Filipino Design Now!
Currently exhibited at the Asia Society Museum in New York are the unique works of these top Filipino designers. Learn more about them, their craft, and their love for Philippine culture and arts.
In line with the opening of the Philippine Gold Exhibition in New York, Asia Society collaborates with renowned Filipino designers to interpret Philippine culture.
“Women are encouraged to be entrepreneurs,” says Natori of her home country. “My grandmother always said, ‘Don’t put yourself in a position where you have to depend on anyone.’” Her entrepreneurial spirit flourished with her family’s support. A desire to helm a business with a strong connection to her native Philippines drove the New York-based designer to start importing embroidered tops. That was over three decades ago, and since then, her business has grown into an iconic brand, the House of Natori. Celebrating the Asian aesthetic with the spirit of her adopted home in America, she effortlessly melds the visual best of both the East and the West into her creations. Says the designer, “Natori is a total concept, a way of life, ‘where life meets art.’”
Federico De Vera
De Vera claims that his aesthetic has inanimate origins. As a child, he collected shells and driftwood on the beach near his parents’ weekend house. He glued the shells onto driftwood to create key chains—an early indication, he says, of his interest in jewellery design. Today, he is an arbiter of taste. This much is evident in his work as a jewellery designer; a gallery owner of antique objects, curios, and jewellery; and more recently as the founder of De Vera Objects and De Vera Jewellery. De Vera seeks beauty in the most unlikely places. He travels the world to find things that, he says, “have absolutely nothing wrong with them,” a task that “is far more difficult than finding something that’s simply beautiful.” He constantly strives to find new lives for old things that have been discarded, and reinterprets them from a different point of view.
Jacques Christophe Branellec
Established in 1979 by French pearl farmer Jacques Branellec and entrepreneur Manuel Cojuangco, Jewelmer Joaillerie was born out of a commitment to the world’s most lustrous cultured South Sea pearls and exquisite fine jewellery. Today, Jewelmer has grown globally to represent a world of rarity and enduring elegance. Exceptional South Sea pearls are the centrepieces of the brand, which showcases the distinctive style and creative harmony between French design and Asian sensibilities, bringing fine jewellery to brilliant new heights. Branellec’s son, Jacques Christophe, grew up playing with the children of farm divers, and later joined the company help increase the sustainability of the business by creating more awareness, raising the profile of the pearls, and ensuring that each person involved in the process is taken care of.
Her work as an interior designer allowed Lagdameo to come across collections of furniture, heirlooms, and artefacts from around the archipelago. This exposure led her to a greater appreciation for the local traditions and artistry, and it wasn’t long before she decided to create her own designs. Beyond the visual factor of these pieces, material plays a key role as Lagdameo strives to maintain locally sourced fabrics. Her designs fuse the past with the present, combining local skills and artistry as she embraces old traditions with a modern sensibility.
Leonor Luisa Cabili
A childhood in Mindanao fostered Cabili’s love for the Philippines’ rich cultural heritage. Growing up, she was exposed to the island’s different indigenous tribes, such as the Maranaos, who would often visit her family home. Later on, as she pursued her degree in Clothing Technology at the University of the Philippines, she also performed with the Bayanihan Dance Troupe. Her years with the dance group fostered her love for traditional Filipino costumes. Cabili’s designs mix the past with the present. Inspired by tradition, she creates unique garments that incorporate ancient techniques of weaving, embroidery, and beadwork from indigenous Filipino groups. Through her design, Cabili aims to revive and preserve ancient traditions, as well as improve the lives of talented artisans across the archipelago by providing opportunities.
Valenciano grew up in Laoag City. When the influx of factory processed imported textiles dealt a huge blow to the local market, Valenciano decided to establish Balay ni Atong (House of Atong), a study centre for traditional textiles from the northern region of Philippines. Remarkable for their rich colours and bold designs, hand-woven textiles are an important part of the long, varied cultural heritage of the Philippine North. Valenciano’s Balay ni Atong showcases hand-woven textiles created on traditional wooden looms by local artisans using weaving techniques passed on through generations. Remaining true to the original motifs, the fabrics are modernised and scaled to suit the tastes of a modern market. Valenciano hopes that the centre will help achieve sustainability between scholars and weavers by reintroducing meticulous craftsmanship and quality produced by local artisans.
Though he found his footing in fashion, Giron departed from that world to cross over into home accents and furnishings. For the AsiaStore Philippines Gold Exhibition, Giron’s mission is to celebrate Philippine heritage and artisanal traditions. His chosen medium is gold leaf—using coconut shell as his base, Giron combines traditional methods of sanding and bleaching before applying gold leaf to achieve his desired colour and patina. Gold leaf has been widely used for thousands of years across Asia. In the Philippines, gold leaf was used to decorate ceilings, altars, religious icons, and more. As gilding has played a vital part in the Filipino expression of soul and spirit, Giron feels that is highly important to propagate and preserve the process.
Wynn Wynn Ong
Though she grew up in Manila, Ong was born in Burma, home of the finest sapphire, ruby, and jade mines in the world. Today, her meticulous, handcrafted designs are a testament to her dedication to find beauty in the ordinary and the obscure. Ong favours stones in their organic, untouched states, and incorporates materials not often associated with jewellery. She does not hesitate to combine unusual elements such as acrylic and g lass with diamonds, rubies, and gold. Ong says, “I believe that stones and their settings should form stories that tease the mind and taunt the senses.” While some stones ignite her imagination so that she is able to visualise a piece on the spot, the designer has been known to dwell upon the perfect design for her one-of-a-kind pieces for days, months, even years.
Valdes was born into a family that had been in the fine jewellery trade for three generations. After taking up industrial design and creative writing in university, she started creating accessories as a hobby. Her designs quickly caught the eye of discerning women seeking something distinctively luxurious. As a writer and artist, she weaves stories into her collections. Her pieces are not just accessories, but “symbols of a heroic feminine narrative.” Today, she continues to receive global recognition as a forward-thinking creative architect of distinctive luxury goods. Valdes remains in the Philippines, maintaining her focus on traditional embroidery while supporting local artisans and their craftsmanship. In her own words, “Everything is proudly made in the Philippines.”
“Fashion is always evolving, changing, moving forward… back to our roots.” Sandico’s design philosophy is embodied in the way she embraces an ecologically friendly design and production process, transforming indigenous fibres (e.g. banana, pineapple, and abaca fibres) into a fashion art form, designing wraps that follow the contours of the body, and recycling the scraps into accessories. It’s no wonder that she is known as the “Wrap Artiste” of the Philippines. Her designs are not preoccupied with keeping up with the trends, but are simple, elegant, and timeless. Sandico carries the Filipino identity through her collection, revolutionising the Philippine natural fibre industry by working with a cooperative in Baras, Catanduanes, which includes training them in natural dye extraction and advanced weaving techniques, providing a more sustainable income and giving life to their cultural heritage.
Anne Marie Saguil
Born in the Philippines to an American father and Filipina mother, Saguil spent years working in New York City’s fashion industry before moving back to the Philippines to reconnect with her roots. Her life in the beautiful islands of the Philippines became the inspiration behind her line of cl othes, bags, and accessories. Saguil set out to celebrate the beauty and age-old traditions of her beloved Philippines. Using hand-embroidered techniques and indigenous handwoven materials, Saguil fuses modern design and local artistry, creating wearable pieces with the aim of providing sustainable livelihoods for local artisans.
Recognised in the industry as one of the most acclaimed young American-International fashion designers, Totengco’s fresh, exciting accessories blend an uptown sophistication with a downtown edge. Skilled at balancing fashion with function, Totengco is a designer who knows how to meld quality with style and comfort with function. His accessories add a finishing “exclamation point” to any ensemble.
Tina Maristela Ocampo
She broke into the international fashion scene in 1987, when she started modelling for major fashion labels in Singapore and Hong Kong. In 2006 she launched Celestina, a collection of minaudière evening bags handcrafted by Filipino artisans who practice age-old techniques and use exotic materials that can only be found in the Philippines. Seasons later, her collections of intricate bags were prominently featured in international glossiess such as Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, and Elle, continuing to be red carpet regulars to this day.
Brias’ inspiration comes from everything she sees. Translating raw local materials into distinctive decorative pieces is something that comes naturally to her. In 1989 she founded a training centre to provide additional livelihood and sense of pride for the wives of local plantation workers. An important part of its mission is t o revive the native artistry and preserve the customs of Mindanao’s ethnic tribes. Brias and her local artisans design and manufacture home and decorative objects created from local abaca, T’nalak fabric, banana fibres, and woven abaca cloth made exclusively by the T’boli and Mandaya natives. “It’s all about preserving the culture which is preserving their way of life,” says the designer.
Signature pieces from these talented designers’ collections have been selected for inclusion in the display and for sale at AsiaStore. The exhibition is at the lobby of Asia Society Museum New York and will run from September 11 to January 3.