BENJAMIN “Ben” Farrales, recognized by his colleagues in the fashion world as the “Dean of Philippine fashion designers,” has received the Gawad CCP Award for Fashion Design—the highest distinction given to artists and scholars who has eked out distinguished careers in the arts and cultural scholarship by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Farrales was honored for his remarkable contributions to the Philippine fashion industry through the use and integration of Philippine and Muslim culture in his works.

A fine arts graduate of the old UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts, Farrales is, with Salvacion Lim Higgins (the woman behind the Slims fashion school), perhaps the biggest Thomasian name in fashion. All other influential Thomasian fashion design names look up to him—Nolie Hans, Lulu Tan Gan, Danilo Franco, Larry Silva, J.C. Buendia, Edgar Allan, Edgar San Diego, Junjun Cambe, Gerry Katigbak, Jerome Ang, Eric Pineda, and Vittorio Barba.

Born in Cotabato City on July 1, 1932, “Mang Ben,” as he is called in fashion and lifestyle circles, grew up with a keen fascination for the weaving and clothing traditions of the lumad or indigenous communities of Mindanao.

He moved to Manila to study in UST and later started his career as a fashion designer by doing apprentice work at Aurelia’s, a popular fashion boutique during the 1950’s.

Farrales then opened his first boutique in Malate where he mastered his talent in dressmaking. Even as a neophyte designer, his works were already desired among Manila’s social elite circle and admired by no less than Ramon Valera, the only National Artist in Fashion Design.

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“Mang Ben” is most acclaimed for his penchant for creating Muslim-inspired gowns and attires and for his constant use of local fabrics such as piña, hablon and jusi.

Awarded as the 2005 Ten Outstanding Filipino awardee for Fashion by Junior Chamber International, a non-governmental international organization, Farrales is also known for staging big and awaited fashion shows. He was one of the first few Filipinos to successfully present a show at the Manila Hotel and also to stage solo international fashion shows such as in Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

In 2013, he closed the Spring Summer season of Philippine Fashion Week, a feat only done by established and reputable designers. The show, entitled “Ben Farrales: A Retrospective,” highlighted his black-and-white collection along with his classic trademark Muslim designs.

The finale show, whose closing was greeted by a standing ovation from the audience, also also featured his timeless pieces from different decades: the Kimona Filipiniana collection 1950s; Metal collection (1970); Obi collection (1983); and Maranao collection (1986).

When parts of the country was devastated by typhoon Inday in 2002, Mang Ben held a repeat performance of his 70th birthday gala, “Ben Farrales: 50 Years in Fashion,” to raise funds for typhoon victims.

It was followed by a fashion show, “Encore,” which showed his collection of Greek-inspired toga dresses and gowns. The show also included flattering figured gowns worn by beauty queens such as Melanie Marquez and Ruffa Gutierez.

His classic Filipiniana stunners were shown in “Kasuotang Pilipino” in September 2014, including malong-inspired long-sleeved green dresses and Muslim bridal gowns accented with capiz and pearls. He was also awarded a plaque of recognition by the Makati City’s Museum and Cultural Affairs Office for his “exceptional contribution to spreading awareness about Filipino attire through his designs and creations.”

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Just January, friends and co-workers of Mang Ben in the fashion industry held a tribute for him, showing five decades of Farrales’ career as a fashion designer.

The tribute was divided into three parts: Pais Tropicale, which featured island-themed dresses; Moda Maynila, which focused on contemporary and modern couture; and Farrales Filipiniana, which showcased his classical works of Muslim-inspired Filipiniana costumes such as the Maria Clara and the terno.

Models included Farrales’ long-time muses such as Marina Benipayo, Sara Jane Paez, Izza Gonzales, Bambi Harper and Gem Padilla.

Lorenzo Leviste, a long-time fashion writer and contributor to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, wrote in his 2009 tribute article to Ben Farrales that “it was our own Mang Ben Farrales who became the purveyor of this Muslim style in fashion, not by choice but by design.”

Leviste told the Varsitarian in an interview that he was able to wear the signature Muslim-inspired designs of Mang Ben when he won the crown and title of Miss Universe, a gay pageant in Jade Vine Resto on United Nations Avenue when he was just 16 years old.

“I remember it was bright green and royal purple chiffon and silk. My hair and make-up was done by Lucas Danao, the top model of that era,” he said.

The Varsitarian tried to visit Farrales in his old boutique in Malate, Manila for an interview but the in-house keeper said he doesn’t go there anymore and that he can’t be interviewed because of his critical health condition.

Now 82, Mang Ben has established himself as a legend in Philippine Fashion for his timeless creations of world-class, cultural-based clothing designs that stays true to Filipino heritage and culture.

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