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11 Legendary Filipino Fashion Designers of Old Manila

Once upon a time when couture was standard, these fashion masters were the ones trusted by Manila's elite.

In the golden days of Manila, privileged women of this city’s elite opted to be dressed by a handful of these famous dressmakers, entrusting them with stitching their impeccably classic yet fashionable gowns. Back in the day, the elegant and fashionable society women of Manila changed clothes four to six times a day. 

Pacita Longos

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Miss Philippines 1929 Pacita Ongsiako de los Reyes in a Pacita Longos terno with metallic embroidery.

A leading couturier in pre-war Manila, Pacita Longos is often credited with starting the trend of flattened terno sleeves, known today as “butterly sleeves.” Longos was described as an elegant woman, admired by those in the industry for pioneering fashion and clothing in the country. She designed intricate gowns for Manila’s elite, from the debutantes at the Manila Carnival to the baro’t sayas of First Lady Aurora Quezon.

Juanita Mina Roa

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Victoria López de Araneta (above) was the first woman to don a “pañuelo-less” terno by Juanita Mina Roa in the 1936 NEPA Fashion Show.

Juanita Mina Roa was one of the top fashion designers in Manila along with Longos. She designed the two-in-one terno with the use of removable sleeves, making it adaptable into an American-style evening gown. Roa was the personal dressmaker of First Ladies Aurora Quezon and Esperanza Escolar Limjap-Osmeña. In addition to dressing Manila society, she was the in-house dressmaker of Centro Escolar University where she’d design students’ graduation terno.

Ramon Valera

Elvira Manahan in a sequined Ramon Valera

Born in Abra in 1912 and educated in Manila, Ramon Valera made a name by single-handedly modernizing the terno. He notably stream-lined the traditional frock by making a design decision to remove the panuelo, a handkerchief covering the neckline, turning it into a one-piece ensemble. Valera came into fashion at a time when women dressmakers such as Pacita Longos and Juanita Mina Roa ruled the industry. Much like Christian Dior, he shocked Manila society by accentuating the female form rather than hiding it.

More: 'It' Girls of Old Manila Couldn't Get Enough of This Local Designer

Salvacion Lim Higgins

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Wedding terno by Salvacion Lim Higgins

Through the ‘50s and ‘60s, Salvacion “Slim” Lim Higgins was the go-to for avant-garde fashion in Manila. As a designer, she was known for breaking away from tradition by introducing experimental design details and silhouettes. Higgins’ influence in Philippine fashion still lives on through the school she co-founded with sister Purificacion, Slims Fashion and Arts School.

In 2014, two of Higgins’ dresses were added to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Textiles and Fashion Collection in London.

Pitoy Moreno

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Pitoy Moreno is often considered one of the first designers to introduce Philippine fashion to the world stage. He took up fine arts at the University of the Philippines, where he met acclaimed visual artist Araceli Limcaco Dans who wore his first handcrafted wedding gown. Moreno and his work have appeared in international publications such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Holiday, and Le Figaro which named him the Fashion Czar of Asia. Moreno dressed Philippine society mavens as well as royals, heads of state, and other personalities around the world.

More: This Is How Pitoy Moreno Wants To Be Remembered

Ben Farrales

Ben Farrales has been in the industry for over 60 years. The legendary designer is famous for his trademark Muslim-inspired ternos. Through the years, he’s dressed several celebrities, socialites, and several prominent figures. In 2015, he was given an award by the Cultural Center of the Philippines for his work with arts and design.


Aureo Alonzo

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Model Bessie Badilla wears an Aureo Alonzo during a shoot at the pyramids of Giza.

Those who know their fashion history will always remember Aureo Alonzo as the sole Filipino to win the Camel Award in Cervinia, Italy in 1975. Yves Saint Laurent, one of the competition’s judges, even remarked upon seeing his work: “Here’s a man who knows his business.” The Camel Award opened doors for the designer internationally. He presented his impeccable designs to the likes of Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret (who became a regular customer), Queen Fabiola of Belgium and the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah Diba. Locally, women of style like Imelda Marcos, Gretchen Cojuangco, and President Corazon Aquino wore his designs.

Auggie Cordero

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Auggie Cordero burst onto the scene during the ‘70s. He opened a shop in the late ‘60s, and shortly after, his ‘big break’ came in the form of society maven Chito Madrigal who invited him to showcase his designs at the Hyatt. From there, he was invited to show internationally around Asia and in the United States.

Joe Salazar

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A vintage Joe Salazar

Joe Salazar was known to be devoted to the terno. His clients have included Lovely Tecson-Romulo, Bea Zobel, Jr., Ching Cruz and more. Salazar creations were, however, most notably worn by Imelda Marcos during official engagements, foreign visits, and more.

Christian Espiritu


An icon in the industry, Christian Espiritu was also one who was passionate about the terno. In 1978, Philippine Airlines trusted him to design the chic T'boli-inspired uniforms of the flight attendants. Outside of fashion, he directed Alaga which starred socialite Elvira Manahan back in 1980.

Inno Sotto

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Mandy Dela Rama in an Inno Sotto terno

Multi-awarded fashion designer Inno Sotto has been called the Fashion Prince of Manila for his understated and elegant signature. His first taste of fashion came when he apprenticed as Christian Espiritu’s assistant, and it was there that he realized that he had a penchant for the craft. These days, Sotto continues to promote the terno as a mentor to young designers at TernoCon.

More: A Look Back on the Life of Style Icon Inno Sotto, in His Own Words

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About The Author
Paolo Chua
Associate Style Editor
Paolo Chua is the Associate Style Editor at Esquire Philippines, where he writes about fashion and grooming. Before joining Esquire Philippines, he was a writer at Town & Country Philippines.
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