Ernest Santiago was a Filipino fashion designer, club and bar owner, restaurateur, hotelier, interior designer and furniture designer. He helped set the tone for fashion, lifestyle and nightlife in the Philippines during the Marcos martial law era and afterwards. In all of his ventures, Santiago attracted a well-known and high profile clientele.
Santiago was a largely self-taught clothing designer with no formal training. He owned a boutique called Santiago de Manila where he sold his clothing line and the lines of up-and-coming young designers.
Santiago often modernized traditional filipiñiana clothing. In the late 1970’s, he sought to revive the traditional Barong Tagalog fabrics: piña and jusi, which rejuvenated the industries that produced them. In 1978, Santiago won the prestigious Ramon Valera Award for his piña and jusi collection.
Santiago designed long, loose-fitting and colorful barongs with these traditional translucent fabrics. Since the barongs were longer, the side vents also had to be longer to facilitate movement. These barongs were collarless, and the embroidery was shiny and attention-grabbing using lustrous satin and silk thread. The embroidery designs often depicted nature scenes, like plants, insects, fish and underwater vegetation. Santiago used unconventional patterns, like plaid, and colors, like peach and lime green, on his barongs. These features were all very modern and fashion forward for that time and even for the present day. He intended to create a different, distinct barong to create more choices and ultimately increase the population of barong wearers.
Ernest Santiago’s take on the Barong Tagalog was avant-garde. He put a colorful plaid pattern on traditional translucent barong fabric. The embroidery was set to one side and used shiny thread to depict a garden scene with large flowers, butterflies and birds. This is a long barong with long side vents, no collar, full button down design and paired with drop crotch pants. This photo is likely from the late 1970’s and is from Visitacion R. de la Torre’s 1986 book The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear
Another Ernest Santiago Barong Tagalog with similar attributes as the first picture except the barong fabric is a solid color, the embroidery is set to the opposite side and it depicts an underwater scene with various fish and vegetation. This photo is from the late 1970’s and is from de la Torre’s book The Barong Tagalog.