EVEN as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looked fetching in her ivory-colored Barong Tagalog and long black skirt on Sunday night’s Asean gala dinner, her take on wearing the modernized national costume veered the other way.
At least, this is the general impression gathered and delivered by New Zealand website newshub.co.nz, which headlined a story from the two-day summit with “Jacinda Ardern shows off East Asia Summit ‘silly’ shirt.”
In the report, the site posted a video of Ardern showing her Barong Tagalog, and when curiously asked what it smelled like, she replied, “I’m not going to sniff the shirt on camera.” Meanwhile, she was quoted in the accompanying article to have described the feel of the barong as “scratchy” and “quite starched,” as well as smelling like “pineapple husk.” However, whether on the video or in her quoted statements in the article, the head of state never said the word “silly” as used on the headline.
Sought for his reaction on what was fast becoming a sidelight issue from the two-day visit of global leaders to the country, fashion designer Albert Andrada—one of three noted couturiers who lent their talent for the occasion—gently told The Manila Times in an exclusive phone interview that he found the prime minister’s comments “a little undiplomatic.”
Using diplomacy himself, Andrada, quickly pointed out, however, that he could not be sure whether Ardern meant to be critical of the barong, since it may have been the website that gave the story a negative spin.
“I watched the video, sabi ko nga she didn’t mention [the word]silly. I think it may have been the writer who decided to use the word,” the designer said level-headedly.
Nevertheless, he admitted he believed the prime minister should have made an effort to appreciate the national wear, rather than showing it off to the press and saying things about it.
“As leader of a nation, you should give importance and appreciate the culture and traditions of another country you are visiting. What she did is a little undiplomatic. Sana she just said those things [in private]instead of showing [the barong] to media and saying things like it ‘smells like pineapple husks,’ which is natural for something made of the material,” he said.
“The barong has been our formal attire ever since the Spanish era so we cannot change that, [nor our use]of piña and abaca fiber. All throughout the years [the fabric]has been developed but it is still fiber from pineapple,” Andrada explained.
“Now it’s starchy because we need to starch [the material]to enable it to fit well on a person’s body when they wear it, so that when you iron it, maganda ang bagsak niya.
“And one more thing, it’s starchy because of the fine weaving. The weavers put starch [over the fabric]once they’re done, which is what they’ve always done.
“So yes, it’s scratchy, which is why we require everyone to wear an undershirt or undergarments when wearing a barong.”
According to Andrada, what he personally did for the world leaders’ barong, especially for President Rodrigo Duterte who had also previously said he itches beneath the fabric, was to line them with cotton silk—a very fine fabric that is breathable.
“When I attended the fitting of Prime Minister Trudeau, he was very happy [with his barong]because he even said, ‘I don’t have to worry about my undershirt.’ He also asked me how it should be worn. He said, ‘Albert, how do we properly wear this shirt? Do I have to really close the buttons on the collar?’ I said, ‘Yes, it has to be like that because it is the formal attire of the Filipinos.’ So, I gave him some tips… ‘Di ba sana ganoon?” he pointed out.
Making every effort to be understanding, however, Andrada concluded, “But we can’t blame the prime minister because maybe it’s her first time to see or wear such a thing. Maybe the people around her or anyone from the embassy should have informed her what a barong is, or what fabric we use.”
According to Andrada it took his team three months to complete Ardern’s Barong Tagalog. Working on her measurements, the designer and his staff even made sure to look up the prime minister’s photos on line to make sure what they made suited her frame.