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Gino Gonzales and Mark Lewis Higgins tell the story of a dress, the birth of a nation |

Sunday Lifestyle

Gino Gonzales and Mark Lewis Higgins tell the story of a dress, the birth of a nation

Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Asmall picture book for fashion students.

That was the original incarnation of Fashionable Filipinas: An Evolution of the Philippine National Dress in Photographs, 1860-1960 by Gino Gonzales and Mark Lewis Higgins. It was initially transformed into a book consisting of 200 pages, and then — since Ben Chan liked it so much he commissioned another hundred — it has become more than just a comprehensive 300-plus-page tome on the terno.

It tells the story of a birth of a nation reflected in a dress.

Gino Gonzales is a theater designer and sceneographer. Mark Lewis Higgins is a visual artist. Both admittedly have no history or writing degrees, but have this fiery desire to study the terno as a “window into the Filipino spirit” as well as the attendant textiles, the pieces of jewelry, and the temper of the times that go with it. And hopefully share that knowledge to young Filipino designers as well as projected readers from, say, Tokyo or Copenhagen.  

As the Oscar Wilde quote goes: “A history of dress would be a history of minds.”

What was the most challenging thing in putting together this terno book?

Higgins quips, “Well, what wasn’t the most challenging thing?”

He amplifies, “This book took us more than two years; it felt like 10. It is full of rare or never-before-seen images — from private collections of ‘people more senior than us’ (laughs) as well as museums in Spain, the US, and the Netherlands. In the 1860s section, there are also lots of photographs —never before published — from the private photo album of Jose Rizal belonging to the Lopez Museum. You know, to write a definition of the word ‘terno’ alone took us hours!”

The two are in agreement: if a pure historian wrote this book, it would be too academic; and if a fashion writer did it instead, he or she wouldn’t have the range or the insight.

“We needed to strike a balance,” shares Gonzales.

He explains, “The terno is one of the few Asian costumes that are intrinsically tied in with the history of the West. We were very much influenced by what was going on in Western fashion. Not necessarily copying it from head to toe, but we were making it our own. It’s an illustration of our adaptability as a people.

Higgins points to a book spread of pillow vendors wearing the terno. “People love this photograph from 1910. This will show the young fashion students of today how everyone wore the terno back then.”

Gonzales agrees. “Yes, women from all social classes.”

Both of them say how timely it was to do a book such as Fashionable Filipinas.

 “Because of the times we live in today,” Higgins says. “There is so much globalization happening with all these foreign retail brands of food and clothing coming here. In one sense it is our idea of being a civilized country, but in another sense there is a risk of — whenever you travel to Southeast Asia, what with the ASEAN integration — it’s all starting to look the same.”

Thus, there is a danger of cultures becoming dissipated or diluted.

“More so,” concludes Higgins, “when you have young people who don’t know their history. Gino and I felt that it is important to tell everyone why we Filipinos are unique.”

And unique is always fashionable.

Open fan covering the mouth

I am single



Holding the fan with the right hand in front of the face

Come and talk to me

Opening the fan over the chest showing the design

Yes or I like what you’re saying

Opening the fan over the chest showing the back

No or I don’t like what you’re saying

Closing the fan and letting it slide on the cheek

I want you

Closing the fan, and letting it slide over the eyes

Go away please

Closing the fan, and letting it hang down

We will just continue as friends

Moving the open fan with the left hand

They are watching us

Changing it to the right hand

You are being impudent, I love someone else

Fanning slowly

My affections are engaged, I am not interested

Fanning very quickly

I really like you

Waving closed fan

I am thinking about it

Closed fan touching the lips

I want you to kiss me

Fanning quickly, angrily

I am married

Hitting the closed fan against the other hand

Leave me alone

Throwing the fan

I hate you





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