By Alex Y. Vergara
Images by Noel Pabalate
What is elegance? Is it a purely physical quality, or is it something unseen? Does it come with practice, or is it an innate trait not everyone possesses? Like beauty, is elegance more than just skin-deep?
It probably takes an elegant group of women and men to know what elegance is all about. For three years in a row now, civic leader, scholar, fashion icon, socialite, and best-dressed hall of famer Tingting Cojuangco and her collaborators have been coming out with an annual listing of the country’s 10 most elegant women.
MODERN GRACE From left: Rj Ledesma, Arnel Papa, Mitzi Borromeo, Anna Marie Lorenzana de Ocampo, Love Marie Ongpauco Escudero, Joanna Preysler, Lulu Tan Gan, Fortune Ledesma, Tingting Cojuangco, Zelda Kienle, Tweetie de Leon Gonzalez, Janina Dizon Hoschka, Anna Palabyab Rufino, Rissa Mananquil Trillo, Audrey Tan Zubiri, and Albert Andrada
Love Marie Ongpauco Escudero
Anna Marie Lorenzana de Ocampo
Joanna Preysler Francisco
Lulu Tan Gan
Tweetie de Leon Gonzalez
Rissa Mananquil Trillo
Audrey Tan Zubiri
Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez
Sen. Migs Zubiri
Simply dubbed as Tingting’s List of The Elegant Filipinas, this year’s awardees are news anchor Mitzi Borromeo, restaurateur Anna Marie Lorenzana de Ocampo, actress and painter Love Marie Ongpauco Escudero, fashion retailer Joanna Preysler Francisco, veteran fashion designer Lulu Tan Gan, model, accessories designer, and fitness advocate Tweetie de Leon Gonzalez, jeweler Janina Dizon, dermatologist Anna Palabyab Rufino, model, entrepreneur, and lifestyle columnist Rissa Mananquil Trillo, and businesswoman and lifestyle columnist Audrey Tan Zubiri.
Cojuangco and a panel consisting of the equally personable Fortune Ledesma, Vanessa Ledesma Suatengco, GM of Diamond Hotel Philippines, and designers Albert Andrada and Arnel Papa recently presented the list at Diamond Hotel’s grand ballroom.
Each awardee received a Leaf of Elegance trophy designed by Papa during the formal event. The presentation was preceded by a fashion show of Andrada’s latest eveningwear collection.
So how does one even begin to define an elegant woman?
“She’s the woman who is unwittingly the center of attention, knows the language of fashion, possesses beauty, and is refined and cultured,” said Suatengco while being interviewed on stage by the event’s host RJ Ledesma. “She commands respect in her chosen field and possesses a legacy of grace, wisdom, and compassion.”
Suatengco, the first Filipino woman to become GM of a five-star hotel in the Philippines, was one of last year’s awardees. Prior to that, Ledesma made it to Tingting’s List during its maiden presentation two years ago also at Diamond Hotel.
Cojuangco, unlike last year, was simply content to let her choices speak for themselves.
“We’re very happy that you have expressed interest in what we do because elegance these days is disappearing,” she said. “And I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to bring elegance back even for just one night?”
The formal announcement was preceded by a black-and-white video presentation of images the woman behind the list considers elegant.
Ledesma, no stranger to elegance herself, deems elegance as an encompassing quality that “gives substance to a beautiful woman.”
“There are so many beautiful and stylish women out there,” said Ledesma. “But our work of trimming it down to 10 wasn’t really that difficult because, to us, a best-dressed and elegant woman should go beyond the superficial. She should also have a good heart, as seen through the many advocacies she’s involved in.”
“An elegant person doesn’t think consciously about it,” said Tan Gan. “Elegance comes out naturally. Like knowing what works for you, elegance also comes with time. Apart from being conscious of basic social graces, an elegant person is mindful of others.”
And such mindfulness has benefitted the Center for Possibilities, an organization that provides funding and services for children with special needs, which the event has chosen as its main beneficiary.
“I think elegance is more than just carriage or outward appearances,” said Gonzalez, who wore a sleeveless dove gray halter dress with an embroidered skirt by Randy Ortiz. “It has a lot do with attitude and countenance. And being graceful can be expressed in many different ways.”
She considers being a model a “privilege.” Through the years, Gonzalez has gotten to wear all sorts of looks and trends as envisioned by the country’s top designers. Thus, she has a clear idea of “what works for me and what doesn’t.”
For Zubiri, wearing a blush-colored dress by Cary Santiago, “elegance is something that comes from within. A woman who’s secure and confident would definitely exude this to the world. It will be reflected in the way she dresses and interacts with people.”
Elegance isn’t about being au courant with fashion, either. There’s also a time and place for fancy ball gowns and cocktail dresses. Dressing appropriately, whether one is headed for the supermarket or a black tie event, is a mark of an elegant woman, said Zubiri.
And such quality, said Trillo, who wore a strapless black number by Rhett Eala, goes beyond the textbook definition of what an elegant person is.
“We would typically equate elegance with graceful movements,” she said. “But for me, elegance is also acting with our values intact no matter what the circumstances are. It’s holding on to your integrity, whether or not people see what you’re doing, and doing what you think is right.”
As a style icon in her own right, Trillo admits to being “partial to dresses because they hug a woman’s body differently, which allow her to move in a different way.”
Borromeo, who once dabbled into modeling before working for an environmental NGO, chose a black-and-white Eala creation with a clingy top and A-line skirt with the designer’s trademark hand painting. For her, elegance is a “state of mind.”
“More than anything else, I think it’s about being conscious and sensitive to the people around you,” she said. “Of course, it’s also about beauty. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As a whole, it’s about respect for people and the world around you.”