Filipino Barong x Wastra Indonesia: Interwoven Threads

Didi Budiardjo and Steve de Leon

TO cherish the friendship and value the kinship through cultural awareness and appreciation between the Philippines and Indonesia, the two neighboring nations held a high-fashion event at the Metropolitan Theater on November 21. Called Filipino Barong—Wastra Indonesia: Threads and Patterns of Kinship, the show was organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Indonesian Embassy in Manila, in partnership with The Met.

The event featured two of the best designers from each country. Indigenous and spiritual art-wear master Steve de Leon presented his unique, sculptural renditions of local textiles.

Indonesian Didi Budiardjo of Indonesia, who is renowned for his handcrafted couture creations, showed his witty interpretations of the Maria Clara and the baro’t saya. 

Batik Chic, the brand of Indonesian designer Novita Yunus, and Barong Batik, the brainchild of Filipino expat Freddy Mercado, which applies the age-old customary process of Indonesian Batik technique to Philippine “jusi,” as well as ready-to-wear Barong brand Onesimus, also showcased their collections.

“The program is the first activity under the Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Cooperation between the Philippines and Indonesia signed last September 5, 2022 [in Jakarta, Indonesia]. It is interesting that this maiden offering is a fashion show, featuring the most esteemed among the costumes of our countries: the barong for the Philippines, and the Wastra Indonesia,” says NCCA chairman Dr. Rene R. Escalante in his welcome speech.

Both countries uphold a long tradition of preserving their indigenous tradition in textiles and fashions. In the Philippine case, chairman Escalante noted as an example the earliest surviving depiction of native costume can be found in the famous Boxer Codex, a nearly 500-year-old manuscript which illustrated the ethno-linguistic groups in the country, as well as of our Pacific neighbors.

The signing of the MOU set the tone on how both countries should strengthen the bridge that connects their people and leverage cultural diversity. It also coincides with the 73rd anniversary of Indonesia-Philippines Diplomatic Relations, which falls on November 24.

“Understanding one’s culture promotes respect and tolerance that can sort out cultural differences. Thereby, harmonious co-existence is at hand. This show wants to reflect that special bond between two nations just like the interwoven threads that were beautifully and securely fastened. We hope that Indonesia and the Philippines can withstand the test of time,” H.E. Ambassador Agus Widjojo of Indonesia noted in his response.

“Clothing is one of the cultural expressions. Fashion has always been derived from culture. The clothes we wear tell stories of our culture and our heritage. That’s how clothes strongly communicate. Tradition also plays an important role in the creation of these cloths in the sense that the materials, the motifs, the process are all culture-based,” added Ambassador Widjojo.

Filipino Barong—Wastra Indonesia: Threads and Patterns of Kinship, directed by Cata Figueroa Jr., is the first fashion show at The Met since it reopened its doors. It also showcased musical performances from Indonesia’s Al Azhar Junior High School Angklung Ensemble and Male Ensemble Philippines.

“I hope that, given the mutual importance we give to our clothing and textile heritage, the Barong and the Wastra Indonesia will also serve as a symbol of our common race, our common history, and our common aspirations—indeed, the ties that bring together our two kindred countries, the Philippines and Indonesia,” expressed chairman Escalante.

Image credits: Paul Sugano


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