RECONSTRUCTING our traditional dress and infusing it with modern touches still comes with nonnegotiables: no thigh-high slits and plunging necklines, please. These are some of the warnings given to the 18 Filipino designers competing for the project called “Balik Saya.”

Initiated by the Department of Tourism (DoT) and the Intramuros Administration (IA), with support from Manila’s fifth district representative Cristel Bagatsing, the “Balik Saya” project encourages young Filipino designers to create contemporary designs for the baro’t saya, also known as the Maria Clara, while championing the use of local materials like piña, jusi, and inabel.

“It is marrying the contestants’ imagination and our history, but still keeping the style decent,” project mentor and fashion designer Jesus “Jojie” Lloren told BusinessWorld.

As for the colors, he said the hues can go from subtle to super colorful. “Our baro’t saya before were really colorful, some of us just did not realize this because our photographs were black and white,” said Mr. Lloren in Filipino.

The “Balik Saya” fashion design competition will be judged based on design, workmanship, wearability, and originality.

Mr. Lloren said the contestants can use different materials, say silk, as long as the design uses at least 25% local fabrics. As the contestants’ mentor, his role is to edit over-the-top or costume-y designs and to glam up a rather basic reincarnation.

Culminating with a fashion show on May 28 at National Museum, the five winners will be chosen by judges couturier Inno Sotto, National Museum director Jeremy Barns, model/accessories designer/entrepreneur Tweetie de Leon Gonzales, Mr. Lloren, designer Randy Ortiz, DoT secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, and a representative from the SoFA Design Institute.

UNDER “Balik Saya”: (L-R) Intramuros Administrator Guiller Asido, fashion designer and project mentor Jojie Lloren, Manila’s 5th District Representative Cristal Bagatsing, and National Museum Director Jeremy Barnes

“We hope to nurture in the participants creativity and natural aptitude for fashion design. This project also aims to provide a platform and opportunities for aspiring designers to showcase their work,” said Mr. Lloren.

The five winning designers will each take home cash prizes, receive an apprenticeship in Rustan’s, an overnight stay at The Bayleaf in Intramuros, and a workshop from SoFA Design Institute.

The competition was opened to anyone who resides in Manila’s fifth district which covers Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, Paco, the Port Area, Baseco, and San Andres Bukid.

“We now champion an advocacy for everyone in the district to further develop their appreciation for cultural heritage,” said Ms. Bagatsing, Manila’s fifth district representative.

According to IA administrator Guiller B. Isidro, the project hopes to revive the enthusiasm in our heritage and in Intramuros as a tourism and cultural hub.

The project is in line with the DoT’s initiative, “Intramuros Revival Project,” which includes the opening of the newly renovated Postigo de Nuestra Señora de Soledad, Plaza Moriones in Fort Santiago, and Casa Azul in Intramuros in 2017.

“Balik Saya” hopes to keep up the growing resurgence of Intramuros — which attracted 1 million visitors over Holy Week — and our traditional culture. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman