Bench and CCP join forces to create the terno for the 21st century

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IF THE spirit of the Filipina could be contained in one item, perhaps it’s in the terno. The popular adage goes that the Filipina spent 300 years in a convent, and 40 years in Hollywood, and it’s evident in the manner by which the terno falls on the body. The length and the sleeves suggest a certain demureness, but the flamboyant butterfly sleeves achieve a certain sense of pride and action, while the flattering, form-fitting cut and silhouette suggests a confident woman with an ability to stand tall.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), in cooperation with clothing conglomerate Bench, has been hard at work with 30 regional designers and several mentors, including Inno Sotto, JC Buendia, Len Cabili, and Cary Santiago. Since last year, this project, called Ternocon, has seen sewing machines whirring in the CCP. The project finally comes to a close on Nov. 11 with a fashion show at the CCP Main Theater. According to Cris Millado, Vice-President and Artistic Director of the CCP, the fashion show will showcase not only the best of Philippine fashion, but also the nation’s performing arts: the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philippine Madrigal Singers will perform as the dresses (numbering 90) move on the runway, while several dance performances will be interspersed in between. “What we bring in is to engage it with performance,” said Mr. Millado. It’s the design coming alive onstage on the bodies of performers.”

Ben Chan is founder and Chairman of the Suyen Corp., which holds his namesake brand Bench, along with international brands Aldo, Pedro, Charles and Keith, and American Eagle in the Philippines. Bench by itself is a local brand, but is in itself highly westernized, to the point of getting international endorsers to promote its clothing. But according to Mr. Chan himself, the soul of the company is still Filipino.

“It’s our advocacy,” he said in an interview with BusinessWorld, responding to a question about the company’s collaboration with the CCP. “We wanted to promote anything local, even if we brought in… other foreign brands. We still believe in anything that is local, that hopefully, can go global.”

Speaking about the urgency of teaching young designers about the terno, he said, “It’s something that if you don’t do it now, it just might go away.”

“It’s about history,” said Mr. Millado about educating younger designers about the terno. “I believe you should have a solid background of your history: history that makes your identity specific and unique, which sets you apart.”

“If you look at the silhouette of the terno… to a certain degree — a lot of critics say — it even constricts movement. To me, it puts the body in a certain state of gracefulness, where your body, to a certain degree — it’s not limited — but your movement becomes so nuanced, shaped by that whole silhouette,” he noted.

The terno, then, is not just about a matter of national dress, or Filipino pride: it’s a matter of presenting yourself and your own values. Mr. Millado said, “Sometimes, how we move, how we relate to people depends on how we suit ourselves.” — Joseph L. Garcia