By JOHN LEGASPI Images by NOEL PABALATE
It was an afternoon of beauty and fashion as The Manila Hotel once again housed an age-old Filipino tradition in celebration of beauty, fashion, and religion with “Pagsulyap sa mga Reyna: Flores de Mayo at The Manila Hotel.” Held in partnership with the Designer Circle of the Philippines (DCP), the event had the halls of the Maynila Ballroom dominated by couture pieces of extravagant proportions, with beautiful women wrapped and adorned in luxurious fabrics, and gentlemen showing Filipino gallantry as they guided the sagalas (maidens dressed in a queenly manner) by delicately holding their hands as they walked under the sparkling chandeliers of the ballroom.
Introduced by the Spaniards in the 1800s, Flores de Mayo (in Spanish meaning the “flowers of May”) is a yearly festival celebrated throughout the month of May in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was formerly known as Flores de Maria. From the rounds of praying the rosary to flower offerings to the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, the highlight of the event happens during the Santacruzan, a ritual pageant that revolves on the story of the finding the Holy Cross. It is where young Filipinas of the village, called reynas or sagalas, are dressed up to represent biblical characters, Marian figures, and other allegorical figures both from religion and history such as the Reyna Emperatiz, Reyna Mora, and the grandest of all, Reyna Elena accompanied by the young boy Constantino, all under floral-decorated arches.
Back in 1979, The Manila Hotel first celebrated Flores de Mayo through the great designer Ben Farrales, hailed as the Dean of Philippine Fashion, with the help of the Congregación del Santissimo Nombre del Niño Jesus. Unfortunately, after 21 years, the hotel had to cease the practice in 2000.
Reviving the old tradition, the DCP crafted Filipiniana couture gowns inspired by the 19th century Traje de Mestizas, also known as the Maria Clara gown or simply called the terno. Thirty members from the DCP demonstrated their modern interpretation of the classic Filipina look, from the angelic effect of fluttering feathers, dramatic shades of intricate lace, to the application of locally weaved fabrics and glittering embellishments of sequins and floral appliqués that shimmer when kissed by the light.
The designers who showcased their works were: Francis Calaquian, Ira Baylon, Paul Semira, Glenn Lopez, Rem Divino, Mikaelah Michelle, Don Pedro Moises, Simoun Andres, Ronaldo Arnaldo, Nino Ramirez, Norman Acuba, Rafael Gonzalez, Richie Bondoc, Dave Ocampo, Pencil Diestra, Nicky Martinez, Ivan dela Cruz, Ole Morabe, Nholie Pilapil, Gener Gozum, Rholand Roxas, and Edgar San Diego. They were joined by notable designers Renee Salud, Roland Lirio, Alfie Ong, Fanny Serrano, and Johnny Abad, the president of the design organization.
Under the solemn singing of a choir, the sagalas and their escorts sashayed down the red carpet, in front of a panel of judges composed of Danny dela Cuesta, Malu Veloso, Minnie Atienza, Grace Francisco-Torres, Barge Ramos, and The Manila Hotel resident manager Chris Orta.
The fashion festivities continued outside as arches were raised and a procession was done around the vicinity of The Manila Hotel, complete with a line of sakristan in their pristine white robes. At the end of the procession, the flowers in the hands of the sagalas were offered to the majestic figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary, making it an event truly devoted to her.
By the end of the night, special awards were given to honor the designers’ craftsmanship and the models’ poise and charisma. Declared as “Magandang Paraluman” was Sheena Dalo, awarded as “Natatanging Ginoo” was Aaron de Tomasso, and the designer that bagged “Bestido Pilipino” was Santa Emmanuelle for her all-black creation that was bold, dark, and luxurious—inspired by the Aetas, an indigenous group who have been in the Philippines since before Christianity came to these islands. The “Bituin ng Gabi” was awarded to the designer and sagala that captured the stature and elegance of the Flores de Mayo: designer Edwin Uy and his muse Samantha Lo. Uy’s design went for a clean silhouette incorporating Filipiana flowers and wooden elements that enhanced the romantic nature-lovechild aesthetic.
“How I wish I was born back then,” recalls the vice president of the DCP, Fanny Serrano, reminiscing the early Santacruzans. Taught and mentored by many of the industry’s mavens, Serrano wants to do the same to the new generations of designers. “I want to inspire them, to teach them. We challenge each other and that’s what happened this afternoon,” he adds.
“Filipinos are generally religious people and the Virgin Mary plays an important role in the day-to-day life of the people. It is a tradition worth reviving,” says The Manila Hotel president, Atty. Joey Lina. When asked to describe the afternoon’s festival, all he could say was, “Hail, Mary!”