This ‘balintawak’ with beaded yakan pants by Glady Rose Pantua won the Ramon Valera Award (Bronze).

Gabbie Sarenas’ ‘balintawak’ won  Pura Escurdia Award (Silver).

Ben Chan and Cultural Center of the Philippines president Margie Moran-Floirendo (far left) with winners, from left, Gabbie Sarenas, Yssa Inumerable, Glady Pantua.

No doubt about it. The terno or the balintawak (the terno’s iteration as everyday garb) is now millenialized and GenZ-ed. This was made official, so to speak, in the hugely successful Ternocon last January 28 at Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez, Pasay City. Today’s generations have taken over these national costumes—the inalienable part of the country’s patrimony—and turned them into their platforms for self-expression. Indeed, it is their voice now, and it’s a voice that’s not encumbered by the past or what is classic.

In Ternocon 2023, the terno/balintawak became the visual vocabulary of this generation that interprets, redefines or reinvents it—the way it pleases. After all, the national garb is for this generation to possess—a national inheritance facilitated by Bench with the retail visionary Ben Chan at the helm. Bench has been staging Ternocon the past few years, interrupted only by the pandemic. In this year’s Ternocon, the design is neither classic, ethnic or indigenous—the millenialized and GenZ-ed garb broke free from the rules that have bound the terno/balintawak or its forerunners since the last century. Today’s generation repossessed the camisa’t saya (blouse and skirt), its accompanying alampay (soft kerchief) and tapis (wraparound skirt), leaving no design detail unchanged.

Only the so-called butterfly sleeves have remained as mainstay in the Ternocon designs. The Pacita Longos Awardee (gold) Yssa Inumerable extended the butterfly sleeves into a button-up jacket/blazer worn over a Peter-Pan-collar pleated blouse (barong), with a plaid billowy inabel tapis, the lace petticoat (enaguas) peeking out. Aside from this semi-tailored top, the rule-breakers were the colors—the happiest summer colors you long for in this post-pandemic era: light blue, pink, green with dainty floral embroidery (bordang Taal) for the camisa and plaid pattern for the saya. The happy GenZ!

Yssa Inumerable

There was no design feature of the terno/balintawak that the finalists didn’t upturn to suit today’s lifestyle and zeitgeist. The saya (skirt) became the fully beaded Yakan pipe pants with tulle wrap and kerchief (tapis, alampay), in the design of Glady Rose Pantua, the Ramon Valera Awardee (bronze). It had a beautiful sheer rose pink camisa with floral embroidery (or applique?)—so feminine and clean.

Glady Rose Pantua

The head-turners were the designs of Glyn Alley Magtibay, which used cranial X-ray plates for the camisa sleeves and bags. X-ray plates also served as an obi-inspired sash to pull together the bright orange loose pants and tulle tapis. Talk about wearing your head on your sleeves—indeed this is taking one of fashion’s iconic images, the skull, a notch higher; if only Alexander McQueen could talk now. Even early on in her career, Magtibay already showed a knack for manipulating graphic images—like she did a giant embroidery of a singkil dancer on a trench. (Without second thought, years ago, I acquired that trench, a modern Filipiniana day-to-night wear.)

Glyn Alley Magtibay and her  ‘balintawak’ with X-ray plates

Aside from Magtibay, the other participant with an already defined fashion identity is Gabbie Sarenas, the Pura Escurdia Awardee (silver). Sarenas, who already has a thriving brand, did what she does best and which has been earning her a clientele: dainty, feminine, wearable balintawak in monochromatic ecru and sheer pina silk with significant yet subtle embroidery of sampaguita. In Ternocon, she added innovations, such as a panel on the chest which you untie to duplicate an alampay, or the tapis to be tied or untied over the saya or pants. Hers is a whimsy that’s so well thought out.

Sarenas’ style isn’t pretentious or overwrought; rather, it is confident, modern and young, yet elegant. In the GenZ iconography, that is what must be considered classic, and Sarenas is gaining a market for it.

Gabbie Sarenas

Amor Albano of Ilocos received the Joe Salazar Award (Chief Mentor’s Medal by Inno Sotto), announced the day after Ternocon. Hers were layers of sheer organza in graduating hues of green, blue, with an applique/painted idyllic images of coconut tree and nipa hut on the front.

Amor Albano

In our eyes at least, another capsule collection that stood out were the works of Dee Javier—all-white, fluid and clean lines, the accents limited to handwriting in black, a simple shift instead of the camisa and saya.

Dee Javier

Ternocon 2023 artistic director is Gino Gonzales. The mentors were Joey Samson, Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo, Dennis Lustico, Hannah Adrias, with Inno Sotto as chief mentor.  The judges were Ben Chan, Ormoc mayor Lucy Torres-Gomez, Philip Rodriguez, Lesley Mobo, Ivar Aseron.

The playlist, from Celeste Legaspi’s Tuliro (remixed by Melvin Mojica) to Eva Eugenio’s Tukso, was a mood-maker.

Towards the end came the show-stopping collections of the mentors Dennis Lustico, Joey Samson, Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo. (That is for another update next week.)

The guests remember to this day a most touching moment: a tribute to the dear departed designers and creators, including Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Ben Farrales, Joe Salazar, Auggie Cordero. Ernani Cuenco’s plaintive Nahan, performed by Christian Tan on the violin, accompanied the slow descent from the ceiling of the portraits of the artists. Later on, Ben Chan would tell us that what he was wearing in Ternocon was the barong by Joe Salazar—“my best friend,” he said. Indeed these creative souls are so missed.

This year’s Ternocon, which signaled the revenge-return of local fashion shows, left us thinking:

  1. The GenZ and millennial fashion designers display extreme flexibility, perhaps surpassing even that of their forerunners. No fabrics? No problem; they upcycle materials such as X-ray plates. They don’t allow themselves to be hemmed in—not by the past, not by tradition or rules, certainly not by the Establishment. Instead of whining and complaining, they change the rules—to suit them and their circumstances. They don’t allow their seniors (you and me, dear) to define their craft and parameters for them. Lucky generation.

  2. That brings me to a curious point: how much mentorship are these fashion rookies open to, or how far can mentors go? Where does “innovative” end and clutter begin? Excess isn’t cool, in whatever era. Like in any craft and creative profession, not only does editing make for a good end-product, the creator can also learn a lot from it. And mentorship is the value of the game-changer that is.   

  3. With appreciation and expectation, we watch the Ternocon sustain the presentation of the terno and balintawak on the world stage, and perhaps in time, the terno/balintawak and the barong will be the Filipino’s recognizable global symbols, the same way the Japanese kimono or the Korean hanbok is now.

Ternocon is hope, not only fashion.

Ternocon winners, Ben Chan, Mayor Lucy Torres-Gomez, Lesley Mobo, Ivar Aseron with First Lady Lisa Araneta-Marcos. (Behind are Margie Moran-Floirendo and Philip Rodriguez)

Bon Hansen

Geom Hernandez

Al Rey Rogano

Karl Nadalez

Bree Esplanada

Marc Carcillar

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