Heart Evangelista is fashionably on time.
Wearing a chic feather-studded pigeon blue dress along with gold-toned croc-embossed Schutz high heeled boots, Heart glides like a goddess as she enters Greenhills’ beloved community grocery store Unimart.
Trailing behind her is her glam team the public has come to know through her vlogs and Instagram posts. There’s Jeck Aguilar, who makes sure there’s never a strand of hair out of place; Kat Cruz who’s responsible for her double-tap worthy wardrobe; and Albert Kurniawan, who makes sure she looks fresh all the time.
No, she was not there to buy corned beef.
On her first day back at work after the holidays, Heart was there to do a fashion editorial, a concept inspired by her own hilarious tweet.
Ever the professional, Heart first confers with photographer Charisma Lico before going down to work. She grabs a bag of oranges at the fresh produce section and poses with it. Click. She leans into the rack holding bananas, apples, pears and projects to the camera. Click. She strides by the vegetables section. Click.
Heart has the ability to make everything she touches look expensive as gold. Immediately, we feel the need to buy the bag of orange, the bananas, apples, pear, and that head of broccoli. In the middle of it all, she notices this writer behind the set, and she says hi.
Despite the number of people she comes across in her work, Heart is the type who remembers the people she meets.
Dress by Andrea Tetangco | Shoes from Schutz
And she meets a whole lot of them. The Kapuso Queen of Creative Collaborations has gone beyond the great big world of local show business. These days, she’s also a vlogger with 1.46M followers on YouTube; a published author with two books to her name; an accomplished artist who has mounted a number of sold out exhibits; the creative director of clothing brand Kamiseta; and a staple in various fashion weeks around the world.
There is also an international movie coming up, and her most recent feat: Making it to the Vogue 100.
“I was very surprised when I got an email from Anna Wintour!” Heart begins excitedly. “I’m like, ‘What? Is this a scam?’ I couldn’t believe. I’m still overwhelmed with that one.”
According to its website, Vogue 100 is “a curated list of distinctive creative voices from around the globe. Every person on the list is a mesmerizing mix of pure talent, wild style and enormous dazzle.”
At the time of the interview, Heart still wasn’t sure what to expect, but at Paris Fashion Week two weeks later, she would sit down with Vogue editors, where they presumably ironed the details out. This month, she’ll be flying to New York to meet with them again. “There are so many characters that are always invited to all these lunches and get togethers, I have no idea!”
Dress by Daryl Maat
She never pictured herself in this situation, Heart says. “Not in a million years! I didn’t even think I would be in showbiz for such a long time.”
As a child, Heart became aware of her knack for entertaining people while in San Francisco. “I discovered I wanted to become an actress because I would sing. I would dress in a Filipiniana and I would help the waiters serve halo-halo or just the light dishes and I’d get tips so when I was there, that’s what I’d do.”
She became a commercial model and actress at 13, a kikay sweetheart who got her first big break on a youth-oriented TV show. She became a VJ, a recording artist, a leading lady in romantic comedy films, at one point even playing a dwarf in a television series.
“I knew what I wanted in life, but I didn’t think — I’m turning 35 — and I didn’t think these things would happen to me,” she says, obviously grateful.
But after two decades in showbiz, she’s finally given the chance to play the perfect role: herself. It’s been most liberating. “It really feels good to be here and just be myself. I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to clip my wings or whatever.”
Being herself means being able to indulge in and express her interests, like art and fashion and beauty. It’s voicing out her love for animals. It’s also being able to show little known facets, like her wicked sense of humor.
She stopped caring what other people think and just started being Love Marie. It turned out to be the best thing to happen. Suddenly, people — not just in the Philippines, but all over the world — are paying attention.
Dress by Daryl Maat | Boots from Casadei
It hasn’t always been this way, though. As a teenager, Heart was a victim of bullying.
“I wasn’t really a favorite in school,” she recalls nonchalantly. “I would eat my lunch by myself and I would have high school students go at me, while I was sitting alone on the bench. I’d walk the covered court and someone would throw a volleyball at me. They would put glue on my chair. It was really bad.”
She never really got depressed about it. “It just really made me learn to mind my own business. And as long as you’re not doing anything to anyone, it’s OK.”
At the time, all she needed were two things: her older sister Camille Ongpauco on her side, and a strong faith. She set up a small altar inside her bathroom, a “divine mercy novena picture, a sunflower candle, and a smaller candle beside my shower. I would kneel there and I would pray all the time.
“I would pray and pray that God, you know, make me something and I promise, I promise that I would be nice to everyone in school if I do come back.”
There were moments of grace. Heart recalls how her closest guy friend bought a bunch of her first-ever magazine cover and placed it on top of her bullies’ tables (“It’s so cute!” she laughs). But the bullying got worse that she had to stop going to regular school less than a year into high school.
In hindsight, Heart “needed to go through that” to prepare her for showbiz, where niceties aren’t exactly the norm. What it didn’t prepare her for was the niceties that she got, including the apologies that came from her bullies.
In August 2018, Heart shared on Instagram a note she received that read, “We were assholes and we put you through a lot of crap. So I’m sorry you had to go through that. I thank God that He made you to be a strong individual.” It was from one of her bullies.
Speaking to GMA News Online, Heart says she “was extremely touched that she even bothered to apologize about something that I wasn’t really holding on to. It spoke so much about her character and I really appreciate that.” They continue to message each other on Instagram.
Dress by Andrea Tetangco | Shoes from Schutz
She may have come a long way, but in many aspects, she’s still that little girl who turns to God whenever she faces a trial. When she lost her twins back in 2018, she briefly turned her back on the public and turned to prayer. “I said, ‘God, I know you’re gonna vindicate me. And He did, miraculously. That’s why I never question, because there’s really something else.”
She ended her three-week hiatus with a photo of herself beside a painting she presumably worked on while away. “Looking forward with a grateful heart,” she wrote.
By then, her “something else” had arrived.
“The first call I got about work was Kevin Kwan,” Heart says.
The “Crazy Rich Asians” author named Heart one of the “Real Crazy Rich Asians” to be featured on American fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, along with other Asian fashion icons Feiping Chang, and Michelle and Rachel Yeoh.
Greater things started to come her way after that call. It’s as if the world she walked into has been waiting for her all this time.
She’s been a constant in various fashion weeks, even making it to international headlines for her splendid outfits. “There is something about fashion week, or traveling that inspires me,” Heart says. “To see everyone from all over the globe, walking and dressing up as themselves, celebrating their individuality. It’s very empowering to be around all these people.”
In her most recent trip to Paris for Fashion Week, Heart reunited with Hermès executive Michael Coste and met George Shobeika, Singaporean socialite Jamie Chua, and Vogue editors Tonne Good and Hamish Bowles. The list goes on.
“It’s really about the experience, and meeting different people and being able to vlog that, and take that back with you and share that with my viewers,” she says, mentioning one of her most successful iterations of late: being a vlogger.
Heart really “just wanted to share” her experiences. “I didn’t care if people watch it or if I get really high views because I feel like it’s not really the views that matter. It’s not how much you make on YouTube. It’s how many people you inspire, whether it’s just one person or five.”
The experience, after all, keeps leaving Heart inspired for yet another one of her personas, that of being an artist. “It inspires me to paint with the color palettes that I see on the runway, or the people I see walking down the street. I don’t mind doing this until I’m old. I think it’s something that keeps me alive.”
Heart snacks on a bag of chips as she describes her relationship with husband Chiz Escudero. “It’s on a different level it’s not just romance, he loves me like nothing can break it, it’s like rock solid.”
When they first started going out in 2013, they had a you-and-me-against-the-world thing. Her parents did not approve of Chiz, a senator at that time, but Heart believed “it will all fall into place in God’s time.”
And it did. In all phases of her life, Chiz patiently stood by her side as she grew into the woman that she is now. “I was very young in the mind but he loved me through my good times and bad times and his love never faltered. Parang storm-proof.”
They were married in 2015 in Balesin Island, and have since taken the public along, showing everyone how much — and how solid — their love has grown.
“I have never been loved by anybody the way Chiz loves me,” Heart says, her eyes sparkling from a fantasy she’s been living. In public, they look every bit like the power couple that they are — attending events, rubbing elbows with the most powerful. But alone together, they are a plain husband and wife who enjoy little moments together. Quality time means sitting at their kitchen table and talking about anything under the sun. “We could do that for hours, he loves to cook for us,” she says.
“It’s not always about romance. You have to marry your best friend because you’re not always going to be in love but you’re always gonna [have to] love each other.”
In the ever-changing world of politics and showbuz, Heart was preparing herself for whatever adjustments their roles needed. “But he told me not to change anything and I should be proud of what I have,” she says. “You know I work very hard and I shouldn’t have to pretend to be something I’m not, and you know slowly I think people are seeing that and I’m just this is who I am.”
She’s been called a thousand titles — from the Kapuso Queen of Creative Collaborations to Kevin Kwan’s “modern-day incarnation of Audrey Hepburn” — but “I would just say, I’m Love Marie or Heart.”
She admits she wasn’t always a hundred percent herself “because I wanted to be accepted so much. I wanted people to like me. I wanted people to see my heart, I want people to know my intentions.”
As soon as Heart realized “it’s not really like that,” she began doing her own thing, and more importantly, owning her life.
Her real name, Love Marie, was given to her by her mother, but she had a cousin, also named Love, so her dad Rey decided to call her Heart, because she was born on Valentine’s Day.
“I think my dad did a great job coming up with a name that’s very unique. I guess that basically describes who I am, Heart, I really am full of love,” Heart says. “And I’d really like to be positive about a lot of things.”