Stepping in Pinoy Style

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byCassie Cheng

The Philippine exhibit collaboration with the French travelling exhibit Portraits of Shoes, Stories of Feet
(Portraits de Chaussures, Histoires de Pieds)

Ongoing at the Yuchengco Museum is the international traveling exhibit Portraits of Shoes, Stories of Feet (Portraits de Chaussures, Histoires de Pieds), which was brought in from Paris by Alliance Française de Manille. As part of a cross-cultural exchange of ideas, the Yuchengco Museum has set up a parallel exhibit of Filipino shoes entitled Stepping in Pinoy Style. The local component displays more than 100 pieces of shoes ranging from the traditional bakya, tsinelas, beaded corchos, and their modern renditions to shoes from various Filipino personalities and historical figures to experimentations and expressions from today’s leading shoe designers.

For Filipinos, protection and adornment for the feet, in any form, weave tales of history, social stature, and traditions. Traditional footwear for the earliest Filipinos meant the lack thereof, until traders and colonizers visited our shores and described our forefathers as “uncivilized” indios upon their initial encounters. Over time, like our Asian neighbors who were forced to adapt the dress codes of their colonizers, we have integrated the use of some components of Western dress, specifically footwear, in our way of native dressing.

Shoes in Filipino society have eventually become an instrument for labeling and segregating people according to economic class, social status, and ideology—with the bakya for the lowly, the tsinelas for the middle class, and the sapatos for the ilustrados, peninsulares, and insulares. Shoes or footwear have also inspired Filipino artists, musicians, and poets, as evidenced in our songs, poems, novels, and folklore in the forms of the lowly bakya and tsinelas.

The first section of the exhibit, an entire room largely dedicated to the venerable bakya, explores early accounts of Filipinos and their footwear. On view are examples of traditional shoes such as the bakya, tsinelas, beaded corchos, and alfombras, each with stories on how they have become very much a part of our culture.

Today, Filipinos are described as fashionable and well-dressed. Our design taste has been accurately labeled as global. Hence, our footwear designers have been quickly recognized here and in fashion capitals of the world. Also on view at the exhibit is a selection from manufacturer and exporter Contex International Manila of modern-day bakya that has found its way into the stores of global fashion brands. By carving and painting wooden heels, stylizing old forms, and mixing new materials, the national shoe is given a new life and is now worn with prestige and elegance in the international scene.

Contemporary Filipino shoe designers, on the other hand, now have a wealth of local and global traditions from where they derive inspiration for their designs. They rework iconic silhouettes, use home-grown materials in cutting-edge designs, or push boundaries altogether, creating one-of-a-kind pieces that stand at par with any other international shoe designer. The second section of Stepping in Pinoy Style features spectacular shoes that show Filipino shoe design and shoemaking at its best. On displays are creations and experimentations by designers Lila Almario, Maco Custodio, Cesar Gaupo, Emi Jorge, Joanna Litton, Ann Pamintuan, Brian Tenorio, Kermit Tesoro, and Patis Tesoro. Meanwhile, shoes made by manufacturer Le Donne-Bolzano Shoe Corporation and special pieces from the Marikina Shoe Museum highlight the skills of our local shoemakers and craftsmen.

Also on view are shoes from the collection of the Marikina Shoe Museum once worn by historical figures and prominent personalities, such as slippers and shoes from former Presidents Emilio Aguinaldo and Manuel Roxas, and toe shoes from prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde.

Stepping in Pinoy Style will run until June 20 at the Yuchengco Museum at RCBC Plaza, corner Ayala and Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenues, Makati City. Museum hours are Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 889-1234 or visit


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