To many, the mere mention of “Louie Cruz” will conjure images of his signature off-the-shoulder chemise. As far as wardrobe is concerned, those tops were to him what turtlenecks were to Steve Jobs and, short of getting a patent for his innovative getup, Tito Louie owned enough of them to fill up several closets.
Being his default outfit of the day (and night) for most of his life, he had at least one of every color that would put a box of Skittles to shame. But, beneath the scant fabric of his favorite shirts was a larger-than-life figure with a zest for living, a bon vivant with an avant-garde attitude and mischievous wit that he would masterfully shoot from the hip.
As a child, growing up around Tito Louie sometimes felt like being onstage in the West End as an extra in a musical like La Cage aux Folles. He was known to host risqué parties overflowing with booze, which only became a “drag” when someone from his battalion of friends would cross-dress to perform a song number.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, Tito Louie would appear in costume as a virginal nun, and casually flit around as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I'd like to think my fragile young mind survived those years unscathed.
Such antics were hardly surprising, though, from someone who once thought it would be a good idea to own not one, not two, but three Chow Chows. He decided to give his pets names befitting a human who traveled the world with half a dozen pieces of Louis Vuitton luggage in tow. I never asked him why he named them Chagall, Cashmere, and Caviar, but I presume it was a nod to the letter “C” in his surname. As to why he made sure each one of them was fed on silverware, "just because" is my best guess.
As I grew older, I witnessed his PR genius and people-person savviness firsthand. I would watch him work behind the scenes, dreaming up creative but unconventional ideas for which he had a Midas touch. When he became a PR consultant for a newly opened Makati bar in the ’90s, not only did he tap his network of movers and shakers to visit the place, but also conceptualized fresh concepts and themed nights during a decade that thought it had seen it all. It wasn't long until people trooped to that bar, Giraffe, in droves.
I recall one twist he did on the tired old costume-party motif of the era; the invitation simply read, “Come as you ain’t.” Sure enough, locals and tourists alike showed up dressed in something they normally wouldn't be caught dead in, but suddenly had an excuse to wear — all in the name of good fun. As Giraffe went on to become an iconic night spot, it made perfect sense that Tito Louie decided to celebrate his half-century birthday there.
“THE BITCH IS TURNING 50,” screamed the invitation to the party.
Coupled with his brand of wit, however, was a deeply caring side of him and an unwavering devotion to family. He was my ninong and played the part to the hilt, so much so that he became a second mother to me — with or without the nun costume. It was the same way with the rest of his family.
A few years ago, I took his brother with special needs, Tito Mato, to a gig that he had recommended. Tito Mato is a diehard Beatles fan and a local tribute band called The Bloomfields was performing. The following day, I shared with Tito Louie details of our night out and how Tito Mato was happily dancing away to their renditions of the Fab Four's greatest hits.
I recounted to Tito Louie that there was a lady in the audience who was eyeing him and stood up to dance while shooting him glances. After he expressed his happiness that I showed Tito Mato a fun night out on the town, he joked, "Sayang, little did that lady attracted to Mato know she would end up not only as his wife, but also as his caregiver. Perfect match!"
To those who knew him well, Tito Louie's passing has left an immense void in our lives. But we find solace in the knowledge that our memories of him and the echoes of his laughter will reverberate in our minds and in our hearts until he welcomes us at the eternal party in the sky.
Banner photo: Louie Cruz and his signature one-sided shoulder with Tetta Agustin-Baverey, Louie's Europe-based friend who would visit him in London, The Hague and Frankfurt