Simplicity wins in the Balik Saya design competition

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AMIDST THE frou-frou, frills, and fancy reinterpretations of the traditional baro’t saya, including exaggerated sleeves, handpainted skirts, and elaborate bead work and cutouts, the most simple rendition won the first “Balik Saya” fashion design competition, which aims to modernize and re-introduce the Maria Clara dress as a classic but wearable garb.

The simple but stunning design created by young designer Mariah Marella Parayray won the hearts of the fashion designers who judged the contest, which was held at the National Museum of Natural History on May 28.

The grand prize winner paid respect to the classic baro’t saya while updating it successfully. Ms. Parayray’s dress falls right below the knee, has a simple silhouette, and a muted color scheme. But one thing it is not is blah.

Sometimes, when fashion designers are asked to reimagine and reinterpret traditional clothes, the tendency is to go all out — and over the top — to showcase their skills as designers. But in the end, their modernized interpretations become a totally different creation with little — if any — trace of the original.

“It might surprise a lot of people [because the winner was simple]. But we believe that when you create something contemporary, and at the same time catchy to get the attention, it has to be well executed. I guess in the sea of all the other clothes, it stands out because of the wearability, proper construction, proper color, which is so muted, and the use of indigenous fabric, which is properly utilized. It is a big factor why it won. Hindi siya pa-bonggahan (It wasn’t over a show-off). At the end of the day, it’s not all about the frou-frous,” couturier Randy Ortiz, one of the judges, told BusinessWorld.


The other judges were designers Inno Sotto, Rajo Laurel, Lulu Tan Gan, Criselda Lontok, top models Jo-ann Bitagcol and Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez, Representative (4th district of Leyte) and actress Lucy Torres-Gomez, and architect Tobias Guggenheimer.

Fifteen creations were judged based on their design, workmanship, wearability, and originality. The finished design had to be made of at least 25% indigenous fabrics like piña (pineapple fiber cloth), jusi (a piña-silk blend), and inabel (handwoven cotton fabric from the Ilocano provinces).

The grand winner brought home P100,000, and also won an apprenticeship in Rustan’s, accommodation at The Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, and a workshop from SoFA Design Institute.

There were four finalists besides the grand winner. They were: Isabelle Leones, 2nd place, who won P60,000; Somera Rana, 3rd who won P40,000; Lou Galang, 4th place, who won P25,000; and Margaux Gustilo, 5th place, who won P20,000.

“Balik Saya” is a project of the Intramuros Administration and Manila’s 5th District Representative Cristal Bagatsing, cooperation with Department of Tourism, and in partnership with National Museum of the Philippines, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Destileria Limtuaco, Rustan’s, the SoFA Design Institute, The Bayleaf Hotels, and Ilustrado.

“It was initially only intended for the youth. 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 the youth to everyone residing in Manila’s 5th district. We now champion an advocacy for everyone in the district to further develop their appreciation for cultural heritage,” said Ms. Bagatsing in a statement.

Special awards were also given that night. The winners were: Christian Bulasag who received the F.A.B Choice award, a P100,000 scholarship, and was recognized by Fashion+Arts+Business Creatives to have the most potential to be among the best Filipino designers in the future; Vianka Lorraine Castro who received the SoFa Choice or the Fashion Visionary Award; and Rana Vashti Sacramento who received the Rustan’s Iconic Award for her potential in retail design. — Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman