Chapter I: The Good Life

Published: Jun. 5, 2019 at 12:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - One of the world’s most well-known political couples ― Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos ― met and wed after an 11-day courtship.

It was 1954 and then-Congressman Ferdinand Marcos was a rising star.

By 1965, he and his wife would be in the presidential palace, kicking off what would be a tumultuous, glamorous and controversial 21-year reign.

[Watch the full documentary: Imelda & Ferdinand Marcos: Exile in Hawaii]

Along the way, the Marcos’ would build a family ― Imee arrived in 1955, son Ferdinand Jr. two years later and Irene in 1960 ― as they also amassed more and more power.

And more and more wealth.

Indeed, the Marcos’ ostentatious luxury was the stuff of legends.

Emme Tomimbang, a journalist who extensively covered the Marcos family, said that although the couple was controversial, they knew how to maximize their expenditures.

“I think Mrs. Marcos and the president had a real good grasp about where and how to achieve and keep the power going,” Tomimbang said.

The Presidential Commission on Good Government reported that over the course of their regime, the Marcos’ allegedly embezzled anywhere from $5 to $10 billion ― with their wealth in the form of famous artwork, antique jewelry pieces studded with diamonds and rubies and designer-brand apparel from all over the world.

The couple, especially Imelda Marcos, was famous for lavish spending habits and a luxurious lifestyle that they proudly flaunted, even though 40% of the country they ruled over lived on roughly $2 a day.

Their spending was so extreme that the term “Imeldific” was coined by Imelda herself to represent extravagance to the point of vulgarity.

Imelda’s vast shoe collection became the symbol of the Marcos’ wealth.

The first lady owned thousands of pairs of shoes in all styles and colors. When she and her husband fled from Malacanang Palace in 1986, she abandoned 1,060 pairs of shoes. But the total number she owned overall remains a mystery as she stored belongings at other properties and guest houses.

Today, 749 pairs of Imelda’s shoes are displayed at the Marikina City Footwear Museum in Manila. The shoes ― the epitome of extravagance during the Marcos’ regime ― take up the entire second floor of the museum.

“They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes,” Imelda Marcos said.

Other items left behind at the Malacanang Palace: 500 brassieres, suitcases filled with girdles, 1,500 handbags, 35 racks of fur coats and 1,200 designer gowns.

The designer outfits and accessories that adorned the first lady whenever she made public appearances were just the beginning.

She also flaunted her extravagance at the parties that she and her husband hosted.

The couple hosted weekly Sunday afternoon gatherings and opened up their multi-million dollar Makiki Heights estate in Honolulu to friends for grand dinner parties.

During these dinners, Imelda would frequently serenade her guests, who would fly in from all around the world, with songs accompanied by a pianist.

Besides living in excess, Imelda Marcos’ travels were also markers of her position of power.

According to a document published by the Philippine government, Imelda Marcos spent $2 million in one month on luxury New York jewelry brands.

The documents also said Marcos spent $3.3 million during a May 1983 trip to New York.

Her shopping trips included $10,340 spent at Pratesi, a luxury Italian linen brand, and a Michelangelo painting for $3.2 million.

During his time in office, Marcos purchased four commercial buildings in New York City as gifts to his wife. These buildings were worth more than $300 million, collectively.

When given the offer to buy the Empire State Building for $750 million, Imelda Marcos turned it down because it was “too ostentatious.”

Instead, she bought the Crown Building for $51 million, the Herald Centre for $60 million and two more prime slabs of Manhattan.

On one occasion on a plane ride back from Rome, Imelda Marcos realized she had forgotten to buy cheese. She ordered the jet to make a U-turn mid-air — a true indicator of her influence. This was later dubbed the “Great Cheese Scandal” and is now widely referenced as one of the most legendary shopping sprees in history.

During another trip through the San Francisco airport, Imelda Marcos decided she wanted to spend $2,000 on chewing gum. And she did.

Imelda Marcos also had her husband deploy the Philippine Air Force to seed the clouds and prevent a typhoon from forming when the Philippines hosted the 1974 Miss Universe pageant in Manila.

With maids at their every beck and call and more pairs of shoes than there are days of the year, nothing was out of reach for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.

They could spend any amount on anything they wanted and still have money to spare. For the president of the Philippines and the first lady, they were truly living the good life.

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