My Favourite Things: 8 Society Personalities' Most Treasured Possessions
He holds friendships and relationships high on his priority list, so when asked to put together a few of his favourite things, top architect Ramon Antonio collected the items that are precious to him because they were given by persons who are dear to him. First is a Betsy Westendorp-Brias oil painting of a nautilus shell. “She gave me this painting that used to hang in her home in Madrid in 2000,” says Ramon, who has used a number of Westendorps, especially the huge ones, in the homes that he has designed.
From his family comes a pair of 1930s narra chairs that used to be fixtures in his parents’ home in Pasay City. On a tray he organised a crystal-faceted paperweight, a Bulgari crystal dish, a Cartier inkwell. “They all came from my brother, Chito,” says Ramon who seems to treasure the gesture a tad more than the gifts. And from his nephew Luigi, one pair of water colours, done in 1985, and using as his subject Ramon’s favourite tropical heliconia flowers.
He also chose some items that came from friends. “This French crystal dish was given to me by my friend Nina Garcia,” Ramon shares. “We were together in Paris and I was admiring this piece in a chocolate shop. Then that Christmas, Nina surprised me by giving the dish to me. She remembered!” From friends Rotina and Wilbert Lim, an oil painting of ornamental pineapples by artist Emmanuel Cordova. He also cherishes the carefully selected design and art books from friends Ben Chan and Miguel Pastor.
Ramon has a preference for the Indochine style. As such, a few of his favourite things are either antiques or vintage pieces from Asia. Like a pair of Japanese cloissoné export ware from the Edo period with French mountings. And a pair of Japanese hibachi, again from the Edo period, bought from his favourite antique shop in Hong Kong, Honeychurch Antiques on Hollywood Road. And a pair of tressle folding tables with bronze-simulate bamboo legs bought in Rome in the mid-seventies. Also known for clean lines, a signature pattern found in his designs, Ramon carefully chose the backdrop for his tableau of favourite things: French louvre windows at his home filled with more beautiful objects, each with a story to tell.
Artist & Style Setter
He was only 10 years old when he bought his first collection. Recalls style setter Rachy Cuna: “Instead of toys, I would be buying antiques. Together with my yaya [nanny], I would browse through the many antique shops in my neighbourhood in Ermita.” Since then, he has not stopped collecting. For his favourite things, coming first in chronological order is his first-ever purchase: three Song Dynasty jarlets, bought from a street vendor. “I paid Php 10 for each jarlet,” Rachy says. “My allowance then was only Php 2 a day, so the money I spent on those three pieces, a total of Php 30, came from my savings.”
Another favourite hunt was the old Maranaw Arcade in Makati. “While my friends went bowling, I browsed at the antique shop in the same building,” he says. It was here that he got his first valuable tip in antique buying. “This lady, Fe Ongpin, who saw me in the shop said, ‘Hijo, always buy pieces that have no cracks.’ I have been guided by that rule ever since.” Rachy has a collection of jade pieces: a jade tea pot, a cup and saucer (“which I use for dessert with my jade chopsticks”), and the Kuan Yin goddess of mercy, all bought in Beijing in the ’80s.
He also loves agate, like this agate apple bought in Hong Kong. The chinoiserie fans were bought in a London flea market where, he said, “I can find pieces that cost less than half of what I pay in HK,” he says. The fans are made of paper on one side and silk on the other. The design is painted on the paper side, the faces of the people made of ivory. Rachy dates these fans to more than a hundred years old. He also has a collection of mother-of-pearl from which he brings out two: a piece intricately carved with a Chinese village scene bought in London; and a brooch. Both were part of the collection he exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila and then in Beijing.
Rachy chooses two of his works for his stash of favourite things. First is his book Adornments, the only floral inspiration book in the Philippines, published 10 years ago with only 1,500 pieces printed by the UST Printing Press. “The book is now truly a collector’s item,” says Rachy, who is also known for his floral artistry. And last, his painting called Kawayanihan, a b&w acrylic, circa 2001. “I had painting lessons many years ago,” the multi-talented Rachy says.
As the owner of a gallery, Artinformal, and a concept store, Aphro, Tina Fernandez has an interesting view on things. “I see art in everything,” she says. “I like stuff that are well-designed or that just appeal to me visually. It’s all very personal, really.” For instance, when people ask her what Aphro is all about, she answers, “It’s about all the things that I like.”
The statement is more complicated than it sounds. Tina goes on, “Every piece has two sides: the story of the one who made it and that of the one who puts it all together. The latter is my story, because my point of view may be different from that of the artist, the artisan, or the designer.” This point of view she exhibits in this gallery of favourite things.
The ice bucket from Berlin, though heavy and dented, is appreciated for its design. “Often, you don’t ever know where to put the cover of an ice bucket, but this one’s got the cover attached!” she explains. A calling card case turns out to be an artwork. Bought at the first Art Fair Philippines, it comes with alphabetical dividers and calling cards showing various contemporary artists’ studios from the point of view of photographer MM Yu. Two chairs give Tina’s collection a stamp of quirkiness. The crutch chair by Ling Quisumbing is a strong statement piece. “The artist usually uses collected old stuff to create an artwork but in this case, she used new crutches because, she says, it is too painful to use old ones,” Tina says. The other chair by Valeria Cavestany is actually a batibot [ice cream parlour chair], dressed up to not only look like art but be comfortable to sit on as well.
From among the Zacarias 1925 bags that Aphro carries exclusively in the Philippines, Tina’s favourite is a handwoven bag. “It can hold a lot of stuff and is very organised because it has many pockets,” says Tina. Then a vintage bag from her grandmother, a hand-me-down going on three generations now. Her colourful glass and pitcher mats are made in Nepal out of goat hair. “They are very absorbent and all you need to wash them with is hair conditioner!” she adds.
Tina has her personal choices of artists and artisans, like the potter Pablo Capati who gave her a single-flower vase for Christmas. She has several Geraldine Javier dolls too, but likes best the one of performance artist Marina Abramovik. She particularly admires the artisan for employing women in the town where she has her studio to give them livelihood. And last, the book Carnival Scenes by Zean Cabangis is a collection of 100 prints bound in book format, which Tina published.
Mark Lewis Higgins
He says one of his favourite things is always the latest painting he has finished, yet all of Mark Higgins’ other choices seem to revolve around his passion: art. “I love to paint, and the things I have chosen here are everything that I either use or that inspire me to create my paintings—from art supplies to inspiring books and beautiful fabrics. “All of them help me to tell my stories through paintings,” he says. On the drawing table, for instance, are Chinese porcelain brush holders (bought in Hong Kong and Beijing), Chinese paperweights, paintbrushes—all of which he has used through decades and decades of painting. “Some of my brushes are really old, from my high school and college days,” he says.
Mark collects a lot of books, too, for research and reference, picking some he is using at the moment to show here. “I’m actually working on a collection of paintings for a solo exhibition, my first in Manila in 10 years,” he shares. He is calling his collection terra incognita, Latin for “unknown lands or territories.” His mediums of choice are gouache, watercolour, chalk pastels, as well as 23-carat gold leaf. As subject, he paints imaginary portraits of people inspired by ancient history, cultures, and religion. “This batch I’m doing now is inspired by the ancient history of Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. So you see elements like the spice trade, silk weaving, opium, and an abundance of gold.
Higgins has a penchant for exotic textiles as well, which he also uses in his paintings. He recently came back from India and brought back 95 kilos of fabric. He bought trimmings from India (Rajasthan, Delhi and Chennai), including snakeskins he is earmarking for a future costume project. “I really have this thing for textiles,” he says, “so I buy fabrics mainly to use for paintings. But lately, I have been using them for the ballet costumes I have been creating.” Costuming is very much on the drawing board ergo his pile of motley fabrics from the native t’nalak to Chinese brocades, Indian silks, Venetian stenciled fabrics, hand-woven Turkish velvets, and Indonesian batiks. “In 2015, Ballet Philippines asked me to design costumes for a new production they were creating, a reimagined Firebird, set in ancient Philippines. Since then I’ve been imagining doing costumes for other productions,” he says.
Mark’s tableau is as busy as his workplace. He even throws fabrics and trimmings inside a vintage suitcase, which is one of his favourite things as well. “The suitcase is a family heirloom from the ’50s. It has a hard shell that protects the delicate contents from getting damaged,” he says.
The woman behind the 34-year-old brand Criselda, has always been known for her beauty, creativity, femininity. But get a closer look at Criselda Lontok through her trove of favourite things, arranged against her Rupert Jacinto photograph, a personal favourite, as the backdrop. A photograph of her mother in her thirties, brings back many memories. “She would chaperone me and wait in the car until the party is finished!” she recalls.
Also from her mum is a vintage bag circa ’50s, bought in Rustan’s department store when it was newly-opened. Little did Criselda know that the store would be her second home, and its owners, the Tantocos, her second family. Thus, one of her treasures is a Hèrmes scarf from the late Glecy Tantoco. “Apart from it being a Christmas gift, Mrs Tantoco gave it to me because I said yes to her offer to be a division manager for Christian Dior, Gucci, YSL, Fendi, Lanvin, Louis Feraud, etc after I told her that I would rather handle just my own brand,” Criselda says. “But she allowed me to do both.” More recently, Glecy’s daughter, Marilou Tantoco-Pineda, gave Criselda a cross bag with a long strap for evenings out. “I removed the strap, added a chain and ribbons and attached it to my mobile phone!” Criselda has three children: the twins Carlo Maria and Maria Carla, and the youngest, John. They gave her a DVF by Hstern Watch for her birthday, which she cherishes for its sentimental value. Carla, who now lives in Connecticut, also gave her a roger vivier pair (“which I found too expensive to buy”).
A dyed-in-the-wool fashionista, Criselda has made a number of good buys. One of these is a limited-edition Cartier watch with blue sapphires and diamonds, a Christmas gift to herself in the ’90s, and bought in Rustan’s, of course. From Harrods in London, she bought a gold ring which she values for its practicality (“It goes with everything”) and subdued elegance (“It is not loud”). Another piece from London is a vintage bag she bought because of its shape. And from Paris, a Chanel bag bought in the ’90s at the Chanel store at the rue Cambon.
She picks two must-haves from her toiletry: her favourite lipstick, Chanel red, and her favourite perfume, Gucci rush, which she tries to use sparingly “because they do not sell it anymore.” Among all these beautiful items are two things that reveal the designer’s spiritual side: a rosary from her brother Celso who bought it in Rome; and Good Morning God, a Christian book this Catholic reads every day and finds so much guidance from.
Accessories Designer & Style Icon
“For my favourite things, I chose the pieces that I will never let go of and which I can bequeath to my children,” says style and fashion icon Tina Maristela-Ocampo. The former supermodel thus starts with a colourful top by Nicholas Ghesquière for Balenciaga. “I wanted to get something very special from him, something I can play around with. I ended up buying two tops, which even my daughters have worn in different ways,” Tina says. A bust of Aba, the daughter of its sculptor Jullie Lluch, was bought by Tina’s husband Ricco in the late ’80s. The innocent expression of the little girl so enamoured Tina, enough to surmise that this may have had something to do with her having a girl for a first-born. There is a second bust of another young girl by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino. “It was one of our first investments, and perhaps the reason for our having a second daughter,” she says.
The Damien Hirst green cross cabinet was purchased in London. “We went to Pharmacy 2, the restaurant that exhibits site-specific works by Hirst, and bought this functional art,” Tina says. Since then, the piece has served the family in more ways than one: as a first-aid kit, the house of two Barbie dolls, a box for Tina’s letters to her children. In front of the Hirst piece is a Murano decanter, a gift from a friend. Tina collects sterling silver pieces and this pair of candelabras bought years ago in the weekend antique market on 26th Street in New York is her favourite.
She also treasures pieces designed by Ricco. “Why shouldn’t I keep things by my husband?” she says. These include a small santo (religious icon) wooden head by Ricco for Celestina, a lamp for Celestina Home, and chairs made of tagnipis shell. With a passion for gardening and floral styling, she created a tableau of ferns and orchids from Laguna, and bird figures set against an Ibarra painting of greenery. With them she chose a book by Christian Tortu, a French florist acclaimed for mixing flowers, plants, and vegetables in beautiful arrangements. “On one of our trips to Paris, we went to Tortu’s flower shop. I bought a book there and then I saw Tortu, so I asked him to autograph my book!” relates Tina.
A special item is an Emilio Aguilar Cruz painting with the Filipino flag. “Tata Abe was Ricco’s painting mentor in his teen days and a godfather at our wedding. He requested that we name our first child after him. But we had three girls in a row and by the time our first boy came around, Tata Abe had passed away. Still we kept our promise and named our last child Emilio,” Tina tells the story.
Actor Derek Ramsay’s favourite items are a reflection of an eventful life. Two acting trophies mark epic firsts: the title of Box Office King at the 2012 Box Office Entertainment Awards and his first-ever Best Actor Award at the 2014 Metro Manila Film Festival. A statue of him in his role as the title character in the TV series Kidlat was a gift from TV5. “That show was a success,” he recalls. “It was a home-grown concept that did good.” A t-shirt from Derek’s Girls, his fan club, is another prized possession. “I am truly grateful for their support,” he declares about them. He confesses that The Shawshank Redemption is the only movie that has made him cry. “I don’t usually cry over movies,” he says. “But this was about friendship, cooperation, and keeping one’s word of honour.”
Ramsay has also made a name for himself in sports, having qualified for and won the 2017 Jack Nicklaus International Invitational Tournament. Along with his qualifier and championship trophies, he proudly displays the Calloway clubs he used to make the winning putt. A multi-coloured jersey marks the actor’s time as a member of the Philippine team for the 2017 World Championship for Beach Ultimate Frisbee in France where they took the bronze medal. Likewise, Ramsay takes pride in his vintage electric scrambler, a unique hybrid electric bike—one of only two such bikes in the country. He is also the proud owner of a limited-edition Swatch chronograph.
But there are items that also reveal his warmer side: the Cartier fountain pen from his mum which he used to sign his very first contract with; The urns of his two beloved bulldogs, and a rosary from Batangas which has helped bring in the greatest successes of his life.
Felice Sta. Maria
Culturati e literati, book author Felice Sta Maria’s favourite things are, expectedly, from a rich and glorious era. She has authored a number of sold-out titles, appreciated for the painstaking research behind them as well as their impeccable design. But she elects not to include any of these because, she says, that would be self-promoting. Instead she chose a coterie of this and that all tied together by the common thread of each piece being a special part of her life.
Books are cherished, naturally, like the 1919 Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School cookbook from her maternal grandmother. “Her sister also gave me handwritten cake recipes in a battered sketchbook, pre-WWII but undated, and just bigger than a hand in size,” Felice relates. From her maternal great grandmother were handed down exquisite gold accessories like intricate tambourines, loop earrings, and a fan holder that hangs from the waist.
A small mesh bag circa 1920s was given by Gilda Fernando who, Felice calls, “my mentor.” Another mentor, the late writer Anding Roces, gave her an enamelled pillbox, the 85th of the limited edition of 250, with the cover of Connoisseur (magazine for antiques) on the lid. “Anding became my surrogate father when my dad [one of his BFFs] went underground,” Felice says. She also brings out a piña Maria Clara top, embroidered with silk threads, designed by Tessie Macasaet. “I have three pieces by her: this top, a kimono, and a gorgeous opera coat,” Felice offers. Filipiniana outfits are part and parcel of Felice’s everyday life. Today she wears a simple pair of beige pants and a Tepiña top, piña-seda material promoted by HABI.
Among her art collection is her portrait by Cesar Legaspi, a gift from the late National Artist himself. “I was so amazed when he used my chakra colours in the painting. To think that I did not mention this to him at all! Moreover, it is a well-known fact that he was colour-blind,” she says. Another gift from another National Artist is her very own wooden bust by Napoleon “Billy” Abueva. From her husband, Andy, she cherishes a stuffed paddington bear that he gave her when they were living London in 1977. And carefully kept in its box are his Upsilon Sigma Phi pin and her Sigma Delta Phi pin designed by Purita Kalaw in 1966.
Words by Chit Lijauco | Photography by Kenji Onglao | Interviews by Beatrice Malveda
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