We had been following Ternocon from its beginnings in 2015 when Ben Chan’s BENCH published the book Fashionable Filipinas, An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress by Gino Gonzales and Mark Lewis Higgins, and launched it with guests wearing terno and barong. We reminisced with Ben then about the late Joe Salazar, his BFF, who made some of the most beautiful ternos in Philippine fashion history at a time when women wore it with pride, and how it should be revived and become a modern-day attire, the way the kimono is in Japan or the sari in India.
Ternocon was born, with Gino as artistic director giving workshops on the history and construction of the terno all over the country, gathering students and emerging designers as well as established designers to act as mentors in a convention and competition that culminated in a fashion show of their works. It was always fascinating to see how young talents and fellow designers would come up with amazing takes on updating the national dress, and how it would be worn enthusiastically in more events, so that when Gino asked us if we wanted to be mentors and do a collection for Ternocon 3, we, of course, agreed immediately.
We discovered fabrics we had hoarded from our travels, and even a ‘50s terno of Chito’s mother
During the lockdown in the pandemic, we welcomed the time to work on the pieces without distractions. What actually kickstarted the collection was the spring cleaning we finally got around to doing. Aside from finding unread or half-read books of fashion and art exhibitions that inspired some ideas, we discovered fabrics and notions that we had hoarded from our travels, and even a ‘50s terno of Chito’s mother which had cañamaso sleeves that had already acquired the right patina, to match a punk leather corset that would later become the terno with torero pants. We also found damaged and stained vintage tablecloths from Madeira and China that were hardly used and had lovely, intricate embroidery.
The one from China had colorful cross-stitching with a rural feel, perfect for the balintawak. With the Sondheim song A Weekend in the Country playing, images of country gatherings during the Edwardian era and Belle Epoque came to mind. Also called the Gilded Age, it was when fashion took on a new opulence and extravagance—exactly what we were looking for to adapt the balintawak from its provincial origins to one more suited for the city.
This would also imbue it with cross-cultural and cross-era references that we love, a feature of the interiors in our home and the merchandising in our stores. (Irene Marcos Araneta, in fact, told us after the Ternocon that watching our portion was just like the experience of entering our stores.)
The mix of cultures is also essentially the character of the terno, evolving from the baro’t saya and the traje de mestiza, absorbing global influences to reflect our personality and suit our needs and lifestyle. We also didn’t want it to be too serious, especially post-pandemic when we need to lighten things up a bit, so we wanted touches of humor and pop references like Kenkoy Komiks and Disney which are all part of our history and the Pinoy experience.
DALAGANG BUKID SUITE (2nd suite in the show)
For an element of flirtation, we added a bustle to the floor-length balintawak of the cross-stitch fabric, propped up by two-toned tulle ruffles. (Photo T1) The embroidered apron served as tapis over the lime green lace saya while a swag of silk chiffon on the neckline suggests the alampay together with the pink tulle head cover over a straw fascinator accented by a little bird perched on a branch surrounded by silk flowers.
For fun we added a beaded mirror on the front bodice with the words: “Who is the most beautiful?”—a nod to the fairy tale Snow White. This piece set the mood for the Dalagang Bukid Suite, presented to the tune of the Filipino folk song Ang Pipit sung by the Mabuhay Singers.
The oatmeal Madeira tablecloth, reminiscent of our embroidered piña calado but magnified, was made into skirts: One in pencil cut, paired with black lace top and butterfly sleeves. (Photo T2) Over this, in Baroque-pattern brocade, is a bustier with a peplum that serves as tapis. Underneath the tapis are cascades of flowers that sway with the wearer.
The other skirt is tulip-shaped with gray and gold floral top with bell sleeves, underneath butterfly sleeves with a Renaissance mural print, echoed in the Elizabethan ruffled collar. (Photo T3) A black leather corset embellished with metal and jeweled crosses and medallions adds some rock-and-roll tension to counter the sweetness.
The fourth piece is the Pipit balintawak—a column with orange embroidered flowers and birds and aqua organza neckline. (Photo T4) For a touch of whimsy, beaded smileys and Disney’s beloved elephant Dumbo serve as embellishments. The butterfly sleeves are orange lace enveloped in fluttering green organza suggestive of a bird in flight. A split train in silk chiffon serves as wings.
CHULAS SUITE (1st suite in the show)
This suite took off from the Chula painting series by Juan Luna. These barrio-baja or lower-class Madrileñas of Spain were described by Jose Rizal as “attractive women with black, deep and passionate eyes wearing mantillas and carrying fans, who are always gracious, full of conflagration, affection, jealousy and sometimes of revenge”—complex characters, in other words, that are alluring, naughty and flirtatious which we wanted to channel in the three pieces of this suite which all have corset tops and hip-extending devices.
The first, wearing a collier necklace with “DYOSA” spelled out in pearls, had a flouncy, tiered skirt in black and silver floral organza to extend the hips, serving as tapis over the tulle and lace saya. (Photo T5) The corset is appliqued with velvet ribbons, metal chains and black paillettes to mix the punk vibe with the pouf skirts of the excessive ‘80s. The black lace butterfly sleeves hang precariously off the shoulder, adding an element of seduction to remove the stuffiness usually associated with the terno.
The second had a pannier cage as tapis, with the words “SOSYAL” over her lime green torero trousers. (Photo T6) Just like the butterfly sleeves, the pannier is attached with ribbons, another additional accessory to be unraveled in the art of seduction.
Gino had the wonderful suggestion to put a vintage jukebox onstage
The third had a pannier in black tulle and lace over her brocade trousers. (Photo T7) The Chulas Suite was the opening number with the song Tukso by Eva Eugenio. Gino had the wonderful suggestion to put a vintage jukebox onstage and three mics so that the models could lip-sync and dance to the song. Since our collection was the finale, it was a perfect break—the comic relief after the seriousness of the competition segments. The models gamely indulged the audience, with Brea in torero trousers gyrating into a lap dance and Viviane, belying her Brazilian nationality, perfectly lip-synching the lyrics.
SEÑORITAS SUITE (3rd Suite in Show)
For the finale, we imagined señoritas walking to the tune of Celeste Legaspi’s Ako’y Bakyang Bakya, with reference to the lyrics “sumusunod sa aking loob, kahit ako’y tawaging laos”—independent, strong-minded women who don’t care what people say and who dress as they please.
The first is a 1920s Carnival Queen look with the words Alembong and Bigaon spelled in paillettes on her dress. (Photo T8) We added these vintage words for a touch of pop, reminiscent of the late ‘20s Kenkoy Komiks to make it as unabashedly bakya and unpretentious as you can get. The model wearing an ostrich feather coronet and carrying opera glasses calls to mind Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, poking fun at hoity-toity aristocrats.
The second, our tribute to Flores De Mayo, shows a profusion of silk flowers serving as alampay dominating the bodice and extending to the back, shaped like those floral arched wreaths children carry during that flower fiesta. (Photo T9) This dress started as a sculptural, Balenciaga-esque piece with an A-line skirt, but horror vacui set in and with thoughts of Santacruzan coming to mind, we added flowers and turned the skirt into a hobble to contrast with the voluminous top.
The third is a take on the Lolitas of Tokyo’s Harajuku that always amused us, melded with Marie Antoinette in a neon pink pouf hairdo, both icons of fearless fashion women. (Photo T10) Snow White and Disney castles are embroidered on silk organza top and butterfly sleeves, worn over long neon orange sleeves. Pink lace and grey Baroque brocade embellished with cameo brooches form the tapis over orange lace saya and pink tulle enaguas. (Tessa Valdes, of course, loved