Ben Chan: âThe terno brings out the best in Filipino design.â
Bench founder and Ternocon chair Ben Chan (right) and Cultural Center of the Philippines chair Margie Moran (left) with the Ternocon 2020 winners Dinnes Obusan, Hannah Adrias, and Jaggy Glarino.
Ben Chan: ‘The terno brings out the best in Filipino design.’
Marbbie Tagabucba (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — What a proud moment for Filipino design. A room full of Filipinos, proud of their heritage, in their best terno and barong during Bench’s Ternocon 2020 held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

“I do believe that the terno brings out the best in Filipino design,” says Bench founder and Ternocon chair Ben Chan.

Ternocon project director Gino Gonzales agrees and adds, “Iba ang tindig — the Filipina really is the most beautiful in a terno.”

Ternocon is a trendsetter, a game-changer for Philippine fashion. Only three years since the launch of the terno conventions, educating designers on the Philippine national dress history, proportions, and all the possibilities that could be, it started a dialogue among Filipino designers. Filipinos have since chosen for themselves to wear the terno or barong.

“It is not easy to design a terno. You have to dig deep, study, do research and you have to design it with love in your heart. You have to do it with utmost respect for the master designers who have come before you and for a tradition in weaving, sewing and embroidery. You have to make them relevant and you have to ensure that the terno lives on in the future. You have to be inspired to make a terno; it deserves nothing less,” Chan elaborates during the culminating event.

This partnership between Bench and the Cultural Center of the Philippines paved the way for new perspectives to be seen from all around the country — all talented individuals at different stages of their design careers, all with something different to say, but they boil down to one thing: what it means to be a Filipino today.

The goal has always been to make more Filipinos wear the terno. With the ripples the past two Ternocons have created, Gonzales knew it was the right time to spice things up. Two categories have been limited to one three-piece collection without a specific category. It has been narrowed down to 12 contestants.

“Based on last night’s results, the terno’s future has become more inclusive, I think. Inclusive in terms of generations and preferences. It’s really in the hands of these young people, who are saying, ‘This is how we see the terno,’” Gonzales says.

Basically given free rein as to where their collections will go, all entries showcased during the main event reflect how the Millennial and Generation Z designers — the future of Philippine design — perceive our national dress and where they’re taking it.

CCP chairman Margie Moran says, “The evolution of the dress is a history of our humanity. It reflects and recounts the political, social and environmental circumstances of the past. For a Filipino garment that holds so much history and tradition, it is sad to see the terno struggle for survival through the years. There is an entire generation of young designers who don’t know what a terno should look like. This is the reason why we embarked on a journey Ternocon to make it relevant to contemporary times.  Ternocon is our answer to this cultural problem.”

Ternocon has already rolled out traveling exhibitions around the country via SM Malls since Independence Day of 2019. During last Sunday’s Ternocon, another step in reaching out to a wider audience is doubling the seating capacity to accommodate a bigger audience, up until Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo’s balconies.

“All entries are so detail-oriented and intricate, all cerebral, they deserve a closer look,” Gonzales says. To accommodate this, Gonzales stretched the podium and included three screens above the stage, as well as one more dimension to really get a closer look. Available for sale is a limited-edition catalogue book, Ternocon 2020: Reimagining the Philippine Terno, giving an up-close look at all entries, documenting the heart that went into the ternos.

“We finished all the clothes back in November, photographed in December. The book also motivated the contestants to finish the clothes,” he says with a laugh.

At the heart of the event is a fundraiser for the Taal Operations, seizing the opportunity of a large attendance to augment Red Cross Philippines’ ongoing relief efforts to the Taal evacuees. Chan underwrote the Ternocon production and made  a donation of P1 million to jumpstart the fund drive.

“We started the program with a ritual by a manunubli group from Batangas City doing the subli, a prayer in the form of dance,” says Gonzales of the touching gesture. “It was chosen for its significance in the face of the devastation and evacuations around Taal.”

Giving context to the Ternocon are three exhibitions: “Women in Terno,” Cholo Ayuyao’s Doll Couture Exhibit (featuring Barbie dolls wearing miniature ternos in a palette of champagne); Rafael del Casal’s painting exhibit featuring dreamy portraits of Filipinas in their ternos; and “The Salvacion Lim Higgins Terno: A Heritage for Philippine Design,” an exhibition showcasing the designer’s immaculately preserved vintage masterpieces. The invention of the terno cannot be subject to one individual and has been innovated into many forms throughout generations, but it was really Slim’s, as the designer is more popularly known, who transformed the terno to a virtual art form.

The  show began with the Bate/Bati, an Easter Sunday dance by a terno-clad woman waving a white flag. “It’s one of a few living traditions that still use the terno,” Gonzales explains.

“We are fully committed to the discovery and development of Filipino design talent. We are also fully committed in promoting culture and individual talent. When we come together, something magical happens, as you will see tonight,” Chan says, signaling the beginning of the program.

Capping off an evening of performances with Bituin Escalante and Frenchie Dy doing Katy dela Cruz songs, Gonzales had the ternos produced during the last Ternocon — including the ones by grand winner Marlon Tuazon of Pampanga and chief mentor Inno Sotto’s Untitled collection of grandiose grand dame ternos — suspended from the ceiling in the background above the orchestra to sublime, dreamlike effect.

Ternocon 2020 is a success, but Chan says he is far from done. He says, “Our task is far from over. There’s much more to be done.”



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