Denise Cruz on Global Fashion and Filipino Nationalism in the Postwar Moment

Denise Cruz on Global Fashion and Filipino Nationalism in the Postwar Moment


I’m Matthew Guterl. I’m the Chair of the
American Studies Department, faculty member at American
Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Africana Studies, and
I’m here today, very happily, to introduce Denise Cruz,
Assistant Professor of English at the University of Toronto
and winner of multiple awards from the Ford Foundation and
the Social Science Research Council, author of widely-cited
essays in American Literary History, American Quarterly,
PMLA, and the Journal of Asian American Studies. So, in short, a superstar. [MAN IN AUDIENCE CHUCKLES] Thank you, Roth. [LAUGHTER] Her work is
breathtakingly original. It radically expands
our understanding of the relations of
regions and nations and peoples, broken down by race
and sex and class and language in the Global South and,
indeed, in the world. Her first book, Transpacific
Femininities– The Making of the Modern Filipina,
published by Duke in 2012, is a landmark. In a series of graceful,
interwoven chapters, she makes a critically
significant intervention into the now roiling
conversations about the war and empire,
migration and decolonization and diaspora. She traces the movement
and representation of a very particular
set of Filipina tropes, including that of the
cosmopolitan woman and the male sojourner over
a period of time and space. We are in her debt for
the location and recovery of the self-styled elusive
Filipina subject, long submerged in the heteronormative
and homosocial roots of the Pacific Rim. The book stands almost
without competition as the major corrective to
multiple important fields. A narrative of exchange,
transfer, and translation, it illuminates and theorizes
the Transpacific as a super-charged singularity
no less and no more important than Black Atlantic or
the Circum-Caribbean. The keystone
concept of the book, those Transpacific femininities
of the title, is fascinating. While mapping out
a literary genre that spans literally oceans,
Denise centers her work on the representation of
the globe-trotting Filipina in the 20th century, assumed to
be mixed in a number of ways. In a series of striking,
skillful close readings, Denise calls our attention
to the widespread excitement about this globally and
culturally promiscuous icon. She points to the concern
about the Filipina’s shrouded politics and intrigue
surrounding her education and her polyphonic nature. She asks that we look at her
metaphorical and literal status as a switching point
of worlds and peoples. In doing all of
this, she displaces the international Filipino
male, long thought to be one of the most enduring
and important representations to emerge from the literature
of the Pacific Rim. Denise’s follow-up
project– and this is what she’s brought
for us today– is connected to her
earlier work by an interest in the local, national, and
transnational flows of culture. But Runways– Filipino
Couture and the New Silk Road also represents a fundamentally
different scale of project, marked by extraordinary
intellectual ambition and reorientation,
and with the potential to be a real game-changer
and paradigm-smasher. We have fashion designers,
models, and partisan activists, an interrogation of the roots
and routes of Global South capital, a project dripped
in color and celebrity and elitism and
clashing cultures– all staged, literally
and metaphorically, within and upon the same
context as the Filipina laboring diaspora. All caught up in a web of
race and region, gender and sexuality, nation and state. I cannot think of a more
energetic, exciting, and potentially revolutionary
research project. The network– did
you just laugh? The network, or
singularity– we’re very informal here
in American Studies. The network, or singularity,
she is uncovering here linking the Philippines to Saudi
Arabia, Singapore, and India and exposing the
power of celebrity beyond the reach of the
US and continental media is completely unknown to
humanists and absolutely, astonishingly important. I want to call your
attention, as a group, to the research seminar she’s
hosting tomorrow from 10 to 11 over at Dyer House in
the main conference room. That’s at the corner of Hope
and Power– 150 Power Street, more specifically. The title of her talk today is
On the Runway– Global Fashion and Filipino Nationalism
in the Postwar Moment. Please join me in welcoming
Denise Cruz to Brown. [APPLAUSE] Thank you, Matt, for that
really astoundingly generous introduction. I’d like to begin by
thanking all of you for coming, but also
thanking Tricia, Rose, Nancy, and the Center for the
Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and its partners
for bringing me here today. I’d also especially like to
thank Caitlin and Christina for their amazing support. It’s nice, too, to
be here at Brown, whose capacious understanding
of American studies and Asian-American studies
and its transnational and hemispheric scope has been
really critical to my work. So it’s great to be here. On a balmy, humid
evening in June last year, Philippine
Fashion Week Holiday 2015 opened at the SM Aura, Manila’s
most recently-built urban mall. There are 16 of
them in the city. The mall is located in
Bonifacio Global City, a modern development built
on the site of a former US military camp, Fort
William McKinley. On that night, casual
shoppers, if they weren’t paying attention, could
have quite literally bumped into the runway. That year, designers showcased
collections for Holiday 2015 in the center of the mall,
ringed by global fashion chains and department stores from
the United States, Europe, and Asia. On that day, models
strutting the catwalk competed with the
bright anniversary sale banners for Tokyo-based
giant Uniqlo, the music from Miss Selfridge,
and the soft, neon glow of a nearby Pinkberry
yogurt shop. Although hedges were
somewhat strategically placed to shield the audience
from the curious passerby, the show was and
was not an event. On the floors above
the show, some gathered to lean against the
glass to watch for a moment. A woman with a stroller
paused to feed her baby. A few people leaned
their elbows on the glass while sucking on straws
in large, plastic cups. Others ignored the show
altogether and continued on their way, bags in hand. The three days of
shows at the SM Aura were just the latest incarnation
of Philippine Fashion Week, an event that–
although it’s currently in its 20th year in Manila–
is nevertheless struggling. The year prior, the organizers
crammed all of the shows into a single day, to the
annoyance of the fashion press. In 2015, there were rumors
of designers pulling out of the show to instead commit
to other fashion showcases. At the SM Aura
shows, many designers were new to the fashion scene
and lacked independent funding to mount a show. Thus, in order to
participate, a good number had to make a trade,
allowing corporate sponsors to assist them with the cost
of materials and production in exchange for the direct
inclusion of products on the ramp and in
video commercials. While some incorporated product
placement with subtle color swatches that
matched the products, others were a bit
more obtrusive, and rather unfortunately
so– like these models, who posed with iPhone
cases and iPad cases and pretended to
peruse their devices, flipping open the
case to swipe a screen or pretend to text a message
to the amusement of the crowd. I begin with this
contemporary staging of fashion in the
Philippines as a preview of where I’ll end up today. From what follows, I’m going
to backtrack several decades to reveal a very
different fashion scene. The story of the runway show’s
emergence and importance in Manila in the 1950s
and ’60s offers a glimpse of an alternate trajectory
of not only global fashion history but also post-war
nationalism in the Philippines, and how and why spectacles
of race and nation were critical to
Western dominance in Asia and the Pacific. The history of the runway
show disrupts a plot in which Asia and the Pacific
and especially the Philippines are read constantly in
terms of their relationship to US dominance– as grappling
with the legacy of US occupation or neocolonialism. It’s also a history that
questions our current vision of the Philippines, now known
primarily as providers of labor for the United States
and the Global North. I’ll start by tracing
patterns in print media that followed Manila’s fashion
industry in the postwar moment. In doing so, I’m drawing
out just a few threads from a larger
swath of material– roughly 2,500 articles across
three different newspapers and two women’s
magazines over the course of the 20-year period. Society pages, women’s
columns, fashion sections, and eventually,
full-color spreads reveal fashion as a key
cultural site in which Filipinos and Filipinas were making
sense of their identity as a newly independent republic
after World War II, one with fraught ties
to the United States yet with a unique position
in the Asia-Pacific. After these
introductory notes, I’ll turned to the span
of a few years in the 1960s, which I’ll use to
analyze how, through the runway show, a small yet
tremendously influential group of women and
queer men imagined forms of national identity
and community via the spectacle of dress. Fashion shows have
built upon other forms of Philippine large-scale
gendered performance studied by scholars such as Lucy
Mae San Pablo Burns, Martin Manalansan, Reynaldo Ileto,
[INAUDIBLE], and Doreen Fernandez. Their work has
documented and analyzed a long history of a love for
what, in Tagalog, Filipinos call palabas, or show,
manifested in events that range from the festival and
carnival to the beauty pageant to religious-themed
processions and parades. Fernandez theorizes
palabas as, quote, “performance, show, and
entertainment, and fun, that is people-based and
community-oriented.” Within such formulations,
notes Lucy Mae San Pablo Burns, palabas, quote, “provides a
vernacular, a material contrast to colonial understandings
of performance as exotic cultural
practices produced by colonized bodies for
consumption by the colonizer.” Thus, while the rapid
efflorescence of the fashion industry certainly
was influenced by important
developments in fashion in Paris, New York, and
London, fashion shows and their importance in Manila
took their own, distinct form. The emergence of the
modern runway show is also connected to a
broader international scene in which Cold
War-era performances of the Asia-Pacific–
from musicals like South Pacific and The
King and I to performing dance troupes– were pivotal to what
Christina Klein has called forms of sentimental integration
during the Cold War– the fantastic display of
seamless and easy exchange between the West and the East,
the Global North and the South that countered violence
of continued expansion into Asia and the Pacific. As Theo Gonzalves notes,
citing declassified documents from the National
Security Council, quote, “American
propagandists expressed the strategic situation
in sartorial terms.” Quote, “The United States must
present American ideas dressed in Asian clothes, coming
from Asian mouths, if we are to succeed. US policymakers found that
clothing in the Philippines.” End quote. But these sartorial terms
were more than metaphor. The Manila fashion show serves
as metonym for the larger ways in which the business of
fashion in the Philippines, while connected to
the Global North, also developed in ways that
have important structural differences. If I were to ask you to
imagine the runway show, you would, most likely,
conjure an image of a long, white catwalk,
upbeat and loud music, affectless models
sauntering down the ramp. While many of the top fashion
houses and their designers– Lagerfeld for Chanel,
McQueen or Galliano for Dior– have now become
notable for their elaborate performances and astounding
budgets, above and beyond, the fashion show is ultimately
what Kaplan and Stowell called the theatricalization
of fashion marketing. The fashion show in
Global North terms is essential to the
business of fashion. The catwalk today in Paris,
New York, London, or Milan is an opportunity for
a designer to display a preview of elements
that will also shape her or his seasonal
ready-to-wear collection. In contrast, Fashion
Week in the Philippines has quite a different purpose–
or, to be more precise, Fashion Week in the Philippines
has no clear purpose. Designers I have interviewed
described the fashion show in the Philippines as
similar to a recital. The runway show
in the Philippines is not directly
tied to the creation of ready-to-wear
collections because– other than a few small
exceptions– there is no dominant, locally-produced
ready-to-wear industry in the Philippines. Instead, local designers
operate in competition with global brands like
Uniqlo, Forever 21, and H&M. In Manila alone, there are
hundreds of working designers. According to a
fashion directory run by Preview, one of the leading
fashion magazines in the area, there are about 350. These designers operate
on a far different scale than what North American and
European consumers are used to. For the dominant mode of
designer-led production in the city is not ready-to-wear
but, rather, bespoke, or what they call
pagawa in Manila– made-to-order clothing, designed
in consultation with a client and executed in-house. The main clientele for this
type of clothing is twofold. The elite women who participate
in social, political, and public events, and
the wedding industry– what designers call
their bread and butter. Many of them use the term
couture to describe their work, but it’s important to note
that unlike Parisian fashion, in which the terms haute
couture and couture are rigorously maintained
and policed by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture
and the Chambre Syndicale du Pret a Porter, Manila’s
design word operates under a different set of
codes, norms, and hierarchies. The lack of industry
regulation, no formal government sponsorship, and the absence
of a local commercial textile industry has meant
that in many ways, contemporary fashion
in the Philippines still functions
similarly to the business as it was in the
1950s and 1960s. Manila’s fashion system
coalesced in the decades after the war,
and it’s connected to the broader fabrication
of post-war Philippine nationalism. In 1945, the United
States government recognized the
Philippine Republic, accompanied by a case
of historical amnesia that effectively
negated the almost half century of
occupation in favor of a plot of liberation of the
islands from Japanese empire. The Philippines were
held up as an example of democratic success
that was pivotal to US interests in the
Asia-Pacific region– and not only because
of the longstanding US military presence
in the islands. As the Philippines
finally emerged from both US and Japanese
rule, the new republic negotiated Cold War
geopolitics in Asia alongside the need to
craft a national identity from disparate
regional cultures. Although the
Philippines was heavily damaged after the
war, in comparison to other countries
in Asia, Manila looked to have a
prosperous future. And city leaders initially
hoped to capitalize on their longstanding
ties to the West. Eventually, the
Philippines sought to promote local over
foreign interests, and the post-war period
saw a dramatic shift in Philippine involvement
in the local economy– what was formally referred to as
a process of filipinization, eventually crystallized
by the Filipino First Policy championed by President
Carlos Garcia in his 1961 State of the Union address. Thus– and here I quote
Gonzalves– quote, “Members of families whose
main economic interests during the Spanish and US
periods had been in sugar would, in the years
after World War II, take up holdings in auto
plants, import-export business, financing, transportation,
or factory ownership, including increased attention
paid to the culture industries like film and television.” The concentration of the power
of the growing and diversifying urban elites was,
without question, in Manila, where members of the
community known as the Manila 400 reconsolidated their
power and participated in a vibrant social scene. But crafting a national
identity was further complicated by the fact that the
Philippines is an archipelago, for the islands had disparate
ethnolinguistic and regional cultures and maintain
them to this day. The display of Filipino
fashion thus wove together two concerns– on one hand, the
assertion of national identity in the midst of international
relations with Asia and the US, and on the other
hand, the need to knit disparate regional countries
in the islands together. The national
spectacle of fashion was pivotal to the
enterprise of filipinization, and it’s no surprise that almost
immediately after the war, by the late 1940s,
the runway had already become a social event
significant enough to garner attention in the press. People responded to the
potential of postwar Manila fashion with heady
exclamations of its potential. Manila could be a fashion
capital– Asia’s version of Paris, New York, or London. In 1945, [? Don ?] [? Petata ?]
who eventually would go on to become a designer in New
Zealand and was, incidentally, Rita Hayworth’s cousin–
proclaimed with confidence in an article in the Manila
Times that Manila, quote, “would be the fashion
center of the Far East. I predict that all
countries in the Far East, including Japan, will
pattern feminine apparel after designs created and
worn in the Philippines. And I believe that
fashions in the Philippines will also have an
influence on what women in the Western
part of the world wear. This is true, I
think, because the war has brought the Filipino people
and their customs and styles into the limelight
throughout the world.” Filipinos still idealize these
initial postwar days of a city with promise, illustrated
by websites dedicated to Manila nostalgia– that’s
an actual name of a blog– featuring photos of the
bustling Escolta District in the Philippines, where
shoppers would frequent department stores on
lazy afternoon strolls. To set the stage for my reading
of the runway show of the ’50s and ’60s, I need to underscore
how fashion in the city was formally circulated
before the war. In the decades of
the Commonwealth, the lady of a
prominent social family would work closely with
her dressmaker, or modista. While in later
years, fashion would be divested from the calendar,
writer Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s column, The Good
Old Days, fondly recalls prewar
fashion circulation. When the style for the
day were set biannually by the city’s elite women,
quote, “socialites and fashion leaders on New Year’s
Eve at the Club Filipino and three months
later at the fashion shows at the Philippine
Carnival Auditorium. Fashion magazines
from Paris and Madrid and the occasional Delineator
or Vogue [INAUDIBLE] patterns and ingenious inventions of the
corner modista or costurera–” two terms that mean dressmaker. “There have been some
gaffes occasionally, but the final, unimpeachable
decrees of dame fashion were always made known and
accepted unconditionally at the Club Filipino and
the Carnival Auditorium.” End quote. By the 1940s, the
emphasis shifted from the lady of the house
to a shared responsibility between the woman wearing the
dress and the designer who created the clothing for her. The 1940s and 1950s saw the
emergence of the term couturier and designer in the press. Because fashion
in Manila centered on a system of
patronage– elite clients and their daughters working
with designers– initially, the fashion show was a
carryover from this moment, as prominent women in the city
served models– socialites, wealthy women, the wives
of foreign diplomats and politicians, and eventually,
Filipina movie stars. After the war, the fashion
show took a significant turn when prominent women
in Manila began to work with charities
and designers to stage large-scale
ticketed events. These events began almost
immediately after the war, but they steadily
gained momentum through the ’50s and the ’60s. In 1952, the Sunday Times
Magazine observed, quote, “Most popular, if
overused, of attractions in this day of benefits
is the fashion show– an attractive,
well-dressed model bathed in the flood of powerful
klieg and spotlights as she parades
around a lovely gown and the equally lovely charms
in it always gets applause.” Fashion shows in Manila
were suddenly everywhere. The city, according to
another critic in August 1958, was stricken, quote,
“not only with the flu, but with a rash of
fashion shows brought about by the Parisian
virus of changing shapes. These shows have
already broken out.” And the writer cites department
stores, the Manila Hotel, Quezon City mansions, and
restaurants, as well as a large auditorium. In November of 1958, the Daily
Mirror similarly recognized, quote, “There’s always
one reason or another, to stage a fashion show. Thus, there seems to
always be one being held or about to be held.” By 1960, the Manila
Times declared that the fashion
show, quote, “may well have disposed basketball as the
nation’s number one diversion.” While shows in
Paris and New York centered on the exclusive salon
format or the department store show, and while these formats
existed in the Philippines, the most popular
shows in Manila drew upon the history of Filipino
carnival and festival and a love for palabas,
spectacle, and showmanship. In 1956, for example, the
show, Fashion Impressions at the Manila Hotel– and
this slide is a sketch that accompanied a newspaper
article that showed the layout of the show– included, quote,
“mood-setting screens depicting the peculiar art and tempo of
various countries from which– as the show means to prove–
Philippine passions have derived some influence
at one time or another, ingenious lighting effects to
heighten the dramatic illusion of the show, and stereophonic
sounds set up by a corps of imaginative technicians.” Manila’s fashion shows
included elaborate staging, musical acts, often a
meal, prizes, and, in some cases, were incredibly
long, like the event covered by Women in the Home in 1959. A, quote, “immensely successful,
four-hour long fashion show– the affair had the
air of a Cecil B. DeMille opus sans the aid
of wide screen. Guests were dizzied
and goggle-eyed watching the infinitesimal
parade of pretty girls in pretty dresses, and everyone
said that pesos $10 per head were more than recovered
by the mammoth display.” Not everyone was convinced of
the fashion show’s success. Recognizing that, quote,
“fashion shows are not old with us,” one critic
scoffed at the amateurish nature of local models. Quote, “They come on stage,
walk teeteringly to the center, and make a sharp
and fast turnabout. And all the while, you think
they might slip and just flop down unceremoniously
on the floor. There are those who just
whisk by like they were trying to catch the last bus. Others can’t help
but mince steps because the gowns have
been cut fashionably tight. There is one something like
the sailor’s gait, another with bow legs who has to
come out in something down to the knees.” In the same year,
another critic cautioned that the integrity of
the designers’ dresses were compromised
by couturiers who were trying to compete and
outwit each other, resulting in gowns that were too
glittery and over-accessorized. Shows were notoriously
long and always delayed. One show in October
of 1958 started an hour and a half late. Designers had taken
inspiration from birthstones. In the end, January
was not ready yet, so they sent
February out instead. It’s hard, with
even these snippets, to capture the scale of how
fashion consumed the city– to illustrate how much it was
on the minds of the city’s residents. Perhaps a better way to show
you– this timeline of fashion events, with thanks to my
research assistant in Toronto, Evangeline Holtz. If we look just at 1961 and 1963
and count in terms of numbers alone, in 1961, there were
26 different fashion shows. In 1963, there
were 42 spread out over the course of the year. This account of
Filipino couture is not to suggest that
interest in fashion is unique because globally, the
story of fashion, as we already know, shifts after World War II. After 1947, Christian
Dior premiered what was known as the New
Look, shifting global interest in fashion back to Paris. Women in the Philippines
paid attention, too, and the pages of
fashion magazines bear witness to the debate
over the New Look, trendy skirt lengths, or shapeless shift. What I’m suggesting, however,
is that the spectacular display of fashion took on an
unprecedented scale in Manila. The 1940s to 1960s
are considered especially important
to tremendous shifts in the fashion industry. But in Global North
terms, this boom is associated with
the development of ready-to-wear,
mass production, and the rivalry among the
fashion centers of Paris, New York, and London. In the last section
of this talk, I’d like to reroute our
understanding of fashion by turning to two more
specific examples that originated in Manila
that eventually travel beyond the city. In the 1960s,
Manila’s fashion world escalated to an
entirely new level. As the years progressed,
the spectacle of fashion required funding. And in these years,
the runway show shifted from its primary
purpose of a charity benefit. Shows became platforms for,
if not the clothing, then certainly the designer and,
ultimately, the nation. By this time, another
significant change had occurred. A field of designers that had
been comprised of men and women in the ’40s and ’50s
was, by the 1960s, completely dominated by men. According to one article,
quote, “gown making had been, for a long
time, women’s work in the Philippines. But in the past dozen years,
it had gradually changed hands. The gown maker is now male. Fashion has a new king, and
the scissors are his scepter.” There’s a photo given to me by
model Conchita Bernardo taken in the 1960s. She’s surrounded by the top
male designers of the day. These men crafted their
celebrity carefully. They were all– almost
all– queer men. As one model who worked
with them explained to me over tea with a
laugh, “Honey, of course they were all gay.” They were also
increasingly powerful. No doubt about
it– couturiers are recognized as a political
force, argued women in the home in 1965. They were competing
for the same clients. They formed rival couturier
and designer associations, whispered to the press
that one was merely copying the styles of the other. They left the dress shops
where they had apprenticed and began striking
out on their own, shutting out their own ateliers. To do so, they needed
capital and clients, and they needed the
recognition of a name. The large-scale fashion show and
the funding that came with it was critical to the
success of these designers, as was the increased dependence
on sponsors for funding. In addition to wealthy
and prominent clients, they turned to
corporate sponsors, from Max Factor makeup
to automobile companies to local television
to textile mills. By 1960, there was
a growing sense of wariness with the
fashion show’s ubiquity. Designers were thus
pressured to make the fashion spectacle bigger or better. Quote, “In this
fashion-conscious city of ours,” bid Women in
the Home in July 1960, “where fashion shows
are a dime a dozen, it takes a lot of guts,
ingenuity, and imagination– not to mention
money and patience– to put up such a show,
seeing as how the people are tired of this kind of palabas.” Thus, when musical acts,
dancing, cinematic screens, and large-scale auditoriums
weren’t enough, in the 1960s, fashion designers and
organizers decided to take Manila
fashion on the road, exemplified by the runway
extravaganza Fashion on Wings– a fashion spectacle
that was the first of its kind in the Philippines
in terms of size, scale, and geographic reach. Fashion on Wings was a showcase
of eight Filipino designers and eight models
who displayed 64 different, locally-designed
creations in 10 cities over 10 nights. Models and designers
were flown from Manila to cities on other islands. So here’s a map of where they
went– including Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Zamboanga–
before returning to the island of Luzon, where
Manila is, for final shows. This traveling runway
show in the ’60s was, without question, a
spectacle of nationalism, for it drew together
different regional identities of the archipelago to filipinize
the islands through dress. In April of 1960, the first
whispers of Fashion on Wings began to appear in Manila’s
newspapers and periodicals. The show was part of a
celebration of the anniversary of the weekly women’s magazine. The media roll-out
began in April, and articles appeared regularly
until the show’s premier in early May. Readers were informed
of the progress of ticket sales, the addition of
models, the performance of Neil Sedaka– who, only a few months
later, would have “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” hit
number one in the US. The media pomp for the show
emphasized its landmark status as a national event. It was, quote, “the
first time a fashion show will be held on
a truly national scale in this country.” Philippine Airlines, the
national air carrier, signed on early to transport
the models and couturiers to each site. Among the models were the usual
suspects– such as Conchita Bernardo Sevilla, who had
appeared regularly in fashion shows in years prior– and some
newcomers such as beauty queen and secretary
[? Encardida Abiera ?], a, quote, “working girl by
day and a fashion model on occasions,” who
used her vacation time to travel until her
supervisor at the bank gave her leave to fly. The eight couturiers who
were chosen for the event had already a name for
themselves in Manila. Two– Pitoy Morano
and Ben Perales, remain revered names
in the industry and were nominated for
national artist awards. Part publicity stunt, part
festival act, part tourism campaign, Fashion on
Wings was designed by organizers with high hopes
for its display of couturiers who, quote, “may yet make
Manila a world fashion capital.” In general, the public
responds to the hype. Models were greeted with
brass bands and leis. They were driven to crowd-lined
streets in convertibles. Tickets sold out and escalated
as the show progressed. Cebu City’s opening show
had an attendance of 5,000, and the numbers only
grew from there. Fashion on Wings was
such a large event that the installments were held
in auditoriums and university gymnasiums. Runways were assembled
on basketball courts– you can see the hoop behind her. Photos of the event show crowds
eagerly watching on the floor and in packed balconies,
willing to pay up to the highest price of 100 pesos– the
tickets started at one peso– to indicate their social status. The show culminated in an
astounding finale in Manila, held in the domed
Araneta Coliseum to an audience of 25,000. This was, by the
way, the same venue that 15 years later would
host another event that sold out to capacity– the
1975 Thrilla in Manila match between Muhammad
Ali and Joe Frazier. And for a more
recent comparison, Paris Fashion Week’s 2014
turnout was about 5,000 people. Fashion on Wings projected a
spectacle of national identity that was, on one
hand, interregional. It brought together
designers grounded in the center of fashion
production, Manila, to the north and
south of the islands. As such, it was meant to draw
tourist interest in regions of the islands
that might not have been known to other Filipinos. Helen Sanchez
thought as much when she first heard about the show
at a meeting for the National Foundation of Women’s Clubs
and made it her own imperative to bring the show to her city. Quote, “few enough
people, she realized, knew about with Butuan. ‘Where in the world was Butuan?’
was the remark she often heard– sometimes said in
jest, not seldom in genuine ignorance. The coming of a planeload of
models, couturiers, and clothes winging in from other parts
to stage a fashion show should help step up
matters a little.” In crafting this interregional
and national identity, it’s important to note
that Fashion on Wings and its display of nationalism,
dress, and the body proferred a spectacle that was
cosmopolitan, international, and current. Though the designers’ theme
was floral and specific to the Philippines–
as inspirations, they choose one of eight
flowers that were quote, “most showy and distinctive
among the Philippine countryside”– they each also
designed clothing that modern Filipino women would wear. The clothing was emphasized
in the coverage for its design potential– the cut of a
dress, how a fabric was draped, the originality of
the design itself. After the tremendous
success of Fashion on Wings, designers in the
Philippines began to look at the fashion
industry with new eyes. Fashion shows were
an opportunity to promote the nation, not
just at home, but also abroad. If a traveling fashion show
could be so popular in Manila, why not take the display
of fashion further? This was the era in which
air travel was increasingly important, so it was not unusual
that the Philippines sought to capitalize on the
potential tourism and travel to the islands. After all, other forms
of marketing the nation through palabas had already
proved to be successful. The Bayanihan Dancers– studied
at length by Theo Gonzalves– rose to prominent success
in the Cold War period, performing folkloric
dances from various regions in the Philippines to
international audiences to great success. A government grant
from the Philippines offered 200,000 pesos to
cultural groups that would, quote, “represent
the country abroad.” After a successful show titled
“Karilagan,” or “Spectacular,” at the World’s Fair
in Seattle in 1962, the Philippine
Couture Association returned home to Manila
with bigger goals. They decided to plan Karilagan
1963, which promised to, quote, “spotlight Manila as the
fashion center of the Orient and to generate interest
among southern Californians to visit the Philippines.” Multiple constituents
were involved in the show, including the
Philippine government’s Department of Foreign Affairs,
the Filipino community, the Philippine Consulate
General, and the Century 21 Center. Performances were sold at $2.50
and available at Consulate General but also at markets,
music and bookstores. 350 women attended the
first show in Seattle. They saw a display
of, quote, “lavishly handwrote creations in
uniquely Philippine fabrics.” In its first few
years, Karilagan promoted a version
of Philippine fashion that would draw upon its
unique cultural influence. The vivid colors and
handwork indicating the, quote, “Muslim and Spanish
heritage of the Philippines. Gone were the butterfly
sleeves associated with the Philippines, inward
eased waists, and frankly feminine lines.” Ben Perales, one of the
designers of the show, was aimed at introducing high
fashion design for Westerners. For the remainder of
the 1960s, Karilagan would add other stops and
locations– Bangkok, Rome, Spain, and Italy. But by the 1970s, the
show had become, quote, “essentially a tourism show.” This is the Manila Times. “Philippine scenes and faces are
projected on the back screen, figures in shadows come alive,
and lively strobe lights play on dancers on the
glittering costumes, and Jimi Melendez pouring out
the Kundiman, a love song, in his powerful tenor.” Eventually, Karilagan
returned home to Manila, and costumed women performed
at the Hilton and other hotels for guests during
the lunchtime spots. In Manila, Karilagan is
still fondly remembered today because it provided regular
work for models and designers. But, as designer Christian
Espiritu notes, by the 1970s, the series had become rather
kitschy– only a shadow of what it once originally was. As Karilagan
continued to evolve, the emphasis on clothing
for the modern woman gradually began to fall away. Instead of marketing
clothing, designers began to market the
nation and the collapsing of ethnic, religious and
regional identity– one that instead began to emphasize
local fabrics like pina or embroidery or
elaborate beadwork. Karilagan thus showcased
the crafting of garments rather than the aesthetics
of the design itself. Like other touring
cultural productions, Karilagan became an example of
a particular kind of performance in which, as Gonzalves notes,
“urban cultural workers had undertaken to both
ethnicize the nation and nationalize the folk.” But this nationalizing
of the local also had material repercussions
for the fashion industry. Karilagan aimed to
bring Philippine fashion to a Western audience,
but its transformation from a runway show
that promoted clothing for an international market into
a tourism show that promoted the Philippines
for marketable ends would signal changes to
come for Filipino fashion and its relationship to
the rest of the world. In the late ’60s and early
’70s, fashion across the globe changed dramatically. In Europe, Yves Saint Laurent
opened the Rive Gauche Boutique in 1966, laying the architecture
for the ready-to-wear industry that we now know today–
the reason that you can walk into a shop, pick
up something off a size that approximates your body, pay
for it, and take it home– or do all of the
above without ever leaving the comfort of
your own living space. In this period, the
prominence of haute couture continued to diminish,
and couture giants from Prada to Chanel
began to think about how to market their
designs to middle-class consumers through accessories
rather than clothing. By the 1970s, “fashion’s
luxury,” as Dana Thomas notes, “was beginning to
lose its luster.” While global
fashion in the 1970s became swept up in the
ready-to-wear revolution, Philippine fashion would
not continue on this path. Filipino designers did
experiment with ready-to-wear, but in the end, RTW would not
take off in the Philippines. Instead, the made-to-order
couture industry would remain, championed
and kept in business by the city’s elite women,
the most famous of whom– Imelda Marcos, sitting here
in a lunchtime fashion show– would capitalize on the
potential of fashion and palabas in order to produce
a lasting, memorable, and iconic political image. In the 1970s and 1980s, the
same years of the Marcos regime, Manila’s fashion
industry would also be directly affected by
the Philippine peso’s spectacular descent–
by martial law, by the ultimate failure of
the national textile industry, and, above all, by the
delineation of the Philippines as a special export
processing zone for companies in the United States and the
Global North in the 1980s and 1990s. Eventually, the Philippines
would become a central site for the remapping of
garment manufacturing in countries in
the Global South. As a result, the label
“Made in the Philippines” is itself indicative of how
the Philippines has become associated with the inexpensive
manufacturing of clothing rather than its creative design. The story of the runway
show I’ve just recounted is meant, in part, to
counter and historicize this more popular image of
what it means for clothing– or, now, a Michael
Kors or Coach bag– to be made in the Philippines. But more broadly, the
history of the runway show– its spectacle,
its connection to queer men and women, and
its movement across the nation and then beyond
its borders– also prompts a reconsideration of
US imperial and neocolonial influence. The postwar Philippines
and its cultural forms can certainly be read
alongside the American Cold War management of Asia, the
dominance of the US military, or the prominence
of male politicians like Ferdinand Marcos. The story of the
runway show, however, reveals that women
and queer men were also pivotal to this period
of national redefinition– the designers and couturiers,
the society women who posed as models, the
organizers of fashion events, the sewers
and the embroiderers, the writers of fashion press. They put on display an image
of the nation that complicates how we imagine the Philippines
and its citizens today, as primarily labor
for global export– either in the production
of material objects or in the marketing of
workers, nannies, and nurses who care for others. These men and women
also influenced the structural
differences that continue to shape the patterns of
Filipino fashion and culture today. This world, however–
and the prominence of made-to-order couture that
has been in place for over 60 years– is also on the
brink of disappearing even though, in recent years,
fashion school enrollments have increased and new
designers continue to seek their fortune in Manila. The Philippines, despite
the heady proclamations of fashion columnists
and designers in the postwar
moment, was not fated to become the fashion
capital of the Far East, either on the level of
designers or even production. Manufacturing has now shifted
to other, less expensive sites like India, China,
Bangladesh, and Myanmar. The elite women of
Manila now travel to New York or London,
Hong Kong or Paris to shop, and they have increasingly less
patience for their couturiers. Why wait three weeks for
a gown that I might not like, they ask, when I can
buy something off the rack? The runways of Filipino
couture are, thus, today, at another
crossroads, exemplified by Philippine Fashion
Week 2015 at SM Aura, where struggling young
designers– captivated by the dream of global fashion
and its possibility– stage their clothing in
the middle of a mall, both alongside and
against the encroachment of mass-produced
fashion that now threatens to no longer need the
Philippines for its creation. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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