Higher and higher on butterfly wings

Cheers to the best of this year’s Ternocon—grand winner Yssa Inumerable and runners-up Gabbie Sarenas and Gladys Rose Pantua


KERCHIEFS AND APRONS Balintawak by Yssa Inumerable. The designer received the highest citation, the Pacita Longos Award

Vladimir Nabokov would have been over the moon if he found himself where I did on Saturday evening—at a virtual lepidopterarium or a butterfly house. I’m not kidding.

On Saturday night, I was by no exaggerated measure the envy of my favorite author, never quite a full-time entomologist but an extremely knowledgeable and passionate to the point of obssessive lepidopterist, to whom, as he once said, “Literature and butterflies are the sweetest passions known to man.”

I was on Saturday surrounded by these winged creatures, all fluttering about around me, beside me, behind me, and up on the stage, taking me on a flight of fancy not quite different from the masterpiece, Lolita, which came as an offshoot of his excursion through the roadside motels Nabokov stayed in on the hunt for butterflies across America.

MENTORS AT WORK Clockwise from top: Ensemble by Joey Samson, Dennis Lustico, as well as Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo

The third edition of Ternocon, held at the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez at the CCP Complex, a competition, convention, and showcase, highlighted the less formal version of the terno, the balintawak, often worn with a tapis, an overskirt, wrapped around the waist or otherwise tied with two strings like an apron.

The national dress is important to us not only because we are in the business of fashion but because, foremost, we are Filipinos. —Ben Chan

Although every piece, whether by the 2023 mentors like Dennis Lustico, Joey Samson, and Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo or by the 2023 finalists from all over the Philippines, looked every inch wearable, the show pushed the envelope to reveal a million and one possibilities for the national dress in terms of size (particularly of the signature butterfly sleeves), shape, cut, drape, color, material, or sensibility.

Everything was modern, yet some, like riches dug out of your lola’s baul, were faithful revivals of the glorious, dressier past while others took liberties with unconventional fabrics and methodologies, making use of unlikely materials like x-ray acetate sheets.

The guests did not relegate themselves to the background, stealing a piece of the limelight with the outsized appeal of their very own butterfly wings, as each one turned out in their Balintawak best or their terno best, waltzing in on the arm of the barong Tagalog-clad gentlemen in the crowd. As a result, the Ternocon, as it has always been, was a show on all fronts, on and off the stage, beginning from the driveway, where the cars deposited the guests like butterflies emerging out of their cocoons.

FABULOUS DUO (front) Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre on stage

The Ternocon is a passion project of Bench, a personal advocacy of Bench founder Ben Chan, and a cultural breakthrough for the Cultural Center of the Philippines under the chairmanship of Margie Moran-Floirendo, with whom Ben Chan and his team, including Ternocon artistic director Gino Gonzalez, Bench creative Noel Manapat, and Ternocon chief mentor Inno Sotto, have been working closely over the years not only to revive the national dress but also to weave it back into the very fabric of the daily life of the modern Filipino. Every year since the Ternocon started the entire year has been devoted to teaching a new generation of designers and dressmakers in the art and science of terno-making, replete with formal guidance on craftsmanship, appropriations, and the rich history behind the dress. 

BIG FLUTTERS Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with Bench stage the third edition of TernoCon at Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez Black Box Theater in CCP complex, Manila on Saturday evening, Jan. 28, 2023. In photo are Bench founder Ben Chan, First Lady Liza Marcos, first runner up Gabbie Sarenas, grand winner Yssa Inumerable, and second runner up Gladys Rose Pantua, together with the Ternocon judges Ormoc City Mayor Lucy Torres-Gomez, CCP chairperson Margarita Moran Floirendo, and designers Philip Rodriguez, Lesley Mobo, and Ivar Aseron

This year’s finalists were Al Rey Rosano from Negros Oriental, Amor Albano from Ilocos Norte, Bon Hansen Reyes from Rizal, Bree Esplanada from Cebu, Dee Javier from Manila, Gabbie Sarenas from Rizal, Geom Hernandez from Batangas, Gladys Rose Pantua from Zamboanga, Glyn Alley Magtibay from Oriental Mindoro, Karl Nadales from Iloilo, Marc Carcillar from Iloilo, and Yssa Inumerable from Parañaque.

Emerging on top of these finalists, only 12 of so many applicants from all over the Philippines, was Yssa Inumerable, who won the Pacita Longos Award, the equivalent of a gold. Gabbie Sarenas won the Pura Escurdia Award (silver), while Gladys Rose Pantua received the Ramon Valera Award (bronze). This year’s jury, headed by Ben Chan, included designers Ivarluski Aseron, Lesley Mobo, and Philip Rodriguez and Ormoc City Mayor Lucy Torres Gomez.

To all others who made it to the show, contestant, spectator, or even organizer or attendant, the Ternocon was enough of a reward, but also a challenge to find every opportunity to dress body, mind, heart, and soul as a mighty proud Filipino as well as to wear it on sturdy shoulders ready to take on the world.

Fly high, butterlies!