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Cebu ‘ternos up’—and how

No holding back for Cary Santiago, Philip Rodriguez, Rajo Laurel, Mark Bumgarner

Philippine Terno Gala
From left: Philip Rodriguez’s terno replicating vintage manton de Manila in full embroidery, Cary Santiago richly graphic terno (Photos by TheDiarist)

Cebu had its first big fashion event since the pandemic, and organizer, leading designer Cary Santiago, apparently pulled all the stops to make it a milestone event (whoever said that whatever Manila does, Cebu could do bigger?). For the Philippine Terno Gala last March 10, the organizers flew in guests from Metro Manila, had heart-stopping performances by Dulce and Bituin Escalante, a sitdown dinner, and the main event—the sizeable terno collections of Santiago himself, Philip Rodriguez, Rajo Laurel and Mark Bumgarner.

A Cebuana businesswoman who did well in Hong Kong, Maybelle Padillo, belted out a few lung-busting songs as well. The businesswoman could sing, and how, like many Cebuanas can (think Pilita Corrales, et al).

Two ballrooms of the Waterfront Hotel & Casino served as venues: the Atlantic Ballroom was festooned with native lanterns, a festive setting for a five-course dinner that showcased Cebu’s specialties—Kilawin sa Mactan (tuna, sukang-aligue dressing, camote tops salad, kesong puti croquettes); beef broth with lemongrass ginger, potato, green beans, leeks; zucchini-wrap fish fillet with sauteed bokchoy, mango, kamias; humba or braised pork with fried saba, black beans, quail egg, danggit fried rice; and banana langka turon with mango ice cream.

After dinner and the performances, the guests went down to the Pacific Grand Ballroom for the fashion show. By the time the dinner, the performances of music divas Dulce and Bituin, and the fashion show were finished, it was almost midnight. Indeed it was a filling night—Cebu’s coming-out, dressed-up celebration after the pandemic.

Cary Santiago told after the show: “I would like to have an event here in Cebu with cultural relevance, hence the birth of The Philippine Terno Gala. I want the event very Filipino so we invited a Cebuano artist Dulce and Manila artist Bituin so we could cover both Tagalog and Bisaya songs. The gastronomy was very Cebuano, to the delight of the guests, proudly local.”

He said, “Hopefully that will be the start of many more events, that Cebuanas are now starting to embrace and wear the terno. We usually see our local politicians wearing the terno but not a gathering like this. So hopefully we will have more ladies wearing the terno.

Philip Rodriguez opened the show with the exuberant terno inspired by the Spanish flamenco dancer, its flamboyance perfect as a show-opener. Rodriguez retrieved a vintage manton de manila and replicated its design in embroidery, every single detail of it. It has been for such craftsmanship and mastery of detail that Rodriguez has earned his premier niche in Philippine fashion design. He has dressed the woman, especially the Cebuano woman, be it for debut, wedding, anniversary, or taking the oath of office—a designer of the Who’s Who, cutting across politics and business. Yet the fame and clout didn’t dampen his passion for design. Even as he hewed strongly to the classic and feminine line that has been his signature, he would surprise with out-of-the-box craftsmanship and design twists, while keeping the made-to-order dress wearable.

In the Terno Gala, his last two numbers were show-stoppers: a fuchsia fully pleated silk organdy terno inspired by the fan—it closed and unfurled with the body movement. The last was another silk organdy terno with oriental cords and sampaguita laser-cut floral applique, its top cropped and its skirt with exaggerated draped tapis. Capping the statement was a three-tiered fresh sampaguita topiary.

Rajo Laurel masculinized, in a manner of speaking, the classic feminine terno. He blended the iconic terno sleeves with a tuxedo-inspired top, for instance, or used diaphanous overlays over pants. “I wanted to mix masculine tailoring and the feminine terno for that modern feel,” he told

“I wanted to contemporize the terno, and wanted to remove it from the context of the santacruzan and the Linggo ng Wika.”

The jaw-droppers from his collection were the fringe ternos—a laborious product of the process of turning silk thread into fringe panels that created fluid movement. Its shimmer and fluidity lent the national dress a dimension of hip, glamour; made it look cool.

Mark Bumgarner used the floral motif as collection theme, done in a very versatile manner—fabric manipulation, pleating, beadwork, handpainting, lace applique, among others.

“I imagine the modern Filipina in all her glory and elegance through these blown-up florals as a symbol of feminine energy, complexity, and diversity,” he said.

He used Mikado silk, silk gazar, silk chiffon—fine and rich choices. Indeed Bumgarner is a designer of this generation that surely knows how to wow his clientele—he must have one of the most sizeable following today. He gives the woman her red-carpet look and confidence.

Cary Santiago proved his forte: intricate dress construction that combined “engineering” with artisanship, and the drop-dead drama look. While like the others, he used silks and laces, it was his way with lamè that overwhelmed the audience. A terno had a rope wrapped in lamè, while another had gold foil attached to it.

Santiago’s collection was inspired by animals— patterns of zebra, seahorse, bugs, reptiles, even scorpions, visible only up close. His finale was “my ode to butterflies.”

Indeed the Cebu Terno Gala brought the social mainstreaming of the terno to another level.

And Cebu has resumed celebrating life, post-pandemic, with a vengeance. In September, Santiago is planning a grander fashion show of the wedding collections of more designers.

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