With Inno Sotto taking over, Criselda Lontok’s brand continues to cater to its original clients while expanding its demographic
DESPITE designer Criselda Lontok’s demise in 2021, her brand in the Rustan’s chain of department stores lives on.
On Sept. 14, Rustan’s threw a small party for Ms. Lontok’s most loyal patrons, namely, mature society women to shop the brand Criselda’s new stock (esteemed fashion designer Inno Sotto has since stepped in as creative director).
The shopping party also served as a preview for a charity auction in Ms. Lontok’s name. Up for grabs are some of her last designs, and some of her jewelry. The lots are on view in an exhibit at Rustan’s Makati flagship until Sept. 20, after which an invitation-only live auction will be held on Sept. 21 at 3 p.m., a day before her Sept. 22 death anniversary. Proceeds from the auction will go towards her favorite charity, Bantay Bata 163.
Ms. Lontok was first a model and a beauty queen in the 1960s, before coming to work with Rustan’s as a merchandising manager in the 1970s. Rustan’s co-founder Gliceria Rustia-Tantoco took her under her wing, and Ms. Lontok started to design her own line in 1983.
Her mentor’s daughter, current chair and CEO of the Rustan Group, Zenaida Rustia Tantoco, spoke about the reasons for keeping the brand intact. “Because of her many patrons. Her customers, her friends, still look for her brand. We decided to continue and we took on another designer,” she said in an interview with BusinessWorld, and she then called Mr. Sotto to join her.
“The brand has been with the store for almost 40 years. To actually kill or let the brand stop isn’t a good sign,” said Mr. Sotto. “The clothes sell. To actually put an end to it suggests other things.”
Ms. Tantoco added, “It would be a disappointment to her customers.” She herself wore an embroidered Criselda coat that day.
The brand basically becomes a lasting legacy; almost as if the lady were still alive herself. Ms. Lontok passed away at 81, an age which her own favored clients are approaching. “Talagang malaki ang kaniyang following (she really has a huge following). Of course, a lot of them, because of a certain age, are gone, like Criselda herself,” said Mr. Sotto. “We are slowly, over the last two years since I’ve been with the brand, discovering a younger brand.”
Mr. Sotto said that the brand is finding new customers with an age range beginning at 45. “They’re beginning to discover the brand. But I have to slowly take it in another direction, without losing the DNA of what the brand is all about — which is mainly printed fabrics and all of that,” he said. “We’re doing less floral; they’re more artsy,” he said about the preferences of the maturing set he’s dressing.
Save for dressing a very select group of women (basically, Manila society’s old guard), what lasting imprint did Ms. Lontok leave in Philippine fashion? Surprisingly, despite dressing what amounts to be a very exclusive club, Ms. Lontok’s designs were inclusive, showing that women can be beautiful, at any size, and at any age.
“These women, they like her clothes because it’s very forgiving. It flatters them,” said Ms. Tantoco. “It’s a dressed-up type of thing. Kahit na it’s casual, mukhang bihis (even if it’s casual, it looks dressed-up). In her case, pustoriosa kasi si Criselda eh,” said Mr. Sotto, using an old Filipino/Spanish word that means “glamorous” or “dressed-up.”
“You can tell.”
In an with BusinessWorld back in 2019, we asked Ms. Lontok if she had planned to retire. She said, “No — as long as I’m alive, as long as I’m strong.” Even in death, her brand, at least in name, still works as hard as she did. — Joseph L. Garcia