celebrate YStyle’s 3rd Year.
“It’s always been a team effort,” says Celine, pointing also to her co-editors for the section. “YStyle is all about Bea Ledesma, Anna Kalaw, and Audrey Carpio. Their different views keep the section interesting. They are some of the most intelligent girls I have ever met.” She again points to Mananquil as being key to why it’s become what it is.
“It is actually a hard and tedious job, but working with great talent makes it worth it,” she says. “It’s not as shallow as it seems.”
“Being in the fashion industry by way of media means pushing things to make people aware that they have choices,” she tells me. “We started YStyle as a platform for young fashion talent to show their stuff even if they are not connected.”
As a fashion journalist, Celine says that she’s seen a sea change in how Manila treats and uses fashion. “It’s gotten very expressive,” she says, “I can see loads of individual looks more and more each day although It has always been experimental and fun. It only depends when you care to see it.”
What does she consider bad taste?
“People who chew gum at dinner. You can interpret that in a hundred different ways.”
In these times, why the hell do we need fashion?
“To keep our dignity.”
Of all the celebrities and style superstars she’s encountered, Celine cites her mom as the most stylish person she’s ever met. “She knows who she is,” she explains.
What’s her mother’s take on her daughter’s style choices?
“I’m in what my mother calls, my ‘slumdog’ phase… wearing loads of harem pants, tanks, and beaded tops, with sloppy hair and makeup,” says Celine. “These days I’m much more laid back.”
Is this newly found ease the reason why she’s more open to things like appearing in a men’s lifestyle magazine? Or other things like, as she famously declared, wearing red lipstick when you hit 30?
“There are certain things that grow with age, one of them the ability to wear red lipstick, and let gravity do the defying,” says Celine. “I would have also never done this kind of shoot in my twenties because I was more awkward if that was at all possible. I think I just hit puberty now. I’m a late bloomer. I like getting older. The confidence it brings is so much more authentic and the experiences more original.”
According to Celine, these days, her greatest extravagances are traveling and books. She says, “Seeing the world with your own and someone else’s eyes is a great gift.”
“I’m also dating a very laid back guy, which makes me relaxed but not so sloppily so,” she says. “Spending time in India has also made me very non-label conscious. I want things that are unique and well done. India is full of that.”
Because of this, she also says that she’s reverted back to the classics as well as her vintage roots. “I discovered a beautiful vintage parlor in Paris, and the coats and purses enthralled me,” says Celine. “Also, my pearl, turquoise or diamond stud, and my favorite Cartier Pasha ring which is rich in historic value.”
She also mentions an Yves Saint Laurent cocktail ring she bought in London during a particularly nasty hailstorm. “I had to seek refuge at the boutique until the weather calmed down,” she relates. “I bought one for myself and one for Wendy [Puyat]. We call them our freedom rings. They remind of us how far we’ve come as best friends. They [the rings] are the chic versions of friendship bracelets.”
“I was career-oriented at such an early age that I forgot to be a kid. Now, I’m focusing more on my personal life. I’m spending and relishing time with my parents; seeing the world; learning from my friends and falling in love for the first time, and it’s not with Veuve Clicquot. I love this sort of self-mastery I am beginning to have… it only comes with age. I have gone through loads of shit that people can’t even invent, but it’s only in white-knuckling the mediocre and facing more pressing issues that you truly age well. I can’t wait for my forties!”
“So, what’s next?” I ask her. “After all we’ve done together,” I hurriedly add.
“You tell me, I’ll do it.”
Originally published in UNO June 2009 issue
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