90 terno designs to be showcased in new exhibit

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A preview of the designs by TernoCon 2018 mentors Len Cabili, JC Buendia, and Cary Santiago. Photo courtesy of BENCH

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) Being a country of many different groups and cultures, the Philippines has a variety of native dresses, from the baro’t saya of the Tagalogs and Visayans to the malongs of the Mindanaoans. But one dress stands out for its unique history and evolution through time: the terno.

The terno’s ancestor is the traje de mestiza, a type of dress worn by half-Spanish and half-Chinese women from the late 1500s to the early 1900s, and was evolved by women throughout the years to bear the silhouette and butterfly sleeves that the modern terno is known for. However, as the dress became associated with Imelda Marcos, who famously wore it throughout her husband’s administration, and as Filipino fashion evolved into something more practical and street-inspired, Filipino women lost interest in the dress.

luzon.jpg Ternos presented during the Luzon group's mentorship workshop. Photo courtesy of BENCH

Today, appreciation for the terno is being revived by artists such as Mark Lewis Higgins and Gino Gonzales, who co-wrote the book “Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs 1860-1960,” which documents the evolution of the dress.

The book, published by Bench in 2015, is what Bench executive creative director and founder Ben Chan says helped him understand “the journey of the beautiful garment” and brought him to hope that more young Filipinas would honor and wear the terno in the same way that Japanese women do so with the kimono, and Korean women the hanbok.

In line with the company’s #LoveLocal campaign and a bid to further the cause for awareness and appreciation for the dress, Bench, in partnership with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), brought Terno Con 2018 to different regions around the Philippines.

The project, spearheaded by Gonzales, started out as a three-day workshop for designers interested in learning about the terno. Now, it has become a nationwide competition where 30 designers from these regional workshops — nine from Luzon, eight from Visayas, eight from Mindanao, and three from NCR — are mentored by notable Filipino designers to produce two ternos to be showcased at the CCP in November.

visayas workshop.jpg The Visayas group at their regional workshop. Photo courtesy of BENCH  

mindanao workshop.jpg Mindanao mentor, Len Cabili, discusses fabrics with some of the finalists. Photo courtesy of BENCH

The competition’s two categories are the Balintawak, or the country version of the terno, which is shorter and comes with a panuelo or alampay, and the formal evening terno, which is long and does not come with an alampay.

The competitors were split into three groups — Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao — and each group was assigned a mentor who hailed from that region: JC Buendia for the Luzon group, Cary Santiago for the Visayas Group, and Len Cabili of Filip+Inna for the Mindanao group.

“It was very important for us that the mentors came from the regions,” says Gonzales. “We wanted the participants to look up to people who came from their areas and who spoke their language and understood them.”

In May, all 30 designers were brought to Manila for a mentoring session at the CCP where they were also guided by renowned designer Inno Sotto, the project’s chief mentor. Sotto describes the Luzon group as confident designers and says that the Visayas group has very interesting things to show, but it is the Mindanao group that he seems most excited about, saying that they “blew his mind.”

4.JPG Inno Sotto serves as Chief Mentor to all participants of the TernoCon 2018. At the May session, he discusses the use of real fabrics and couture techniques. Photo courtesy of BENCH

10 (1).JPG Mindanao Mentor, Len Cabili of Filip+Inna, shares her experiences in the creation of clothing inspired by traditional crafts of indigenous communities. Photo courtesy of BENCH

12.JPG Visayas mentor Cary Santiago tackles couture techniques and the creation of corseted bodice. Photo courtesy of BENCH

18.JPG The finalists study extant ternos and gowns from the late Jo Salazar during the first phase of TernoCon 2018. Photo courtesy of BENCH

The Terno Con 2018 showcase will be held at the CCP Main Theatre on Nov. 11, 2018, where 90 designs in total will be displayed — 60 designs from the regional designers and 30 designs from the mentors. Those in attendance can also expect performances by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, traditional performing groups, and the Philippine Madrigal Singers. The show will be capped off by the announcement of the top three winners for the Balintawak and the formal evening category.

Chan says that through this competition, he hopes that more Filipinas will wear and honor the terno, because “to honor the terno is to honor the women who wore it with dignity and pride … Wearing the terno is a personal experience and it will surely deepen your love for country. Same for the designer who chooses to study the craft of terno-making.”