When I marveled at the closeup of the baro’t saya that Dennis Lustico posted in social media last week, hardly did I know that there was a sad story behind it. This baro’t saya—no exaggeration—is a work of art, its seafoam green a balm to my eyes that have been tearing up with each online post of a new death, and its construction clearly ingenious even in the picture.
What I also found touching was Dennis’ comment introducing the photo of his latest design—“Back to work. Back to who we are.”
Any reference to our sense of national identity at a time when the country is almost literally gasping for breath is touching. Thinking of our Filipino-ness at a time when gutter news headlines bring us nothing but feelings of shame, anger and despair—is brave and becomes the ultimate show of faith.
Dennis’ design was in itself a manifestation of faith.
He recounts to us what he and some friends have just been through: “We were supposed to fly to Bohol last March 10-14 to belatedly celebrate my friend Puey Quinones’ birthday.
“We decided that the theme of his party would be ‘ilustrado chic’ and we would celebrate it on a cruise on Loboc river, with photoshoot, music and food.
“We were about a dozen in the group and everyone was excited preparing his/her outfits and accessories. We were excited to escape. Not just from Manila but from the psychological burden this virus has given us.”
Then the virus obviously didn’t want to be left out of the picture.
Dennis continued: “We had swab test two days before the flight. A day after, the results were emailed and one came out positive.
“We had to postpone the trip immediately because all of us had been exposed to this friend since the test was done in one room.
“Eventually three more people came out positive. I was one of them.”
Indeed this pestilence doesn’t choose demographic—weak or strong, young or old, active or not. Dennis is just short of being an Iron Man. He is into triathlon, doing the standard 10 km run. He joined the 42 km Paris marathon, and the half marathon in Halong Bay, Vietnam.
Fallen ill with COVID, Dennis realized that other than a triathlete’s strength, his true blessings are the friends he has. “It was followed by fear, anxiety and a bit of panic. But the support of friends is something else. Everyone was sending something, dropping off food and medicine. Literally I didn’t spend a single dime on medicine, everything was given.
“But while sick with COVID, we didn’t stop planning. We wanted to push through with the trip and booked our flights as soon as we got clearance from our doctors.
“Of the three, I was the one who recovered last. I got my negative PCR result last March 27, almost the same day the first lockdown of the year was announced.”
So much for getting away. Dennis said, “So we thought we did a good fight and sadly gave up our ‘ilustrado’ dream.”
‘I made this gown as an homage to the old days of elegance and ease. … When every Filipino wore his identity every single day’
Dennis escaped into his alternate universe: creativity and design. “I made this gown as an homage to the old days of elegance and ease. When everything was proper and light and decent. When every Filipino wore his identity every single day.”
I consider Dennis Lustico to be among the best designers today, if not the most versatile. He can marry the romanticism and feminine lushness of an Inno Sotto or a Joe Salazar, with today’s modern deconstruction and an artisan’s fabrication. His design scales the heights of imagination, even fantasy, yet remains wearable. And always, the construction and craftmanship are neat. He has an unerring eye for color.
And the fashion landscape today—or what remains of it in this pandemic— can only be enriched by Dennis’ take on the baro’t saya, on his decision to revisit Filipiniana.
“I wanted to be true to the essence of baro’t saya, from silhouette to comfort and wearability,” Dennis told us. “I did exaggerate the sleeves just a bit for little drama, and fused the tapis and saya into one through draping, thus the contemporary touch. But other than that, the comfort, lightness and freshness of it I cautiously observed.”
He used piped crinoline with linear beading for the baro, and for the skirt, layered honeycomb and dotted organza.
He made the baro’t saya for good friend Cathy Binag, one of the guests of what would have been the “ilustrado party.”
Dennis finetuned the baro’t saya after he got well, doing the skirt when he finally got a negative PCR result.
COVID may have robbed him of his sense of smell and taste, but definitely not his sense of design. One good news we can use these days.