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Ramon Valera, the fashion icon and snob who hated copycats

A collection of formal wear and ternos designed by Ramon Valera for his favorite clients is featured in “Valera and the Modern,” which is on view until Oct. 14 at St. Benilde’s School of Design & Arts.

A natural bon vivant,  Ramon Valera (1912- 1970) was always fastidiously dressed and expected his clients to be likewise.  As a young man, he was already interested in designing clothes, probably inspired by his always beautifully dressed mother, Pilar Oswald, and his oldest (half) sister, Juanita Valera, who was well known for making dresses for socialites who were their family friends.  Never finishing college, he opted to follow his passion for fashion, quickly making a name for himself not only in the Philippines but also abroad. He was bestowed the title “Dean of Philippine Fashion” in the halcyon days of Philippine fashion and was posthumously named the first National Artist for Philippine Fashion in 2006.

It was in the pre-war days when he innovated and simplified the then Maria Clara and baro’t saya by taking out the panuelo (a folded shawl partially covering the top bodice of a woman) and streamlining the saya or skirt, so it was less bulky.  Zippers were used instead of hooks and small buttons, and with less fabric used, the terno evolved into a modernized and simplified version of our native dress.  Rapidly becoming popular because of the sleeker silhouette, these were readily worn for social and official state functions. 

Every fashionable lady had to have a Valera with the chicest of socialites standing out in his stylized designs.
He was a dear friend of my mother, Nati Osorio Aguinaldo, whom I would accompany to his Quezon City atelier for frequent fittings and they would converse in fluent Spanish. He would take offense when a younger couturier would try to copy his designs, derisively calling the latter a copiador or copycat. Known to be a snob, he would automatically reject a prospective client, no matter how much she was willing to pay for a Valera dress, if he did not like her (too chubby or fat, too short, too dark-skinned, ill-proportioned or not at all his “type”).
Since Tito Ramoning could design, cut and sew, he was meticulous with the outcome of the garments. If the clothing didn’t look or fit properly, he would immediately start from scratch. 

It was in one of those fittings of my mother that he informed his beader to start anew because he wanted a more intricate design with an almost 3D effect. Never mind if this entailed more work and cost, the dress had to be made of the highest quality and workmanship since it was carrying the Valera name.
I even learned a few tricks of dressmaking and one of them was his masterful way of draping — holding the fabric in one’s hand (usually the lightest of chiffon or the finest of silk) and carefully suspending it right on the client’s bodice or waist where the intended flowing fabric would fall naturally. Then, carefully pinning the material where the actual drape would commence so that it falls gracefully on the woman’s body. 

He also made sure that the terno could be a convertible garment by adding spaghetti straps so that the butterfy sleeves could either be easily sewn on the thin straps or taken out and reverted to a regular gown if need be.

One of Valera’s best friends was art patron and connoisseur Luis Araneta, together with the vivacious Elvira Manahan, Chito Madrigal, Chona Ysmael Kasten, Conchita Sunico and their clique. Elegant balls and parties were hosted in each other’s homes.  With his keen eye, he enjoyed looking at and being with beautiful, charming women who had the style and elan to carry his dresses well.
Niece and model Peching Zulueta Gomez speaks about the Valera creativity and Imelda Marcos,  “Tito Ramon was inspired by Imelda (as the First Lady), and for every gown he made for her visit to a specific country, he would research and infuse in his creations the culture of that country she was visiting with ours. She always stood out in her Valera ternos and got the attention of the international press.”

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Coinciding with his 45th death anniversary, it is fortunate that De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde has popular designer Lulu Tan Gan mentoring their Fashion Design and Merchandising class and with the support of a good friend, Rustan’s president Zenaida Tantoco of the Tantoco-Rustia Foundation, it is but fitting that the first fashion exhibit should feature the life and work of the famed artist and La Salle alumnus. Titled “Valera and the Modern,” the fashion exhibit is on view until Oct. 14 at at the School of Design & Art DLS-Benilde, Manila.
The show features beautiful ternos, wedding and formal gowns worn by former first ladies Luz  Banzon Magsaysay and Leonila Garcia,  socialites Elvira Manahan, Chito Madrigal and  Gretchen CojuangcoCherry Pie Villonco Lazatin, movie star Gloria Romero, as well as Valera’s favorite clients  Nedy Tantoco, Fe Dolor Serrano, Maritess Pineda, Margarita Romualdez, Sonia Olivares, Carmen O. Lichauco, and his nieces Paching dela Fuente and Chit Zulueta. In fact, some of his beautiful wedding gowns have outlived the marriages of his bridal clients.





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