Unfinished business: Seasoned fashionista embarks again on Artlets journey at 63

Roberto “Bobby” Solis. Art by Kristine Joy Diane Sarmiento/ THE FLAME

DECADES AFTER stepping away from his studies, Roberto Solis will once again walk the grounds of UST in Manila.

This time, he will enter the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB) not as a young student, but as a 63-year-old retiree. He is fondly known as “Tito Bobby” to his much younger classmates, whom he playfully calls “apos” (grandchildren).

The familiar journey from his hometown in Cavite to Manila via Salug Transit and the jeepney ride to Dapitan Street – all these hold a new meaning for Solis as he embarks on this renewed chapter in his life.

Work complications forced him to leave his journalism degree unfinished during the 80s. This time, Solis is determined to finish what he started. Hopefully, he will exit the Arch of the Centuries in October and mark the culmination of his adventurous academic life.

‘I want to finish college’

Upon reaching 62, Solis bid farewell to his luxury fashion career and embraced retirement.

He eventually returned to the Philippines, and surprisingly, he sought to enroll in AB.

His friends’ initial response was confusion. “Enjoy your retirement!” they urged him.

However, Solis was resolute.

“I’ve been enjoying my life ever since in between jobs and traveling the world… But now that I’ve retired, I want to finish college,” he told The Flame.

He contacted AB Dean Melanie Turingan and expressed his desire to resume his studies.

“I have unfinished business here,” he said.

Turingan, supportive of his quest for a degree, guided him through the process.

His return to UST, a once-familiar environment, triggered a flood of memories.

“It’s like going into a time capsule. The feelings haven’t changed, but the faces have,” he said.

As a freshman in the 1970s, Solis remembered feeling a cocktail of emotions: pride as a Thomasian, intimidation as a newcomer from the province and curiosity about the fast-paced life in Manila.

Photo courtesy of Roberto Solis

“The first two years were very intimidating,” Bobby recalled. “Professors just left after the lesson. We relied heavily on books, textbooks, and notebooks.”

“For the phones, you had to put coins in the phone booths that were outside. You put 25 cents and dial.”

He also noticed how the AB male uniform has evolved, with its distinctive vertical lines on the barong representing the thirteen academic programs the Faculty offers.

“We wore uniforms back then, but not like this,” he said, gesturing to the current design. “The barong used to be plain white, more liberating to me. This one (feels more professional).”

From school to stage

Curious to explore Manila beyond the University walls, Solis turned to the city’s pulse by scanning sports news and classified ads. This is where he stumbled upon an opportunity that would shift his trajectory.

“There was a call for auditions for a dinner theater at Hotel Mirador,” Solis said.

The allure of dinner theater, combining dining with live performance, resonated deeply with him. His passion for singing, nurtured since elementary school under his musically inclined mother, played a role, too.

“My mom was already singing Pasyon during Mahal na Araw, so I guess I got it from her,” he said.

“I also tried at Teatro Tomasino. I was already part of UST Chorale.”

Answering the call of the stage, Solis landed the role alongside his studies. He had the privilege to work with renowned directors in the Philippine entertainment industry like Nestor Torre and Elvira Manahan. As one of eight performers in a dinner theater show entitled “Third Encounter of the Third Sex,” Solis donned costumes crafted by local designers Renee Salud and Ernest Santiago.

“When I was able to do a stage show, I gained confidence. I was so engrossed with the stage,” he said.

However, juggling his demanding theater commitments with full-time studies proved challenging, forcing him to sacrifice his studies by dropping out in his second year.

After completing his show and contract, a Japanese producer scouted Solis, leading him to embark on an 11-year journey in Japan, where he continued his performing arts career.

Moving places

In 1984, Solis returned to UST, but his academic journey was again interrupted.

After two years, his parents, who had become US citizens after working in Guam since the 60s, petitioned him to join them. He also became a US citizen, leaving him 23 units short of his degree.

Drawing on his performance experience, his artistic spirit thrived as he continued on a new creative venture: producing shows for Japanese audiences in Guam.

“I ended up producing my own shows that I was producing in Japan. So I was producing shows for a Japanese audience in Guam,” he said.

After nine years, Solis closed the curtain on his Guam chapter and set his sights on California, where another career change awaited him.

A chance encounter one morning led him to a Louis Vuitton store, where he inquired about an opening.

This simple question sparked a new career path. Impressed by his fluent Japanese and confident demeanor, the store manager, who happened to be Japanese, offered him an interview.

“I had made money, made my investments,” he said. “But I was curious about what was next.”

Starting as a salesperson, Solis quickly built a reputation and transitioned into the role of a private client advisor. He cultivated relationships with high-end clientele, even coordinating trips to fashion shows in France and Italy.

His fashion expertise also led him to training sessions in Asnières, France, the birthplace of Louis Vuitton.

His success also caught the attention of fashion brand Fendi, which offered him a role in its Hawaiian branch. Solis worked as a fur expert tasked with identifying genuine fur from faux. He also became a trusted advisor, sending clients to European fashion shows and curating personalized shopping experiences.

“I have to make sure it translates into their lifestyle, so (I give my clients) education on what’s a must-have,” he said.

Lifelong dream

When he returned to studying, adapting to the modern learning environment presented a challenge. However, his supportive classmates and his resilient spirit helped him navigate the new system.

“The youth right now has a lot to say and are really helpful,” Solis said. “They are quick-witted and very smart and very respectful. They’re friendly, too. I love the welcoming feel of the young people, the young students.”

Solis is hoping that young people will put their intelligence to good use a “prosper for a better Philippines.”

Before finally leaving UST for good, Solis aspires to foster bonds with his classmates and leave a positive mark on their aspirations.

With 23 units left, he eagerly awaits the day he graduates.

“I can’t wait for that moment and announce to the world that, ‘I finished it. I’m a Thomasian (graduate) now,’” Solis said.

“It’s the journey, not the destination.” F


  • Babette as Bobby Solis was fondly called during late 70’s was a college celebrity after winning on various TV shows – one of which was Student Canteen. He graciously performed during programs with his well applauded winning excepts from “Cabaret”. And for your UST campus come back . . APPPLAUSE APPLAUSE !!!

  • Babette as Bobby Solis was fondly called during late 70’s was a college celebrity after winning on various TV shows – one of which was Student Canteen. He graciously performed during programs with his well applauded winning excepts from “Cabaret”. And for your UST campus come back . . APPLAUSE APPLAUSE !!!

  • The story was really inspiring and life changing! It only shows that learning is indeed a continuing and never ending process. Regardless of age, race, gender and religion, we must pursue our dreams and aspirations in life no matter how difficult the journey is. Salute sir for being a great inspiration and model to the young blood of today’s generation! May your tribe increase and God bless!

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