FASHION EXPERIMENTS. Pops spent her elementary and high-school years in Makati City's International School, which does not require its students to wear a uniform. She remembers wearing mostly jeans, shirts, and sneakers on campus.
"Back then, in na in ang Cinderella. So, pag meron kang Cinderella outfits, super-wagi ka, di ba? Noong medyo naging teenager na ako, naging Esprit na siya. Pero hindi naman ako maluho. I'm very practical. I wait for the time na there is a special occasion, and let's say my mom offers, ayun. Pag merong chance na puwedeng magbihis, like, kunwari, a special day in school-ayun, do'n na ako nag-e-experiment."
Between giggles that show off her best fashion accessory—her dimples—Pops adds: "Ang fashion yata that time is 'yong mga chaleco. Tapos, di ba, na-in ang tube kasi naging disco era? So, naabutan ko pa 'yong tube top, 'tapos may mahahabang parang bolero—I think that's what you called it, or coat—na you just leave open, 'tapos supertight jeans and stilettos. So, every so often, pag ginaganahan ako, may ganoon akong outfit in school, since we can practically wear anything we want, e."
It also helped that her lola, a skilled mananahi, loved sewing clothes for her. "Bumibili kami ng tela, 'tapos nagpapagawa ako ng damit sa kanya."
Her experimentation did not end with clothes.
"Nauso 'yong coloring of the hair. So, I colored my hair. I was known for my green and red hair. I got, like, a highlight of green hair here and a highlight of red hair in there. Groovy ako noon, kasi ako lang ang nakaganoon sa school. May pagka-weird na ako noon, e."
At 16, when she was offered the hosting stint on the TV variety show Penthouse Live!, she became more daring. In the beginning, however, her conservative mom, former actress Dulce Lukban, had to remind her that she was just sweet 16.
"She kept telling me, You have to dress your age. Baka akala nila, ang tanda-tanda mo na.' So if you noticed, in my first few Penthouse episodes, naka-baby-pink ako or naka-super-ruffles ako na kating-kati ako."
When the Penthouse Live! people were able to get designers and a clothing sponsor for her, she broke loose from her mom's ruffles and pinks. The clothing sponsor, Kirei boutique, was then also just starting. Their teamup clicked. "I got to feature their new style every week. Tapos, 'yon na, parang every week inaabangan na ng mga viewers 'yong sinusuot ko, and even my hairstyle."
TRENDSETTER. Pops realized that she was becoming a trendsetter only when she began receiving tons of fan mail.
"Noong ginupit ko 'yong hair ko a certain way, parang everybody was cutting their hair that way," she recalls, still amazed. "And I wasn't really very conscious about it. But then, I also began to love it. I was very flattered."
Pops admits that credit for setting fashion trends was not hers alone. "I think the pressure was more, let's say, on Jessie Mendez, who used to fix my hair and my makeup. He had to try something different every week. And, of course, the pressure also was on the people who were providing my clothes for me."
But Pops sure helped out. She remembers doing her own research. And she was bold and daring enough to try on what she had discovered in the course of her research.
"Like, I was such a Sheena Easton fan and an Olivia Newton-John fan. I think that's the reason why I cut my hair really, really short dati. Every so often, I'd suggest also. Kasi nga, parang I had other thoughts and ideas. Plus, 'yong mga nakita ko din sa mga imported fashion magazines. And I'm so grateful because Jessie is the sweetest person ever. Until now, I still see him, and he's such a darling. He's very bait, na pag nag-suggest ka, he'd even appreciate it. All the people I got to work with before were very, very mabait also."
Back then, one thing Pops didn't like was the hair spray—the most valuable fashion-and-beauty concoction of the '80s. "And I didn't enjoy the tissing of the hair, 'cause masakit siya, e' she says, grimacing at the memory. "Tsaka, pag tinatanggal mo na 'yong hairdo mo, maski na shampuhin mo siya nang maka-dalawa, tatlong shampoo, matigaspa rin 'yong hair mo. As in, no matter how badly you conditioned it, alam mo 'yon? So, I really didn't appreciate that super-tissed, hair-sprayed look.
"Although back then, of course, feeling ko pag flat ang hair ko, hindi ako puwedeng lumabas ng bahay. Parang feeling ko, 'My God, I didn't fix myself.' Alam mo 'yon?Di ba, lalabas ka long, kailangan ang taas-taas ng bangs mo? So, at least, the bangs, nilalagyan ko ng hair spray."
These days, Pops likes all things simple and natural, simple and classy.
"I'm so grateful na nauso 'yong the natural look, and I never thought na babagay sa kin 'yong flat hair. Yonpala, it's really just whatever fashion dictates and whatever you get used to after a while."
Still, she admits she has her moods and quirks.
"There are seasons na gusto ko super-super classy long talaga na super-super simple. So, I will stick to that and all the clothes that I buy will be super simple long. Like all my black simple dresses. Tapos, there are moments naman na, 'Ay, napaka-simple ko na, I wanna go more on the trendy. So, I follow na kunwari whatever is the latest trend. Like, ngayon, I go for baby-doll dresses, a little bit on the mini side."
She picks up some ideas from her many travels abroad.
"I get to see a lot of styles. Like, Europe is so different from the States. Magkaiba din ang fashion sense nila. Ibapa siyempre 'yong mga Hollywood stars na everybody looks up to, or especially me, anyway. So, you kinda choose long what you think will be bagay for you."
But there are times when her choice turns out to be a dud.
"I'd realize, let's say when the pictures come out, 'Ay, parang Hindi yata kagandahan.' I just have to be honest with myself. Hindi ko na uulitin. But every so often, I wanna be as adventurous as I can."
SHOPPING SPREES. Pops, who used to have her own clothing line and a store called Pipay, rarely shops at our local malls. That's because her busy schedule here does not permit her to do that, and besides, she's hardly in Manila. The globe-trotting singer does most of her shopping abroad, in between shows.
She particularly finds it "so fun" to shop in the U.S. "Kasi, when they have a sale, there's really huge discounts. So, if you're a practical shopper like me, you'll know your money will go a long way. I have friends and relatives in the States. I tell them: This is what I want. Ill wait until it goes on sale. Balitaan n'yo ko, then get it for me.' They can actually do it naman for me, e."
When it comes to shopping, she is definitely no spendthrift. She'd think a dozen times first before shelling out her hard-earned dollars. "Unless," she notes, "if s really something that parang ang feeling ko, 'Oh, my gosh, this is to die for, and if I don't get it now, I'm gonna regret it, kasi it might not be there again."
She has a simple gauge for deciding whether she should get a pricey item: "If I see it, and then the next day I can't sleep at natutuliro, 'tapos I keep thinking about it and I'm making everyone kulit—and when everyone's saying back 'Sige na, parang awa mo na, bilhin mo na 'yan, kasi you deserve it'-ayun, I know na kelangan ko nang bilhin 'yon. Alam mo 'yon?"
In Manila, Pops relies on some of her designer friends or stylists to do the clothes, if not the shopping, for her. "One of them is Jerry Santos, who I usually use when I have a regular TV show, or sometimes when I have a movie project. Siya na pumipili or bumibili for me. Weird nga, kasi ka-size kopa siya pati sa sapatos. So, alam na niya 'yon, gets niya na 'yon."
She doesn't do any shopping on the Internet. "Ayoko. If I get used to it, I'll never stop, and I'm gonna be so addicted to it. And I know I can be very obsessed with something."
If she does accidentally see something she likes on the Net, she calls up her friends in the States.
"I tell them na, 'Meron akong nagustuhan, I'll send you the website, you check it out for me.' And they always say, 'Why don't you just order there?' E, I don't like talaga, kasi nga, feeling ko, once I start, I'm gonna be staying home and not do anything but shop the whole time. Self-control muna." Her recent sealing of an endorsement deal with Unica Hija, a line of clothing for women, has also helped her cut down on her shopping.
"I was very, very impressed with their products. You can actually use them if you're a working woman, like in the office. Their tops, I like the fact na you wear them over jeans and all of a sudden you're very casual, but then you can use it at work. And then, pag iniba mo na 'yong bottom vh or 'yong top uli, you can actually use it for going out right after work also. So, they really have nice and versatile items na I think are very affordable."
She has now been buying clothes, shoes, bags, and everything else that goes with them for 25 years. So what does a fashionista do with all that stuff?
"All my old clothes are put in a plastic container. Most of them, pinapa-garage-sale ko. Yong hindi na nauubos sa garage sale, we usually just give them out. Pero may mga favorites nga ako. 'Tapos, feeling ko, after five years the style is definitely gonna come back They're all stored in the plastic containers. Nakatago lang sila. Kasi, ifnapamigay ko, pagsisisihan ko."
PERFORMANCE LEVEL. For Pops, Audrey Hepburn is the prime fashion icon. She just loves watching the Hollywood star's old movies.
"I love the way she puts everything together. I'm sure they had stylists even back then, pero 'yong mga outfits na 'sinusuot nila noong araw—from the pants to their casual look napambahay lang—ang galeng.
"And the way they match the outfits with hats? I have lots of hats, if you notice. Yon nga ang biggest frustration ko, e. It's so hard to wear a hat here in the Philippines. But I still keep buying, because I guess I'm a fan of Audrey and I'm a fan of that whole era. It's so classy. It's so timeless."
Pops herself has greatly contributed to the classy Pinay fashion sense, especially when she dresses up for her concerts.
As the Concert Queen, Pops is known for her visual spectacles—lively musical numbers matched by fabulous gowns and costumes. All that, thanks to her designer friends, who never fail to match her high-level performances with their sophisticated creations.
"Ako kasi, pag bago 'yong concert, siyempre lahat ng isusuot ko doon, bago. So, kunwari I have ten changes. Ten outfits na bago 'yon."
These gowns reappear onstage when she mounts concerts abroad. "I remember what I used for which city, so I know not to bring it back again there."
For special show business events—galas, parties, awards nights, movie premieres—Pops has favorite designers.
"Paiba-iba ako ngdesigners. Depende sa occasion napupuntahan. Like, I love Randy Ortiz. I think he's one of those na very classic also. Very simple his gowns, but super expensive looking. And they're also kinda expensive. But then, alam mo 'yon, 'yong it's always safe no matter what year you use his clothes. Puwede mong ulit-ulitin.
"Another one, of course, is Inno Sotto. I guess you pay so much for the cut and the simplicity of the cut, and yet when you wear it, somehow parang bagay na bagay sa katawan mo. Alam mo 'yon? It's not really the elaborate stuff that you'll get from the style, but it's really the simplicity.
"Another favorite of mine that I usually use naman for concerts is Rajo Laurel. Rajo naman, he can be simple and yet he can be fun and glittery. Nage-get niya 'yong fashion sense when it comes to the stage or being up there on stage—how small we look sometimes from far away? So, I like that he can adjust to it.
"Si Maxi Cinco naman, I think he's so underrated. I think it's because of his being a simple person. But I think he's one of our better designers also. He can go sexy and yet he can even do costumes for movies. He can make suits for men, while at the same time, he can make outfits for me when I go out for my very private functions. He understands what I like, and he is able to execute it very well.
"There are a lot of newcomers also now that I've been using. Jun Escario is one. I like him. Very trendy but galeng."
Pops admits she's not good at remembering names, places, and navigational directions-but "when it comes to clothes, I remember," she laughs.
"Alam ko pag nagamit ko na siya, let's say, sa TV or sa isang show. So, it rests for a while before I use it again. Most of the clothes naman that I usually purchase are not too trendy, so safe sila. Kung may trendy clothes man ako, I really still store them, because I know they come back to being trendy anyway."
As a fashionista, is she secretly a pintasera when it comes to other women's fashion sense, style, and guts?
"Hindi naman. No, no, no. I think pintasera is too serious a word."
She says she's more of the "If I were" sort of a critic: "In my mind, I'd say, 'If I were to dress her up, or if I were to fix myself that way, it would have been like this.' Parang ganoon. It's really more for myself than anything else. Wala lang."
In fact, she admits feeling bad when stars attending an awards night are attacked mercilessly on TV and in the papers the next day, solely for the clothes they have chosen to wear.
"To be honest with you, naaawa ako. I know everybody has their own opinion, everybody makes comments. But ang feeling ko, we all make an effort to look good. Siyempre, it also depends on our budget, e.
"So, I think we have to be given extra plus 100 or 1,000 points for the effort. A lot of the artists go through a lot when they attend such events. Kasi, really, it's an effort, and it's very expensive, di ba? The outfits, unless you really have a designer friend who makes something for you, magastos din. Alam mo 'yon? So, siguro we have to understand all those factors also."
We counter by saying that some personalities are simply just asking for it.
"Well, tama ka din diyan," she says with a sigh of resignation. Then, giggling, she recalls one awards night that she attended: "I remember I have a friend who was so elegant and who was wearing all her blings. Then, she lost the Star of the Night something to someone who was wearing a feathered gown. She was so upset, and yet she was laughing. She was telling me, 'Girl, I lost to a bird.'"
The feathered gown, it turned out, came with a stuffed bird perched on the wearer's shoulder.
FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING. Most fashionistas, to fit into all their lovely clothes, watch their weight constantly. Pops, who admits to being matakaw, doesn't have that kind of problem. She doesn't weigh herself at all, and she's also not a gym habitue, nor is she an aficionado of any form of exercise. Her heaviest weight has been 120 pounds, and that wasn't even caused by food intake.
"I came from super-super thin, then nag-120 ako. I guess I was dealing with a lot of stress at that time. Tapos, parati akong nawawalan ng boses. So I would take medications to regain my voice, na ang result, they make you swollen. So, I wasn't really fat..."
Today, Pops is perfectly happy with her weight, which she won't reveal. "No more na," she begs off. "But it's something I would like to maintain even if I'm, say, 60, which is very hard, I guess."
While we're on the subject, we ask Pops if she has ever attempted to alter, add to, lessen, or enhance anything in her physical nature. We are, referring, of course, to cosmetic surgery.
"Okay," she sighs, and goes on, without directly answering our question: "I believe in science. And I'm so glad that, kumbaga, sa technology, it's so much better than before. Now I think people just do some laser stuff for your face, and supposedly that lifts your face already, alam mo 'yon?
"A certain light can do wonders for your skin. If you love the sun and you have some sort of like a blemish, automatically you can take it away already. I'm so glad for that, because, siyempre, everybody wants to look good all the time. Especially an artist, who's constantly in front of the camera, who's constantly, kumbaga, madaming mga pictures na tine-take, di ba?
"I believe in that. But I also believe that there's a certain limit to it. I think we have to realize when it's too much. We have to know when we should and when it's needed.
"There are certain parts of the body that, regardless of whether you exercise a lot—unless you're really into the training and into lifting weights, into that non-fat diet—it just takes forever to lose the fat.
"Again, I thank God for instant science na, alam mo 'yon? Not naman automatically, but in a few days' time or in a few weeks' time, you've almost got that sense of perfection that you desire.
"I believe in it because, especially if you're a woman, you go through a lot of hormonal changes. And there's that monthly thing, and every so often you get a pimple. Tapos, you have to look flawless all the time."
We rephrase our question: Is she, when the time comes, willing to go under the knife—if she hasn't yet—to alter, add to, lessen, or enhance any part of her body?
"I'm really waiting and wishing na, when that time happens, we don't need knives anymore," she laughs. "Kasi, so far, medyo amazing na ang technology, di ba? These days, it's a laser light, it's a certain heat, that actually makes you look better.
"So, hopefully, they just keep advancing technology, 'cause I really don't also wanna go through that whole... you have to be put to sleep, and then there are certain stitches...Alam mo 'yon?"
DO'S AND DONTS. Capping the interview, we ask Pops if she can share a few fashion and beauty pointers for YES! readers. She obliges happily.
"There's absolutely no harm in being trendy and following fashion. But I also think that we should try to understand that we all have different figures, and so we should accept what figure we have and try to stick with whatever is bagay.
"Especially when it has to do with, let's say, attending special functions like weddings and big events in our lives. We have to stick with something that will definitely look good—that's the time that you can't experiment. You can experiment on normal days. I think it's okay.
"Also, you have to know na what your assets are and what your flaws are. And it's okay to have flaws, as long as you know how to hide them, or how to work around them.
"And I think, at the end of the day, no matter how much makeup you have and what expensive clothes you buy, you also have to feel good about yourself. You have to love yourself first and foremost before we appreciate anything that we do.
"You can have as many facials as you can, but if you're also not loving yourself enough, then you just keep going and changing everything. But youll never really like what you see.
"So, for me, and for all the women—love yourself first. And be confident with who you are."
Spoken like a queen.