Never are the watchful eyes more judgmental than when Gretchen Barretto is making a seemingly wanton display of all the grand things money can buy—her branded and imported everything.
“But can you fault me for it?” she asks intensely. “They’re my things. I mean, hey, look, I like beautiful things. But as long as I don’t get them in an illegal way, there’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s not a crime to want or to like beautiful things, to like expensive things, as long as it really is kaya ng budget mo. Walang naapakan. Wala kang ninanakaw. That’s fine. The minute you do it in such a way na alam mong you hurt anybody, then that’s a sin.
“Now, if all these things are gifts, it’s also not my fault. I’m beautiful. I have talent. I’m good in many ways. Darling, it’s not my fault kung nireregaluhan ako. Hindi ko naman sinabi na pinagtatrabahuhan ko lahat ng meron ako. Pag sinabi ko sa inyo na ‘I bought that with my talent fee from ganito, ganyan’—hello, sasampalin n’yo ko. ‘Sinungaling ka!’ I’m not naman saying binili ko ’yan with my own money.”
At the time of this cover shoot and interview, Gretchen was still having a tiff with fellow actress Dawn Zulueta, and the bone of contention was precisely the issue of La Greta’s alleged flaunting of her expensive and trendy possessions.
Let’s not forget we’re not just talking to a fashion icon here. We’re also talking to a feisty actress whose every utterance has made a lot of tabloids happy over the years.
In her own defense, La Greta speaks up:
“I just know that I’m having fun. I just don’t understand why people take my fashion seriously. I don’t understand why people rave about it, why people stress over it.
“I mean, give me a break. This is just me. I’m just having fun. That’s why nga sometimes parang nahihiya ako na people even say, ‘Oh, my God! She came in her Louis Vuitton!’
“Like, leave me alone! That’s the life I live, I’m so loving it. If you can’t enjoy it with me, just leave me alone, parang ganoon.”
Indeed, it isn’t her fault that her partner is billionaire Tonyboy Cojuangco.
She gives the father of her child due credit anytime and anywhere anyone dares ask her about the many things she owns that most women can only dream of having.
“Darling, let’s be real,” she stresses. “I will not have these things if I were not with Tony, who’s a rich man. It is not really possible. Even if I work my ass off every single day and never sleep…
“You know, they say it’s unfair. But who says life is fair? It’s unfair. But I never meant to hurt anyone.
“You can’t fault people for what they have, you can’t fault people for what they worked for, you know. Or for what is given to me. If they can’t appreciate it, I feel sorry for them, but I’m not apologizing to them.”
Still and all, Gretchen feels the need to justify her fondness for extravagant things, as opposed to bragging about them. And she knows for certain that there are people out there who understand her.
“I believe that the public knows me by now. My public, they know me. If you notice, in a lot of interviews when I’m asked, ‘What is the brand you’re wearing?’—I don’t answer. Mainly because it would be perceived as—‘Ah, Gretchen’s bragging.’
“How many times do they ask for a shoot in my house? Do I have it photographed? No. Simply because I know it will be said, I’m boasting again.
“Yes, there’s a possibility that people will react in a different way. Tony always reminds me, ‘Huwag kang mag-alahas, kasi tinitira ka,’ and all that. It’s sad. Noong araw, wala akong pera. Pinapangarap ko to have nice things, and I really worked hard for them. Then here, niregaluhan ka, ’tapos hindi mo rin magagamit kasi titirahin ka. Alam mo ’yon?”
THEN & NOW. Though she can now surround herself with expensive clothes and monogrammed leather bags, Gretch never forgets her struggling days as a movie star.
“Before, I couldn’t really afford to buy what I wanted to buy,” she says. “So I just made do with whatever I had, or whatever they [the studio or the sponsor] provided. In life, it’s just like that, you make do with what you have. Now, I don’t make demands, I just bring what I want to wear or use according to my role in any project.”
Back then, she knew what it was like to live frugally.
“I had bills to pay. I would always get one thing and whatever lang I could buy. Hindi naman ’yong hindi mo na kaya. Mahirap naman ’yon. Mamaya may damit ka, may bag ka, wala ka namang bahay.”
Looking back now, she can only laugh at how she toyed around with fashion in those days.
“At that time, I thought I looked great,” she giggles. “Now when I look back, I’m like, ‘Yuck!’”
These days, La Greta can shop without worrying about the budget, and she has learned to enhance her innate beauty with the signature items with which she adorns herself. Not surprisingly, she has become one of the favorite cover girls of fashion and beauty magazines.
However, she doesn’t always say yes to requests for fashion pictorials. In anything and everything, the lady wants to be more than prepared.
“I don’t accept anything ora-orada,” she explains. “When I accept a project—a show, a TV commercial, movie, TV guesting, pictorial—I want to be ready physically, mentally, emotionally…”
Jesting, she adds: “Even materially!”
Unlike other actresses who have grown tired of doing magazine pictorials after years of doing them, Gretchen still gets excited over these things. Especially now, when she believes she’s in her prime.
“I’m just so loving what I’m doing now. I love pictorials. I’m at my best because I really work hard at it. I diet, I exercise, I shape my body for the clothes, and I know people expect me to always look beautiful and to always be stylish and to always surprise people with a new look. So, I really work hard at it.”
She considers these things, even when done gratis et amore, as jobs that need to be done properly.
“And I’m happy naman that people also appreciate it, so that when I’m on the cover they really buy the magazine. That’s really nice and rewarding.”
Does she show Tony these magazines that have her on the cover?
“Of course, and I give them away to everyone,” laughs La Greta, who says her best photo angle is her front. “Tony, he’d say, ‘I like your makeup here… you’re okay here.’ Hindi naman siya ’yong walang reaction.”
LOOKING GOOD. Having established herself as one of the showbiz world’s leading trendsetters, Gretchen always makes sure she remains in the lead.
Which explains why she gets stressed over a must-have item she doesn’t have yet, or why she employs stylists here and abroad to do the shopping for her, or why she has a monthly subscription to 15 different imported fashion magazines, or why she has her own gym and beauty parlor at home.
But fashionistas are in many ways a different breed.
“It’s not easy naman to buy, e,” she explains. “Because you don’t just get things anywhere also. It’s difficult to find something if it’s a must-have for the moment.”
Thus, the need for stylists or professional shoppers.
“Well, I have several,” she says. “Kasi depende, di ba, where you want to get it, and where is it available. I have one stylist in the States. For like 12 years—since I was pregnant.
“And then I have a friend naman. She’s a flight attendant, so she flies. Wherever she flies and it’s available there, then we get it. It really depends. Whoever goes anywhere buys it for us.
“And you know, the funny part is that the must-haves are not available in, like, Hong Kong or Singapore, because they’re always gone. The fashionistas will get them.
“We find them in places na hindi shopper ’yong tao—say, New Jersey, they’re available pala! Sa Paris, not available na ’tong bag, or this outfit, or shoes. Hello, available pala sa Chicago! Parang in the weirdest places.”
The best part is that Gretchen always knows what she wants.
“I know what’s in, somehow. We have friends, and we know what to look for—they go for it. ‘Okay, it’s available here.’ Like, look at my make-up, my hairbrush. That’s the latest.”
Patrick Rosas, who has been Gretchen’s make-up artist for some ten years now, also doubles as her consultant.
“I always ask Patrick. When I feel I’m not safe, I call him, ‘Tama ba ’to? Am I overdoing it?’”
Admittedly, when left to her own devices, Gretchen has a tendency to overdo things.
“Especially with jewelry,” she muses. “So, now you see, when I feel, like, I’m not safe, I don’t wear any jewelry na lang. Except now, my loops [earrings]. They are the in thing now, so ’yon lang.”
HAVING FUN. Both at home and outside, Gretchen has a bunch of yayas attending to her needs—from assisting her in dressing up, to shampooing her long hair (two yayas do this task), to putting back her bags and shoes in their proper pouches, to preparing her food.
“Sa bahay, iba ’yong upstairs people, iba ’yong downstairs people,” she explains. “Most of the time, we’re upstairs. I have a dining room and a kitchen—real kitchen—upstairs. So we just eat upstairs. Unless, may bisita. Then we go down.”
When it comes to looking good physically, hers is not an easy life. It takes a lot of discipline to maintain her figure.
“You really need to shed off. Otherwise, you cannot find those clothes you want to find from the store. I mean, there’s no size!”
Indeed, she takes care of herself pretty much.
“I don’t smoke. I’m so into my health. I used to drink, but now hindi na. Like, one year na yata hindi ako umiinom. Well, sip ng wine siguro, pero hindi na rin talaga.”
What she drinks a lot of is warm water—gallons of it.
“I just really get thirsty, e. I cannot function talaga nang walang water parating nakabitbit everywhere, ever since. Ayoko ng juice, kasi ’yong asukal, di ba?”
And she basically lives on a staple diet of kamote and fruits every day. You heard that right—kamote, or sweet potato. She takes it boiled, along with raw fruits.
“May nagturo sa akin. Balanced siya and healthy. Kasi, di ba, if you go on a diet, and then you don’t eat the right food, you dry up, your skin dries up. Ito, it’s all healthy. Whatever I eat is healthy na hindi fattening.
“So, ugali ko talaga ’yan na may cooler sa car, because anytime I’m hungry, may food na. Hindi ’yong you’ll run to a fast-food restaurant and eat unhealthy food. Sa gabi pa lang, the yayas prepare it na.
“’Tsaka kasi, for instance sa mga shoots, ’yong food doon, normally, oily or fatty or puro matatamis. I cannot afford to take that, you know, so ’yon ang ginagawa ko.
“May mga times na I’m on the heavier side and ayoko. I’m not happy, kasi nga gusto ko ’yong mga damit kumasya, maisuot maigi.”
She also doesn’t let a day pass without any physical exercise. To always look good daily is a personal goal.
“I used to box pero di na masyado. I’m into a lot of exercises na paiba-iba. At least an hour, or an hour and a half, max. Every day, I exercise. I don’t have a trainer, I just play the [exercise video] tapes.”
For Gretchen, all this amounts to one thing—fun. Life, to her, is fun. Or should be fun. Trimming down and dressing up are fun.
“I don’t even expect a compliment,” she says matter-of-factly. “It’s funny, but I dress for myself. And when people say, ‘Oh! I love your outfit and the shoe!’—because I’m a shoe girl—‘and, oh, your bag!’—you know, I love it! But when it does not sound good, when other people get offended, I guess, with what I wear or the cost of the outfit, or the bag… that’s when I don’t enjoy it.”
Despite that downside, Gretchen manages to maintain an I-don’t-care-what-you-say attitude.
“I’m not pressured at all. Whether you like it or not, fine. This is what I feel, this is how I wanna dress. Some people think, ‘Oh, your shorts are too short, your heels are too high, you’re too covered up, you’re too opened up…’”
To all this, Gretchen says, “Again, that’s not my problem. I’m just having fun. If you can’t have fun with me, too bad. I’m just sooo loving it. That’s my point. ’Yon lang ’yon, e.”
TENDER LOVING CARE. It’s second nature for La Greta to treat her expensive fashion items with tender loving care.
“Definitely, I treat them with love,” she says. “They are stored properly, they have their own place, they’re washed one by one or dry-cleaned, they are really taken care of. My bags are cleaned before they are put up in their little pouch, and then they are put back in their box, and they’re all labeled properly, so you know if it’s a Chanel.”
A not-so-small detail: the yayas handling these must wear gloves, the better to protect the thousand-dollar designer items.
But even without labels, and even though someone organizes her closets for her, this lady knows her possessions by heart. “I memorize my things, e,” she laughs. If she finds that any of her things are missing or misplaced, she knows that they’re likely to be with Dominique, her 11-year-old daughter by Tonyboy Cojuangco.
“I store them properly,” says the tidiness freak about the contents of her closet. “I have some outfits na talagang ten, eleven years old na, naitago ko pa. The others that I don’t wear for now, I just really store them nicely and neatly, para hindi nakakagulo sa mga outfits ko now. ’Tapos, when I look back, I have that suit nga pala… Kunwari nauso ’yong men’s suit ngayon… ooops, alam ko na. It’s all from memory. Alam ko ’yong mga clothes ko.”
Gretchen won’t tell us what her closet—a dressing room, actually—looks like. But someone who has been there describes it for us: “Hindi siya walk-in closet, ha? Kuwarto talaga. Isang malaking-malaking kuwarto na pagpasok mo, wala kang makikitang damit. Pero pag binuksan mo ’yong mga pinto—sliding sila—na kahoy, parang, ‘Haaaaa!’ Magaganoon ka talaga. Maayos na maayos.”