Ben Farrales, or “Mang Ben” as he is commonly called, is considered a living legend in the Philippine fashion industry.
Born in Cotabato City on 01 July 1932, he is the youngest child of Salvador and Paulina Farrales. He finished his early education at the San Beda College and acquired his degree in Fine Arts at the University of Sto. Tomas, under the tutelage of such legends as Manansala and Agoncillo.
Farrales first worked at Aurelia’s, a prominent fashion boutique in 1950s Manila.
What was it like to grow up in an era when being gay was not as accepted then as it is now? “My father did not make me conscious that I am gay. It was never an issue in the family. In turn, I took it upon myself to make sure that I uphold the values that were taught to us by our parents” Farrales recalls “I am typically a sweet, regular person. I have never been the screaming, scandalous and mahadera type” His advice to the gay generation now is in sync with the same principles. “Accept what God gave you. Behave. Ilagay sa lugar ang sarili. Magsalita, kumilos at mag-trabaho in such a way that people will respect you. Make your parents proud of you. Be productive.” At his age, one can say that Farrales has indeed practiced what he preaches.
So is this his secret to success?
“Everything is acquired through hard work. Maraming bigas ang kakainin he adds. There are no short-cuts, remember that”
While Ben Farrales is known for his Filipiniana designs, it is in the classy execution and tasteful craftsmanship of Muslim-inspired creations, that he made the Farrales trademark. His use of native materials infused with tribal components remains unmatched. “Fashion is challenging especially if you have very good taste. Every day you would learn many things. The challenge is to be able to execute properly and tastefully while making sure that the challenge is worth the effort.” Farrales comments.
Instrumental to the development of his style was his eldest sister, Aida. Aida was married to Senator Salipada Pendatun of Cotabato and it was she who encouraged the young Farrales to design and make clothes for her, which she would wear to various social and political functions. As his works were undeniably elegant, the rest, as they say, is history.
Farrales eventually opened his own boutique along Mabini Street, Malate in partnership with Zorro David. Later on, he moved his atelier to Adriatico Street, also in the Malate District.
Farrales holds the distinction of a number of firsts. He was the first Filipino designer to launch a fashion show at the Manila Hotel (1959) and the first Filipino to have a show at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC (1984).
Mang Ben says he will completely retire at the age of 80. His atelier will be donated to the Congregacion del Santisimo Nombre del Niño Jesus, of which he is the founding Chairman.
“At this age and stage, everything is a bonus. I have nothing more to prove. I have made my mark and people will remember my work” says this eminent designer whose contribution to the Filipino society is as supreme as it is memorable.