we just got a text from rajo laurel that ernest santiago was found dead in his home in pagsanjan. we don't have the complete story yet, but apparently he was murdered. his home was robbed and the thieves took his car and stabbed ernest to death [UPDATE: he was not stabbed; he was clubbed in the head several times]. please let us pray for the eternal repose of this most creative man, a tragic loss to the fashion industry and to his family and friends. because the biggest tragedy here is that the murderers may never be found...
UPDATE: a tribute piece by ricky toledo and chito vijandre to appear in the philippine star on dec 17, monday:
Ernest Santiago: A life of giving
By Ricky Toledo And Chito Vijandre
Monday, December 17, 2007
Taray was probably the most popular and evocative word in Manila’s fashion world in the 1970s. Denoting arrogance, defiance and chutzpah, it was a favored adjective to describe anything that had fierce, cutting-edge style.
It reflected the zeitgeist of that era, a Renaissance of the arts when bold experimentation and innovation was the norm.
Not surprisingly, Taray was also the term of endearment for Ernest Santiago, an icon in the fashion and lifestyle universe. It was he who put Manila and the Philippines in the world map, after all, with his disco, Coco Banana in Malate.
Reinventing Philippine tropical hacienda interiors with an edge, he created an entertainment playground for the rich, the beautiful and the chic.
Playing the latest music that you would hear at Studio 54 in New York or Club Sept in Paris, the guest list would normally include royalty, fashion luminaries and other jet-setting bon vivants from the major capitals of the world.
But it would also include young, budding Filipino fashion designers and struggling artists whom he would take under his wing, encourage and nurture.
Larry Leviste, fashion designer and writer recalls fondly, “Ernest was my gay mom. The private ‘Tarurit’ was unselfish, caring and tender. Ramon San Agustin (now manager of Gucci at Greenbelt 4), Henri Calayag (of H Salon and Myth) and I were his ‘daughters’ who would help him out in styling his fashion pictorials and in producing the shows of the Cocoquettes at Coco. Once, he surprised me by saying, ‘Larry, you look tired – you should go to Hongkong and rest,’ then he handed me an envelope with a ticket and shopping money.”
Aside from bringing Manila’s entertainment scene to international standards, he also revolutionized Philippine fashion by modernizing the Maria Clara and terno, exaggerating the proportions to make them contemporary and edgy.
Imee Marcos wore them to the Manila International Film Festival, catching the attention of Hollywood film stars and directors. Manila’s top tier stylish set led by Chito Madrigal also donned Ernest’s Filipiniana, making it chic and covetable.
With this resurgence of Filipiniana fashion, dormant industries like piña and banana fiber weaving and embroidery had a new lease on life, providing employment to many and preserving our heritage crafts in the process.
At its zenith, Ernest’s shop was proudly called “Santiago de Manila” on Remedios Circle, just a stone’s throw away from Coco Banana.
Aside from his own creations, he would encourage young designers to design their own lines for the shop.
Fashion designer Lulu Tan-Gan credits Ernest as one of her inspirations as a young designer in the 1970s all the way to this day when she just opened a Filipino concept store, “L Manila” at GB5.
“Ernest is a true icon who created the most famous address in Manila. He would remind me that passion is his major ingredient for creating,” she said.
Aside from the disco and his shop, Ernest also opened ZeeZee Bar on the circle, completing his lifestyle empire.
This was way before lounges became fashionable, proof that Ernest was always ahead of everyone else. ZeeZee was the place to meet Manila’s best and brightest, as well as the most controversial, providing the frisson that made Manila a top destination in Asia at that time.
As the disco era started to wane in the 80s, Ernest was not one to slow down and retire. He chanelled his energies to interior and furniture design and landscaping. He always had a talent for putting antiques and architectural fragments from old houses together in his characteristic flamboyant style, but always with comfort in mind as he loved entertaining friends and guests.
Film director Don Escudero recalls, “One stormy night in Coco, Ernest insisted I come home with him because my place was flooded. We went to what I always thought was the loveliest of his many houses, now demolished because of EDSA. He had the knack to finding the most unusual and unlikely houses and stamping them with his singular style.”
Aside from designing resorts in Boracay and Cebu, he also designed the houses of A-listers and was always tapped to do events like the ASEAN opening.
In the 1990s, Ernest moved to Pagsanjan where he renovated a 1960s house into yet another amazing space which showcased his sculptural furniture.
He also opened a restaurant in the front part of the house called Gallery 83, serving good old Filipino comfort food like his sinigang sa kamatis, a favorite which he would make, lovingly mashing tomatoes with the beef to tenderness in a rich, sour broth as only he could make it.
He also had a fabulous pako (fern) salad with singkamas which is so refreshing on a hot summer’s day. Unknown to many is that Ernest’s first job at 12 years old was a cook and mayordomo to a family with a brood of growing kids who just adored his cooking.
After that, he worked at the Clover Theatre as assistant to the vaudeville star, Katy dela Cruz. It was there where he got training in the theatre arts which provided a lifelong penchant for the theatrical and the dramatic.
His entry into fashion was also largely self-taught, without studying in a fashion school as other designers do. But when he did get into something, he always did it in his characteristic “taray” way, defying conventions and surprising everyone in the process. True enough, he got the prestigious Ramon Valera award for one of his gowns.
Just when we thought Ernest had done it all, he called us last week for what turned out to be the crowning jewel in his lifestyle empire: The Kilib Food Sanctuary resort in Quezon.
It was a soft opening for close friends which included Irene Marcos-Araneta, Bernice Romualdez-Ocampo, Kuh Ledesma and daughter Isabel, fashion designers like Cesar Gaupo and Tonichi Nocum, and of course his “daughters” Larry Leviste, Ramon San Agustin and Henri Calayag.
Fusing Asian and Filipino design elements, Ernest built pavilions in a tropical garden setting which we were so sad to leave after a relaxing day partaking of Ernest’s sumptuous cuisine and unparalleled hospitality.
Alas, this was to be our last party with Ernest. We got a text Sunday morning from Anjo, his assistant, that Ernest had been murdered in his sleep.
A friend, Gigi De Jonghe called and said she was distraught. She remembered Ernest telling her that a fortune teller warned him about not buying property as this would be the cause of his death.
It turned out this was the reason Ernest would never stay put in one house and always rented. The prophecy always haunted him, it seems. But then why did he buy the Kilib property? Did Ernest feel that in his old age the prophecy would no longer hold true? Whatever it was, Kilib was just something he had to do as a final act of creation to share with his friends.
Gigi recounted that Ernest even called her after the party and in his motherly way, asked if Louis, her Belgian husband, liked the food, and if they enjoyed their stay in the resort. Larry, on the other hand, was so touched by Ernest’s concern for his health since he just underwent surgery. Leaving Kilib, he also asked us what we thought, and if we really enjoyed ourselves.
These were final acts of caring from a dear friend who gave us many years of wonderful parties at beautiful houses, restaurants, bars and discos. And what a gift he gave us: a beautiful resort showcasing Filipino design, culinary arts and hospitality as only Ernest knows how. Taray indeed, till the end!