fresh no ads
Ben Chan’s latest book launch honors the ‘terno’ and Joe Salazar |

Sunday Lifestyle

Ben Chan’s latest book launch honors the ‘terno’ and Joe Salazar

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star

Fashion is not a frivolous thing, but a lens through which you can feel and understand the times. 

So says Bench founder, chairman and executive creative director Ben Chan. Ben is not only a visionary retailer and restaurateur, but a book publisher and connoisseur of Pinoy pop culture as well. And Bench is launching Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs, 1860-1960, a coffee-table book that chronicles the evolution of the terno via 200 vintage photographs: a journey that starts when the word “Filipino” meant a Spaniard born in the Philippines, to a time it became a term of national identity. (While in the Western world, you could plot the time frame from the Victorian era, through two world wars, and right past the atomic age.)

“If you leaf through the pages of the book you will learn and know things you never knew before,” explains Ben. “It is a trip through history, culture, fashion, society, design, art, and the evolution of the Filipina.” 

When Gino Gonzales and Mark Lewis Higgins approached Ben about the project two years ago, the Bench man felt a sense of nostalgia. In 2003 Bench sponsored the Terno Ball at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which was also a tribute to the late couturier Joe Salazar, a dear friend of Ben. 

“How I wish Joe were still with us today. The book launch is like a filting tribute to his creativity as we cannot deny Joe’s invaluable contribution to the Philippine terno.

“As I thought about the proposal, I realized that it was going to be a legacy project, meaning, something that would meaningfully contribute to our Filipino heritage. It would be something educational and long lasting. I think that every Filipina woman, regardless of age or generation, can appreciate this book. It is about the past, but it is for the future.”

Ben thinks it is about time we Filipinos regard the terno the same way the Japanese, the Chinese and the Indian hold dearly their kimono, cheongsam and sari, respectively.

The Japanese have the kimono; its central principle is the layering of those robes. Some kimonos have up to eight layers, especially during the winter. The Chinese cheongsam or qipao is about precise tailoring. A Chinese tailor takes down several more measurements for the cheongsam than an average Western dress. There is also a technique for ironing the Chinese dress. The Indian sari is about draping. One can discern what caste or social class a lady belongs to just by the way her sari is draped.

“There is so much respect for tradition when it comes to these national costumes, while at the same time leaving much room for creativity and design so that they can still evolve and produce endless variety. Why not do the same for the terno?”

Ben’s right. The terno is a tangible object that embodies intangible qualities.

“Elegance, modesty, femininity, and those butterfly sleeves are what make a quintessential terno. I believe that if you understand and respect the origins of the terno, you would not wish to modernize it too much or make it too bold and risqué. It has to show intangible Filipina qualities, like delicadeza, hiya, pakikisama, politesse. If you make those traits into a dress, it would be a proper terno.” 

He scans the pages of the Bench terno book and points out favorite passages. A vintage photograph shows the incarnation of the terno in the 1920s. Ben calls it the “Art Deco flapper” period.

“While her Western counterparts were becoming more liberated, the Filipina woman remained coy — she was in transition at that time. I also like the chapter on the 1930s. Hollywood was becoming a predominant influence, and it can be seen in the glittery details on the sleeves and the panuelo. Suddenly the terno had sparkle and a three-dimensional effect in its embroidery.” 

The book blossoms with pages upon pages of thought-provoking details about the subject, not to mention the stunning photographs (which must’ve been a yeoman’s task to collate and caption). Ben says, “You can see the evolution of both the fashion and the woman. It is informative, educational, entertaining and enjoyable. It tells a fascinating story. Everything you could hope for in a coffee-table book.” 

That is Ben Chan’s operative phrase in every book he publishes: “everything you could ever hope for.”



Each book project that Ben Chan takes on is completely different from the other. Bench’s first one was the Pinoy Pop Culture book in 2001 authored by Gilda Cordero-Fernando, which was a romp through Filipino commercial culture based on popular taste. In 2006, there was the Wear Your Conscience book. A year later, Bench collaborated with Adarna House to come up with 101 Filipino Icons, a two-volume book project that surveys people, places, events, and things that make the Filipino unique. This year, Bench put out the Love Local book, a celebration of Filipino achievers. Each book shows a different facet of Bench’s commitment to Filipino culture. 

Ben says that the goal of the terno book is not just fashion education, but education in general.

“It is about loving reading, books, publishing, and literacy. The book is a mirror of who we are, where we came from, how far we have come, and where we might be going. I am so proud of the cultural relevance of this project. It can make a difference.”

It will be launched on Nov. 10 at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila. Bench celebrity endorsers and guests will be wearing the Barong Tagalog and — of course — the terno.  

“I hope that this revives the Filipino national dress in one way or another,” Ben Chan concludes, adding that apart from the SONA there are hardly any events that put the spotlight on the terno. “Like anyone else, I am looking forward to seeing what people will be wearing!”

Yeah, it’s the terno’s turn.

* * *

Copies of the Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs, 1860-1960 coffee-table book will be donated to the Ayala Foundation to distribute to schools, as well as to the Cultural Center of the Philippines as an institutional reference.

The book is available at Bench and Dimensione boutiques.



vuukle comment












Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with