Patis Tesoro: Loosen up, go bohemian Filipiniana!
LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil (The Philippine Star) - August 27, 2014 - 12:00am

Loosening up is something Patis has learned after she tried to kill herself with an overdose of Valium years ago. And after her own son committed suicide in Hong Kong.


My heart bleeds when I see designers like Patis Pamintuan-Tesoro giving their all to promote and preserve Filipiniana fashion. The nationalist in her wants the beautiful baro’t saya and barong with intricate hand embroidery the way our forefathers wore them, to live on.

But the realities are harsh. There is a dearth of abaca and piña. The embroiderers or bordaderas are a dying breed, literally. The children of her aging bordaderas would rather work for higher pay in call centers or as OFWs. There is hardly any support from the government. 

“The last stronghold of Filipino fashion used to be weddings, and even that is vanishing,” says Patis. “In the ’60s up to the ’90s, most buena familia weddings were Filipiniana. Now, brides would rather wear sexy gowns in western fashion. And the younger generation now go for destination weddings, hardly the ideal setting for ternos and barongs.”

But Patis, with her hip and forward-thinking frame of mind, knows exactly how she will evolve with the changing times.

“Will Filipiniana survive? I think so, if we make a conscious effort to wear it. Filipino fashion should morph to make it more comfortable and practical for the younger generation as well,” explains Patis. “Now I am using a lot of cotton, instead of just piña and abaca. I am going for bohemian Filipiniana — with vests, tops and tunics that the young generation can match with leggings or harem pants.  I am also doing a lot of caftans — glamorized versions of dusters — which ladies of my generation will find so comfortable.”

It was providential that Patis’ vision of a more hip and comfy kind of Filipiniana found a welcoming home at Rustan’s Makati and Shangri-La. Rustan’s president Nedy Tantoco — herself the retail industry visionary — has been a loyal Patis Tesoro client. “Years ago, Nedy invited me to open a shop at Rustan’s. But it was only last year when I was able to do it, because I wanted to prepare a collection that Nedy would be proud of, one that is tailor-made for the Rustan’s market.”

At the press preview of her latest collection hosted by Rustan’s execs Michael Huang and Dina Arroyo-Tantoco, Patis first showed a vintage documentary, circa 1902, of women clad in traditional Filipiniana, doing hand embroidery in what looked like a factory with an idyllic river background. They were actually women prisoners doing time for crimes of passion.

“I believe that might have been the Lumban River in Laguna, where I still give employment to the last remaining breed of bordaderas. I do it the old-fashioned way. I give them the patterns and fabrics, I tell them what stitches to do, and they do the work in their own homes. I get back the finished work from them after weeks or months,” explains Patis. “Once a provincial area gets urbanized, the aspirations of people change. They no longer want to be bordaderas like their grandmothers or mothers. They want to go abroad or get a white-collar job in Manila. That is the reality.

“I am grateful to Nedy Tantoco and I feel lucky to have been offered a space at Rustan’s,” Patis tells the press.

To which Michael Huang graciously answers: “No, we are grateful and lucky that you are opening your shop here. Before I met you with my mom, I already knew of your work through the Patis Tesoro barong that my mom gave me.”


The work of Patis Tesoro the fashion designer began with a love story some four decades ago.

“I just turned 19 when I fell in love and got married to Tito Tesoro ( lawyer and scion of Philippine handicrafts pioneer Salud Tesoro). “I was studying art education in the US when my mom died so I had to go home. My first dream was to be a painter.  I went back to Maryknoll and wanted to take fine arts in UP, which didn’t happen because my parents thought UP then was too magulo, being the seat of student activism.”

Her artistic talent found expression at Tesoro’s where Patis supplied embroidered clothes in 1972. She also became a supplier of Jeannie Goulbourn until 1981 when she started her own couture business with their San Juan home as base. “I’m on my fourth set of mananahi,” says Patis. Bespoke orders for ternos and barongs are still steady. “I don’t think the barong will ever disappear. It just assumes different versions with the times. Now modern executives and younger men prefer shorter and slimmer barongs. It’s not the barong as our elders know it — but at least the barong is still alive.” 

Aside from Filipino clothing, Patis has also been doing Filipiniana dolls and they’re selling well, thanks to collectors who are her main buyers. She also specializes in one-of-a-kind textiles, which she has exhibited in France and Italy. She has received invitations to stage exhibits next year of her dolls and textiles in Madrid, Milan and Washington, D.C.

It was also collectors who grabbed Patis’ artworks exhibited at the Finale art gallery four years ago. These were paintings done by her in pencil and Pentel on handmade cogon paper done by Louis Stewart.

Her concept of bohemian Filipiniana is seen in Patis’ everyday wardrobe. She usually wears a loose kimona with floral fabric combinations, paired with hip and comfy harem pants.  She wears handmade shoes by Trippen, à la Star Wars, but mainly because “I’m diabetic — my shoes have to follow the shape of my feet,” and also because she has yet to design her own comfy line of shoes/chinelas. Patis says she had years ago dreamt of doing loose, deconstructed fashion when she saw Yohji Yamamoto’s designs during travels in Asia and Europe. “I thought only eccentric people or those in the know would go for them at that time. But now, it’s time — it’s time to loosen up.”

Loosening up is something that Patis has done, not just in fashion.  Many years ago, she tried to commit suicide by taking 36 Valium pills. “I was perhaps too emotional, too much of a perfectionist, I had too much stress. I thought that there were ideal ways of doing things and I was wondering why it wasn’t happening. But then, I have learned to change my way of thinking.  I had to let it all go.”

Sadly, loosening up was something her son Joel failed to do five years ago when, at the age of 36, he committed suicide by jumping from a high floor at the Hong Kong airport on his way back to Manila from the US, where he and his family were based. “My son didn’t show any symptoms of depression. It was a shock to all of us.”

Perhaps her work in fashion is Patis’ outlet for sublimating her frustrations as a perfectionist and idealist. It is a good one. But hearing her story of sweat and tears — both as a designer and as a mother — makes my heart doubly bleed.

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Email the author at or follow her at Instagram @milletmartinezmananquil.






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