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The Philippine Fashion Industry Pays Tribute to Cesar Gaupo

The industry mourns the loss of a great talent and mentor.
The Philippine Fashion Industry Pays Tribute to Cesar Gaupo
IMAGE Michele Sison
The industry mourns the loss of a great talent and mentor.

The Philippine fashion industry is mourning the passing of celebrated designer, Cesar Gaupo. He was 72. A source said Cesar peacefully died in his sleep just hours after he had celebrated his birthday with close friends.

Cesar Gaupo's birthday celebration last January 18, 2019
PHOTO BY Malyne Lorayes

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With former models Celine Magat Lopez, Desiree Verdadero Abesamis, Wanda Louwallien, Mara Spirig, Izza Gonzalez Agana, Lulu Tan Gan, Henri Calayag, and Myla Axel.
PHOTO BY Malyne Lorayes
Cesar Gaupo's birthday celebration last January 18, 2019
PHOTO BY Malyne Lorayes

Below, his friends, colleagues, and muses share fond words and memories about Cesar.

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"Cesar was one of the kindest souls in our fashion industry. He was always so joyful and in my mind forever youthful. He was always ready with a compliment and continuously encouraging everyone to do their best. I remember, at a shoot for Patrick Rosas’s book, we were together and he told me that he loved my work and he was so proud of me. That meant the world to me. He taught me how important it was to be nice. Because in this crazy world of fashion Cesar was a rare breed. Forever relevant and forever loved."—Rajo Laurel

"Cesar Gaupo was one of my favorite designers. He was one of the designers you could rely on. [Always] bubbly and never a dull moment with him!”—Annette Coronel

"That he had a brilliant, creative, and innovative mind whose creations stood the test of time is undisputed. He was also one of (if not the) kindest, nicest, friendliest, and most generous human beings the industry has ever known. We will miss his laughter and cheerful disposition that filled the air wherever he went. Thank you, Cesar, for enriching our lives and inspiring us to be the best we could be."—Myrza Sison

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"I’m so sad. I cried so hard when I learned about Cesar’s passing this morning. I never told anyone but during my curtain call in my first ever major group fashion show, I saw him give me a thumbs up. We weren’t friends yet back then. Of course, I was super flattered, and the gesture gave me [so much encouragement] when I was starting as a designer. I fondly call him Nanay because people told us we looked alike, but he insisted we were sisters. He gave me clients he couldn’t accommodate, particularly the male ones. He was a very talented designer and a kind person. I will miss him."—Ivarluski Aseron

Cesar with hairstylist Henri Calayag, designer Tonichi Nocom, and former models Celine Magat Lopez, Mara Spirig and Wanda Louwallien.
PHOTO BY Henri Calayag
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"A man of few words but with a multitude of contributions to Philippine fashion."—Izza Gonzalez Agana

"Growing up as a budding designer, [I thought] he was larger than life, that when I finally met him, he dispelled the myth that fashion gods don't have their feet on earth. Among the fashion legends, it was Cesar's aesthetics that I related to the most. I was over the moon when in my first group show gala, he came backstage to congratulate me and even bought a shirt from my collection. Through time, I called him Inay, and he called me Anak as we both shared a loyalty to things simple, clean, and modern. I admired his work as he did mine. We eventually became neighbors and I am so fortunate to have spent car rides with him where he would impart his thought process and genius. Thank you, Cesar. The fashion god who went down to earth to touch a lot of people's lives has now gone back to heaven."—Vic Barba

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"Cesar Gaupo, constantly successful in his design career and other creative endeavors, had always chosen and remained silent about his media worthy accomplishments. That never mattered to him. He was focused on conceptualizing and perfectly executing his vision. His genius was not only limited to fashion design but extended to home, resort, and spa design and layout. I only learned about this a few years back. Fortunate was I to have spent many moments listening to his new passions, inspiring and encouraging me to pursue mine. Our talks enriched me deeply with his professional and life wisdom. And all these talks were peppered with heavy laughter. He was one of the funniest people one could ever meet. I will miss him, miss him terribly."—Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez

"Cesar was always a jolly and funny person to be with. [There was] never a dull moment with him, and he was surprisingly talkative for a shy and low-key person. As a designer, Cesar was one of the best whose body of work showed consistent discipline. He had a strong eye for subtle and elegant details. He was revolutionary and in a class of his own. He was such an inspiration. He was a beautiful soul. That will always set him apart from the rest. Long live The Cesar Guapo."—Randy Ortiz

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"Even models have their own favorite designers. I modeled during the late '70s to early '80s—within the golden age of fashion they say, known for excesses like big hair, padded shoulders, and flashy disco outfits. But even then, Cesar Gaupo was different: a cut above the rest, unafraid to stick to his own style and aesthetics, and I just loved modeling for him. He made such beautiful clothes for both couture and his ready-to-wear line at SM Boutique Square then—beautiful in their simplicity, quiet elegance and form. Whenever I donned a Cesar Gaupo creation, I felt so feminine and sexy. His lines and silhouettes were simple, yet with unusual details, and perfectly executed using only the right fabrics, with impeccable fit, and always elegantly styled. I remember wearing a loose but slinky dress made of the sheerest of fabrics and in white even, yet it didn’t look vulgar at all. Cesar liked his models really thin, who walked the runway like they were gliding. And in his clothes, his models all looked malinis and mabango. Over the the years, Cesar remained as one of my favorite designers still. I admired him still for his awesome talent and dynamic attitude, but loved him even more for his good character and values, kindness and humility, and all the joy he gave us with his fun company. He was my dearest friend, and I will miss him big time."—Cheng Bernandez Lucas

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Cheng Bernardez Lucas and Henri Calayag in Cesar Gaupo
PHOTO BY Henri Calayag

"I chose Cesar Gaupo to make my ensemble for the Cocobanana-themed Preview Ball in 2011 because I wanted to work with a designer who had lived through those heady days; I wanted to hear first hand about the antics of the beau monde in that legendary club. I remember peals of laughter as Cesar reminisced in a conspiratorial whisper fashion moments and naughty deeds alike. I ended up spending the entire afternoon with him soaking up all that fashion history. He was again engulfed in mirth when, months later, I asked him why he had semi-retired from fashion, giggling excitedly like a child about his new passion—building his home in Laguna, where he literally moved heaven and earth (and a river) to bring his vision of a modern bahay kubo (he was growing plants on the rooftop long before it became a trend) into fruition. The only time I saw him dead serious was when he was a judge and mentor for Preview’s Emerging Talent Awards, where he sternly corrected contestants’ garment construction and finishing. He was always so willing to teach, and when I asked him why, he told me that teaching enables him to learn new things, whether it is a new idea brought about by the student or gleaning a new insight from an old concept. But I digress. Back to Preview’s Cocobanana party, where Cesar made me an emerald peplum skirt to go with a plunging cream top and wide orange belt (always seeking a novel combination, Cesar’s color sense always amazed me). I had thought he would make something vaguely Halston-esque or DVF-esque to the Cocobanana (dubbed the Studio 54 of the Philippines) party, but he has other ideas. “Yves Saint Laurent was the most important designer of that decade,” he declared, “you should wear something inspired by him.” But instead of a take on Bianca Jagger’s white wedding suit or Bettey Catroux’s safari dress, he said, “Saint Laurent was greatly inspired by the fashion of the ‘40s,” and went on explain how that decade’s influence figured in the French designer’s work. I learned a great deal from Cesar that day—not just about fashion history, but also how the very best designers—and he will truly go down as one of the greats in Philippine fashion—are able to synthesize and apply inspiration." — Pauline Juan 

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Mary Grace Sanchez wearing Cesar Gaupo for her high school prom in 1969.
PHOTO BY Courtesy of Mary Grace Sanchez

“We’ve  come a long way since the early 70s. I will forever miss Cesar’s laughter, his humor and his animated actions for every story he would tell. He was generous, kind, and  accommodating in every way, and you could always count on his goodness. He was a good soul! What a way to go. Let us celebrate Cesar and say our goodbyes.” — Henri Calayag

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"I started my career in fashion as Cesar Gaupo’s assistant. He didnt force me to follow his style, instead, he encouraged me to find my own voice. Aside from work discipline, he taught me how to “work on the bias,” a magic trick that works every time Im faced with challenging styles. Like his designs, he will remain ageless. I’ll always remember how he could really do a mean Rick Astley dance like no other." — JC Buendia

“Cesar and I hit it right away. Even before I became a model, Cesar and my late husband Atomic were already good friends. Once when he asked to do a fashion pictorial he said he didn't have a budget to pay for the photoshoot but that he would give me me an outfit in exchange. I told Cesar not to worry about it and that I would do it for free. That elevated our friendship to a higher level. Not just as designer-model but the very dearest of friends.  Cesar is a funny guy and never is there a dull moment with him around. He laughs and worries sometimes,  and laughs and laughs and laughs. Extremely talented and a genius with his craft.” — Celine Magat Lopez

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Cesar is with hair stylist Henri Calayag and and designers Vic Barba, Mike dela Rosa, Tonichi Nocom and Jojie Lloren
PHOTO BY Courtesy of Mike dela Rosa

"My first time to work with Cesar was back in 1997. I was new in the business as a fashion show director. One of the few designer’s shows I had done then. I have learned a lot from him. I can never forget the time when he was fitting Lala Flores and saw his impeccable detailing  in his craft. His vision was always forward, distinctly Gaupo" — Robby Carmona

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“Cesar was one of those truly rare combinations of being extremely talented and experienced but also very laid back and generous with his knowledge and advice. Among all the designers who apprenticed with my mother, I always felt that his style and sensibilities were the closest to hers. His clothes had a very ‘Slim’s’ look about them. He also had a wonderful, light-hearted sense of humor, even about his work. But then he also had quite a serious side to work. He was one of our most beloved alumni- the students were very fond of him.” — Mark Higgins

“In an industry often associated with pretentiousness and posturing, Cesar was a welcome breath of fresh air. He was funny, disarming, genuine and kind. Whenever he visited our school or one of our student exhibitions, which he often did,  he would spend hours effortlessly chatting with students, regaling them with humorous stories, giving them advise and asking about their work. He inspired and excited them. He was just as excited about the students’ work as they were. Most of all I think he showed them it was possible to be both a great success and a great person. To say he will be truly missed is an understatement.” — Sandy Higgins

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"My fondest memory of Cesar Gaupo was back in late 1980s. I used to live in South Syquia apartments in Malate and was neighbors with fashion designers Inno Sotto and the late Caloy Badidoy. My sister Tesa Totengco used to send me VHS tapes of compiled segments of Style by Elsa Klensch, which wasn’t available to view in the Philippines in those days. Every time I received one of the tapes I would call Caloy Badidoy and he would get everyone together to watch the tapes. Cesar was Caloy’s best friend so he was always present during those viewings. We would sit there for hours scrutinizing and dissecting the fashion shows like the fashion geeks that we were. There would be a lot of laughter and model impersonations, which had us all in tears. Anyone who knows Cesar would know that infectious laugh. I was the ‘bagets’ in the group and considered myself incredibly lucky to have access into their inner circle. Over the years we reconnected whenever I was traveling to Hong Kong while he was working for Shanghai Tang and when we were both the finale judges for Project Runway Philippines. We would look at each other and have a good laugh. He always knew what was on my mind or vice versa. Last April, I bumped into him while I was in Manila and he invited me for a weekend in his home in Laguna. I promised him I would make time on my next trip. I’m incredibly sad that I won’t be able to keep that promise."—Rafe Totengco

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"I miss you Cesar. I am broken. You are my idol, my icon, my couturier, my mentor, my comfort and bagets friend, my comediante, Tita and now Lola to my kids. You are genuine and humble, kind and caring, gentle and spiritual, joyful and hilarious. You are the bagets that is truly youthful. You are a big part of my life and I know it because I have not shed tears in plenty years until this day. Boohoo! Thank you for your goodbye kiss and hug, that came with thoughtful words, the night before we parted at your birthday party. Cesar is a great couturier. His style is timeless and will remain as relevant. His designs transcend trends. Cesar is also a sculptor shaping and draping fabrics, as this is his unrivaled strength. Yes, unrivaled. In our fashion sector, Cesar is a mover, definitely an inspiration, to us, established designers. Being a low-key designer, he doesn't think his fashion is an element of social status but more an expression of his clients’ personality. And that is his success. Cesar, you are my creative hero!" — Lulu Tan-Gan

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"I write this with great grief over the shocking loss of a close friend, Cesar Gaupo who was just with me and other dear friends several hours before he passed on. It was a grand celebration of his 72nd bday. This beautiful man, inside and out, was a wonderful friend to me for over 30 years with his gentle and caring nature. One of the many good traits I like about Cesar is his simplicity of life and his loyalty to friends. His Christian faith has kept him grounded. I always admired how he never judged or forced his opinions on anyone, but offered valuable and truthful advice that we will surely miss. I remember once he and I were chatting about something I was struggling with andhe said, 'Eh ako, tingnan mo,' meaning that you never know in life so make the change even though it’s tough and do the things you want to do and dream about before it’s too late. His words came across so clear. His beautiful spirit will live on.... I’ll see you again, my Fetus." — Malyne Fernandez Lorayes

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"I met Cesar through the late Caloy Badidoy and right away we hit it off. Being an SM in-house designer himself, he has guided me in doing RTW collections for a retail store. My knowledge of the business and work experience plus listening to Cesar are valuable lessons, which to this day are what I adhere to in the business of retail fashion. Through the years, never dull a moment, that we stopped laughing especially when he and Caloy would outdo each other in exchange of jokes from everyday situations. Each time we meet, we'd greet each other, pare or chong, then we'd laugh...nakakadiri ang tawagan natin sa isa't isa! Despite the successes in his fashion career, Cesar remained the same and has not changed. 'Nagbago lang ang buhok. Wala na,' as he would say. What surprised me the night of the party is he was hopping from table to table, talking to the guests, posing for photos, and him being a shy person is so unusual. I guess it's his way of thanking the friendship that we had through the years. I love Cesar. Both him and Caloy have a special place in my heart. I will miss him." — Tonichi Nocom

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