Every generation has its perennial society poster girl — the one whose mere presence commands attention, the one whose life we can only dream about, and the one that everyone loves, yet sometimes loves to hate. Her perfectly coiffed hair cascading down her designer garb as she struts the red carpet with her model boyfriend can either leave you fixated in awe, or seething with envy. Wherever she goes, all eyes are on Divine Lee. Always.
However, there is more to this fashion plate than meets the eye. She’s a savvy career woman whose businesses, including a clothing label and a club, mirror her public persona, yet both are products of hard work to ensure she doesn’t get stuck in the typical heiress stereotype. During typhoon Ondoy, she was one of the most high-profile personalities to organize relief efforts online and on the streets, gathering friends to help distribute goods and transforming her stores into relief centers.
Recently though, Divine and the real estate company her family owns has been in hot water due to accusations that led to a Senate probe. Yet instead of doing a Naomi Campbell and donning a couture gown to face government officials, Divine chooses to keep mum about the subject — keeping a low profile as of late, yet staying in touch with those close to her. She is not in hiding, as some circles would like to comment, and has in fact agreed to do a photo shoot exclusively for these pages. It’s time we got to know the woman behind the glamorous façade: what she does in her downtime, how she handles all the haters, her fascination with Spam, and how she feels about fair-weather friends who are only there when times are good. Read up as Divine Lee drops the mystique and opens her heart to “The Dialogue.”
THE DIALOGUE: How do you balance your social life and running a business?
DIVINE LEE: I don’t have my own family yet so I guess balancing my life is easier than those who are married with kids. My businesses are mostly an expression of who I am, so I never see it as a drag. It’s something that I enjoy doing, so making time for it is never an issue. And most of my businesses are with friends, so meetings are very fun and easy.
When did you establish your fashion identity?
I don’t know. I’ve always been very experimental about fashion. For me, fashion is a creative output since I was not gifted with any artistic talents. Fashion like any other art form is an expression. My clothes usually reflect how I feel for that day.
What is the one thing you won’t be caught wearing?
I think I tried every embarrassing piece out there; I never take myself too seriously. I am actually the first to laugh at myself. Last Halloween, I wanted to go as “Yaya and Angelina” with David Milan. Too bad, he was too shy to pull it off.
What are the staple pieces in your closet that you can’t live without?
My beaded jacket that can turn a corporate outfit into a party outfit instantly; my black Herve Leger tube dress — it’s called the revenge outfit (laughs); Rajo jersey dresses that are perfect for traveling; Victor’s white polo which I use as a mini dress; and sky-high heels — the higher the heels, the closer to God.
What’s one skill people might be surprised to know you have?
I can be a car mechanic. I kept on changing my car parts in high school so much that I ended up learning about cars. People used to call me to help them troubleshoot car problems.
Being in the public eye, how do you deal with detractors and haters?
I’m nice to them because I’m nice. I don’t feast on negativity, I focus more on loving, living, inspiring and making people laugh. I really can’t please everyone, but I want to be able to come home with a happy heart that I didn’t do anything bad to anyone. I even have my own pay-it-forward scheme — for every bad thing done to me, I try to do two good things for someone else. It’s my way of stopping the negativity chain. My brother once said my being positive is sickening.
Where do you get your strength in times of trials and hardships?
From the people who need me. I know I have to get up daily because my sewers need food on their table, my waiters need a roof over their heads and I have to visit a friend who is going through a love problem, etc. Selfish as it may seem, misery does love company. I try to comfort people in their trying times to make myself feel better.
What song would sum up your current state of mind?
Beautiful by Christina Aguilera for all my becky friends.
Being in the business sector, are women regarded with the same esteem in the workplace?
It’s all about how you carry yourself. If you enter the boardroom knowing your stuff, how can someone think otherwise? It’s not about the gender anymore, it’s more about what you bring to the work table whether you’re in a suit or stilettos.
What cause are you passionate about?
The organ donor card. My best friend’s mom has a kidney problem and it’s been nine years since we discovered it and we are still looking for her perfect match up to now. If people are more aware of the organ donor card, maybe finding the match wouldn’t be hard.
There’s a saying that you’re surrounded by people during the good times, but they flee when you need them most. Did you experience this in recent challenges?
People kept on warning me about this. I guess it’s called “people spring-cleaning.” I’m sure some people said and did things that I will not be happy about, but not my friends. I guess I’m really lucky and blessed in having real friends because most of my friends were fast to dial my number and visit to comfort me. Aside from that, I also discovered more people who were willing to fight and stand up for me. I also gained more real friends in the process. This is one thing that I always thank God for.
If we were to raid your fridge right now, what would we find?
Coke Zero, Spam leftovers from Victor Basa’s midnight cooking spree, San Pellegrino, packed cold cuts and I keep some of my makeup in the fridge..
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Walang tawiran, nakakamatay.
Society often frowns on women dating younger men. What’s your take on this?
I don’t believe that is frowned upon because some of the best love stories we all adore have older women. But since you asked, the three-year gap between Victor and I was never an issue. Love is about trust and respect, and never about a mathematical equation. Being with someone is about finding your happiness. Age can never put a bracket on happiness.
You and Victor seem like such an unlikely couple, is it true that opposites attract?
We’ve been friends even before he started modeling and showbiz, and we even went to the same school (Brent) so we also kind of surprised ourselves with the match-up. Before we got together, we would hang out a lot because our circles are intertwined and we never saw it coming. After I broke up with my boyfriend, again a case of misery-loves-company, Vic (who also got out of a relationship) and Ino Caluza (with his personal issues) would hang out every day to burden each other with our never-ending sad stories. (Laughs) Then I guess we realized that we took comfort in each other’s company. It was hard to say what initially attracted us to each other because we still wonder up to now. (Laughs) But I guess being comfortable with each other and being long time friends made it easier to commit. We’re both foodies and he loves to cook so he’s in charge of dinner nights. We also go to church every Sunday and Baclaran on weekdays. We love staying home to watch movies and we’re not really party animals, as people would think. So technically, parang barkada pa rin, which makes it fun.
Which fictional character do you most identify with?
Wendy of Peter Pan. I always take care of my boy barkadas. I’m like Wendy and her Lost Boys. Tim Yap gave me that nickname after hanging out in my house while the Lost Boys were fighting over the Nintendo Wii.
Who would you give a free makeover to?
I respect everyone’s identity and character. Walang pakialamanan ng trip.
What do you consider is your greatest achievement?
That at 28 years old my heart is in the right place — I know what I want, my conscience is happy, I still laugh like a child on Christmas Day, I still get excited with life and I am proud of the person I see in the mirror.
Who are your red carpet heroes?
Carine Roitfeld because I am a big fan of Tom Ford and she’s one of his muses. Victoria Beckham because I like her style — it’s something I would wear. Kate Moss because her style is so effortless.
What’s the worst thing you heard about yourself and how did you deal with it?
I don’t dwell on negativity, I usually laugh at the comments. But I guess, the funniest is that I have dentures. Pull my teeth nalang if you have doubts. (Laughs)
Did you do any odd jobs before becoming a successful businesswoman?
I started as an agent. So I would be one of those people in the mall handing out flyers. I also did buy and sell of cell phones in Greenhills. I’m quite proud of all my odd jobs. They taught me how to deal with different types of people in business.
If you could invite any five personalities to a dinner, whom would you like to attend?
Pokwang because I found her hilarious when I had a shoot with her for Preview Magazine; Alan Greenspan because I think he’s very smart and I wonder how he would react to the personalities who are from totally different fields; Lady Gaga because I’m a little monster (what she calls her fans); Madonna because she’s Madonna; Warren Buffett because aside from being “the Warren Buffett,” he is one of the most charitable people in the world. People who use their success to inspire and help others always fascinate me.
If you could live someone else’s life for a day, whose would it be and why?
Vera or Victoria of Magkaribal. (Laughs) I find the banter so amusing. I always wonder when I can throw those lines at someone.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
It’s hard to say because I live my life by the day. But I’m hoping to have a family of my own so I can stop borrowing all my friend’s kids for children’s parties.
Behind closed doors and outside the glamorous image, who is Divine Lee and what defines you as an individual?
All laughter and smiles. I usually have houseguests and we do the silliest things. I let my gay friends have “walkoffs” in the house, I let my younger brothers and godchildren imitate music videos, or we play Rock Band or Bingo in the house. My midnights are usually spent with Spam cookouts and a comedy in the DVD player.
What is the most painful thing you learned about love?
That in love… people never learn.
PHOTOS BY: MARK NICDAO
MAKEUP BY: LEO POSADAS
HAIR BY: NANTE ALINGASA
CLOTHES BY GLASTNOST