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ABS-CBN Ball 2019: Rajo Laurel Talks About His "Modern Filipiniana" Creations

In an exclusive interview with Metro.Style, the well-loved fashion designer shares the elements and techniques to help you appreciate the dress code more

Filipino—it's what veteran designer Rajo Laurel is, first and foremost, and a part of his identity that he's always been proud of.

So proud, in fact, that in his 20 colorful years of experience in Philippine fashion, local weaves and textiles, as well as heritage silhouettes and dress-making techniques have played starring roles in many of his pieces for men and women. Time and time again, they've wowed audiences not only for their beauty, but also for proving that the barongterno and other traditional garb certainly have a place in the modern closet, runway, and yes—even on the red carpet of the ABS-CBN Ball 2019!

The hotly anticipated event organized for the benefit of Bantay Bata 163's Bantay Edukasyon Scholarship Program had A-list celebs wear Rajo's creations that perfectly embodied the evening's "Modern Filipiniana" dress code.

From Iza Calzado's opulent, russet-colored terno to Julia Barretto's hand-painted dress jusi ensemble, the display of reinvented national attire was a sight to behold with gowns by Rajo making some of the biggest style impressions of the evening. 

Below, the iconic designer talks about the inspirations and stories behind his creations and why this year's ball's dress code was especially important to Filipino designers like him. 

What does the concept Modern Filipiniana mean to you? 

"Modern Filipiniana for me means that it's relevant to our times, that it's not a costume, but something that will resonate with lifestyles and personalities of the people wearing it with respect to the appropriateness of our national attire. For me, what's modern is taking something significantly indigenous to our lands and transforming it into something that is relevant and true to the person wearing it and also to our culture."

What do you love most about this look?

"The concept for the ABS-CBN Ball this year really makes us, Filipino designers, think, 'What is our national costume? What is Filipiniana?' And in so doing, the dresses that I'm doing, menswear and women's wear, will hopefully reveal this. [I love the look] and style of this dress code, primarily because it's relevant to me as a Filipino designer. The only way for me to practice our craft is by really by looking at our culture and looking at what we can offer via the weaves, the silhouettes, the shapes, and to create something that's distinctly modern yet Filipino at the same time."

What tips can you share when it comes to pulling of a Modern Filipiniana ensemble?

"In pulling this all off, keep it simple. I always believe that less is more. When my clients wear the Philippine terno or the Philippine national attire, I want them to feel proud, empowered, and at the same time, really inspired by our country's culture and what it means to be a Filipino. Those are my goals."

Talk a bit about each of your designs for this year. What are the distinctly Modern Filipiniana elements in their gowns or outfits? What materials did you use? 

For Iza Calzado:

"I explored the classic terno. You will see that I used a very, very classic terno embellished with vintage jewelry that I had recreated in Bulacan with the plateros there. However, I'm using a French boucle which is a very heavy, textured fabric in a deep russet. The combination of Philippine crafts and French material made it quite unique, and at the same time, celebrates very classic silhouettes with the terno."

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For Tootsy Angara, cluster head of ABS-CBN Sales

"I did something completely modern. I had weavers in Mindanao, specifically from Davao, [use] a special material made from metallic leather and we created a very modern silhouette which is almost a tapis-inspired number. It's asymmetric and at the same time, thoroughly modern. By using Filipino weaves, we celebrate this as well."

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Tootsy Angara with Sen. Sonny Angara

On Charisse Katigbak, wife of ABS-CBN president and CEO Carlo Katigbak:

"We deconstructed the terno sleeves and made them completely modern. They have a romantic, almost Spanish flavor to them. By removing the kanyamaso, you create a softness to it. It also features a high neckline enhanced with crystals, but the back is quite sexy because it's completely backless. It's a slim silhouette and we cut it from a beautiful, heavy Japanese silk."

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On Christina Lopez, Metro Group Head:

"I did a piña and black crepe de chine gown. The combination of raw piña and black is actually quite classic; however, we got inspired by the Spanish influence. We created a more romantic detail. It's hand-embroidered from Laguna with flowers, beaded with crystals and pearls, and features a beautiful V-neckline. The sleeves are also quite lovely because they're a nod to the Spanish era in Philippine history."

On Cristine Reyes:

"I made a very modern dress for Cristine; she asked me to be inspired by the Philippine flag. It was quite a risk to do a dress inspired by the Philippine flag's colors, but I like taking risks. It has a deconstructed panuelo sleeve that [looks like as if] it were falling down the shoulder. It has a slim silhouette with a deep neckline and the colors of the flag resonate all over the dress, which is also hand-beaded with a variety of pailettes and flat sequins. It's very artful in its approach, so that's exciting for me."

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On Julia Barretto:

"I also did a dress for Julia, which for me was one of my favorites because I used a four-ply jusi fabric which I found. It's beautiful because Philippine jusi is a real national treasure. I individually hand-painted this with modern takes on sampaguita flowers all over the dress that was also enhanced with Philippine sea pearls. It's a classic terno with a square neckline and full skirt. I wanted something really relevant so that young people understand how appropriate and elegant the Philippine terno is. That's the goal that I wanted for Julia."

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Photographs by Magic Liwanag and Ronan Capili