Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — While heads of states were having closed-door meetings, relaying statements on what is to be done to the South China Sea, and evading human rights issues raised by the media, their spouses were invited to a luncheon hosted by President Duterte’s common-law wife, Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña at the historic Manila Hotel.
In addition to the four-course Filipino menu, the women in attendance were entertained with a fashion show entitled “Manila Wear,” featuring a 32-piece collection created by Filipino designer Randy Ortiz. “It’s like a showcase of different contemporary pieces made of indigenous materials. A lot of piñas, which is so commercial in the Philippines,” he says.
The first piece to come out the runway was a two-tone ivory champagne piña terno gown appliqued on silk tulle, followed by a black piña kimono top paired with a fully embroidered skirt. Ortiz also included four menswear looks, such as barongs organically dyed in blush colors, and combined with suksuk (woven-in designs) from Aklan and silk cloths from Marawi.
“That's where you can get the authentic ones,” says Ortiz of some of the cloths he sourced all the way from Marawi. “We also tried looking for it in Zamboanga, and within the periphery of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, but you can’t find [a lot] because the [textiles] actually really [are] in Marawi.”
Even when he and his team were only given a little less than two months to do an entire collection and to dress up Myanmar state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, DS Rosmah Mansor (wife of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak), and Iriana Joko Widodo (wife of Indonesian President Joko Widodo) for the gala dinner, he insisted sourcing his malong skirts and other fabrics in Marawi, as he wanted to display the authenticity, intricacy, and beauty of indigenous weaves in the Philippines.
To further show Filipino culture and tradition in his pieces, Ortiz also assigned and designed embroideries of flowers popular in the Philippines for the women at the gala dinner. Suu Kyi’s teal green pure piña long-sleeved dress was peppered with sampaguita-inspired embroideries, while Widodo’s had bougainvilla-inspired ones, and Mansor's was appliqued with chrysanthemum-inspired patterns.
For the collection and the gala dinner, he also obtained inabel (handwoven textile) from the Ilocos region, as well as other materials from Laguna. Aside from having to source outside of Manila, Ortiz had to organically dye the piña that he was going to use. “[If we wanted] a really nice bright emerald green, we even had to re-dye and re-dye just to produce the right color for it to match the skirt. So it was quite difficult, kasi the process did not only take once,” he explains.
Ortiz's persistence in giving the weaves as much justice as possible may be attributed to growing up in South Cotabato. “I was born there, I grew up with the Moros, and I know exactly how all these fabrics are made, so I'm so exposed to it already,” he adds. When he was president of the Philippine Fashion Design Council for two terms, he was also involved with doing expositions and shows for the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), featuring indigenous fabrics, weaves, and materials.
His projects with CITEM also contributed to the birth of Manila Wear, a branding initiative that advocates for the use of artisanal crafts injected with contemporary elements, so as to make the Philippine fashion industry internationally competitive.
For his fashion show at the luncheon (which also aimed to continue the movement of Manila Wear), Ortiz complemented his use of authentic, indigenous textiles with patterns and styling that were more up-to-date, and not too avant-garde. “I made sure it's not costume-y. It's very contemporary, it's like cocktail dress, daywear, evening and a few ternos, and a wedding gown, which are all stylized,” he says.
While the use of indigenous weaves has been controversial, with the public always in conversation about cultural appropriation, Ortiz still believes that it is important that Filipino designers (and Filipinos as a whole) be consistent in promoting the weave, not only locally, but internationally.
Creating designs out of these fabrics, he says, not only exposes the weaves that are available in the Philippines, it also presents the talent of Filipino designers who are very much able to compete in a global arena. “I guess this is one right venue for me to really showcase the extent of how far [the designs] can go … and how [designers] can create a garment out of an indigenous fabric,” he says.
“What is so beautiful about it is there's so much Filipino soul into each garment,” he says of his collection, with the piece before the finale featuring a terno embossed with sampaguita patterns and cut works of piña, exhibiting the many bits and details that depict Philippine culture, history, and tradition.