Imelda Marcos - Queen of Shoes (Imelda Part 1)


She’s known as the Queen of Shoes and famous for both her collection of shoes and jewellery and also as being the former first lady of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986. But who is she, really?


Imelda Romuáldez Marcos (née Imelda Remedios Visitación Romuáldez y Trinidad) was born in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, on July 2, 1929. The Philippines themselves are an island-nation off the eastern coast of China and south of Japan, and, rarely for an Asian nation, have a heritage which is both Spanish-influenced and Roman Catholic (the only other mainly-Catholic country in Asia is East Timor).


Known in her native Philippines simply as “Imelda”, Marcos is of mixed Spanish and Visayan ancestry, with the Visayan being one of the Philippines’ many ethnic groups. Many upper-class Philippines are of partial Spanish ancestry due to Spain being the original colonising power of the islands, and so Imelda’s Spanish ancestry partly defines her as being of the ruling class.


At age 9, following her mother’s death, Imelda and her family moved away from Manila to their ancestral island of Leyte, where they were raised by a servant. She claims that she met the US general Douglas McArthur when she was 15 in late 1944, when he landed on the island from the USS Nashville following the Battle of Leyte Gulf, which pitted the USA and Australia against the Japanese and is arguably the largest naval battle in history.


When Imelda was 21, she returned to Manila where she worked as a singer for a few years before meeting her future-husband Ferdinand Marcos. The couple were married in 1954 while Ferdinand was a congressman, but Imelda’s rise truly began in 1965 when Ferdinand was elected President of the Philippines. Ferdinand ruled with the trappings of democracy for a handful of years before tiring of the façade and declaring martial law in 1972, ruling openly as a dictator.


Imelda was a controversial figure and performed many dubious acts, such as taking credit for the distribution in the country of nutribun bread, which actually came as food aid from the USA. She travelled the world as a Philippine ambassador and made friends with such questionable individuals as Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Tito, and Richard Nixon.


When, in the early 1980s, Ferdinand (having lifted outright martial law in 1981 but continuing to be dictator), began to falter due to ill health, she became the de facto ruler of the Philippines. Questions continued to be asked about her activities, especially after an opposition leader, Benigno Aquino junior, was both exiled directly due to her influence and assassinated at Manila Airport once he did return. Though unsurprisingly found “not guilty” by the committee she herself had set up to investigate her involvement in the opposition leader’s death, she continued to be a controversial and dubious figure.


In early 1986 Ferdinand Marcos declared snap elections between himself and Corazon Aquino, the widow of the assassinated Benigno. Although Marcos claimed victory, allegations of vote rigging led to popular riots which caused the Marcos family to flee to Hawaii. Rioters storming the presidential palace found the mountain of mink coats, jewellery, gowns, handbags and shoes which she is known for. Estimates of the amount of shoes found ranges from 1000 pairs to 7500 pairs.


Ferdinand died in Hawaii in 1989 while the couple were indicted by US federal authorities for racketeering, fraud and conspiracy. Allowed back to the Philippines by (now) President Corazon Aquino in 1991, Imelda tried without success to be elected President.


Imelda is a fashion and popular culture icon in the Philippines, being seen as the queen of consumption and excess. Popular true stories about her include the time she forced a plane leaving Italy to return because she’d forgotten to buy cheese in Rome and the time she spent $2000 on chewing gum at San Francisco Airport.


As for her collection of shoes, many were stolen early on after she fled to Hawaii, some of those left are housed in the National Museum of the Philippines and more at another shoe museum just north of Manila City - see part 2 (link below) for more on that!


Click here for a more indepth look into Imelda's shoe collectiion...