In this lifetime, being graced with a giving presence is hard to find. And yet, once on this island, there was an Auggie Cordero.
When the legendary Filipino designer and tastemaker passed away in October this year, not only did tributes to his character and creations come forth; testaments, too, of the gifts he bestowed upon others, and the very gift he was, came to light.
Among the many things that Auggie is known for, nothing comes close to what his presence meant to the people he opened his hand and his heart to. Former model and muse to Cordero in the ’90s and current Vogue Philippines beauty editor, Joyce Oreña shares: “I was one of the fortunate ones to catch his discerning eye. There would be no Joyce Oreña in fashion without Auggie Cordero. He had a knack for seeing what makes you unique before you even realize it yourself.” Cordero was generous in imparting the world he knew to the people he loved. Those close to him knew this firsthand. He opened the world of Hollywood movies and fashion books and magazines with everyone he served as a model, friend, and mentor too. This rang true for those he discovered from the first Asian supermodel, Anna Bayle, to former 1973 Miss Universe, Margie Moran-Floirendo who won the title in a Cordero creation, 1973 Miss International 4th runner-up, Marilen Ojeda, and 80s supermodel, Menchu Menchaca-Soriano.
“Auggie Cordero is part of our Filipino fashion history that started in the ’70s and peaked more than three decades,” says Lulu Tan-Gan, the “Queen of Knitwear” in the Philippines since 1985. “He is part of our local fashion heritage, where colonialism is evident in our innovations.”
She shares that “though we all know him as a trend-set grand couturier, I must say that he was dearly respected for his work ethic towards his team, peers and clients.” Thelma San Juan, a respected editor and one of Auggie’s dearest friends who considers the latter her life partner, would also come to describe him as “a man who was true not only to his craft and profession, but also to the Filipino talent he could mentor and nurture.”
Cordero’s gift of mentorship encompassed decades, from the likes of designers including Rajo Laurel, JC Buendia, Larry Leviste, and Bench founder Ben Chan, to name a few.
Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, a Filipino journalist and documentarian, for one, shares that Cordero’s best gift to her was time: “The moment I enter Auggie’s atelier, time stands still. Auggie gave me all the time in the world. I never felt hurried.”
While Cordero has always been a private person, he was still much revered for his life of solitude, simplicity, and sophistication. Anna knew this best. To Auggie, she is thankful for the gift of being alone.
She saw in him a person who was always alone; rapt and engrossed in thought and in art. When Cordero once told her about Saint Laurent, she described him as a hermit, a loner who used pain to make the most beautiful garments. “That is how I saw you… Auggie,” Anna recounts, “ I saw how the solitude and the pain gave you—your art… I also saw the beauty of how your pain and quiet suffering is transformed into your work and your artistry.”
From the stories surrounding the late designer, it is almost impossible to miss the sight of where his gift-giving penchant all began: his humble atelier. There, you could almost picture him late at night, a lamplight on, with his black sewing machine humming amid the silence of it all. As Kara puts it best: “You know how others say they wear their clothes with pride? I would say when I wear an Auggie creation, I wear it knowing I was loved by him.”
Paying homage to his life and his works, the intimate tribute to Cordero was organized by Thelma San Juan and Cordero’s close circle last December 13, 2022 at One Rockwell, Makati.