The ‘baro’t saya’: Modernizing a classic

In Photo: The winners. The creations of Mariah Marella Parayray (worn by Kim Fernandez), Alaine Isabelle Leones (Melanie Angeles), Somera Rana (Kim Ross Williams), Lou Galang (Marie Ann Umali) and Margaux Gustilo (Gwendoline Ruais)

FOR her chic, contemporary take on a national sartorial classic, Saint Scholastica’s College (SSC) student Mariah Marella Parayray won the first “Balik Saya Design Competition” held at the newly opened National Museum of Natural History.

The task was to bring the traditional garb, baro’t saya, to the present times. No matter how outrageous a contestant’s imagination may be, the blouse-and-skirt ensemble had to retain its distinct elements—the pañuelo (ruffle or collar folded triangularly) and the sleeves.

Parayray won from a field of 15 mostly senior high-school students. She received an apprenticeship at Rustan’s, an extensive workshop from SoFA Design Institute and P100,000 cash prize; Alaine Isabelle Leones from SSC won second place with P60,000; Somera Rana from Colegio de San Juan de Letran won third place with P40,000; Lou Galang from SSC won fourth place with P25,000; and Margaux Gustilo from SSC won fifth place with P20,000.

Special citations were also given: F.A.B. Choice Award with P100,000 scholarship to Christian Bulasag from Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila; SoFA Choice, or the Fashion Visionary Award, to Vianka Lorraine Castro from SSC, and Rustan’s Iconic Award to Rana Vashti Sacramento from SSC for the most promising in retail design.

The brains. Rep. Cristal L. Bagatsing of the Fifth District of Manila


THE competition is part of a bigger Balik Saya project that aims to bolster the heritage, culture and arts scenes of the Fifth District of Manila.

It is the brainchild of its representative, Amanda Christina “Cristal” L. Bagatsing, whose enclave is composed of Ermita, Intramuros, Malate, Paco (southern area), Port Area and San Andres Bukid (including Manila South Cemetery).

“The idea is very personal. I grew up here in Malate so my love and passion to serve this district is genuine and deeply rooted. So reminisce with me tonight to a time when I was a child going to different couturiers with my mom, who I think is really the one who inspired me to think about the Maria Clara,” Bagatsing, wearing a Jojie Lloren baro’t saya, shared in her welcome speech. “Just like Maria Clara, my mom is also mahinhin, self-effacing, always composed and beautifully put-together and demure. I always wanted to try to emulate her, but alas, I’m quite the opposite. I think I’m more like Gabriela Silang with a touch of Maria Clara.” Cristal Bagatsing is the first female representative of her district, and it truly takes a woman to revive Manila to its former glory. With, of course, lots of help from Atty. Guiller Asido of the Intramuros Administration, Department of Tourism, National Museum of the Philippines, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Destileria Limtuaco, Rustan’s, SoFA Design Institute, The Bayleaf Hotels and Ilustrado.

“It is my duty to try to bridge the gap. Now you see the beauty of the Fifth District, which is rich in history, culture and arts—Intramuros, the National Museum, Rizal Park, National Library and so many museums. But behind and outside this beauty, there’s also a beast—the beast of burden which is poverty, like Baseco, Port Area and San Andres Bukid,” Bagatsing bared.

The mentor. Jojie Lloren

“Call me idealistic but I truly believe that through promoting my district via tourism, I hope to be able to bring more awareness that more jobs can be generated with livelihood and skills enhancement that can open so many doors to other opportunities, and also because we have a lot of creative talent here that are honorable. Hopefully all this will create more awareness that you don’t need to look very far if you really want to help and make a difference and touch people’s lives,” she added.

Balik Saya is for the benefit of the Kabaka Foundation, which has 12 day-care centers and a free clinic (a first in the country), “because we believe that a healthy family is a productive family.”


THE Balik Saya entries were judged based on design, workmanship, wearability and originality, with the finished design consisting of at least 25-percent indigenous fabrics like piña, jusi or inabel. The judges were Inno Sotto, Criselda Lontok, National Museum Director Jeremy Barns, Jo-ann Bitagcol, Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez, Lulu Tan Gan, Rajo Laurel, Randy Ortiz, Dean of SoFA Design Institute Tobias Guggenheimer and Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez.

Raw talents that they are, the contestants were guided by design genius Jojie Lloren to come up with their polished, finished and creative entries.

“The entries were screened by [fellow designers] Joey Samson, Ivar Aseron and myself,” Lloren said. “It was a little difficult this time, as the contestants are not professional fashion designers and almost all of them don’t have any technical background. But after seeing the finished entries, I must say I’m happy with the way most of them turned out.”

Lloren is also the mentor in the reality TV show competition Project Runway Philippines (PRP).

“In PRP, I get to see the designers’ progress on a daily basis. I more or less had an idea of what to expect in terms of technical concerns. In Balik Saya, the contestants hired people to make patterns and do the construction. During the five-week mentorship, I got to evaluate them only once a week,” Lloren explained.

As opposed to FDCP (Fashion and Design Council of the Philippines) contests, where there’s “degree of difficulty” in creating a garment, Balik

Saya seems to reward the simple and uncomplicated?

How so? “Perhaps, the judges deemed it necessary to stress the wearability of the designs,” Lloren said, “to encourage more Filipinas to wear the baro’t saya or a more casual version of the national dress.”


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