The final revenge of the terno

Published July 2, 2022, 4:00 PM

by Carol RH Malasig

All that turned heads at the presidential inauguration

THE FINAL REVENGE OF THE TERNO The terno has been making a significant comeback as a symbol of Philippine national style and identity (Cover design by Jules Vivas, photo of Liza Araneta-Marcos’ terno courtesy of Lesley Mobo)

The inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was a visual spectacle of what modern Filipino fashion could be all about. The modern terno, credited to National Artist for Fashion and Design Ramon Valera’s unification of the baro’t saya’s four parts, endures as our country’s “visual icon to the world.” To create a list of the best dressed would be quite a tall order but a couple of memorable looks, off the top of this writer’s head are in order:

THE FIRST LADY Liza Araneta-Marcos in Lesley Mobo

The first lady, Liza Araneta-Marcos, wore a Lesley Mobo creation, which used vintage piña fabric. The fabric, according to Mobo, began life by being harvested from the red Spanish pineapples grown in Western Visayas, Palawan, and Mindanao. “The traditional processes of extraction and handweaving can be traced back to the early 17th-century weaving traditions of abaca fiber in the Philippines,” he said.

SISTER Senator Imee Marcos in a self-designed one-sided terno in turquoise

The dress itself is a simple, elegant, classic-layered column terno dress but with a touch of modernity. “Overlaid with small side panels of handloomed piña puro, piña seda, and piña sinuksuk, it is lined with a shade of polvoron-colored Regency corded lace in a tropical flora pattern,” explained Mobo. “The front and back of the dress were decorated with blooming and budding sampaguita intricately handembroidered by artisans in Batangas in the style of 18th-century Filipino embroiderers using the craftsman technique of calado.”   

HOST Toni Gonzaga (right) in Mark Bumgarner, with her husband Paul Soriano (courtesy of @celestinegonzaga)

The president’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, wore a bright, turquoise, one-sided terno she adorned with gifts from their late father. The matriarch of the family, former first lady Imelda Marcos who brought the terno to the international stage, wore a pale blue version with draping in the front, a particular detail a lot of her ternos are known for.

THE QUEENS Isabelle Daza in Vania Romoff with her mom Gloria Diaz in black terno (courtesy of @isabelledaza)

Vice President Sara Duterte was in a cream Cary Santiago terno that featured floral appliqués. Actress Isabelle Daza wore a dainty Vania Romoff terno in white, embroidered with delicate flowers. Mark Bumgarner crafted a white “meticulously handdraped in silk chiffon” terno with a sampaguita brooch for singer and actress Toni Gonzaga. She later changed into a red terno with a micro pleated bodice – also by Bumgarner – for the evening. Former Justice undersecretary Emmeline Villar was in a Puey Quiñones terno adorned by bejeweled bees.

THE VICE PRESIDENT Sara Duterte in Cary Santiago (courtesy of @indaysaraduterte)

The terno’s beautiful and flattering silhouette is one of the most elegant national dresses out there. There’s a sophistication that comes with those butterfly sleeves, no matter the size one’s couturier would go for. With the iconography comes the responsibility every time someone wears it, especially when there’s an international audience. Clothing has a way of communicating a message. We all know the faux pas Melania Trump committed when she wore a jacket that featured the words “I don’t care. Do you?” during an immigration crisis in the US. Women of similar stature have had issues over wearing a piece from a problematic designer or picking a color that symbolized a certain belief. In these events and for certain people, it’s not just fashion. It’s about the message expressed by one’s choice of clothing.

FORMER JUSTICE UNDERSECRETARY Emmeline Villar in Puey Quiñones (courtesy of @pueyquinones)

Terno tales: pride, proper, personal

Another Lesley Mobo creation was worn by former TV host and entrepreneur Xandra Rocha-Araneta. Xandra is the wife of Luis Marcos Araneta and the daughter-in-law of Irene Marcos. She wore a stunning terno, which had the most eye-catching details, which Xandra gave Mobo the free hand to create. “I love absolutely everything about the terno, the details are incredible from the lace, the bustle in the back, the draping, the different fabrics, textures, and layers,” she said when asked about her ensemble. “It truly is a work of art!”

‘You know that saying, wearing your heart on your sleeve? In the case of the terno it’s wearing your pride for the country on those gorgeous butterfly sleeves.’

She added that her favorite part was how the whole look came together. “I wanted something fun so I just took one of my silk scarves and tied it into a bag. My earrings were the same dangling gold palay with little colorful stones peeking out attached to diamond flower studs, which my mother had given me for my wedding day,” she said. For the cocktail dinner, Xandra shared that she and Mobo had a Cinderella moment where he transformed her dress by taking the butterfly sleeves off and adding a green belt around the waist. A change of shoes and hairstyle later, it was a whole new look.

FROM DAY… Xandra Rocha-Araneta in Lesley Mobo (Luis Araneta)

Xandra also shared that it was her mother-in-law who asked Mobo to make her a terno, and the purple heels she wore were also hand-me-downs from her.

“The terno—to me—represents Philippine pride,” she said. “You know that saying, wearing your heart on your sleeve? In the case of the terno it’s wearing your pride for the country on those gorgeous butterfly sleeves.”

TO NIGHT Xandra’s terno transformed into a modern piece for the cocktail dinner (Luis Araneta)

Xandra added how the structure of the terno helps maintain one’s posture, encouraging those who wear it to sit up straighter and stand taller. “Exactly how one should carry oneself while wearing something that represents our beautiful country,” she said.

Indeed, donning a terno is often a show of pride for most Filipinos. It’s clothing that brings generations together while telling a story about our heritage and history. It’s beautiful, structured, and can have multiple modern iterations. It’s something that can be worn by the modern Filipino while maintaining its firm ties to our long, enduring history.

TERNO REINVENTED Lesley Mobo’s team experimenting on silhouettes (Cover design by Jules Vivas, photo from Lesley Mobo)