Out of the Closet

Confessions of a ‘Primera Kabogera’

/ 12:14 AM December 28, 2016
In her studio attic at home —PHOTO BY MARA LOPEZ

In her studio attic at home —PHOTO BY MARA LOPEZ

Beauty queen Maria Isabel Lopez has no skeletons, only kabogera (show-stopping) gowns, in her closet teeming with glitter and glamour.

After all, the seasoned actress inspired countless memes and was dubbed “La Primera Kabogera” by netizens for sashaying on the red carpet before the premiere of Brillante Ma Mendoza’s “Ma’ Rosa” at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in that emerald green knockout by haute couturier Albert Andrada.


Looking back, Maribel insists she’s a little embarrassed by the fuss and frenzy. “I enjoyed the attention, but honestly, the film’s merits should hog headlines … not fashion,” she confesses, with characteristic candor.

It was not Maribel’s first time to turn heads in the French Riviera, though. In 2009, she wore a stunning red gown by Filipino-American designer Victoire Miller for the debut of Mendoza’s “Kinatay.”


The red Miller is stored in her closet, while the green Andrade is now exhibited in his shop/museum in Greenbelt, Makati.

“Victoire likes to play around with fabrics and texture, and is unafraid to innovate when it comes to construction,” she explains. “Albert, on the other hand, listens to his clients, meets their needs, while letting his creative juices flow freely.”

She recalls that she was at first intimidated by the famous green gown’s plunging neckline. “I had to remind Albert that I’m a ‘junior’ citizen!” She can be a tough customer, because she knows a thing or two about fashion.

A Fine Arts graduate from UP Diliman, Maribel was also a product of the Fil-American Institute of Fashion in the 1970s. She likewise worked as designer for Shoe Mart before show biz beckoned.

“I studied how to sew … make patterns,” she volunteers. “I can sew by hand or by machine. I have a sewing machine in my studio attic at home.”

She often alters and repairs her costumes for TV shows and movies. “For a perfect fit. Nothing is wasted, not even gifts that are not my size, because I can always practice the three Rs: Resize, Remodel and Recycle.”

Here, La Kabogera opens up her heart, and her closet, sharing sartorial wisdom culled through the years.


In her Cannes gown by Albert Andrada

In her Cannes gown by Albert Andrada

Red gown by Victoire Miller which she wore in Cannes 2009

Red gown by Victoire Miller which she wore in Cannes 2009


She swears by a no-nonsense principle: “If you got it; flaunt it!”

“I sacrifice a lot to remain fit and fab and will not allow designers to destroy the look I’ve worked so hard to maintain,” she relates. “Gowns should be simple, uncluttered and should highlight the wearer, not overshadow her.”

Not that she shuns a little drama for good measure: “Every gown is a show … an event!” She sums up her style as “free and easy yet alluring.”

“Trends should not get in the way of comfort,” she notes. “But I like experimenting with colors.”

She’s crazy for fur and animal-print scarves and bags.

She’s crazy for fur and animal-print scarves and bags.


Away from the glare of the spotlight, she goes for basic jeans and fitted tops. “I prefer solid colors and stripes,” she asserts. “And please, no florals!”

What she goes crazy for are animal prints. “I was probably a wild animal in my previous life,” she enthuses, in jest. “My horoscope sign is Leo. I’m the Queen of the Jungle!”

Her closest pals are aware of her “endless” passion for animal prints. “I would like to thank my friends who have been gifting me with animal-print clothes, bags and shoes for decades now.”

She even has animal-print bed sheets by Ralph Lauren!

Leopard print stilettos

Leopard print stilettos


In Cannes 2009, she brought only one pair of shoes and the fashion police dubbed her a repeat offender. Learning her lesson, she packed four pairs in her luggage when she returned to the Palais last May.

“I go for high-heeled shoes that are flexible and bunion-friendly,” she remarks. “Moxie, a new brand from Amsterdam, makes you feel as if you are floating on air. Aerosols or Born Shoes are great for smart casual dressing.”

She refuses to wear platform shoes and goes for classic pumps, which are “best for walking and driving.”

“When abroad, invest in a good pair of leather boots with walkable, one- to two-inch heels,” she advises. Of course, she adores glittery leopard stilettos for red-carpet events.

Animal print bag and bed sheet

Animal print bag and bed sheet


Naturally, bags in animal prints are a cherished part of her collection.

“I hate vinyl or glossy synthetic totes,” she owns up. “I prefer leather and fur-trimmed ones. That makes me an inconsistent animal activist. I believe in protecting all animals, but I have a fascination for natural material.”

She counsels other busy working women to look for bags with multiple compartments. She can be obsessive, “separating receipts from other important things in my bag,” she admits.


For travelers and other women-on-the-go, she recommends one must-have: a practical, from-sun up-to-sun down bag.

“I always have a backup bag … to keep an extra pair of shoes,” she imparts. “So I can change from heels to flats in a jiffy.”

She never leaves home without “gum, mouthwash spray and brush picks.” She always keeps a box of tissue within reach, to retouch or remove makeup. “I’m not a germophobe or neat freak, but wet wipes are essential.”


She professes that she goes to bed wearing three “indispensable” pieces: a gold chain necklace, watch and ring. She has been donning some gold trinkets for 30 years now. “I go for basic round gold earrings. Real gold that looks fake, and not the other way around!”

She recounts that she snapped up zebra-print earrings in a bazaar in Divisoria for a song.

She recently joined a celebrity ukay-ukay, organized by TV host Tintin Bersola-Babao, at the Ayala Circuit Mall. “It helped me make room for new stuff. I was able to dispose of my kids’ old faves, too.”

Maribel Lopez’s “Way of the Cross”

Maribel Lopez’s “Way of the Cross”


More than a fashion plate, she’s a bona fide art collector.

Like a modern museum, her Quezon City home is decorated with various paintings—some by Maribel, and others by the country’s top artists. She owns several nudes and portraits done by Nemi Miranda, Al Perez and  Allan Cosio.

As for her own pieces, Maribel, who’s now preparing for her second one-woman exhibit, is into mixed-media mosaic.

“I am drawn to the sparkle and texture of reflective glass, which cannot be achieved by ordinary paint,” she says. A member of the Society of American Mosaic Artists, she studied at the Chicago Institute of Mosaic Art (Illinois) and the Institute of Mosaic Art (in Berkeley, California).

In fashion and in art, she is “instinctive and free-flowing.”

For Maribel, painting is “a spiritual journey.”

“It’s like I am in a trance and forget everything. It’s my time to communicate with my inner self and surrender to a Supreme Being. It’s my humble expression of gratitude, a form of healing,” she says.

Christmas tree decorated with ornaments from special people in her life

Christmas tree decorated with ornaments from special people in her life

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