The designer’s collection was playful and impressive, highlighting his mastered creativity over his craft.
At the finale of the Philippine Terno Gala, the cheers grew louder, as designer Cary Santiago unveiled his latest collection. He revealed sculptural evening-wear that showed off a streak of rebelliousness to an otherwise classical Baroque-inspired collection.
The designer’s brand is always tuned into the upbeat frequency of haute fashion, and this collection showed off voluminous frocks in deep crimson, classic-cool cage dresses, and multi-dimensional applique. A gilded terno top paired with wide-legged trousers garnered the most applause. The terno was reminiscent of Philippine eagle’s wings, its sturdy wings spread throughout the sleeves.
“In the previous collections I did, almost all pieces looked the same, but I made an exemption for this particular collection for the Philippine Terno Gala,” Santiago says. “Yes, they’re in the same series, but they didn’t have to coordinate with each other. That’s why they’re inspired by animals that crawl, run, and fly.”
He adds that it “would also be easier for my clients to choose what they want from this collection without having to depend on other pieces to match aside from expressing my creativity.”
He commissioned fellow Cebuano Mark Tenchavez of Shandar to customize all the footwear, using the exact fabrics he used for the dresses. “Cary wanted every piece to be elegant. The instructions were clear: No straps,” Tenchavez says.
When it comes to the gala, Santiago found that the most challenging was dressing up 20 society personalities. “I conceptualized the event; I produced it. I invited them, so the pressure was on me. They’re the most important for me,” he shares. “I had to prioritize them over my collection because I can always redeem myself in the next one.”
What is comforting to witness is Santiango’s high craftsmanship and social perspective coming together. For him, highlighting the Philippine terno and making it a unifying symbol was local fashion’s retaliation to the pandemic.
“Post-pandemic, I felt the need for a meaningful gathering, for people to once again find joy in getting dressed and socializing,” he says.
Along came designers Bumgarner, Laurel, and Rodriguez to share his vision. “Without question, these are brilliant designers who I can relate to so much in terms of taste, quality, and social responsibility,” he says. “I think, too, that these designers are celebrated, so they could gather a crowd.”
Off the runway, Santiago has also observed an increasing demand from his clients in his hometown of Cebu. “I could say it’s the top-of-mind design for every occasion. And I can see the pride in their bearing,” he says. “This is the purpose, to associate dignity and self-regard with every piece of the terno worn, and that it should be in everyone’s wardrobes.”