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Brilliant lessons from fashion mentors

By MILLET M. MANANQUIL, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 08, 2023 5:00 am Updated Feb 08, 2023 12:42 pm

Why do roosters keep crowing and goats go bleating in my ears? Why do the songs Tuliro, Tuliro and Kailangan Kita keep playing like a jukebox, nonstop, in my memory?

Why do I see visions of models in balintawak with lace and piña gracefully glide, with tapis and alampay cascading on the ramp? Why does the terno worn by models with bare midriff, hip boots and tattooed skins keep popping up in my brain? Why do campy and flirtatious sights of models in beaded outfits—inspired by the Renaissance mixed with funny Pinoy rural and urban vibes—continue hamming it up in my consciousness?

Simple. I have a hangover from the recent Ternocon 3 presented at the Ignacio Gimenez Theater. It was the most beautiful show—brilliantly conceptualized, well curated, cleanly edited, intelligently put together—by Philippine fashion industry’s best minds.

Love-local stalwart Ben Chan of Bench assembled artistic director-conceptualizer par excellence Gino Gonzales; stylist Noel Manapat; director Dexter Santos; hair and makeup artist Eric Maningat; designers/mentors Chito Vijandre/Ricky Toledo, Dennis Lustico and Joey Samson; as well as Inno Sotto and Lesley Mobo to put together the winners and nine finalists, as well as the Ternocon 2 winner in a show viewed by a select audience headed by First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos. Big support was given by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, headed by Margie Moran-Floirendo.

The treat for these fashion elite viewers was the second half showing what mentors Vijandre-Toledo, Lustico and Samson created even while busy guiding the nationwide finalists to Ternocon 3. Here are scenes from the mentors’ show.

Chito Vijandre & Ricky Toledo: You can create beautiful fashion that is art

Chito Vijandre has always been a most unstoppable and fearless creative in Philippine fashion. In a sea of traditional designs by couturiers taking safe voyages, Vijandre is the one that rocks the boat, wakes us up from boredom and makes us sail beautifully through tempestuous waters with his steady confidence and erudite mind.

This Ternocon 3, Vijandre and his partner, Ricky Toledo—a man of letters as well as art—joined forces to present a collection that made us stop, gasp, admire, think and laugh. This well-traveled pair brought cross-cultural references, from the Renaissance to the Edwardian era to the Belle Epoque through opulent touches here and the age of innocence there.

And yet their collection brought us to the core of what is very Filipino—from rural feigned coyness to urban alembong naughtiness—in sync with Gino Gonzales’ suggestion to put a “jukebox” onstage so the models could “sing” to selected Pinoy songs. (Gino is truly a gem in the Philippine art, culture and fashion scene.)

Kaoru Pimentel lip syncs Tukso in an embellished corset and tiered flounce skirt as tapis over a tulle and lace saya.

To accompany their black tulle and lace over brocade trousers was the song Tukso by Eva Eugenio.

Señoritas walked 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, Chito and Ricky explain.

A 1920s Carnival Queen look had the words Alembong and Bigaon spelled on the dress. The duo says, “We added these vintage words for fun and a touch of pop, reminiscent of Kenkoy Komiks to make it unabashedly bakya and unpretentious.

Rasch Miranda as the “Alembong” Carnival Queen

From their travels, a vintage tablecloth from China with colorful cross-stitching had that rural feeling, and was perfect for a balintawak. “For an element of flirtation, we added a bustle to the floor-length balintawak, propped up by two-toned tulle ruffles. We put a mirror on the front bodice with the words ‘Who is the most beautiful,’ a nod to the fairy tale of ‘Snow White,’ set to the tune of the classic Ang Pipit sung by the Mabuhay Singers.”

Brea Umali in the Chulas Suite rocking the balintawak with a pannier cage as tapis over torero pants

The pair explains: “The first suite in the show took off from the Chula series of paintings by Juan Luna. These barrio-baja or lower-class Madrileñas of Spain, described by Jose Rizal as attractive women with deep and passionate eyes wearing mantillas and carrying fans, who are always gracious, full of conflagration, affection, jealousy and sometimes of revenge.

The collection includes “a take on the Lolitas of Tokyo’s Harajuku, melded with Marie Antoinette in a neon pink pouf hairdo, both icons of fearless fashion women.”

Billie Hakenson in an Elizabethan-meets-punk ensemble 

Tuliro, tuliroat ang saya ng collection ni Vijandre and Toledo. And if Philippine fashion could sing, it would tell them: “Kailangan kita.”

Dennis Lustico: Design from what your feelings and gut feel say

Dennis Lustico’s creations are eye candy. I often stop to inspect details on his clothes worn by Manila’s pretty and elegant women. His lines, his colors, his touches are beautiful, a handiwork of depth and deft thinking.

But wait—Lustico says his work is all about feelings. “Gut feel, in particular,” he adds.

“From the start, I wanted to create pieces that show the quiet joy that nature gives me. I wanted to come up with creations that bring elation and welcome surprise, feelings I usually experience when I see blooms in a sea of green whenever I go hiking. Flowers of deep and healing colors that calm and soothe.”

Kim Ross delos Santos in dyed piña top with hand-embroidered tribal-inspired beading, tapis in silk organdy swag and saya of soft tulle with lace overlay.

For Lustico, the struggle to achieve this was the challenging part of his Ternocon 3 experience. “I have to resort to gut feel to achieve the aesthetics I have in mind. I have to constantly visit my hiking photos for me to remember those feelings and experiment with fabrics, textures, colors and embellishments. Until such time that a particular piece sparks joy.

Chris Bongars in dyed piña top with tribal-inspired hand embroidery paired with saya of lace with layers of silk organza

“And again, not to lose direction, I have to regularly stop and walk among the trees, then return to the dress on hand and resume working with fresh eyes and a new perspective.”

Jasmine Maierhofer in a shell silk duchess long serpentine terno with Korean gauze and blush pink silk gazar shawl

Judging from what he showed in Ternocon 3, Lustico is walking—rather, hiking—with the right pace and direction.

Joey Samson: Create and recreate, construct and deconstruct

I have been watching Joey Samson’s work the past many years because I find him so gifted. He has a mind of his own, not caring about what is trendy or what styles are mainstream. Up close, I see his impeccable tailoring, his fine workmanship and his unfettered twists on design, resulting in something very Joey Samson. This couturier has made his distinct stamp on fashion, and clearly he is now a major force to reckon with in the industry.

Samson is known for his androgynous designs and his works of deconstruction, which never fail to amaze me. But during Ternocon 3, he amazed his followers (and they are legion) even more. He showed breathtaking numbers with endless pleats (these remind me of an accordion; or pages of a book standing upright, so delicately).

Yaofa Dela Cruz in plaid cotton coordinates of cropped terno top and book-leaf serpentine skirt finished by a piña coattails/tapis and embroidered, fringed tulle alampay.

Ternocon 3 likewise unraveled the closet romanticist/poet in Samson, presenting metaphors and allusions that come from an artist’s heart. 

“I should have titled my collection ‘Ang mga Pag-ibig ni Jose Rizal,’” he says, as his pieces were inspired by the women in Rizal’s life.

A white gown with pleats delicately swishing as one gapes at it, was inspired by Josephine Bracken, the “sweet foreigner” alluded to in Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios.” Samson says that the dried fresh flowers on the off-center of Bracken’s gown represent her miscarriage and being La Viuda de Rizal.

Queenie Cañamaso in terno top with ruffled tuxedo and button detail repeated at the back and on the terno sleeves paired with off-white organdy book-leaf skirt. Samson says, “In my mind, Rizal’s invisible love letters for Orang are tucked on the pages of the skirt.”

One of my favorites is the gown inspired by O Sei San, the Japanese woman who almost tempted Rizal to settle in Japan. “I transformed a vintage kimono and obi set into a balintawak with a stylized alampay knotted at the back, like an obi sash, ending in two long panels of piña suksok,” explains Samson.

Rizal’s first love, Leonor Rivera (Maria Clara), was top of mind when Samson created a number with book-leaf layers of alternate black and ivory Swiss tulle with a row of buttons marching down the front.

Krystal Espiritu in alternate black and ivory Swiss tulle book-leaf Maria Clara tuxedo shirt terno with buttons marching from the back over the shoulder down the front

Samson was listening to music genres from kundimans to Sylvia La Torre to Gary Granada, and different soundtracks such as Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Cinema Paradiso. “I want music and film to play an important part in my design process.”

There you go. Samson never stops creating and recreating.