Inside the World of '60s Top Models and 'It' Girls Cherrie Pie Lazatin and Toni Parsons
You can date them by their nicknames: Cherrie Pie and Toni grew up in the '60s, the springtime of their generation. America both inspired and influenced their lives. They thought, spoke, and dreamed in English. They even answered to American nicknames.
Cherrie Pie Lazatin
Cherrie Pie Villonco must have been such a delicious-looking child that she just had to be rescued from a real name borrowed from a heroine in an opera—Delza. To move the tradition forward, the sister after her was nicknamed Apple Pie.
In Toni Serrano’s case, her parents succumbed to another American fad, a very possibly feminist one—that of giving daughters boy nicknames like Mike, Sam, and Bobbie. Toni, a diminutive for Antonia, seemed perfect for her, given her lack of any sense of vanity and her outright tomboyish ways. Born to a half-American mother, she was a
Cherrie Pie and Toni happened to be outstanding specimens of beauty—the natural, genetically inherited kind, not the result of any outside alterations—that Philippine society was obsessed with, and that two particular types, politicians and couturiers, sought precisely to reinforce their stature.
If beauty was rare in their time, it was rarer still to be tall—Cherrie Pie was 5’7” and Toni, 5'6”. They would fit the writer Malcolm Gladwell’s description of “outliers” in the sense of being born at the right time and in the right place and possessing the natural qualities that make for success in their setting.
Obviously, Cherrie Pie and Toni recognized an opportunity and promptly seized it. They went into modeling while still in their teens, high school seniors who had no training at all, only the looks and the potential for the part. They were handpicked by the grand lady herself of art and culture, Conchita Sunico, the Philippines’ own Perle Mesta, Emily Post, and Ms. Manners rolled into one. Sunico had been looking for successors to fashion icons Mary Prieto, Chona Kasten, and the Madrigal sisters.
Cherrie Pie and Toni met while doing a fashion show for Pitoy
All in embroidered jusi originals for a fashion show at the Athens Hilton in 1968. Left to right: Joji Felix Velarde, Tina Artillaga, Cherrie Pie Lazatin, the designer Pitoy Moreno, Maita Gomez, Chona Kasten, Pearlie Arcache and Jeanne Goulbourn.
They continued modeling even after they had finished college and found proper jobs—properly compensating jobs, that is, in banks. In 1969 they both quit modeling to get married. They were the last of their kind of fashion models, for after them modeling became a paid job.
Despite the usual ascriptions of high society excesses to the world of fashion, money was not the object in Cherrie Pie and Toni’s time; other things, like reputation, mattered more. If the world took notice of Filipino designers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and girls, it all happened in reputable, even noble, circumstances. Fashion shows were staged for charity. Designers and models lived and worked undisturbed by intrigues or any rivalries rooted in greed.
“Whether I modeled more dresses than another, it didn’t matter. None of us were paid,” says Cherrie Pie.
Cherry Pie modeling jewelry pieces for a 1960s magazine spread
Like most pretty girls of their time, she and Toni had first attracted public notice as the subjects of magazine covers. Cherrie Pie recalls that her cover debut was for a Valentine’s Day issue of Woman and Home, showing her, all of sweet sixteen, on a swing.
Toni was discovered at age 14 by Eugenia “Eggie” Apostol, her neighbor in Singalong, Manila, and at that time associate editor of the Sunday Times Magazine. Her older sister Sarah, a beauty in her own right, had preceded her on the cover of the magazine, but Toni would soon step out of Sarah’s shadow and herself seize the limelight.
Already tall for her age but lacking in sophistication, Toni seemed completely unaware that she had a face people would not forget. At the St. Theresa’s College campus she was often seen skating in flat shoes, running and skidding on the red-tiled corridors, and sneaking up on upperclassmen, then scampering away upon eye contact.
“I never walked,” she said. “I was always running.” That definitely wouldn’t do on the fashion ramp. In fact, she and Cherrie Pie agree that while modeling was fun, it was also “challenging and demanding... it required discipline and a sense of commitment.”
Toni can’t forget the agony she and Cherrie Pie went through in Italy when a shoe designer sent them fully beaded shoes to match their dresses. “For some reason our feet bled,” she recalled. “It was so painful, but the show just had to go on.”
But, unwearable as the shoes were, “they were beautiful,” said Cherrie Pie.
Asked why they modeled at all, Cherrie Pie looks at the ceiling for an answer. “Well, I guess it was part of my social life. And I enjoyed it.”
Then she added, “Oh, and I was good.”
In Vienna for the Top Ten Models fashion show
Travel was the most seductive part of the deal for Toni, though not so much for Cherrie Pie, who lived in New York while majoring in sociology at Marymount
“We were eight kids,” Toni explained, “and my doctor-father couldn’t imagine any of us indulging in the luxury of travel as a family. But he made sure we had National Geographic at home so we could travel at least vicariously.
“How I enjoyed traveling—actual traveling! It was about the only perk given us models. It afforded us opportunities to meet important people—diplomats, celebrities, even royalty. It beat traveling as a tourist anytime.”
Toni recalled, “We also attracted admirers who would chase after us with gifts and flowers as far as the airport, as we departed for the next show. But nothing escaped the watchful eye of our chaperones like Tita Lina [the late journalist Lina Flor Trinidad].”
“But we didn’t really need that much monitoring,” Cherrie Pie added, “because we were well-behaved.”
Touchdown at the Berlin International Airport
Their friendship continued even after they married, and held fast despite rare reunions owing to the reordered priorities of their new lives. Serendipitously, their husbands became friends after the two girls met.
“Modeling wasn’t the thread that held our friendship together,” said Cherrie Pie. “We left modeling at the same time and never looked back.”
Toni agreed. “It’s like the seasons,” she said. “When one is over, it’s over, and it’s time to move forward to the next.”
Pitoy Moreno impresses a European audience with his collection.
Maita Gomez in a dazzling evening gown.
Cherrie Pie married Leo Lazatin, a surgeon, on September 19, 1969, in Washington D.C. after her graduation, dashing her hopes of working as a sociologist in Spanish Harlem. She wore a beaded gown of ivory
“Tito Ramon had been my mom’s couturier, and he made all my gowns for special occasions,” she said.
Her wedding gown turned out to be Cherrie Pie’s last fashion statement before she turned her attention to new interests—home, garden, and raising her children. Cherrie Pie has been turning her home into a wonderland on holidays like Halloween and Christmas. The patio opens to a garden that has a large swimming pool and romping ground for her grandchildren and their playmates.
Toni became Mrs. Patrick Parsons on September 25, 1969, only six days after her friend became Mrs. Lazatin. She wore a simple dress to the intimate affair in a small neighborhood parish church on Park Avenue in Pasay City, the same street where the Parsons home was.
“It was just us,” she said, laughing. On that day she had set the tone for the low-key life with her very private American husband. They had two children, a girl
Toni and Patrick loved to go out of town, following a tradition of family outings from her youth in Naga. They traveled at least twice a year to north-central Italy where they have a coastal house—and a garden, too. When her son, who was in Honolulu, made her a grandmother for the first time over a decade ago, she and Patrick had traveled there more often than anywhere else.
“It’s only nine hours away” was the grandmother’s excuse.
Her daughter Maria, who looked more like Patrick, stayed close to home but is very much her own person.
“She has, for instance, her own style of dressing,” Toni said.
“She even corrects me when she thinks I have picked the wrong bag or whatever. The young ones today seem to have their own way of doing things.”
But while helping locate pictures of her mother from her modeling days for this essay, Maria showed a sudden interest in Toni’s old
To be sure, those days of glamour and fashion now live only in pictures and memories for Toni and Cherrie Pie.
“After I got married,” Cherrie Pie says, “clothes didn’t matter anymore. I no longer had any image to maintain.”
But the taste for quality clothes has stayed with them. Both Cherrie Pie and Toni are particular about fit, especially of their pants. They feel uncomfortable with the low-rise style, the equivalent of the hipster in their time, preferring to wear their pants right on the waist. They find their particular preferences abroad, ready-to-wear, as with other pieces of attire.
“Sometimes,” Toni said, “it’s even less expensive to buy clothes abroad when they go on sale. And there’s more variety.”
But, of course, both still swear by Pitoy Moreno for their Filipiniana outfits.
If only for a day, Cherrie Pie and Toni were back in the glare of camera lights. Both she and Cherrie Pie made posing for the camera look so easy, and the pictures on the monitor confirmed that they haven’t lost their touch.
Toni always looked her best when confronting the camera frontally or haughtily ignoring it, as she used to do on the ramp for a dramatic effect. Off the ramp, though, she exuded warmth and was vulnerable and childlike in her openness.
Cherrie Pie, on the other hand, has always had a wholesome appeal with her soft features, pixie-ish smiling eyes
Toni played golf twice a week at the Manila Golf Club in Makati and joined Patrick in water sports as well. Not one to use sun-block cream, she owns many hats instead. She used no foundation, just eyeliner, and a light-colored glossy lipstick. She hardly needed more. She has announced that she is allowing her thick hair to turn gray.
Cherrie Pie said she hasn’t begun dyeing her hair yet and makes no promises she won’t.
Between poses and over lunch, the two friends found time for intimate talk about plants, catching up on the status of plants they have exchanged. They spoke of plants with the same enthusiasm that grandparents show when they speak of their grandchildren, and didn’t have to drop Latin names to show what they know. They had their own respective gardens to show for their shared passion: Toni has a flower farm in Alfonso, Cavite, just outside Tagaytay, and a mango farm in Calatagan, Batangas; Cherrie Pie’s garden is in Pagsanjan, Laguna, her mother-in-law’s hometown.
Toni became nostalgic as she recalled her mother’s rose garden in Naga. “The fragrance is what I remember most,” she said.
She found herself in the flower business in the ‘90s. She had no inkling she had the knack for flower arrangement until friends began asking her to do it for their parties and eventually even for weddings. Along the way, she was able to reinforce instinct with
Cherrie Pie and Toni sense that they have come to the end of yet another season and need to move forward again.
This story was originally published in the April 2009 issue of Town & Country Philippines.