Fashion's status as a medium of self-expression is irrefutable, but its cachet as an art form soars when it serves to represent a nation and its history and identity aside from just its evolving sense of aesthetics.
That is exactly what Ramon Oswalds Valera, 2006 National Artist for Fashion, did with his design mastery for Philippine fashion. Not only did his creative vision shape and cater to the sartorial esprit du temps of the 1930s to the 1960s—one of the richest periods in our socio-cultural history—but he also revolutionized the national costume and turned it into a beautiful Philippine symbol. He contemporized the baro't saya by streamlining the 4-piece ensemble into the iconic terno, which alludes to our culture and identity in the same easy way that the Philippine flag or the Philippine map instantly does.
For the latest installation of its National Artist Collectors’ Series, local retail clothing brand Freeway is paying homage to this venerated name in Philippine fashion, hailed by fashion authorities as the country’s first true couturier for his masterful integration of uncanny inventiveness and originality with impeccable design and execution skills.
Born on August 31, 1912, Valera was a master of design ingenuity, innovation, and craftsmanship, known most for his magnificent beadwork and ability to create a perfect ensemble with nary a pattern. He lived and worked during the Golden Age of Philippine Society, when dressing up meant truly dressing up, and parties were lavish, truly opulent, and thrown regularly by the Grande Dames of Manila's mid-20th century beau monde: Chito Madrigal-Collantes, Elvira Ledesma-Manahan, Chona Recto-Kasten, Conching Chuidian-Sunico—patrons of Valera all.
He has dressed all of the First Ladies from Aurora Quezon to Imelda Marcos, who enjoyed a close friendship with him and showed her support for Freeway’s homage by being a special guest during the launch, alongside esteemed fashion designer Aureo Alonzo, National Museum of the Philippines curator Nick Legazpi Jr., and Valera’s niece, Peching Zulueta Gomez.
Several of Valera’s masterpieces, on loan from his dear clients such as Susie Bayot Ortigas, Margarita Romualdez, and Fe Leyson Qua, were displayed on a one-night exhibit accompanying the launch to give the public a special peek into Valera’s magnificent body of work.
There was then a 60’s-themed fashion show that showcased Freeway’s modern derivations of Valera’s signature creative cuts, elegant lines, colorization, and opulent beadwork. Woven dresses and tunics that sport mod silhouettes printed with the National Artist’s sketches dominate the Holiday collection, together with sublimation graphic tees that echo Valera’s legendary beadwork.
All in all, Freeway contemporized Valera’s groundbreaking work in order to deliver the beauty he created to an even bigger public, who can then wear modernized translations of his revolutionary design legacy. And we think the designer, who once proclaimed, "I don't want to be popular. I just want to be famous," would definitely approve, for what purveyor of nationalistic fashion wouldn't want to make beauty available to all?
Click on the photo gallery to view the Freeway Loves Ramon Valera Holiday collection.