Mich Dulce might be better known for her pretty hats and waist-whittling corsets, but for a designer whose garment construction has always been top notch, it’s no surprise she can fashion an impeccable terno. And when we spotted the Belo trio of Dra. Vicki Belo, Cristalle Pitt, and Scarlet Snow Belo wearing ternos in Mich’s IG feed, we just had to ask the designer about the dresses.
Modern iterations of the Filipiniana dress have seen a resurgence of late, making appearances at weddings like that of Iza Calzado, awards nights in the form of Kathryn Bernardo’s pantsuit, and the annual Ternocon hosted by Bench. If anything, Mich’s answers may give you a new appreciation for the care that goes into making it and inspire you to don one the next time you’re in search of something pretty to wear.
What was the client brief when you were commissioned to make these ternos?
The brief was Filipiniana cocktail. Tita Vicki also expressed a preference for embroidered floral and she didn’t want to use piña. But they are perfect clients because they trust their designers. I really loved having that freedom.
Could you describe the designs, fabrics, and materials used for each one and how you decided on each of these?
I wanted to stay true to my '50s waisted aesthetic so each of the dresses were waisted and '50s-inspired. I knew that I wanted to do a mommy-and-me style for Tita Vicki and Scarlet, while also making sure Cristalle was part of the color scheme. So I did that by lining the floral French lace with two different colors. The floral fabric is actually the same one used by Giambattista Valli for a couture collection a few seasons ago. I actually made the barongs of the boys, too, and if you look at Hayden Kho’s barong, the flower embroidery is the same as that of Vicki’s dress, so it's super matchy-matchy, but hopefully not in a cloying way!
Cristalle’s dress is made of piña. I actually love working with piña but not a lot of people want to use it (or think I don’t use it). So I was thrilled when she said she was game for a piña dress. Scarlet is super cute and obviously will look good in anything so it was the easiest part. Both Tita Vicki and Cristalle’s ternos are actually tops and skirts. I wanted them to be able to reuse the outfits as separates.
The construction of the terno's butterfly sleeves is known to be tricky. Where or who did you learn this from?
I’ve actually been obsessed with ternos for a long time but no one has asked me to make one for them until recently. I hope Bench gets me to do Ternocon sometime because I really love it. It’s not a secret that I’m into vintage. I’ve been studying my mom's and titas' ternos, and looking at work by Joe Salazar and Pitoy Moreno. I’ve been learning from their technique and mixing it with my own techniques, which come from hat making and millinery. It’s the same principle of making something stiff and light. It just moves down to the sleeve from the head. I’ve been practicing making the sleeve on my mom’s gowns—until I was confident with technique, I didn’t want to go public with terno making. I also made a terno costume for Danish-Filipina performance artist Lilibeth Cuenca-Rasmussen early this year and she’s been touring the world in it and I’m so glad I got to make it.
The ternos you made could easily be worn by today's modern gal about town. Is that what you had in mind?
I’ve always wanted to walk around in a terno. Whenever I’m at London Fashion Week, I think about wearing a terno and aimed to make it my look, but I never had time to make myself one. (I’m sure other designers share that struggle!) I think that it’s a really beautiful part of our heritage and it’s so chic that its such a waste to limit wearing it just when [an event’s dress code is] Filipiniana. When I made those dresses I just aimed to make ternos that were true to my aesthetic, just chic ternos that don’t look costume-y and are totally wearable without losing the couture feel.
You yourself were wearing a modern and wearable terno in the video Dra. Belo shared. What do you appreciate most about wearing a terno and do you think more filipinas should be open to wearing one?
My terno is actually a vintage one from the '50s. It belonged to my grandmother and I just made it modern with a leather harness. So it’s proof that even “old fashioned” ternos can totally work right now! It’s just all about styling. And yes to Filipinas wearing the terno!