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Ramon Valera, National Artist for Fashion
Ramon Valera is a cut above the rest. He was celebrated for his ingenuity and craftsmanship, for revolutionizing the national costume, for his masterly embroidery and beadwork and for translating Philippine motifs into contemporary terms. The greatest of all was his manipulation by cut – he would sew a dress to perfection without using a pattern. Ramon Valera was the Dean of Philippine Fashion as he was a creative innovator.
He was born on August 31, 1912 to a well-to-do family. His father, Melecio was a partner of the tycoon Vicente Madrigal. Since his youth, Valera had been a natural in fashion design. His mother, Pilar Oswald noticed that the dolls displayed on the piano would suddenly have new clothes.
Valera’s early innovation was modernizing the terno at the start of the forties. He revived the traje de boda (what we know as the Maria Clara), traditionally a four-piece ensembles consisting of a blouse, skirt, overskirt and scarf. He exaggerated the bell sleeves, which were copied by many. Then the terno became a one-piece silhouette, fastened with a zipper instead of hoods. He shocked the public when he removed the panuelo or scarf which covered the woman’s bosom. At first, the public thought the style was immodest, but a few wives such as Mrs. Claro M. recto and Mrs. Pimitivo Lovina, were open-minded enough to show off the new look.
Valera’s faultless construction was an art in its own right. He simply measured the client and cut on the fabric, disregarding the toile, or pattern. The clothes never changed the woman’s figure or forced her to look rail-thin. They celebrated the shape without mirroring it. Valera was also famous for his surprise element, called the “close-open technique”. The wearer should be shrouded in mystery, and when she removed the covering, it would reveal a wonder.
Even today, Filipino fashion designers study Valera’s ternos: its construction, beadworks, applique, etc. Valera helped mold generations of artists, and helped fashion to become no less than a nation’s sense of aesthetics. But more important than these, he helped form a sense of the Filipino nation by his pursuit of excellence.
Valera’s life centered on work and his relatives. He was once engaged to Luz Puyat and later to bading Erana. He chose to remain a bachelor, and adopted his nephew Francisco Zulueta.
The years of hard work took its toll before his 60th birthday. Valera died in 1972 at the age of 59.
See the Freeway x Ramon Valera collection HERE.
“A Cut Above the Rest” by Marge Enriques (Published in Cada Traje Es Una Obra Maestra)