Straight out of Mobile
On show at manila Fame were amazing creations from Filipino designers that went to milan, italy, for the prestigious salon internazionale del mobile. among the standouts were galvanized wire chairs devised by dim Batantes from a. Garcia Crafts. in a lesson to local designers everywhere, the 22-year-old firm, based in Pampanga, the center of the Filipino furniture industry, has prospered by always aiming at the export, and not the local, market. meanwhile, the rattan works from Cebu-based angio s. Cadungog at Finali Furniture and home accessories Co. displayed the former medical student’s virtuoso manipulation of the tropical design staple. Finali, too, focuses on exports, having moved from smaller, experimental sculptures done for hotels to decor pieces such as shelves before taking on furniture.
Dim Batantes also joined other top Filipino designers for “materia: Bamboo”, an experimental project that offered a surprising take on bamboo furniture. there’s opportunity here, according to the Philippine design Center, which masterminded the project: Bamboo industries employ around 190,000 in the nation, which is the world’s No. 5 bamboo exporter. using bamboo instead of wood could also save forests–if designers and, more importantly, manufacturers, can adapt factory production to bamboo, according to stephen Buñi, another designer tapped for the project. on display were pieces like reception desks, funky chairs and dressers, made from bamboo that had been halved, laminated or crushed. Results were impressive; Buñi was inspired: he’d like to see how bamboo holds up to laser cutting next.
It’s clear that Filipinos designers thrive when focusing on artisanal techniques, not traditional motifs. The point was driven home by Kalikasan sorsogon, which started with a Japanese aid organization volunteer assigned to remote sorsogon, far south of manila. Wanting to help talented local makers prosper, she contacted shinichi ito, an interior design professor from musashino art university in tokyo, who got his students to design products with a Japanese sense. the artisans were then trained to make the goods, such as pili-nut coasters, woven berets and a durian-shaped bamboo baskets. While quality control remains a challenge, Kalikasan sorsogon gets it right: the outfit picked up one of manila Fame’s design awards. Kudos also go to Lala Chua, whose davao-ikat butterfly-sleeved jacket take on the traditional maria Clara blouse takes aim at trend-sensitive youth who can tone down ethnic designs and make them street smart.
Manila Fame also showed how urban-based design-savvy entrepreneurs are prospering. First up is Wolfe+huntr, run by erick Perez and mike Quijano from marikina in metro manila, where local artisanal leatherworking was wiped out by cheap Chinese imports in the 1990s. the young professionals are putting makers back to work, crafting “bondage inspired” leather suspenders and bras sold at pop-up bazaars. meanwhile, Carissa Cruz-evangelista founded her manila-based label, Beatriz, to give advice on quality and design to the rural artisans she once worked with as a government official. her wares have been featured by oprah Winfrey. Finally, to amuse her daughter, sue morales developed and patented a paper-pulp paint, dubbed Klaypel and applied affandi-like, with a tool not a brush. Morales opened a cafe where parents and kids could share the artistic experience. she’s franchised the concept in Vietnam, and the products are sold in australia, dubai and Qatar.
For its Lucent objects showcase, Manila Fame tapped stanley Ruiz, an industrial design graduate who worked in Bali and New york City before returning to manila to open the estudio Ruiz design Consultancy in 2012. The Philippine design Center, which devised the showcase, asked Ruiz to use natural products such as corn husks or peanut shells to make lamps and lighting fixtures. Ruiz also used bakong, or the spider lily–a material that the centre’s researchers had been adapting for use in products after a local mayor asked if something could be done with the ubiquitous plant. We also loved Ruiz’s contemporary lamp that was shaped like a hanging plant, with metal shoots topped by buds of translucent fossilized leaves and Capiz windowpane shells.
Manila Fame’s experimental ethos continued with “materia: Coconut”, where product designer Wataru sakuma delivered his take on the Philippines’ near-ubiquitous plant. the Japan-born artist came to the nation almost a decade ago, developing alternate uses for agricultural waste, such as bleaching pineapple fiber white to use as paper for his fine arts creations. at the exhibition, sakuma said that he was surprised by how versatile every part of the coconut, from the skin to the timber to the twigs to the shells, could be in making decor products, adding that it might be cheaper and more cost effective than more popular materials such as wood. “each part has a totally different feel,” sakuma says.
Filipino artisans have also prospered using their creativity and business acumen to make products steeped in their Catholic faith. take, for example, the Christmas “Pabitin” Redux exhibit, showcasing fiesta and Christmas decorations that were artisanally made and locally sourced–yet that also evinced a cosmopolitan flair. Products ranged from kitchy polar bears made from dyed buri palm tree fibre to exquisite wire frame fish ornaments adorned with delicate Capiz shells. also inspiring were the baroque ceramic religious figures from eXCeL Frames and home decor. italian designed and Filipino made, eXCeL’s products are crafted from mud–specifically the lahar cold lava flow from the 1993 eruption of mount Pinatubo that ravaged Pampanga. the lahar, when combined with coconut fiber and charcoal, are given matte or high-gloss finishes that yield a wood-like appearance. the works have been exported to the Vatican. talk about making the most of things. While manila Fame showcased Filipino artisanal creations and excellent design, the real treat was seeing how local makers have preserved their livelihoods with products that show their passion as well as a sense of global tastes and trends.