When Bench and the Cultural Center of the Philippines joined forces to create the first-ever TernoCon two years ago, the art of terno-making was revived. Suddenly, the spotlight pivoted to show how young designers are reimagining traditional Filipiniana attire.
With that goal slowly being realized through this new generation of talent, it seemed fitting for TernoCon to produce an exhibit, albeit a short-lived one, in honor of the legendary Salvacion Lim Higgins who revolutionized the terno as a form of haute couture.
Salvacion Lim Higgins, known as Slim, was born on January 28, 1920. When she established her label in 1947, it coincided with the post-World War II era, a time when Filipinos were craving to embrace their national heritage. This led to women donning the Filipiniana attire at many formal affairs. Society women would even change their outfits up to four to six times a day. Many of these society swans would look to Slim for their ensembles, making the designer one of the most prominent names in fashion from the '50s to '60s.
Aside from Slim's great eye for color and cut, perhaps one of her most defining characteristics was her attention to detail. It's not just aesthetics the designer was concerned with, but also the construction—and it's the terno's very construction that makes it a difficult piece to learn. Combining her creativity and skills, Slim dreamed up designs that gave women a taste of the avant garde. Her clean lines, voluminous shapes, cool cuts, and rich details, breathed new life into the traditional terno, and it's something that today's designers can take cues from.
Take a look at TernoCon's exhibit, "The Salvacion Lim Higgins Terno: A Heritage for Philippine Fashion," to see the designer's creations that have withstood the test of time:
This pale magenta terno with cascading pleated petals is a reproduction of a design created in the late '70s.
This hot pink number is made with pure silk peau-de-soie (a grosgrain silk textile) and features an embroidered tapis. It was created for Mrs. Roberto Villanueva in the late '70s.
A cross between a terno and a '20s-style dress, this hand-beaded number features strings of sequins on its hobble skirt.
A design that was truly ahead of its time is this beige "daytime terno" made with rayon chenille and embellished with raffia appliqués. It was created for First Lady Leonila Garcia in the late '50s.
The beauty of this nylon jersey terno lies in its simplicity. The fabric is draped across the bodice and beaded by the hand with bronze appliqués. It was designed in the early '70s.
Another formal daytime ensemble for First Lady Leonila Garcia is this fringed, pure white terno sparingly adorned with filigree appliqués.
This tasteful floral print gown is a youthful twist on the classic terno. It's made with rayon silk and features similar floral appliqués on the sleeves. What makes it fresh is its draped skirt with a modest slit that opens up like a tulip.
On the left is a blue terno with a short train and a French heirloom lace overlay. The sleeves can be detached to reveal a strapless gown. On the right is a golden yellow rayon taffeta terno with an interesting balloon-meets-serpentina skirt. Both dresses were designed for First Daughter Linda Garcia Campos.
Another dress that injects the old world charm of Europe into the traditional terno is this ivory rayon satin number designed in the late '50s. The hand-embroidered appliqués feature Swiss nacre straw, while the train is a nod to the ternos worn during the Kahirup Ball, an annual ball for the rich and famous. The ball was initiated by Kahirup, a group of the Visayan elite.
The dreamy white dress in the middle was designed for the wedding of Genoveva Ignacio Bueno in 1954. She was even the subject of a portrait done by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo. The champagne-colored dress on the right was modeled by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil during the first Manila Carnival after World War II.
Slim's sartorial career spanned 50 years. The designer passed away in 1990. Her legacy lives on through her fashion school, Slim's Fashion & Arts School, which she established with her sister Purificacion in 1960. This year marks the school's 60th anniversary.