Imelda: The first lady of fashion

While Filipinos languished in poverty, the President's wife amassed a lavish wardrobe. Now, as Kate Thomas reports, she is launching her own jewellery range. Susannah Frankel rates her style
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The Independent Online

In her heyday as the wife of Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos, she was the ultimate symbol of affluence: a painted drama queen who swept through the halls of the Coconut Palace, flying first class around the world to buy shoes while her people languished in poverty.

Imelda Marcos's ostentatious displays of wealth still haunt the Philippines. They remember her $5m shopping tour to New York in 1983, the time she ordered a private jet to pick up Australian white sand for the opening of a new beach resort; and that final fairytale moment, when Filipinos raided her palace wardrobe after she and her dictator husband fled to Hawaii, to find bullet-proof bras, buckets of perfume and about 3,000 pairs of shoes.

Now she is back. Together with her family, she is launching a collection of jewellery, inspired by cast-offs from her own wardrobe. The Imelda Collection - a range of affordable but glitzy jewellery, bags and shoes - is aimed at a generation who are too young to remember the days when the flamboyant former beauty queen strutted her stuff through Manila's corridors of power during the autocratic reign of her husband, Ferdinand.

The collection, which will be launched on 18 November in Manila, looks set to be a far cry from Mrs Marcos' previous extravagance. Indeed, nothing in it is likely to cost more than $100 (£52). "Filipinos don't wallow in what is miserable and ugly. They recycle the bad into things of beauty," she said as she announced the new line.

While Mrs Marcos has long been synonymous with all that sparkles and shines - "win or lose, we will go shopping after the election" as she once famously said - she insists the collection is about more than just money. "Money can only buy you food and things like that, but only beauty can feed your soul and your spirit."

Her daughter and business partner Imee Marcos shocked the world when she announced that her mother had a keen eye for a bargain, customising trinkets and accessories she finds at flea markets and jumble sales.

But fashion critics say such juxtaposition of luxury and trash is nothing new. British reporters once watched in amazement as Mrs Marcos placed a jug of fake plastic roses on an exquisite Louis XV sideboard.

This is by no means her first business venture. In 2001 she donated hundreds of her size eight-and-a-halfs to a stiletto museum in Marikina; a town known as the shoe-manufacturing capital of the Philippines, where streets are named after styles of sandals and slippers.

And, while she may be 78, there is no sign that Mrs Marcos is kicking off her heels for good. She recently announced her intention to run for mayor of Manila in 2007, and is planning to expand the Imelda Collection to include clothes and furniture.

Upstaging the First Lady

Those were the days! How 1980s are those shoulders? Here, Ms Marcos is showing even Nancy Reagan a thing or two about status, entirely upstaging her although wearing a dress that matches the carpet is always risky. The style is flagrantly girlish when compared to the more understated bright, white attire of the American First Lady: exotic and flamboyant as opposed to modern and minimal, which is just as might be expected.

The princess

"Beulah, peel me a grape." Photographed only this week, in this image Imelda Marcos is clearly showing the world just how the wives of ex-dictators should behave. Setting herself up as the perfect Madame Butterfly/Princess And The Pea hybrid she is regal and dressed to impress but has taken her shoes off, which is surely saying one thing and one thing only: kiss the royal feet.

The footballer

The distinct impression in this instance is that Imelda Marcos is showing her true colours. With shoulder-pads that wouldn't fit through the average doorway, she is more reminiscent of an American footballer or even (most unfortunately) Pat from EastEnders than a fairy tale princess. Don't mess with Marcos!

Dressing down

Here we find the then First Lady of the Philippines posing suitably formally at Claridge's in London. Did she rip down the hotel's curtains in order to knock up this little number? In fact, the outfit is positively demure by this particular fashion plate's standards. This is clearly a "down" day for Ms Marcos who is wearing relatively simple pearl earrings - as opposed to the usual bling.

What's in a name?

There can't be many women in the world privileged enough to have their name - and even position - printed on the inside of their footwear. Does Imelda Marcos do this to stop people stealing them? She need not bother because only very few people would ever want to wear this pair at least. The shoes are pink (but of course!) but also strangely ugly. This is not a pleasant heel and a sling-back is an inadvisable challenge.

Old-style bling

Once upon a time, long before Victoria Beckham, there was Imelda Marcos, the ultimate personification of conspicuous consumption and a creature with a penchant for princess dresses that remains unrivalled. Here she is in signature white and sugar-mouse pink although admittedly at an age when she suits such winsome attire. Very much of the era - the picture was taken in 1966 - is the desire for co-ordination: corsage, clutch bag and shoes are all perfectly matched. Such attention to detail, it almost goes without saying, doesn't come cheap.