Manila Peninsula’s Rigodon Ballroom was like a film set of Pilipinas: Back to the Future during the launch of the book Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs 1860-1960 at the Manila Peninsula last November 10. Old meets new as celebrities, designers, members of the media, socialites and different personalities walked the red carpet donned in their vintage and modern ternos. Everyone wore something borrowed, something new and something they designed themselves.
It was fun to witness one of the best events where people went out of their usual gowns and played dress up with their versions of Filipiniana. Nowadays, you’ll only get to witness events like these during Buwan ng Wika or special themed events, or the SONA (which sometimes gets to be a parade of the worst versions of ternos that ever existed, remember that yellow green parachute?).
“I think the terno always evolves but you need to do it intelligently,” says Mark Lewis Higgins (co-director of Slim’s Fashion & Arts School), as he talks about the new book he co-authored with Gino Gonzales (scenographer and lecturer at Ateneo de Manila University). “You need to understand first where it came from before you manipulate it in any particular direction,” he adds. “Gino and I both work in schools and we’re both exposed to young students and we realized they had no clue about the terno, it’s becoming forgotten, and it’s the national dress of the country. And I thought, it was time to re-educate them.”
Fashionable Filipinas is a fresh approach to the story of the terno; its modern layout appeals to the modern interest of the public, specially the younger generation. “It’s more than just a book about the dress,” says Mark, “it’s really the story of the birth of the nation, as we like to say, because clothing is very much a mirror of history, and you’ll see this in the book.”
The book features the evolution of what became the national dress, which is the terno, laid out with studio photographs during the 1860s until the 1960s. “It’s a fascinating trip through the Victorian era, two world wars, and past the atomic age because the book begins in 1860 and ends in 1960,” adds Mark.
The book took two years to create and it was supported by the best names in the fashion and arts industry. “Yes, the Japanese have the kimono, the Chinese have the cheongsam, and the Indian have the sari, so we Filipinos must have the same reverence for the terno. Doing so will give a sense of pride and appreciation for our own,” says Ben Chan – who published the book under his giant retail chain Bench – during the launch. “I think that every Filipino regardless of age, status, and generation have something to learn from this book. It is not just for Filipinos’ fashion in the present, but for Filipinos of the future,” he adds.
During the event, most of the Bench endorsers wore ternos and barong Tagalog made by Slim’s Fashion & Arts School student designers. One of the crowd favorites was the tuxedo terno of SLIM’s president and director Sandy Higgins made by up and coming designer Nina Gatan. Two of the vintage ternos worthy to highlight is the one worn by editor-in-chief of L’Officiel Manila’s Pam Quinones which was used by the late First Lady Leonila Garcia, wife of the late president Carlos P. Garcia, and the terno worn by Silk Cocoon designer Katrina Goulbourn-Feist from the vintage collection of Salvacion Lim Higgins.
Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs, 1860-1960 coffee-table book is available at Bench and Dimensione stores. Copies of the book will be donated to the Ayala Foundation for school distribution and the Cultural Center of the Philippines will have the book in its library.
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