By Maggie F. Francisco
Last May 28, guests from the Congress, media, schools, and fashion industry gathered at the recently opened National Museum of Natural History to witness the culmination of the month-long celebration of heritage month with the Balik Saya Fashion Design Competition. After five weeks of undergoing mentorship and design process, 15 students—coming from St. Scholastica’s College, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Technological University of the Philippines, and Colegio de San Juan de Letran—showcased their design with an incredible fashion show.
Held at the Tree of Life Courtyard inside the museum, host Bianca Valerio welcomed the audience to the first ever Balik Saya event wearing a custom-made Ito Curata modern black terno and white slacks. She called on Congresswoman Cristal Bagatsing, representative of the fifth district of Manila, to formally launch the event. In a heartfelt speech, Cong. Bagatsing shared, “Call me idealistic, but I truly believe that [by] promoting my district via tourism… more jobs can be generated… and [it will] open so many doors to other opportunities.” Proud of the students’ hard work and creations, she hoped that “this will create more awareness that you do not need to look very far if you really want to help and make a difference and touch people’s lives.”
Famed designer Jojie Lloren, who mentored the finalists, opened the show with a five-piece capsule collection, and was immediately followed by the creations of the top 15.
Each piece from the finalists was well-received by the audience, definitely giving an element of surprise as the models walked down the steps of the Courtyard. The use of the different techniques were outstanding, such as the laser-cut sleeves and detachable skirt of Christian Bulasag (Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila), the handpainted details of Vianka Lorraine Castro (St. Scholastica’s College), and the use of piña to make a layered ruffle skirt by Sandra Lou Galang (St. Scholastica’s College).
Vibrant colors were also seen, such as the blue/red/white ensemble of Maria Nina Luisa Doctor (St. Scholastica’s College), Jackie Ombao’s orange-and-black blouse and skirt, and the violet gown with silver accents by Zayre Capangyarihan.
The creations were judged based on design, workmanship, wearability, and originality. Another requirement was that 25% of the ensemble needed to use indigenous fabrics such as piña, jusi, and inabel. The board of judges included “the grand dame of timeless design” Criselda Lontok, veteran model and photographer Jo Ann Bitagcol, Leyte’s fourth district representative Lucy Torres-Gomez, SoFA Design Institute dean Tobias Guggenheimer, fashion icon and jewelry designer Tweetie De Leon-Gonzalez, the country’s top designers Lulu Tan-Gan, Rajo Laurel, and Randy Ortiz, and the “prince of Philippine fashion” Inno Sotto, who served as head judge.
The winners of the Balik Saya design competition were Margaux Gustilo (St. Scholastica’s College) for fifth place with P20,000 cash prize, Sandra Lou Galang (St. Scholastica’s College) for fourth place with P25,000 cash prize, Somera Rana (Colegio de San Juan de Letran) for third place with P40,000 cash prize, and Alaine Isabelle Leones (St. Scholastica’s College) for second place with P60,000 cash prize. Taking home the grand prize was Mariah Marella Parayray (St. Scholastica’s College), who also received P100,000 cash prize, an apprenticeship at Rustan’s, and an extensive workshop from SoFA Design Institute.
Three special awards were also given that night. Christian Bulasag received the FAB Choice Award as well as P100,000 scholarship from the Fashion + Art + Business Creatives for having the most potential to be one of the best Filipino designers in the future. Vianka Lorraine Castro was given the SoFA Choice or Fashion Visionary Award for the most creative and most innovative. Finally, Rana Vashti Sacramento (St. Scholastica’s College) got the Rustan’s Iconic Award for her creation seen as the most promising in retail design.
It came as a surprise, but in a collection of long gowns and extravagant designs, it was really the simple and modern take of Parayray’s white off-shoulder top and gray inabel shorts under a piña skirt that spoke volumes to the judges.
Ortiz said,“Parayray captured our attention in a sea of clothes that are lookalikes. It’s how she was able to utilize the fabric and how wearable the [design was] that made her stand out from the rest.”
For De Leon-Gonzalez, she said that the judges didn’t dwell too much on the execution and technicality. “We were really looking for the design aspect from the finalists. It’s more on how the ideas were expressed and how they were able to interpret the baro’t saya for modern times.”
Echoing Ortiz’s comments in the judging process, Laurel said, “We wanted to go for something less ‘gowny;’ something that would make anyone excited to be dressed in, and [Parayray’s] was the one that showed it best.”
Balik Saya proved to be a successful project by Cong. Cristal Bagatsing. “It was initially only intended for the youth,” shared the proud representative, “but there were a lot of queries from seamstresses and out-of-school youth who were interested to join. So we widened the scope from just [students] to everyone residing in Manila’s fifth district.”
Through Balik Saya, Cong. Bagatsing was able to fulfill her goal of positioning her district as a hub for emerging fashion designers and creative individuals. Not only that, she said, “We now champion an advocacy for everyone to further develop their appreciation for cultural heritage.”