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Fashion and Beauty

Lesley Mobo x Ben Chan: Two fashion giants collab in oversized proportions

GLOSS THE RECORD - Marbbie Tagabucba - The Philippine Star
Lesley Mobo x Ben Chan: Two fashion giants collab in oversized proportions
Lesley Mobo’s tropical ternos get the gigantic treatment, as his tulle-trimmed higantes twirl through Bench Fashion Week.

From the three higantes in tropical ternos twirling down the runway and button-downs and scarves worn oversized and stylized like elements of the Balintawak, major fashion brand Bench’s third collaboration with huge fashion star Lesley Mobo is larger-than-life.

Superstar Maine Mendoza closed this year’s Bench Fashion Week in a Mobo x Bench oversized “Masaganang Bukid” varsity jacket with a dance-off, as the audience got up from their seats and grooved with the models to a live marching band’s performance of Bongga Ka Day. It’s the most fun a lot of us have had in a fashion show and it showed in everyone’s big smiles.

“Fashion is fun! It is not only our way to express ourselves but a way to celebrate our lives, our everyday victories, our culture, and history,” says Bench’s Ben Chan.

“It is as much fun and hardships as it was 35 years when I got into this industry,” he notes, looking back to Bench’s beginnings as a small outlet in what is now The SM Store selling men’s T-shirts. Bench’s scale today extends beyond over 700 stores worldwide under the umbrella company Suyen Corp.

Among industry giants: Bench’s Ben Chan (right) with Lesley Mobo (left) and Maine Mendoza.

Bench’s #LoveLocal movement has supported not only the industry but also helped shape the cultural fabric Filipinos wear with pride. BFW is a platform for rising talents like Strongvillage, Antonina, and Jenni Contreras on Day 1. Day 2 is established Martin Bautista’s runway comeback. Through the biennial Ternocon, Bench, with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, revives our wearable heritage for generations to come; tackling the leisurely Balintawak for its third edition. Bench is endorsed by the biggest and most beautiful stars around the world, and in the “Masaganang Bukid” show, Bench cast morenas of every gender expression as an endorsement of all kinds of beauty.

“This is also our first Bench Fashion Week after more than two years missed because of the pandemic so it was worth sharing to our community this celebration of our lives through fashion,” concludes Chan.

“I think we learned a lot from the pandemic and we realized that we should celebrate life often, connect with everything that truly matters: nature, connect with tradition, celebrate family, friends and love ones, and eat healthy,” reflects Mobo.

“Masaganang Bukid is a celebration of abundant rural life in the Philippines and its rich cultural and agricultural heritage. It is also a tribute to our Filipino farmers and farming communities who have harvested in the fields across the provinces until the present day,” he elaborates. “Our country’s cultural and agricultural history runs deep in the rural areas, playing a critical role not only in keeping our countryside beautiful and prosperous but also in keeping our unique Philippine traditions alive.”

For the urban-dweller, Masaganang Bukid is inspirational. After all, every bountiful harvest is hard-won with time and hard work to steer luck in your favor, whether you work in a farm or an office. In the art that graces the collection’s large canvas bags and unisex varsity jackets is a terno-clad Filipina enjoying the fruits of her labor.

Part Amorsolo painting, part ‘80s Mabuhay magazine, Mobo’s viral tropical terno series served as escapism to a global audience who only had their phones as a portal during the lockdown years. I, too, dreamed of the idyllic probinsya life in his hometown in the Panay Islands. Far from glamorizing it, Mobo’s Instagram feed was all about redefining what we find beautiful, even things we’d find baduy.

Without the high-tech equipment and expensive fabrics of his London atelier, Mobo constructed dramatic ternos using a borrowed sewing machine out of yards of printed cotton tablecloths. He took the creative exercise a step further by putting together a photo shoot and had the voluminous ternos modeled by the women living on the island of Ati and Badjao descent. It didn’t resonate with his ka-barrio at first, but retraining perspectives takes work — it needs big-time collaborations like “Masaganang Bukid” to make it mainstream.

In the collection, carabaos take backpacks by the horns. Buko trees adorn rugby shirts. Everything is relaxed yet versatile, made for working hard or hardly working in the tropics. Having spotted them on celebrities like Luis Hontiveros at the show, I bet Mobo’s ka-barrio would be sporting them even before Simbang Gabi.

This iconography isn’t the end of retraining our perspective. Stylist Noel Manapat brilliantly integrates the Balintawak elements into the modern daily uniform of shirt-and-jeans. The Hawaiian shirt gets a refresh on Devon Seron, its sleeves going over her elbows as a traditional Balintawak would. The shirt is then tucked with a scarf worn as a tapis, a Balintawak element, over cuffed trousers. The same custom-print fabric is used in one tropical Balintawak, skillfully draped and crafted into a floor-length silhouette. It’s also seen knotted as an alampay over an oversized Gulong ng Palad tee. Everyone, in their own way, can wear terno elements beyond dressed-up occasions.

Now the holidays are coming up, there’s plenty of reason to go out and get dressed up. Right after the show, Mobo sums up: “It’s not fashion. It’s a bit more authentic, closer to home. It’s a celebration of everything good about being a Filipino!” A big one, at that!

Mobo x Bench’s “Masaganang Bukid” reinterprets probinsya-life iconography to modern dress codes.

* * *

Mobo x Bench’s Masaganang Bukid is available Bench stores nationwide.

BEN CHAN

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