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Meldy, icon

“SHE walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies”… And, “Whenas in silks my [Meldy] goes/ Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows/ That liquefaction of her clothes.”

When news of Imelda O. Cojuangco’s passing went out, those lines from Lord Byron and Robert Herrick hit like a flash of lightning, unbidden. “Meldy Co” – though I preferred to spell it Coj to reflect her stylishness – was a true icon in an era when icon could apply to everything and anything from the McDonald’s arch to the Coca-Cola bottle.

Imelda Cojuangco was more than a fashion icon, perhaps the last. She was individual, one with style and substance who stood out when everyone wanted to be or look like somebody else. She did not follow fashion trends (Pitoy Moreno was her favorite designer, he who understood when to dress her “up” for those special times when all eyes would be on her). It’s hard to define taste, which she had plenty of, but then she had both the means and the good sense to dress and behave as herself. Yes, she turned heads, but the rule was, “If you can be comfortable in your skin, be comfortable in your clothes.”

She wore feathers on her gowns and flowers in her pulled-back hair, fulfilling the image of Meldy Coj as an elegant bird with colorful plumage, for she was eternally fragile, small-boned, her physique as delicate as her voice.

Behind the ladylike countenance she was a power in her own right, rallying behind causes that she felt passionately about, like raising funds to build or restore a church, help a congregation of poor nuns, make some worthy club’s Christmas wish come true. She bought coffee from monks to shore up their finances, sponsored processions and children’s choirs, opera guilds.

Observing IOC at her lunches and tea parties, which were not often, we saw her as the representation of a gilded era whose ladies were gentle of demeanor in words and actions, who minded their manners and never, never revealed their age. Diamond chokers and chandeliered earrings appeared to be her favorite accessories, while her rubies and pearls were of mythical proportions – how appropriately they accompanied the rustle of her silks as she walked in beauty liquefied.