Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Ramon Valera’s collection up for auction

From the first National Artist for Fashion Design, the collection ranges from fine art to antiques

Ramon Valera in 1947 © Tatler Asia

León Gallery offers the collection of Ramon Valera, the first National Artist for Fashion Design, in the 31st edition of its highly successful León Exchange Online Auction, on April 20 and 21, 2024, 11 a.m., at the León Exchange online platform. Valera’s collection, which ranges from Philippine fine art and antiques (including religious objects and articles) to elegant ephemera, takes center stage.

Valera (center) in the 1950s, together with (from left) Priscilla Moran-Sison, Chona Recto-Kasten, Chito Madrigal-Vasquez and Nelly Montilla-Lovina © Philippine Star

Revered as the “Dean of Philippine Fashion” and the “High Priest of Local Fashion,” Ramon Valera is what Gen Z calls today “G.O.A.T.”—the Greatest of All Time. He is a fashion legend who, in other Gen Z lingo, “mothered” a revolutionized terno that has become a cultural icon synonymous with the Filipina and the entire nation, as well.

Valera did not have any formal training in fashion design (although he was said to have been trained by Juanita Mina Roa, pre-war Manila’s go-to fashion designer, as she taught him European construction and draping techniques), and preferred to be addressed as an artist rather than as a designer. As a young boy, he would always watch in awe his mother, Pilar Oswald, who was always dressed in her best. Valera also took inspiration from her eldest (half) sister, Juanita Valera, who, in her heyday, became a sought-after dressmaker for many of society’s crème de la crème, coincidentally their family’s acquaintances and friends.

Former First Lady Imelda Marcos in a Valera-designed ‘terno’ © Tatler Asia

At a time of overt conservatism, Valera revamped the traditional baro’t saya into the modern terno that oozes confidence and chicness. The baro’t saya was once composed of four separate elements: baro (blouse), saya (skirt), overskirt, and pañuelo (shawl). In 1939, Valera did the unthinkable and revolutionized this style into the terno, the iconic dress secured with zippers instead of hooks and possessing dramatic yet instantly recognizable bell sleeves. To highlight the wearer’s figure, Valera cinched the terno at the waist and completely dropped the antiquated pañuelo, now revealing the wearer’s bosom. It was considered a great scandal at that time. Yet, it would eventually reflect the modern Filipina refusing to be boxed within the confines of traditional femininity.

“In the 1950s, Valera reworked the butterfly sleeves of the national costume by using a stiff but hidden built-in support that became the basis of today’s terno,” Marge C. Enriquez writes in her Tatler article “The Legacy Of Ramon Valera, The Father Of Philippine Fashion.” “The ternos he created for the annual Kahirup ball became the dominant silhouette the following year. One of the classic designs was a tent-like terno with detachable butterfly sleeves that became an asymmetric neckline gown.”

Valera was a virtuoso who was naturally born with fashion instincts. He was an all-arounder; he could single-handedly design, cut, paste, and sew. Valera was fashion personified. With his razor-sharp mind and nimble hands, Valera could cut right into the fabric (without any patterns) after getting a client’s body measurements and mentally draw designs that always complemented, never overly flattered the wearer.

Fashion show at the then Sheraton Hotel on Roxas Boulevard, March 1969. On the catwalk wearing Ramon Valera’s creation is Tina V. Zulueta. © Tatler Asia

Valera had an unparalleled career peak from the 1930s to the 1960s; he was the country’s finest fashion designer in those decades. He was high society’s couturier, dressing a range of high-profile personalities: first ladies, presidential daughters, movie stars, and runway models. Valera even designed clothes for Thailand’s Queen Sirikit and US First Lady Bird Johnson, who even wrote a handwritten card for Valera: “You were kind to send extra beads for my dress. It never fails to receive compliments at official functions. Now I enjoy wearing it more.”

Valera’s legacy goes beyond his avant-garde, status-quo-defying ternos; he was passionate about cultural matters and an ardent collector of art. As he was known to be a sophisticated artist who had high standards of fashion taste, he also had a discerning appetite for Philippine art.

Sofronio Y. Mendoza (1934–2021), ‘Untitled, ‘signed and dated 1969 (lower right), oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″ (30 cm x 41 cm)

Elias Laxa (1904–1990), ‘Untitled, ‘signed 1972 (lower right), oil on canvas, 12″ x 16″ (30 cm x 41 cm)

Unidentified Artist, ‘Untitled,’ signed and dated 1958 (upper left), oil on canvas, 23 1/4″ x 18″ (59 cm x 46 cm)

Catch a preview of these lots from April 13 to 19, 2024, Saturday to Friday, from 9 am to 7 pm, at Warehouse 14, La Fuerza Compound, Don Chino Roces Avenue, San Lorenzo, Makati City.



Oriental cabinet, hardwood, 70 1/4” x 35” x 19 1/2” (178 cm x 89 cm x 50 cm)


Console table, narra, 32 3/4” x 46 1/2” x 17 1/2” (83 cm x 117 cm x 44 cm)


Henri II server, hardwood, 38 1/4” x 38” x 19 1/2” (95 cm x 97 cm x 126 cm)


Early 1900s Ilocos ‘comoda de poste,’ narra, 45 1/2” x 42 1/2” x 19 3/4” (116 cm x 108 cm x 50 cm)

Turn-of-the-century ‘butaca’ with extendable leg rests, narra, open: 42” x 63 1/2” x 28 1/2” (107 cm x 161 cm x 72 cm), closed: 42” x 44” x 28 1/2” (107 cm x 112 cm x 72 cm)

Six-seater dining Ttble, hardwood, possibly mahogany, 29 3/4’ x 74 1/2” x 35 1/4” (76 cm x 189 cm x 90 cm)


Persian carpet, 94 1/2” x 55 1/2” (240 cm x 141 cm)


Oriental decor

Religious objects
To browse the León Exchange 31st Online Auction catalog, visit the León Gallery website. For further inquiries, email [email protected] or contact 8856 2781. All bidding will be online at Leon Exchange Online. For timely updates and relevant posts, follow León Exchange on Instagram @leonexchangeauctions.


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