From the ’80s to the present, these Filipina superwomen remind us about the influential power of a great model.
This is an excerpt from MEGA’s September 2022 cover story.
In those pre-social media days, a young person’s dreams were seen on pages of magazines or newspapers, or on catwalk shows, which were barely televised. For a mere observer, that modeling world was ethereal. And the faces that carried those magnificent clothes and represented ideas were deemed majestic and almost unreachable.
Fortunately, as the world evolved, these faces found their voice and the platforms through which they were able to share their vision and their thoughts. Through the years, people have started to realize that the models, especially the greats, are not just mere “hangers” or “mannequins”; they are creatives and collaborators who are helping change an entire industry. They are actresses and actors who convey feelings and concepts. The originals summoned the truth that modeling is a profession, which requires discipline and a lot of hard work, and that it is part of an industry that could help society flourish if given the right direction.
In the Philippines, those laurels belong to a few, but no image remains more ingrained than the original greats: Apples Aberin, Marina Benipayo, Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez, Myrza Sison, and Rissa Mananquil Trillo.
THE CITY WAS THEIR RUNWAY
Being a model is like a calling: some people were born to grace covers and runways. That is especially true during pre-Instagram and-TikTok days, when getting noticed, or running into a talent scout, is as hard as meeting idols.
But fate is sneaky. Ask Marina, who was working as a crew member at the McDonald’s branch in SM North EDSA when someone who worked at fashion retail brand Cinderella—which was located near the fast-food chain—discovered her and gave her a modeling stint. It was in 1986. She then began modeling for renowned designer Renee Salud, who eventually introduced her to some of the founders of the Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP). At the time, she was trying to help out with the family’s expenses after her father passed away.
“When they asked me to become a model, my first question was, ‘Will I profit from it?’” she laughs as she journeys with MEGA back to her beginnings. She was focused on work and school and didn’t know anything about modeling. “During that time, we really had no access to imported magazines, so I just learned about everything from observation.”
Apples started working at 16, as a guest model for another renowned fashion designer Malu Veloso. The director for the fashion show then noticed her and asked her to do more modeling projects, and the rest is history. “I didn’t really want to model, I had no designs for it or anything like that—no pun intended. When I was in high school, I would do it sporadically, but then it became a real job for me, part of what I was doing.”
Tweetie started her career doing TV commercials and print ads before she walked the runway. Looking back, she says, “They’re similar because as a model you’re the medium that expresses the ideas of the artist, but in different manners. Different skills are required.”
As for Rissa, she first got a taste of modeling at 12 years old, when Sari-Sari Store, a pioneer multi-brand store under the helm of Ricco and Tina Ocampo, launched a new clothing line called, Dalagita. The brand wanted to get young girls with different talents to front the campaign: a cook, a painter, a ballet dancer, a gymnast, and a writer. Rissa was the writer: “I was writing for the newspaper as early as grade six.” She was then asked to be one of the faces of another local brand, Anonymous, where she had the privilege to be shot by renowned photographer Neal Oshima. Her first runway show happened in December 1999, for Inno Sotto’s Retrospective Fashion Show at the Metropolitan Museum. “It was there where I met top fashion director Ariel Lozada, and the rest of my runway career is history,” she fondly recalls.
Then, there are people who truly run—or maybe strut—their way to their dreams. Why wait for someone to discover you when you know what you want? This was running through Myrza’s head when, at 21 years old, and working as a computer programmer at the multidisciplinary professional services firm SyCip Gorres Velayo & Company (SGV & Co.), she decided to plot her own discovery.
One day, she “planted” herself in a well-known boutique in Malate, Manila, called 22 B.C. after she had seen models promoting the brand on a TV show. Two hours later, no one approached her. “The sales staff had gotten tired of asking me if I needed any help,” she recalls, smiling at the memory. “As I was about to give up, in walked a model agent. He spotted me and uttered the six words I had so longed to hear: ‘Excuse me, are you a model?’ Of course, I had been preparing my answer for two hours: ‘No, but I’d like to be one.’” It was clear, at least, that she had a few things in common with the rest of the modeling world: she had guts and discipline.
Photography DOC MARLON
Creative direction NICOLE ALMERO
Fashion direction RYUJI SHIOMITSU
Beauty direction MIA CASTRO
Makeup GERY PENASO (Myrza), ANGELINE DELA CRUZ (Rissa), JAY SALCEDO (Apples), JAPETH PUROG (Marina), LEI PONCE (Tweetie)
Hair DALE MALLARI (Apples, Marina, Myrza, Rissa) and BRYAN EUSEBIO (Tweetie)
Nails HER TRIBE NAILS
Videography EXCEL PANLAQUE
Shoot coordination KZ FRANCISCO and MJ ALMERO
Shot on location AD ASTRA STUDIO
Male Models RAPHA KIEFER, PATRICK PATAWARAN, CHUMASON NGJIGHA and AUSTIN DIZON
Special thanks to ANGELINE DELA CRUZ of AD ASTRA STUDIO and PROFESSIONAL MODELS ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES (PMAP)