Freya Eduarte basks in the joy of life at the driver’s seat while fueling her foundation’s educational initiatives for impoverished children.
This is an excerpt from Lifestyle Asia’s July 2023 Issue.
I was rushing to meet Freya Eduarte for the first time at Hôtel de Crillon, straight from Charles de Gaulle after a red-eye flight from JFK. I missed the first lunch meeting with the creative team she handpicked for the project.
Waiting outside, Eduarte emerged with the crew. I was struck by how statuesque she was considering her Filipina roots. Wearing a classic black bouclé Chanel jacket and sneakers over Prada leggings, toting a matte fauve barénia alligator Birkin, Eduarte, her posse, and I hop on a chauffeured black SUV bound for the House of Dior for fittings. Peering out on to the Champs Elysees Eduarte spoke of her love of driving in her genteel whisper-like voice. “I drive anywhere I am. I’ve even driven in Paris all the way to the Loire Valley. I have a sense of independence, I feel free,” she tells Lifestyle Asia.
I asked Eduarte if she is a mainstay of the hotel. “It’s actually my first time. I usually stay at the Mandarin Oriental. I want to try something different this time. Next, I’ll stay at Cheval Blanc,” she says.
SUBTLE AND DISCREET ARRIVAL
Pulling right up to the front doors of the venerable maison’s 30 Avenue Montaigne flagship, amid the lines outside, we were met and whisked inside by VIP client manager American Owen Keller. We passed through the main boutique towards a small elevator that took us to the private couture salons. Reimagined by American architect Peter Marino, re-opened March of 2022, Dior now spans almost an entire Parisian city block.
Housing the La Galerie de Dior Museum, restaurants, patisserie, cafes, shopping floors, couture salons, atelier, jewelry, and an entire apartment called La Suite, reserved only for a very few deserving clients, like Eduarte. The house is celebrating 70 years of haute couture business and is LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s billion dollar crown jewel, contributing a revenue of 56.5 billion euros in the first nine months of 2022, according to a report by Yahoo! Finance (uk.finance.yahoo.com) on October 12, 2022.
Iconic Paris couture houses cater to the world’s seriously rich and most important clientele and counts Dior as one of the very few that matter today. Currently helmed by the first woman designer Maria Grazia Chiuri since 2016, a fact that does not go unnoticed by Eduarte.
In the rarefied world of haute couture where complete looks start at $20K and up to stratospheric levels, counting an approximate 4,000 real couture clients globally, Eduarte included. She embodies a new breed of real couture client commonly dominated by the Persian Gulf, Russia, and China fashion-loving socialites. She is a 43-year-old Filipino American, multicultural, educated, business savvy, real estate investor-developer, an education advocate, and philanthropist. She is her own fashion muse, an admitted style risk-taker and an independent spirit.
Entering one of the salons reserved just for Eduarte, we were greeted by racks of ready to wear, shoes, handbags, accessories, and of course couture pieces all current season–handpicked for her. Jewel tone chiffon evening gowns, day and evening dresses, jackets and bottoms with matching footwear all designed by Chiuri, are hung evenly spaced, ready for Eduarte to fit. It is a grown up version of play dress up albeit with copious amounts of champagne, espresso and eau gazeuse. An elegant scene yet without the ostentatious bling or Asian crazy.
One may wonder how a girl from Samar and Quezon City finds herself in the inner sanctum of Dior, as well as the houses of Chanel, Schiaparelli, and Mugler. A far cry from her youth where she shares, “Growing up I was into BMX, skateboarding, go-karting, TEKS card games, Atari, and other activities expected of young boys.”
BLESSED AND PRIVILEGED CHILDHOOD
“I was born in Cebu, in a convent for young girls. My mother was 17 or so at the time. She was young and she wanted to focus more on education, and chase the dream of becoming an independent woman. My grandmother decided to support her and took over raising me with her other kids,” Eduarte recalls.
When I asked her if this had any effect on her psyche, Eduarte said, “Not that I am aware of. I have no bitterness, no grudge. It’s not part of my personality. My mother continued with school and eventually married. I have two brothers and one sister younger than me. My mother and I are more like sisters. She is easy going, always laughing. She was always there, even when she had a different family. Our relationship grew more solid when I got older, in my late 20’s when I moved to the US.”
On being raised by grandparents, “It’s not touchy feely, but you feel the love. I was well taken care of, I had all my needs met. I feel blessed and privileged,” she says. Eduarte had an academically oriented upbringing–her grandmother was a teacher at Samar’s Santa Margarita Elementary School where she and the rest of the family members attended.
Education and its importance are a common thread that runs in her family. A cause that would surface in her adult life.
In her early 20’s and a recent finance graduate of FEU Fern University in Manila, Eduarte rounded a few friends and went on an all-girls getaway to Bali’s Nusa Dua. A chance encounter at the beach saw the worlds of Philippe Courtout and Eduarte align.
Eduarte wouldn’t call it love at first sight but rather a meeting of the minds. “He is very much an intellectual, that’s what really attracted me. He was very funny; you wouldn’t think he is a very serious guy. He can talk about many topics, from astrology to politics,” she says. Though it was evident Courtot was 30 years senior to Eduarte, the chemistry was palpable, and the momentum of their love story blossomed and snowballed from then on.
French entrepreneur Courtot started as a salesperson then became CEO of ThomsonCGR (Companie Générale de Radiologie) in Paris, France, a successful mammography testing tech company he brought to the US in 1981. Courtot advocated for early mammogram testing considered invasive at the time.
He received a Benjamin Franklin award in 1987 for his efforts in creating a nationwide campaign for awareness of the benefits of early detection of breast cancer through mammography. He is a five time CEO of companies he has sold or taken public; Courtot became the darling of Silicon Valley and considered a visionary. An early believer of a start-up called Qualys, he was an initial angel investor pouring his own private funds. He recently helmed Qualys as CEO, after replacing two co-CEOS, a leadership role he held for 20 years.
STARTING A NEW CHAPTER
“I moved to the US because Philippe wanted me to. I stayed for another two years in Manila after we met. He was encouraging me to come,” Eduarte recalls of their long distance relationship. And with that she found herself building a new life with Courtot in San Francisco.
Eduarte continued her studies and graduated from the Academy of Arts San Francisco with a BA in Graphic and Computer Arts. She worked as a graphic and multimedia designer in San Francisco-including stints at Qualys.
“He would not force his point of view on me. With Philippe he likes to see growth in a person. He allowed and enjoyed watching me grow. There were no restrictions,” she says.
Courtot passed away from cancer on June 5, 2021.
His passing created new challenges for Eduarte. “Philippe took care of the family and business finances, now I have to think about the finances.” Yet she is empowered by the lessons she learned from Courtot.
Now a single mother, Eduarte considers her greatest achievement is her 16-year-old daughter Evvia she shares with Courtot. She attends the French American International School in San Francisco as well as ballet school, of which a career as a ballet dancer is on the horizon.
“I will be in New York between June and July to see Evvia study with the Joffrey Ballet for the summer. In between, I will explore Vermont, upstate New York, Boston or perhaps the Hamptons. Of course I’ll be driving,” she says.
Eduarte admits her brand of parenting is quite hands-on. “I prepare breakfast and lunch every day for Evvia. After, I drive her to and from school. Then I cook dinner for the family,” she says.
“Today, I encourage my daughter to continue her bond and have a good relationship with Philippe’s older children and cousins from Paris. It was important to have regular vacations with her French family and half siblings who live in Hillsborough, Miami, and Virginia. She speaks French and Italian. I have my moments as a tiger mom, but have a more relaxed style of parenting than Philippe,” Eduarte says.
THE DRIVE TO CREATE A DIFFERENCE
What started as sending a former elementary teacher to graduate school up to sending that teacher’s child to nursing school, planted the seed for an advocacy close to Eduarte’s heart and which she shared with Courtot: To reach deserving underprivileged and impoverished students from families who may not be able to afford tuition, books, board and lodging—the works.
Eduarte recalls a brainstorm between her and Courtot, “Philippe said, why don’t you start a non-profit? You’re already doing it, why not make it official so we can funnel money to help the less fortunate. It’s about legacy transfer to a child. I was sold. It was for our daughter.”
The Eduarte Courtot Foundation was established in 2018, based in Hillsborough, CA. Its core value is to fund educational initiatives for impoverished children, starting in the Philippines.
“We wanted to make an impact on the people surrounding us, in the countries where we used to live,” Eduarte is quoted in the foundations’ website. This belief is shared by board members Amer Deeba and Rima Touma Bruno, both from Lebanon.
It is fitting that the first recipient of the foundation’s first endowment is the same elementary school her mother, aunts, and uncles attended and where her grandmother taught. A moving tribute to the woman who raised her.
Read the full cover story by purchasing a copy of the Lifestyle Asia July 2023 magazine via SariSari.shopping or select newsstands in National Bookstore and Fully Booked. Subscribe to the E-Magazine via Readly, Magzter, and Press Reader.
Text TONY RIVERA
Photos by MARC NICDAO
Sittings Editor CANDY DIZON
Production Director JAVI MARTINEZ
Head Stylist LIZ UY
Stylist JOY BERNARDO
Hair by PAUL NEBRES
Makeup by JUSTIN LOUISE SORIANO
Videographer UGO ARNOULD
Shot on location DIOR PARIS 30 AVENUE MONTAIGNE