Styling Identity: How Filipino Heritage thrives in the Global Fashion Scene

Styling Identity: How Filipino Heritage thrives in the Global Fashion Scene

By Francesa Jana

Ever wondered what Disney princesses would look like if they were Filipino? 

Well wonder no more! Just last year, that idea came to life: Grammy award-winning artist H.E.R was selected to reprise the role of Belle in ABC’s 30th anniversary special of the Disney classic, “Beauty and the Beast”! Getting casted as the first Black-Filipina to play the titular princess meant a lot to the musician, so much that she requested the event’s costume designer Marina Toybina to help pay homage to her Philippine heritage while doing so. After extensive research, the Emmy-winning designer hand-painted the country’s pre-colonial script called Baybayin on H.E.R.'s apron, with the symbols spelling out “Bel”, the baybayin equivalent of Belle

Image from ABC

This isn’t the first time Filipino excellence graced the global fashion scene. In fact, numerous Filipino designers were behind some of the most iconic red carpet attires and onscreen costumes of the biggest celebrities and elites. One such person is Ilongga designer Chona Bacaoco, who created Drusilla Gucci’s 2023 Cannes Film Festival gown. Representing Visayas is the Tony award-winning Cebuano Clint Ramos, who styled Jennifer Hudson on the Athena Franklin biopic “Respect”. Of course, we can’t leave out world-renowned designer Michael Cinco, whose impressive resume includes dressing Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez. 

Aside from designers, some celebrities pay homage to their Filipino roots by showcasing Filipino fashion. Actress Vanessa Hudgens had Moschino customize a sheer black piece with classic terno butterfly sleeves while rapper Saweetie's crystal-sewn gown from Christian Cowan had the Philippine flag’s palette. These were the half-Pinays’ ways to celebrate their roots during the 2022 Met Gala. In addition to that, Miss Universe 2022 R’bonney Gabriel consistently champions Filipino-made pieces despite representing the United States for the competition. She wore a sparkly Filipiniana made by Mark Bumgarner for her attendance at the Miss Universe Philippines Charity Gala and then a terno top from Kultura during the celebration of Philippine Independence in New York City

Images from E! Online
Attire plays a vital role in representing one’s personality, especially with costume design. This is how the audience gets to know the characters they’re watching. Take Marvel’s “Black Panther” for example: Fil-Am visual designer Anthony Francisco came up with the look for the film’s female warriors, a.k.a. The Dora Milaje, by sourcing inspiration from textiles created by both indigenous Africans and Filipinos. In the 2021 animation “Raya and the Last Dragon”, the protagonist embodies different elements of Southeast Asian culture. This includes wearing a salakot a traditional headgear for farmers in the Philippines. For the season 1 finale of The CW’s comedy series “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, barong tagalogs were worn by the Filipino cast during a wedding episode — which also featured a guest appearance by Disney Legend Lea Salonga!
Image from Marvel

Image from The CW 

Social media sensation Bretman Rock has always been vocal with his Pinoy pride, often showcasing it through what he wears. Aside from dressing up as the iconic heroine Darna for Halloween, the Hawaii-based author and influencer made sure to promote Philippine culture to his 18M followers in ways that surpass merely eating Jollibee’s Chickenjoy. He continuously wears Filipino designs for his projects, as seen on his work with Architectural Digest, ColourPop Cosmetics, Daily Malong and Ilyang-Ilyang. His 2023 Vogue Philippines even sports him wearing a coat made by Filipino designer Joey Samson. 

Image from Vogue Philippines

Image from Keith Boos
Filipinos value traditions greatly. When it comes to cultural clothing, every detail ranging from the materials used, the patterns created, and to the vibrance of its palettes, all have meaning. This meaning is often connected to a sense of spirituality and sacredness. You can see this through the weaving practices of different indigenous groups such as the Badjaos, T’bolis and more. The value for traditions has led to intricate craftsmanship and artistic resourcefulness factors that give Filipino fashion its creative edge in such a cut-throat industry. 
At the end of the day, garments are nothing without the people who make them and wear them. Aside from being a form of creative expression, fashion is also an embodiment of history and heritage. Clothes are meant to reflect moments of the past, showcase the capabilities of the present, and predict the potential of the future. 

You can discover more about Filipino-made fashion with Narra Studio. 

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