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Lights, camera, costume!  

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 07, 2022 5:00 am

Costume design. It is something that you feel — or don’t feel — in a film production. The perception of ordinary moviegoers is that costume design is something you see only in period films.

“Perhaps it is better when you don’t feel it,” says Gino Gonzales, one of the best costume designers/scenographers in the country today. “When the characters’ looks don’t feel artificial, when they look lived-in, that means the costume design is good.”

For Gino, one of the best costume designs he can’t forget is that of Oro, Plata, Mata, famously done by National Artist Salvador Bernal. “The outfits worn by the cast didn’t feel contrived, they didn’t call attention.” 

Amid the cool Rice Terraces, Jodi Santamaria wears Lokal tapis beneath her Dr. Jill uniform in The Broken Marriage Vows with Jef Gaitan and crew.

And then, of course, art and culture buffs remember Gino’s award-winning job in Larawan, the musical version of National Artist Nick Joaquin’s “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino.”

The holy grail for many artists in terms of rendering is the drawings of National Artist Botong Francisco for Genghis Khan, says Gino.

Innovative director/producer/screenwriter/costume designer Connie Macatuno with technical director Jayson Santos, Mervin Golin, Bong Marin and Lloyd Inocencio.

Since my movie repertoire doesn’t go that far back, my memories are limited to the likes of Heneral Luna. And Eclipsed, where Fil-Am costume designer Clint Ramos became “the first person of color” to win the Tony Award for Best Costume Design in a play.

Gino Gonzales: ‘Why do we have to burden the creatives to do costume design despite a no-budget or low budget for it? Producers who cite problem with expenses reflect a low regard for us.’

In the Philippines where producers have yet to fully recognize the importance of costume design, and just lump it under production design, the role of the costume designer is sometimes reduced to that of curator of clothes borrowed from couturiers or sponsored by fashion brands/stores. 

Erudite scenographer-costume designer Gino Gonzales

This is a sad reality, observes Gino, who asks: “Why do we have to burden the creatives to do costume design despite a no-budget or low-budget for it? To cite the problem of expenses reflects a low regard for us.”

I saw wearable creations using local fabrics and ended viewing the series with more pride for what we Filipinos have and can do.

Fortunately, the Cultural Center of the Philippines has a project in progress — that of getting design experts like Gino and Mark Higgins (whose iconic mother Slims was recently declared National Artist) to head mentoring courses in production/costume design.

Coffee-shop scene with Jake Ejercito and Jodi in Lokal skirt

So there. The future of costume design in the country looks better.

* * *

Recently, my consciousness of costume design was awakened when I saw The Broken Marriage Vow (TBMV) on Viu directed by respected producer/ screenwriter/ artist Connie Macatuno. Add to her multiple talents her role as costume designer in TBMV.

The back of the handpainted trench by Lokal

I couldn’t stop watching this series because of the excellent performance of its cast, led by Jodi Santamaria and Zanjoe Marudo, stars whose works I have followed closely on TV and Netflix.

What caught my attention in this teleserye set in Baguio (think Zigzag Roads and Rice Terraces) was the way Connie highlighted tribal weaves and accessories with a decidedly modern flavor. I saw wearable creations using local fabrics and ended viewing the series with more pride for what we Filipinos have and can do.

Rachel Alejandro in dress by Jor-el Espina, earrings by Farah Abu and shoes by Mu of TMK

What I found admirable is that Connie, who has her own line (Lokal), selflessly and sincerely gathered the best minds among our patriotic Filipino designers in TBMV

“Finally, a production that recognizes clothing as soft power,” says Len Cabili of Filip + Inna, one of the creative forces in modern Philippine fashion.

Jodi in Filip+Inna kaftan in the famous “Your-daughter-is -sleeping-with-my-husband” scene

TBMV proved how important it is to make present-day cinema reflective of our culture,” notes Len. “Costume design is just as important as the other aspects of cinema, as it contributes in creating the overall visual. It defines the identity of the characters.”

Accessories designer Adante Leyesa, noted for his innovative creations, raves about how “Direk Connie, through TBMV, motivated us to go back to work after two years of the pandemic. She also rebuilt camaraderie among designers after the lockdown.”

Len Cabili designed this Filip+Inna attire for Jodi. Bag is by Beatriz of Carissa Cruz-Evangelista.

Adante says, “The use of locally made accessories helped define urban Pinoy chic, and strengthened our Filipino identity. It certainly elevated the quality of Filipino teleseryes.”

Through Mons Romulo of Katutubo x Bench Pop-Up Market, I was able to purchase a trench coat by Connie, similar to what Jodi wore in TBMV. A call to order a pasadya outfit led to a conversation/interview with Connie:

Zanjoe Marudo in shirt by Lokal

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: Now that The Broken Marriage Vow has shown its final episode — 107th! — we can avoid spoilers and talk about it. Aside from being the teleserye’s director, you also did the costume design.

Mix-match of stripes and florals for Lokal skirt worn by Jodi.

CONNIE MACATUNO: I did the costume design for the series, gratis. I curated and sourced the Filipino outfits and accessories, and styled it for the love of Filipino fashion. I love clothes! And I wanted to make an impact in showcasing Filipino original designs. It’s like dressing up and making their everyday lives sort of like a Filipino runway — but wearable. Creating the vision for the costume design is always a part of my storytelling process in film. This time, though, on mainstream TV and in a series! I always want to include another layer of story on the series highlighting our national identity with original Filipino designs to echo the told and untold stories of the cultural communities, while enjoying the unfolding of the character stories.

Adantee for Zanjoe Marudo by Adante Leyesa

I am a fan of my co-Filipino designers who collaborate with different artisans and cultural communities, and I buy from them whenever I can afford it. We are slow fashion and small entrepreneurs. Most of the designers have only been featured in magazine editorials and it is exciting to see how it pans out on a mainstream platform. At the time, I could feel it in my gut; that it can work. It was the ripe time, too.

Connie Macatuno: ‘How do we as Filipinos highlight who we are — our tradition, our culture, our Filipino soul? That feeling proud to be a Pinoy through Philippine fashion? We did it through costume design in The Broken Marriage Vows.’

Why ripe time? Or right time?

The filming was smack in the middle of pandemic, where we were hoping it helps uplift us and awaken that feeling of being proud to be a Pinoy through Filipino fashion. Personally I was also aiming for it to be my small contribution on a video platform, to reawaken local support in fashion and accessories since people are stuck in front of Zoom, and we haven’t done physical pop-ups in the past year.

Jodi wears a neckpiece by Adante Leyesa.

What was the concept behind the design? Modern Filipino? Did the Mountain Province setting inspire you to put in modern plus ethnic? The cold climate also allowed you to put in coats and jackets.

TBMV has huge shoes to fill in the Dr. Foster franchise. How do we do that in our Philippine adaptation, and not fall short of expectations and not be mercilessly compared to high-budgeted versions of it? How do we as Filipinos highlight who we are — in a global setting? BBC will watch it, 16 Asian countries will watch through Viu, and many Filipinos will watch it worldwide through iWantTFC, not to mention the millions of viewers locally.

Magpakilala bilang Pinoy sa dayuhan. Magpakilala ulit sa kapwa Pinoy sa Pilipinas.

Jodi’s top by Jor-el Espina, heels by Zapateria; Sue’s bag by Beatriz, necklace by Alchemista

The concept is to create a universe for Dr. Jill (the character of Jodi Santamaria) and friends that is very Filipino, this time in a global context. It is tapping into what is distinctly Filipino. Our scenic mountainsides, our sumptuous delicacies, our kundiman and local music, our fashion and accessories using local weaves and embroidery, our communities, tradition and culture, our Filipino soul.

You have your own line of local wear. How did this happen in your busy career in television and movies? Tell us about your past works.

I worked in production for ABS-CBN even before I graduated BroadComm in UP.

Direk Connie Macatuno coaching Jodi while Zaijian Zaranilla listens

It was in late 1991. I was an executive producer first for talk shows (Teysi ng Tahanan, Cristy Perminute) before I started directing for TV in 1997 with [email protected] and music videos. Directing for drama or narratives came in 2000 with Star Drama Presents: Burn. I love that series! Because it was my first and it was a lot of fun filming on the beach with scanty swimwear at a time when no one does that for TV. Other drama shows I have done were Gmik, Wansapanataym, Precious Hearts Romance series to name a few. My film debut, which I produced, wrote and directed, is Rome & Juliet (2006), a Cinema One Original with a budget grant of P700,000. Parang kape. 3-in-1. Other films that I also wrote, produced and directed are Malaya (2021), Glorious (2018), Mama’s Girl (2018) and Wild & Free (2018) ­— films I directed for Regal Films. The Broken Marriage Vow is my first teleserye/Philippine adaptation series.

Sue in local piña shrug with Rizal handpainted sleeves and “Partyline” bag by Zarah Juan

My brand, Lokal Home + Art + Fashion, started in 2010 as a bonding with my seven-year-old son, Caxantino. He wanted to sell his art at the Legazpi Sunday Market where we hang out to get local produce every Sunday. I am not interested in selling anything, but his earnest plea to help him with his dream spurred me to sell his art through clothing and build Lokal. In the beginning it was sort of a bonding time between us — he makes the art; I curate, translate and design the clothing and accent chairs. The concept is to wear art through clothing (instead of hanging them on a wall and collecting dust), and to begin making again something with my hands instead of my mind, which I do as a director. This time, I wanted that balance of head, heart, hands.

One of the ArteFino ladies, Maritess Pineda, saw our work and encouraged us to join. The ArteFino platform opened doors for Lokal to dream big, collaborate with communities, and improve our craft to what it is today.

Lokal evolved into working with different communities to mindfully incorporate local weaves, embroidery and beadwork into our hand-painted, contemporary designs.

At home with handpainted lamps by Lokal

So you’re part of the ArteFino community that nurtures Filipino brands?

I think I’m the only filmmaker in the ArteFino community, which enabled me to a tell the visual story through Filipino fashion for the costume design/styling of TBMV successfully. The pandemic and the impact of this series made me fully realize that part of my role, in the textile, fashion and accessories communities I am part of, is to continue telling their everyday stories. Not just through my original designs for Lokal, but in highlighting Filipino design, local weaves from different regions and communities, mindfully incorporating in my films and series as part of the Filipino visual storytelling. I started doing a little of this with Angel Aquino wearing the tapis in Glorious, more in Malaya with Lovi Poe, and now full-blown, together with other designers in TBMV.

I noticed there were also attires/accessories by other designers. I recognized many of their works. Please name them?

When I first got the go-signal from my mentor/Dreamscape head, Deo Endrinal, to use Lokal, I knew right away that I would be needing the help of other designers to create this contemporary, very Filipino costume design for TBMV. Not just in clothes but also for some home elements. I immediately made a list of designers whose work would be perfect for the project and approached them one by one. I don’t know some of them personally but I love their work! Uniting as Filipino designers wanting to highlight the movement to strengthen our national identity through our original fashion, local weaves and collaborations with different cultural communities on mainstream TV. It was about time.

I tapped Len Cabili of Filip + Inna, Jor-el Espina, Rhett Eala, Wilson Limon of NinoFranco for the clothing. I chose clothes from all of them for Dr. Jill, as well as other characters. Like, Jor-el was also assigned for Nathalia, Nino Franco for David, Marina and Atty. Pugong, Rhett for Dr.Sandy. I chose the Tausug opera coat of Filip + Inna for Dr. Jill’s first sequence at the hospital, symbolic of tradition, quality, character and strong will. And long kaftan in the famous “Your daughter is sleeping with my husband” dinner reveal with its glam stones. Jor-el’s Kivesa terno on Nathalia’s first appearance in the series at the hospital shows over-the-top, maldita-ish, don’t-mess-with-me, beauty-queen-ish type of trophy wife.

Accessories from JMakitalo jewelry, who made the thorn ring of Dr. Jill which you see in the OBB, Farah Abu, Adante Leyesa, and my FAMph family: Beatriz, Ken Samudio, Tina Campos, Alchemista, Agsam Fern, Mjorian and Piesa.

Bespoke shoes by Maco Custodio, Zapateria Hub and MU by TMK.

Home accessories from Zarah Juan, Abelph and Lokal.

And I saw also foreign brands mixed with local. I remember Jodi using bags by Celine and Givenchy. Was this to make the teleserye more realistic, since the characters, given their jobs/professions, can afford these brands?

I’m not too much into branded items but more what fits well on the character. It’s also understanding what the characters are going through. But yes, Dr. Jill can afford luxe brands. She knows good quality and she can spot it right away.

I am grateful that the wardrobe team of Patricia Coronado prepped well so that we were able to marry and find balance with the Filipino luxe brands and global luxe brands. This collaboration made our day-off live-plotting process fun and quick.

I did random research interviews with doctor friends to come up with a picture in my mind how I want Dr. Jill to come alive. The 30- to 40-year-old doctors I interviewed love to dress up, shoes, accessorize, do beauty makeup to distinguish themselves from other doctors in white lab gowns. Para hindi lang daw sila generic na doctor. At the very least si Doc na laging naka-red lipstick.

Tell us what processes go into your doing costume design?

I usually work on the costume design of films I make as I build the characters. I enjoy the process of curating it, sourcing it. Sometimes I get from my own baul of clothes! I’m not into trendy looks because I want the clothing to be timeless in the film, as much as permitted. Organic is a must. And definitely I prefer that it illuminate the character without being overly stereotypical. You get a sense that it was mindfully prepared once you see the visuals. It can make you stay on, or leave. In this case, they stayed. Yey!

But a film is short, ha. About a hundred sequences. TBMV is more than a thousand sequences! I thought I could memorize all the sequences! But couldn’t. Hahaha.

Do you think it’s time costume design was made a must in every Filipino movie? If not, shouldn’t there be at least a curator overseeing what the actors and actresses wear?

For me, super relevant! Because it illuminates the character without dialogue. It can strengthen the impact and credibility of the character. Or it can be distracting; in a glance you get to see if it is authentic, high-budgeted, persevered. It is another way of storytelling and speaks of the storyteller’s sensibilities, taste and message it wants to add on top of the actual story unfolding.

Do you have pegs in costume design here and abroad?

No one in particular. I appreciate all which brings to life a character from paper. Something that I haven’t seen yet or may not see again in a while. I also appreciate simple yet non-generic, maybe a bespoke item added to make that character uniquely set apart from everyone else.

I’m in awe of sci-fi, mafia, hero films that create costume design for a universe they created, which brings it authenticity and believability. I enjoy watching era films/series where they take pains to recreate it. Recently I really loved the costume design of Mr. Queen, a K-series that I watched through Viu.