We are in the packed MEGA Studios watching her jet to studio 1 from her dressing room and back again for her first photo shoot for the day. She wraps up her last layout, heads to her interview and back to hair and makeup for her second photo shoot without pauses or spending any time to regroup.
And soon, Tweetie’s second shoot is up, this time with MEGAstyle.ph for her digital cover. She gets right down to business like a total pro, clicking fast, changing poses and getting all the images the team desires in the snap of a finger. “I actually really like it when the photographer clicks fast. I like it when people work fast; I thrive on that,” she shares. “It’s all about momentum.”
She stands in front of the camera and the entire team knows that magic is about to happen. Never resting on pretty, Tweetie does whatever she needs to do to get the shot; she goes out of her way to do that. As with everything this model, host, celebrity, wife and mother does, she commits. Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez knows exactly how to move to make a photo memorable.
You’re a household name and one that has, we’re fairly certain, a permanent place in the world of Philippine fashion. Can you tell us a bit about how you started out in the industry?
Oh, that’s a long story [laughing]. I was still in school when I
started modeling casually. This was in my senior year
in high school. I started with print shoots, TV commercials, generally speaking, modeling for advertisements. I eventually moved on to runway modeling, which at the time was called “ramp modeling,” when I joined a modeling competition right out of college. This was “Supermodel of the Philippines,” the Philippine franchise of the modeling competition from New York started by Ford Modeling Agency. I did delve into television for a while and appeared in a TV show, but fashion was and will always be my love, so I went back to it! Fast-forward, I got married and retired. Retired, but still busy, because I feel like I’m not quite done with it yet (fashion). I mean this is the industry that I grew up in and grew up with!
You must have experienced a lot in the course of your career, seeing the industry progress into what it is now. Taking a look at things, what would you say you wish we had more of today?
In the grand scheme of things, the industry really has changed drastically. The generation now is a lot more professional, because it is a profession. Before, working in the fashion industry was bordering on relationships, friendship and work dynamics. Much of what we were doing was anchored on relationships, which was also such an amazing time because that was our anchor. Everyone relied on each other and it was about forming long-lasting relationships with people.
At the same time, we were more self-sufficient back then. It’s really a treat to be a model in this generation of talented and creative minds, but of course, cultivating relationships would be nice to put back up in the list of work priorities. Be more than “I’m here to work. That’s it. I’m in. When I’m done, I’m out.” Collaborations really take off when you work with people you know, trust and have built friendships with.
So how was it
like shooting for magazines at the time?
It meant working very closely with the designers themselves. It was about the beautiful dynamic between the model and the designer where the model executes the vision of the designer, and who could best explain this vision than the designer himself? The same thing went on with the photographer-designer-model relationship. This small group just understood each other and understood what they wanted to do. In contrast to that though, today, designers develop close relationships with the stylist. They explain their vision to the stylist who may have their own interpretation to the design and may find new ways to incorporate the garments into the entire styling scheme. It’s a win-win situation.
On the other extreme end of things, what would you say you wish we
had less of today?
I wish we had less of
this culture of being gadget freaks! It’s really sad.
It might be a cliché because we talk about going digital as something that propels us forward, but going back to the long-standing relationships with colleagues I told you about, there’s nothing better than developing these friendships. We all ended
up becoming close friends because waiting time (at shoots and fashion shows) was long. We depended on each other to be entertained and we depended on each other to survive long workdays. And because I still dabble once in a while in modeling today, I see it and I feel just how wired we all are. I don’t know what to do with myself because nobody’s free to talk to me! Everyone’s on a laptop or playing games or whatever else on their phones. Back then, I would bring a book and I’d read, but if there were someone beside me, I’d put the book down and talk to this person. I’d like to connect! When you talk, you feed off each other’s vibe. It’s an, ‘I learn from you, you learn from me’ situation. ‘Let’s teach each other, let’s grow together.’ It was like that.
Is there a secret to claiming that staying power in an ever-changing industry?
Well, I don’t dwell on relevance. I’ve had my time. It’s really more about being accepting that we’re evolving. My role in this industry in this day and age is different from what it was back then. For me, I want to nurture somebody, some people or maybe even the industry, because I have a few things to impart. Someone’s longevity is not really measured by still being very visible. I think if you’ve made your mark, if you’ve made good choices, if you’ve made wonderful life choices over and beyond your career in fashion, I think that’s the whole point of us being here, whether you aim to
be relevant or not. It’s being able to inspire change and improvement, from the time you had left the scene.
And how has retired life been like?
more attuned to my family
now. That’s what drives me. I may be retired but I do other things in fashion because it’s
an industry that will always
be in my heart. It will always
be in my system. Wherever
I’m needed and if I feel like I have something to share, I’ll be there. It’s my turn to take care of a few things in the industry in the same way that I was also a fortunate recipient of my forbearers, of my seniors who’ve taught me so much especially
in terms of work ethic and discipline; these for me are what define a professional model
or a professional in general in whatever industry they may
be in. Work ethic, discipline, relationships; These matter to me the most.
Would you say, then, that those are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned?
Yes, absolutely. I think over and above your skills, at the core of anyone who is working there should be impeccable work ethic, discipline, a drive to grow and be better and caring for your relationships.
I’ve made my mistakes
and I’ve learned my lessons, sometimes the hard way, but there’s really no way else to
do it. That was their [industry veterans and her mentors] process of giving back: ‘If I have to scream at you, if you had to learn the lesson the hard way, then so be it’ Whether it was welcome to me or not, I learned. And now, I look at a model and dig beyond what I see physically. That’s what I look for: Your character, how you deliver, delivering more of yourself, I have to see that passion in you. If you have that passion, everything will work out well.
So now it’s your turn to mentor. As someone that is looked up to not just by industry people and peers, you juggle many other facets in your life and you’re a lifestyle role model as well. What is at the core of you managing all these roles?
Some people don’t agree with the work-life balance, but for me, that is my main goal. I try very hard to achieve this every day of my life. There are days that this cannot be achieved, of course. This is why I get help from my older kids, my husband, loved ones and our household help whom I love and cultivate relationships with. People say it’s all about priorities. But hey, they are all my priorities! My husband,
my children, my career, my work are important to me. My self-worth is important to me. My enjoyment is important to me. My time with my friends
is important to me. It’s really just about choosing which day
I can indulge each of these priorities. Achieving balance is not just a goal for myself but for the people around me because they contribute to that balance; you’re only able to achieve that if everyone else around you supports you and contributes to that.
Would you say the same goes for life choices?
Yes, with life choices, it’s always about weighing things. I try not to be impulsive anymore; I try to second-guess what the repercussions are before I commit to something or say something, ‘what’s worth this risk? Is it worth saying no to this at the expense of that?’
Moving on to fashion, You’ve been on everyone’s fashion radar for Years now, dazzling on red carpets and looking striking in the best ensembles in shows. What’s your style like behind the scenes?
I love easy-wearing clothes. I’m not big on complicated stuff. Function over form for me. Not to say that I don’t appreciate them, but personally, that’s not what works out for me. I already know what fits my lifestyle perfectly. I like keeping things casual; I like simple silhouettes. My aim with dressing is to look put-together and look polished from head to toe. I prefer to look well groomed rather than all made up. I dress appropriately for my age, too. I know what’s too young for me and what’s too old for me. I know what works for me and what doesn’t, like the length of skirts, necklines, I feel I can still wear and over the years, like everybody else, I’ve already developed my own style. For sure, I am beyond experimenting. I do take into consideration that I’m a mother of teenagers [laughing].
Do you have any
go-to beauty routine
I started being
mindful with my skincare in my
30’s and I learned this a little bit
late in life. I used to enjoy tanning
in the sun because I used to dive.
I would really bake under the sun.
I now swear by wearing sunblock
every day. You really have to
cleanse, moisturize and use sun
protection. I also swear by retinol,
because from what I understand,
it is the most effective skincare
element that can help with anti-aging. It stunts the ageing process. Those are the things that are tried and tested for me.
You are one of the few women who ages beautifully, if it even shows at all that you do age. What do you have to say about this big issue women have on ageing?
Oh, but I see it every day that I do in fact age! You all are just being polite [laughing]. I think, if anything, it’s my disposition that’s responsible. I used to stress over the littlest things. But now, I know that hey, if it’s not something that’s in my control, it’s better to not stress over it. I’ll fancy myself with something else.
What are you most excited about as we celebrate Pinoy Pride Month?
I’m excited to know more of these young designers! This is precisely why during our shoot I kept asking who made this, who made that. The garments are all so stunning! I’m just genuinely interested to meet and see these artists. There seems to be an influx of fantastic young designers. And I love the youth very much. I learn a lot from them, I thrive on the energy of the youth; it’s where you can get a new, fresh perspective on almost anything. I’m also very excited to see names of Project Runway
alumni doing well for themselves. There have only been three winners from the three seasons of the show, but so many of the contestants have been doing well for themselves. And with the new season, there’s more to come! Standards and expectations are getting higher, and these young talents truly do their best to deliver. For some reason, the new generation of designers is quite well schooled and well exposed. They’re attuned with global trends and styles. It’s amazing. I’m a big supporter of homegrown brands. I believe that local is premium.
What can we expect from Project Runway Season 4?
Oh, it’s going to be so good. We’ve got fancier challenges that really push designers to the limit. Every time I’m backstage, I think, ‘How do these kids do it? If I were these contestants, I’d break by now.’ These designers have to be creative and have to know how to cut, sew and style on a time limit. And as designers, you’re not always in your element. You have moments wherein you feel as though you are in a black hole, no matter how you squeeze it out of your brain, there’s just nothing. But that’s the thing, they can’t afford a mental block! So it’s fun and interesting to see how these designers manage. I think we were really able to squeeze the best out of these people in this season.
How do you handle judging these contestants? Because you aren’t just the host of the show, you provide critique as well!
Am I a Simon or a Paula, you mean? [Laughing] I’m a little bit of both, I think. I do criticize their work. It is my duty to tell them otherwise they do not grow. Half-truths will never do. I try to say things constructively and I don’t scrimp of praises
if they really deserve them. I tell them, ‘If you don’t do well, you’re out, so how are you going to tell me that you’ll do better next time if you don’t get a next time?’ so they really have to bring their a-game every single time. As a judge, I always aim for improvement. And if, say, what is produced isn’t exactly my cup of tea, I appreciate the thought process that went into constructing that particular piece anyway.
Catch Project Runway Philippines Season 4 on June 14, 8PM. Only on ETC.
Photography: Jerick Sanchez
Cover Story: Nicole Blanco Ramos
Art Direction: Alexandra Lara
Styling: Nicole Blanco Ramos
Makeup: Jason Delos Reyes
Hairstyling: Mark Rosales
Nail Care: Triple Luck Brow & Nail Salon
Sittings Editors: Angelo Ramirez de Cartagena and Sarah Santiago
Photo Shoot Coordinator: Patricia Nuguid
Special thanks to Balai Ilocos