Vogue Philippines gives you intel on Filipino designer Kelvin Morales’ coveted barongs, including a tennis-inspired one made exclusively for our November cover star Alex Eala.
In the past decade or so, Filipinos have seen a burgeoning movement in modernizing traditional attire. Young designers are recontextualizing their heritage and creating a new blueprint for what Filipino fashion means. One designer at the helm of the crusade is Kelvin Morales, the young designer pushing the envelope with his intricate barong pieces. “[Nowadays] Filipinos are investing in custom barongs like an essential piece in their wardrobe that doubles as a piece of art,” Morales tells Vogue Philippines. Known for his classic, relaxed silhouettes with open spread collars, Morales’ garments feature various embroidered designs—all inspired by Filipino culture—that breathe new life into the heirloom style.
Treating the piña fabrics like a canvas, Morales adds unexpected elements: schools of fish à la Klimt are woven, suspended plastic bottles are sewn on top of each other, and floral appliqués are tacked onto the Barong Tagalog. “When creating a barong, I focus on [the] classic silhouette by adding textured embroidery like broken lines and thread thickness,” the designer says of his tendency to favor the unconventional with an interplay of textures and experimental materials. Celebrating our culture while embracing a new wave of creativity, Morales takes the barong to unprecedented heights through attention-to-detail and an eccentric touch. He also works closely with his clients resulting in pieces with an undercurrent of humor and playfulness, from colorful BTS-inspired elements to grid-like garments with human hair. For the Manila-based designer, personality is everything.
One example of the 25-year-old designer’s personality-driven pieces was featured inVogue Philippines’ November issue. Cover girl Alex Eala appeared in a tennis racket-embroidered barong in green and gold tones by Morales—a fitting piece for a rising tennis star. Eala, the 17-year-old tennis sensation, is the first Filipino junior Grand Slam singles champion, the first to win multiple junior Grand Slam doubles, and the highest-ranked Filipino player in pro circuit history.
Having recently dabbled in the sport himself, Morales drew upon his own experience playing tennis to create the garment. He remarks, “I realized it’s all about focus and the right timing. The inspiration for the tennis barong is a balanced repetitive pattern layout with vintage color green and yellow thread to complement each element, then broken-line embroidery to add texture to the racket strings.” He says the embroidered fractured lines (a signature technique) can be found in the racket strings, giving it a distinct texture. Translating Eala’s personality and energy into a barong, Morales pays homage to tennis iconography and the vintage features of the traditional sport apparel.
Through a play on the joyous and eclectic fashion of the Philippines, Morales tells the story of our country. Every design is a small victory: presenting an enduring and atypical take on classic attire. When asked about the future of his designs he says, “I want to innovate our traditional clothing and represent our heritage in modern times.”