Historic Phillipine dress discovered in Twin Cities Craigslist ad

A seamstress at heart, Penny Schwartz believes it takes more than a needle and thread to create something beautiful.

Which is why a random Craigslist ad for a dress caught her eye.

“The detail on this cannot be matched,” she said. “It was just something that told me that this was special.”

$125 later, the dress was Penny’s, and its story started to unravel.

“It wasn't in my possession more than an hour before I'm looking at it going, 'This gown needs to go home.'”

But home was half way around the world--the label embroidered on the back of the dress reads, “Especially designed and executed for her excellency Imelda R. Marcos by Joe Salazar.”

If that name sounds familiar, it might be because she and her husband, former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, were famously forced out of power in the late 80’s.

Or, there’s the thousands of shoes in her collection, which she is most well known for.

So Penny started to do some homework online. She read that when the Marcos family fled the Philippines in 1986, they reportedly left with dozens of suitcases filled with everything from shoes, jewels and gowns to gold bars to paintings. 

Penny believes this gown was with Imelda, but that it may have been stolen from her. She thinks that’s how it ended up at an auction house in Minnesota.

“If she was going to give away a gown it wouldn't have been this one,” Penny said.

She also learned about the designer, Joe Salazar, who was a beloved fashion icon in the Philippines and personal friend of Imelda.

“When he died of cancer she went and spoke at his funeral so he did mean a lot, they had a good friendship.”
Penny said. “The estimation of hours put into has to be at least 3000 hours and that to me is an understatement. You look closely what they had to do was they had to snip each one of these individual threads and pull them out going you know vertical and then they would have to snip them going the opposite way. Each sequin throughout the whole entire underneath of this gown has been hand stitched on.”

Penny believes at a seamstress’s rate today, the dress would cost somewhere around $70,000 to re-create. But to her needles and thread, the hours and dollars don’t mean nearly as much as the gown’s history--and its future.

“I could have it sit in my sewing room just as inspiration of something beautiful to create," she said. "But like I said it just doesn't belong here. It needs to go where it is appreciated and it belongs to the Philippines. The right thing is to get this gown home.”