ESTEEMED fashion designer Benjamin S. Farrales, died on March 6. He was 89. Otherwise known as Mang Ben to friends and high society clients, Mr. Farrales was hailed as the “Dean of Philippine fashion.”
Born in Cotabato in 1932, the multicultural milieu in that region would set the tone for his designs. The intricate local dress of the Muslim women and the indigenous people of the area colored his work at a time when many designers looked to the West. While indigenous fabrics and embellishments are experiencing a renaissance now, Mr. Farrales had been using these materials since his career started.
In an excerpt from the book Ben Farrales, Fifty Years in My Fashion by Abe Florendo, he recounted how he started out as a sweeper and a go-fer for a high-end dress shop in the 1950s. After two years in this apprenticeship, he opened his own shop in Malate. Here, socialites zipped in and out, and his career took off while dressing some of the nation’s best-known names.
Quoting again from In My Fashion, the couturier said, “Back then, women had money to spend. There were endless parties. Women nonchalantly changed clothes twice or three times a day. Rich families vied with one another for the grandest weddings, birthdays, and debutante balls. They knew what they wanted and they could talk endlessly about clothes.”
The official page of Designers Circle Philippines released a statement saying, “A tremendous loss for the world of fashion — The Designers Circle Philippines mourns the passing of the ‘Dean of Philippine Fashion, Mang Ben Farrales.’
“We find it heavy in our hearts to grasp that a few days after we have endorsed him for the National Artist Award for Fashion and a few more steps before he was accorded this recognition, Mang Ben is no longer with us. But as Filipino designers, we will continue to celebrate and commemorate his legacy!”
His passing drew an outpouring of reactions from the fashion industry on social media.
Fashion designer Francis Libiran said in a Facebook post, “Rest In Peace Mang Ben Farrales. You will be sorely missed.” Jewelry designer Gerry Sunga also posted in Facebook, “Farewell for now Dearest Mang Ben. Maraming, maraming salamat po sa pagmamahal (thank you for the love)… the whole Fashion industry mourns of your passing and will miss you.”
Model Marina Benipayo posted a photo in which she wears one of his creations with the caption, “It was an honor, Mang Ben Farrales. Rest peacefully in God’s loving arms.” Actress Teresa Loyzaga did the same with a post showing her wedding gown, saying “Thank you for being a wonderful Ninong (godfather) to me. You will be missed. I love you! Rest easy.”
“Truly a legend and a trailblazer. His designs not only pushed fashion forward but I feel like it was always ahead of its time — while being timeless,” said Jodinand Aguillon, founder of Filipiniana vintage store Glorious Dias, in an Instagram message.
The passing of Mr. Farrales ends an era in fashion, with him serving as a link to a more glamorous past. In a story from 2013, BusinessWorld witnessed a retrospective of Mr. Farrales’ designs at Philippine Fashion Week. “To close the show, Mr. Farrales was taken onstage to the tune of his favorite song, ‘My Way.’ As he made his way to the end of the runway, confetti rained down on him and his models as an aria played in the background. He received a standing ovation from the crowd. The fantasy figures he created — brides, queens and goddesses — made real by his models, stood around him and joined the crowd in celebration.”
In 2015, Mr. Farrales was awarded the Gawad CCP para sa Sining Disenyong Pangmoda (Fashion Design). In a video by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, he said, “I know what I stood for and what I want, and the doors opened to me. When you have the talent, you will never lose.” — Joseph L. Garcia