Art/Style/Travel DiariesStyle

Lesley Mobo: The English rose terno blooms in London

To be one with #DamaKoLahiKo, the UK-based designer redefines yet again the national symbol

MOBO cotton floral printed corset tropical terno with rose draped detail

“I don’t have tropical print fabrics here,” London-based Filipino Lesley Mobo explained to why he opted for a rose print fabric in creating a terno in time for the celebration of the Philippines 123rd Independence Day. It also coincides with a campaign he and fellow Filipino artists led by Gino Gonzales and Len Cabili are advocating—#DamaKoLahiKo, which promotes Filipino culture in our daily life, fleshing it out in our senses (smell, taste, sight, feel, touch, hear).

It is the artists’ own way of trying to make a difference. “In the end, everyone agreed to create a terno per region—Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,” Mobo said. “Since it is hard to courier anything, I decided to just shoot my terno here.”

Mobo explained that this particular terno—a cotton floral-print corset terno with tropical feel and draping in the shape of a rose—is a continuation of his exploration and fascination with the terno.

Mobo even got London-based Filipino model Ella Eiveren Lubag to model it. Like Mobo, Lubag is doing well in London despite the pandemic. “She is so in demand here and I know she was very busy but I did try if she could spare some of her time to model the terno, and she agreed.” The shoot was done in one of London’s quaint areas, in Primrose Hill north of Regent’s Park.

“With all the travel restrictions everywhere and with Pinoys finding it hard to visit their families in the Philippines, it’s kind of great to do something like this that felt like home,” Mobo said. “You don’t have to be in the Philippines to celebrate Independence Day, and we can all be proud Pinoys even if we are abroad really.”

Mobo explained that this particular terno—a cotton floral-print corset terno with tropical feel and draping in the shape of a rose—is a continuation of his exploration and fascination with the terno. This is part of his Tropical Terno series he started last year in Aklan, his home province, during the country’s first lockdown. Since at that time he was stranded in his hometown, Mobo now realized that making the Tropical Terno collection saved him from the ennui and the doldrums brought about by the pandemic.

MOBO magenta cotton terno with twisted tucked detailed butterfly sleeves

“It was a very difficult time for everyone and creating these ternos became a bit personal to me too as it brought me closer to my roots/home.”

His Tropical Terno series was featured in local and foreign publications, from Inquirer Lifestyle to Vogue Australia and UK publication WOW magazine. His tropical terno collection also made it to the chocolate line which a Cebu entrepreneur made global, Auro Chocolates, called, Si Aida, si Lorna, si Fe.

“I don’t think I am finished with the terno yet. I am obsessed with it.”

Mobo explained that while many might have the misconception that it is easy to design a terno, in fact, it is not. “It’s not easy because what makes a terno a terno now is only the sleeves. So from  a designer’s perspective there’s really a limit and restrictions to what makes a garment a terno, but that’s where the challenge is as well.”

“I think that’s where you use your training and skills as a designer. Creating a terno is a test for every Filipino designer. Soon maybe I’ll move to something else.”

As part of the #DamaKoLahiKo advocacy, Mobo reiterated why a movement such as this and creating a visual representation of something very Filipino like the terno is so important. “Colonial mentality is our enemy actually, most of us specially the younger Pinoys see everything we do and create as less or not equal to mga produktong gawang banyaga.”

Mobo recalled cases where people would spend half a million to a million pesos on designer brands, but would not pay even a fraction for a Filipino designer gown. “We always think Filipino designs and products are inferior to foreign brands,” Mobo said.

MOBO tropical print terno feature in Vogue AustraliaPhoto by Walter Maurice

In contrast, he pointed out how the Thais are proud of their own designers—which is why the Thai fashion scene is booming. “They are proud of paying the same price tags for their own brands and products alongside the foreign brands—there is a sense of pride.”

Respect is derived from paying the amount a product deserves, and sadly, the effects of colonial brainwashing have made us always think less of ourselves, he added.

You can break all the rules as long as you learn the rules first

#DamaKoLahiKo or #LoveLocal or anything that promotes the Filipino is good for us and for the country, and creativity and the arts are a great conduit to send the message across, Mobo reiterated.

This was strongly felt when Bench, headed by Ben Chan, launched the Ternocon, the biannual terno mentoring program and competition aimed to teach young Filipino designers how to design and construct the national dress. With Chan, Gino Gonzales, Cultural Center of the Philippines chairperson Margie Moran, CCP cultural exchange department manager Carmencita Bernardo leading the movement, the terno is deemed to have become relevant again. “Many young designers are learning to explore in terms of dressing and designing it,” Mobo said. “But like everything else in life or in fashion, you can break all the rules as long as you learn the rules first.”

Asked about the growing debate on how much today’s designers can alter the terno, Mobo said it depends whether or not we want the terno to remain a national dress, or do we want the terno to be part of every modern Filipina’s wardrobe. “Since I am a fashion designer, that drive to experiment and question the elements of the terno would always be there.”

Challenging it may seem, Mobo finds joy and excitement in experimenting and even making a lot of mistakes. “It is in these mistakes where one finds new ways. So that’s why designers should always experiment; otherwise you are not a designer if you don’t question things and not experiment.”

“It will always excite me to continuously question the terno and make it part of our modern lives. Everything done in a balance is a good nod to tradition and casts an eye to the future,” Mobo said.

In the end, the terno belongs to every Filipino, he said. “We can all experiment with the terno as long as we do it with sincerity and respect its history. But for a terno to be relevant it also must move forward to the modern lives of Filipinas. After all, the universal rule in fashion is change.”

About author


He runs a GenZ website He was contributing editor of Inquirer’s To be You section where he built a network of student writers, student athletes and models and beauty pageant candidates including Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach who was its beauty correspondent, then beauty editor. He’s styled Wurtzbach and other beauty queens for shoots. He’s a stylist and a kettlebell aficionado.

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