With the recovery of millions of dollars of cash and even more millions in the form of watches, jewellery, designer bags and other items, Rosmah Mansor’s wealth makes us remember the time when another Southeast Asian First Lady had her personal belongings laid out for the world to see.

Imelda Marcos was such a prolific figure in the world stage (and an elegant beauty) that you could almost forget that her husband declared Martial Law in the Philippines through the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The term “Imeldific” was coined to allude to beauty, luxury, and excess, all thanks to Imelda’s image on the world stage.

But when the Marcos regime fell, it was her personal closet that became part of the damning evidence of their greed, and how her lavish lifestyle was spit in the eye of the ordinary Filipino.

Rosmah’s own closet and her purchases engender a similar reaction from Malaysians, especially in the wake of 1MDB’s scandal and all the graft charges her husband, former Prime Minster Najib, is facing from his fall from power.

US newspaper The Wall Street Journal ran an article that revealed Najib could have funnelled millions of dollars from the 1MDB fund to his own personal accounts, even as the fund went into deficit, thus negatively affecting the Malaysian economy.

But who was more luxurious between the two?

Image from Shutterstock, Imelda Marcos shopping in Vigan City.

Cash recovered

When the Marcoses fled the country, they smartly stashed their plundered billions in Swiss Bank accounts, overseas accounts and gold. Since we’re talking only about cold, hard, cash, Rosmah may have the upper hand here, since the money recovered from their properties and apartments already rank in the millions.

Imelda’s latest report on her net worth is that she’s sitting on $22 million US, while Rosmah’s cash seized has gone up to S$37 million, which exceeds Imelda’s. Malaysian agents are still counting.

Designer goods

Imelda’s shoe collection is such an iconic part of the Marcos story that it’s what she’s most known for. With a collection that had more than 3000 pairs, the number of items Imelda had clearly dwarfs that of Rosmah. But what Imelda had in shoes, did Rosmah had in designer bags and jewellery?

Rosmah had 284 Birkin bags, while Imelda’s shoes were allegedly from local designers who gifted her these items. She still carried European and US brands, though.

But according to historical records, she had left 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, and 888 handbags when she fled. If one of those bags cost at least a fourth of a Birkin, you could say that Imelda probably had more wealth than Rosmah at the time.

Imelda during her younger years, on the extreme left

Jewellery and watches

Filipinos may never know just how much Imelda’s jewellery stash was worth, since they fled the country with it in tow. As for Rosmah, whose items have been seized and is unable to leave the country, her collection goes easily into the tens of millions of US dollars.

Image from Shutterstock, Rosmah Mansor giving a speech.


This may be where the true wealth lies. Known to be a patron of the arts and fashion, Imelda purchased paintings worthy of European national museums. According to historical records, her collection included a 175-piece art collection, which included works by Michelangelo, Botticelli, Canaletto, Raphael, as well as Monet’s L’Église et La Seine à Vétheuil (1881), Alfred Sisley’s Langland Bay (1887), and Albert Marquet’s Le Cyprès de Djenan Sidi Said (1946).

While there are definitely prices on these paintings, the amount museums would buy them for could be untold.

Rosmah and Najib during younger years.

So who won?

With the Marcos money still unrecovered and shrouded in politically-enforced mystery (and Filipinos are so dumb to let them back into power that they may get their stolen property back from seizure), it’s hard to say how much really left with Imelda when they fled Manila.

Rosmah, so far, proves to be the quintessential rich housewife, dripping in jewels, designer bags and clothes. Said to have spend millions of dollars in shopping sprees from 2008-2015, her property seems paltry and her love for branded goods tacky in light of Imelda’s taste. Just the art that Imelda currently keeps in her condominium in Manila could be worth more than all of Rosmah’s bags put together.

So, sorry, Rosmah, you’re not the first First Lady to have her things trotted out for the masses to see.

Whether that makes Imelda a winner or Rosmah a loser, we can’t say. In the end, it’s the ordinary Filipino and Malaysian who could be the loser in the end.

Want to know other Asian women who may have as much cash and luxury items as Imelda and Rosmah? Read about them here.

Header image from Shutterstock, Rosmah Mansor on the dissolution of Parliament. 

Header image from Shutterstock, Imelda Marcos in Vigan city.