MANILA, Philippines – A fresh and colorful interpretation of the traditional barong tagalog will be worn by President Rodrigo Duterte and the 8 other heads of government during the ASEAN summit gala dinner on Saturday, April 29.
Rajo Laurel, the top Filipino designer behind the barongs, explained to Rappler the thought process that went into the designs.
While he kept to the traditional form of the barong, those he designed for the leaders are different in "material and surface decoration."
Instead of the usual piña, they are made of cotton linen.
"This is in line with the President's premium on comfort and in line with the heat," said Laurel.
One other obvious difference that will not fail to catch the public eye is that the barongs are in different colors.
Each leader will be wearing a uniquely colored barong inspired by the country they are from, said Laurel.
Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the only royal among the ASEAN leaders, will wear a gold barong. Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, given how his country is still in mourning after the death of King Bhumibol, will don a black barong.
Laurel's personal favorite is the barong of Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in "petroleum blue."
"It's because, I think, out of all the Southeast Asian countries, Singapore is the most industrialized," said the designer.
How about President Duterte's barong?
"Since he is the host, it will be white with dove grey embroidery to symbolize purity and peace," said Laurel.
President Duterte will wear a white barong with dove grey T'boli embroidery
The barongs will also depart from the usual designs by featuring Mindanao-inspired embroidery, specifically embroidery by the T'boli tribe in Lake Sebu in southern Mindanao.
T'boli motifs are heavily geometric, different from the usual floral embroidery in typical barongs.
While the men will wear colorful barongs, Myanmar's representative, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders' spouses will wear Mindanao-inspired attire by top designer Rhett Eala.
As a custom, the gala dinner after ASEAN summits is when leaders and their spouses wear the traditional clothes of the host country.
A spotlight on the crafts and artistry of the country's southernmost region is fitting for an ASEAN Summit hosted by the first president from Mindanao.
Here are the other 7 designs:
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.