SOCIAL CLIMBER: Dita Sandico Ong unwraps the fabric of her unique style

Like the butterfly. Photos by Elton Lugay

By Elton Lugay

If you asked Fe Cabactulan what she was wearing, her cheeky reply would be, “Fruit salad.”

At the February 17 cocktail before Dita Sandico Ong was to present her latest wrap collection, Cabactulan, the wife of the Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations, wore a white pina dress topped by an earthy brown Sandico Ong ‘abaca’ scarf made from banana fiber. “I’m wearing fruit salad!”

I love this woman! She’s loving her clothing and having fun with it. When was the last time we felt this way about what we wore to a party?

If you were at the Philippine Center that evening, Cabactulan proudly and elegantly wore her wrap. So did Eleanor de Leon, the wife of the consul general, and consular officials and staff. They wore their Sandico Ong wrap as ‘panuelo,’ ‘tapis’ or over a black skirt or a pair of jeans. A few twists and knots and this piece of clothing becomes uniquely your own.

The fashion show called “Czarist Charms: Filipiniana Flirting with the Unorthodox” showcased the many ways this wrap can be worn – around the neck, at the waist, to cover the arms, or over the head as a visor. She was further inspired by the “light, airy and gossamer wings of the butterfly,” said Sandico Ong.

“It’s similar to how the women in Russia wore their clothes,” she told The FilAm.

Dita Sandico Ong

To those curious about the unusual fabric she uses, Sandico Ong addressed all concerns:

Yes, they are made of indigenous banana and pina fiber.
No, they don’t bleed or fade.
Yes, they can be handwashed and dry-cleaned.
No, the pleats won’t smoothen out over time.
Yes, they are machine-washable.
No, they don’t cost an arm and a leg.

“My dream is to make Philippine abaca a stamp in the world of fashion,” said Sandico Ong, who studied fashion merchandising in Tobe-Coburn School in New York after graduating with a fine arts degree from UP.

Seeing the real women in a Sandico Ong was a testament to the wearability of her apparel. But watching the models on stage showed how Filipino women, wearing head-turning capes and dramatic opera coats, can radiate “czarist charm.”

From real women to ramp mannequins. Top, Eleanor de Leon (left) with Deputy Consul General Tess Dizon de Vega.


  1. M. Matthews wrote:

    Again, I enjoyed reading another fashion article by Elton Lugay showcasing Filipino fashion designer Dita Sandico Ong fashion show at the Philippine Consulate General in New York City, where women diplomats and wife’s of diplomats dressed to the nine.

  2. Rachel Adriano wrote:

    Dita Sandico Ong makes us, Filipinos, proud. She brings to the fore front a style truly her own,infusing her Filipino heritage. Thank you for your art, Dita.

  3. Rachel Adriano wrote:

    Very unique style. I love it!

  4. J. Jose wrote:

    I would give credit to Ms ELI REYES who was the original creator of these fabrics. Unfortunately she did not have the funds to continue the manufacturing and creation of these items before her idea was “stolen” from her. Sad indeed. Eli Reyes is from Bulacan. She still comes out with absolutely great pieces. But she cannot compete with the “poachers”

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