Philippines Re-Designed: The Cherry Gil Moment

The Batanes-Tibetan look from my women's fashion called Fable. (Photo by:

(Philippines Re-Designed is my collection of Facebook notes / thoughts about how to improve the Philippines’ tourism and design scene).

Philippines Re-Designed:
The Cherry Gil Moment
(You are nothing but a second-rate trying hard, copy cat!)
by Kristian Cruz

The grumblings are now more audible from an increasing number of my ‘creative’ friends: Why is there no discernible Filipino fashion style?

Based on what we’ve seen time and again during Philippine Fashion Week, what we are reduced to are copies of what the European fashion shows are doing. A year ago, I would have been upset by this. Maybe it’s just the freshness of 2011, but I am less bothered by it. Why? Because, I am slowly realizing that we can never find a definitive Filipino fashion style because we can never find a definitive Filipino broader cultural national identity in the first place. Ouch, right?

Let’s break this down. I don’t think we’ll ever find a Filipino national identity because of two things (which are not new propositions):

1) Because of our mix of colonial influences, can we ever untangle the knots?
2) Because of 7,000 plus islands, can we really expect a single land mass identity?

So, instead of trying to unearth what’s truly Filipino fashion, either by digging from the past (think, aboriginal) or by overly exotic-izing a perceived tribal-ness (think, use of exotic materials), can we, for one second, think that perhaps we already have one, that’s right under our noses?

Who? What? Where? How? Why?

Well… I am proposing that maybe we are too stuck on some sort of cultural nostalgia, fantasizing about a cultural past that either does not exist or is too far away, like the time of the Malay ‘balangays’ (tribal boats). Filipino Fashion Style exists. But to find it, we have to zoom in on the Present, instead of the Past. Zoom in even closer, Filipino Fashion exists at the town level, in cities that still project a certain cultural visual distinctness. If we follow this logic, we come to the conclusion that we actually have several present-time Filipino Fashion Identities, each represented by a different city.

There will never be a SINGLE Filipino fashion identity. Because, that will mean choosing one over another and if we do that, we disrespect the 2 reasons I mentioned above. It will disrespect our mixed history and our varied geography.

Before I give examples of its present-day incarnations, let’s disregard the major modern city street examples: the jeans + shirt look, the Korean hair look, the designer-label socialite look, etc. Every global city has this (maybe not the Korean hair). These modern day urban global-local incarnations are not unique to the Philippines. What I am trying to look for are town-city styles that have enough visual distinctness AND are actually worn in day-to-day real life… just like the hip boleros, capes and bowler hats worn by the Peruvians (super chic !!!). So, here’s my rough incomplete list:

1) Sagada
– the mixed wool knit hats, candy-colored.
– worn with severely distressed soiled motorcycle jackets,
– the use of pink sweaters by men combined with another pastel color, such as a blue distressed blazer
– on women, the draping of dresses, on top of another dress, then another to carry the baby on a sling

2) certain towns in Mindanao
– not the stereotypical Muslim folk dance attire, but the use of tunics by men and women, on their everyday dealings
– the use of a looser pant on men

3) Batanes
– the use of fur-like dried grass hats, to shield them from the rain
– the use of shirt collages (shirts sewn from different shirts)

4) Masbate
– the Filipino cowboy-look (yes, there are cowboys in Masbate)

The next question is: Now that we know that a Filipino Fashion Identity exists (albeit fractured and varied), what now? What’s the benefit?

Well, for designers, they can perhaps use these as springboards for inspiration (so they can stop copying from the Japanese and have the gullible Philippine press celebrate blindly celebrate them as avant-garde). For the normal 9-5 person, the straw hats may not work but maybe the Sagada use of pink sweaters under a manly blazer can work. Or maybe, it doesn’t really have a pragmatic aspect to it and that’s ok. I guess all of this is just for argument: That, we do have a Filipino Fashion Identity. It’s just not in the cities, but in our provinces.

If you want to look for it in the major cities like Bulacan, Cebu or Manila, forget about it. If you really want to force the issue, I will go look for it in Quiapo or Tondo. Last year, I saw a tricycle driver wearing a jacket, primitively cut short up to the elbow area, to reveal a long sleeved shirt underneath, then having motorcyle gloves with the finger areas cut to expose the skin. It was one of the chic-est things I’ve seen in Manila.

Chic-er than the socialite Manila guy wearing a white shirt with suspenders, cropped brown shorts with black leather boots while holding a designer bag, wearing a Mad Men hat, then blog about it and call it ‘a look that I created.’ To say you created it is quite a stretch my friend, just check out the H&M catalog a few years ago. Dude, all I can tell you is: Google the word ‘hubris.’ The Ifugaos in Sagada have 300x more style than you. Why? Because they know the difference between having style vs. buying style.

Kristian Cruz

  • Bert

    you mean a national dress design not copied from foreign style?

    that’s hard.

    even the G-string of the Ifugao’s is indigenous in other countries of the world, :).

    • Kristian

      Hi BERT,

      Thanks for your comment.

      No, I don’t mean a national dress design that’s not copied from a foreign style.

      I think it is unfair for us to look for a national visual identity because of the 2 reasons I wrote in the article. But, you just raised a good possible 3rd reason. What we think are national cultural identity stereotypes (the tribal G-string for example), do actually exist in other countries.

      You raised a good point.

      And I agree, to find a distinct national identity is hard. That’s why I am more focused on looking for it in cities. After all, I believe true fashion can be found in the streets, what’s worn in everyday life.

      Maybe I am a romantic patriot, but I am hoping that our cities (like Manila or Cebu) would have a more distinct fashion style that is not Forever 21-based or Hollywood-based. I love Forever 21 though.

      It would have been exciting to see if we had one. But if we don’t, I am still ok with it.

  • fashion designers are inspired by what they see. consumers buy whatever style/creation they like and can afford. and then they mix it up. and then fashion designers see how consumers responded to their creations and are inspired to create more styles and consumers buy and mix again and so on and on and on. It’s a beautiful cycle fueled by interaction. And there ain’t going to be going back to roots, unless of course some designer finds something tribal that excites him and the consumer likes it.

    • Kristian

      Hi Manuel,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I love what you said. I totally agree and love how you put it. You described the creative process beautifully.

      Overall, I think in this age of globalization, it will really be hard to preserve whatever we imagine as our preceived identity (past or present). Especially in fashion, we mix not only influences but fashion labels… not just mixing designers but mixing pieces from Forever 21 and something high-end.

      What I am kinda hoping though, and I come from a good place with this… is for Filipino designers who participate in Philippine Fashion Week… to find a way to be more distict, aesthetically.

      This is tricky… because I don’t want to force designers (being one myself) to be somebody they are not. My theory is, because of the pressures of globalization to mix and to look homogeneous, it is more strategic for us to stand out, to visually differentiate.

      Maybe it can be done in 2 ways:
      1) By looking and presenting more distinct Filipino visual influences, that other countries don’t possess or present
      2) Or, by being absolutely authentic without being tied to being Filipino… as long as it is super brilliant. Like Gareth Pugh, a British designer. Seeing his groundbreaking work, you won’t even smell his British roots. The only thing visible is his brilliance. It put British fashion in the radar again but not because of its British-ness but bec the country produced something and someone brilliant. And, that’s ok too.

      • to visually differentiate…

        maybe if a designer works to enhance the givens like what colors would enhance the skin color of pinoys? What shapes would work well with the pinoy body type?

        think of dressing the pinoy whose color and body type is different from other races and you might design something visually different.

        Off the top of my head, I would say heavy looking fabrics won’t look good on small-boned people like pinoys. turtle necks and other similar things don’t look good either because we don’t have long necks or strong jaws…

        anyway i just look, i don’t wield the pencil

        it’s a challenge and I guess the question is who are you dressing, a pinoy or some other body type?

        • Kristian

          Yet another good point, Manuel.

          You are pointing out something that I rarely read about in articles about the state of Philippine Fashion. I keep on hearing about inspiration, materials, production, etc.

          But, maybe I am wrong here, but no one really bothered to ask what is useful for the Filipino customer. All we keep on reading about are experimentations of aesthetic, not really function.

          Very good point, Manuel.

  • GabbyD

    i have a question. you say : “Because, I am slowly realizing that we can never find a definitive Filipino fashion style because we can never find a definitive Filipino broader cultural national identity”

    so, this implies that other cultures have a definitive style? (modern fashion)

    so u can look at clothes, and KNOW who designed them? serious?

    • Kristian

      Hi GABBYD,

      Thanks for your comment.

      1) Some cultures have a definitive style, but most do not.
      – Yes, I do need to acknowledge that. I think what I am pondering on and slowly realizing is that perhaps Filipinos don’t have a national one (as what my creative friends criticize) and that’s ok.
      – Come to think of it, I don’t think other countries have a national one so it will be unfair to ask that of our country.
      – But, I do think that certain cities in other countries have a definitive style.
      – The major urban areas of South Korea, at least for women, they do have a distinct way of layering and use of pastel colors while layering.
      – Sometimes I wish our urban cities, like Manila or Cebu, have a distinct fashion style that is not Western or Hollywood-based… but, that needs to happen organically. Just because we don’t have it, does not mean that we don’t have style. Manila is filled with stylish people, they are just Forever 21-inspired. Again, nothing wrong with that. Just not new visually.
      * here’s a link to a previous post about Forever 21 fashion in Manila:

      2) Even in a super mixed race/nationality city as New York, I can quickly spot modern Korean fashion in women. The Korean men, hard to explain, but I can spot it too (more in their shoes and boots).

      3) For the other question, whether I can look at clothes and know who designed them… if it means knowing which fashion city or look that is, for example, say that’s a South Korea urban look, yes. To answer your question in another way, meaning at the designer level, Yes… sometimes I can spot which one is a Jil Sander look, a coat from Burberry, a Rick Owens creation, etc.