The story behind Quentin Tarantino’s Barong

- Reesa Tesoro Guerrero -

In the recent Golden Globe Awards, director Quentin Tarantino proudly wore our National Dress known as the Barong Tagalog. In most made-to-order clothes that are specifically tailored to fit the person’s character and taste, this particular Barong is among two that were made especially for him. It has a unique history that eventually led to its creation. Let me narrate to you its humble beginnings.

Tarantino, along with Prince Chakri of Thailand, was guest of honor in the recent Cinemanila International Film Festival which was co-presented by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

Before Tarantino’s arrival in Manila, Martin Macalintal of the French Embassy invited Film Development Council of the Philippines chairman Jacky Atienza, Festival Committee and Cinema Evaluation Board chairperson Christine Dayrit and me to a cocktail reception hosted by the French Ambassador Gerald Chesnel at his residence in North Forbes Park. The Ambassador gave this reception in honor of Tarantino and Prince Chakri.

A very animated and lively conversation ensued as Tarantino knew a lot about Filipino superstitions and folk tales. He was even very familiar with the manananggal (our version of the western vampire), the tiyanak, white lady and other Pinoy superstitious beliefs and stories that had its beginnings before the arrival of the Spaniards to our shores. Not only did he know of those stories and their origins, he was most familiar with Filipino classic movies of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s and has given a great account of the achievement to several actors and actresses during that time, most specially to director Ishmael Bernal.

 He also knew that Apocalypse Now was indeed filmed in the Philippines and told everyone in the party that Filipinos don’t look like Vietnamese. But then again, who would know the difference to the average American moviegoer except those who have had extensive travel experiences in South East Asia? Evem if he was fascinated and well versed with Filipino culture, movies and stories of old, Tarantino said he didn’t have any formal Filipiniana wear for his functions in Manila. I called my mother, Alice Tesoro Guerrero, who spoke to National Commission on Culture and the Arts’ Cecile Alvarez for the details. She asked if Tarantino and the Prince of Thailand could have some Barong made for them immediately. My mother of course told her friend and classmate of her younger sister Lulu Tesoro Castañeda that a Barong can be made for them in less than eight hours and to just give the details of their accommodations to me so that staff can go there in the morning.

From the cocktail reception, we proceeded to a late dinner hosted by Mr. Atienza at Mi Piace, Manila Peninsula Hotel. My father, Honorary Consul General of Jamaica, Miguel Ma. Guerrero, joined us and we all had a blast with Tarantino’s entertaining stories of Tarantino.

True to our word, Nelly Grefalda, Tesoro’s department head for 33 years, went to EDSA Shangri-La at 9 a.m. to take Tarantino’s measurements in his suite. It took 30 minutes to get the measurements of Tarantino, who, according to Nelly was a “very accommodating and approachable person in black T-shirt and jeans.” She added that since Tarantino is tall, his neck measurement was between 16 and 16.5 inches with a sleeve length between 35 and 36 inches.

Nelly brought him several Barong Tagalog fabrics to choose from. Tarantino took interest in two materials. One was a hand-embroidered piña Barong with callado pattern. The other one was a brown jusi Barong. Tarantino told Nellie he was partial to natural colors.

Four yards of each fabric were used to make Tarantino’s two Barong from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. By 5 p.m. on the same day, the Barongs were delivered to his room again. With them was a complimentary white undershirt, size XXL. Nelly recalled that Quentin even offered to pay for the Barong worth P15,650 with his credit card. The Barong were actually gifts to Quentin by the FDCP and NCCA. (They also gifted the Prince of Thailand with a Barong.)

His Royal Highness the Prince of Thailand wore his Barong at the opening night of the Cinemanila International Film Festival while Tarantino reserved his for the more formal awarding ceremony in Malacañang later in the week.

Nothing was heard of anymore about Tarantino’s two Barongs until he wore one of them at the recent Golden Globe in Beverly Hills Hotel, in California. What a wonderful surprise to see our national attire worn in such an internationally-recognized event that is seen worldwide!. If Tarantino keeps this up, our Barong may be visible in more events than this one, making us Filipinos here and abroad, even prouder of our roots, our heritage and of who we are. Tesoro’s and the whole Tesoro family are very proud that such distinguished personalities proudly wear our national costume.

When my grandmother Salud Santos Tesoro was alive, she told my cousins and me that Tesoro’s has been outfitting internationally-renowned Hollywood personalities like Charlton Heston and Nancy Sinatra, who was spotted and photographed in the ‘70s carrying one of Tesoro’s woven bags as well. There were other important clientele Tesoro’s serviced through the decades, including most of the Presidents of the Philippines, and other nations’ state leaders who likewise had Barong Tagalogs made. This goes to show that Filipino handicrafts particularly those from Tesoro’s have come a long way from its beginnings in 1928 when my great grandmother Fidela Pineda-Santos (my grandmother Salud’s mom) started the company in Intramuros by selling hats she and her workers made in Bulacan. This small company came was born because my great grandmother was a homemaker and wanted to do something creative and productive. At this time, Gen. Douglas MacArthur wore some of the Panama hats bought from Pinedas hat shop in Intramuros before World War II. My great grandmother did not expect that her hat shop would grow into a business that has 120 employees. She didn’t know that its products would be used by more and more by known people in the Philippines and other countries.

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