Bleak weather and epic traffic is a toxic mix which probably explains what seemed like a lackluster attendance in the recently concluded Manila FAME. But those who braved the gray threatening skies and the slow torturous crawl to SMX MOA would find their efforts rewarded because there were seriously pretty treasures in the country’s cradle for craft and creativity.
This year’s edition of Manila FAME didn’t have the signature shock-and-awe central exhibitions such as those staged by Kenneth Cobonpue or Budji Layug in the past. There was a Light & Shadow installation to celebrate the UN’s International Year of the Light and Light-based Technologies, and the regular features such as the Red Box exhibition by young emerging designers, the Neo Textiles gallery, the International Hall with exhibitors from neighboring countries, and the Artisan Village.
The second floor would reveal a few gems from the Philippines’ Asian neighbors, such as the Pua Heritage booth, an entry from Malaysia that showcased Sarawak fabrics and fashion accessories. Hussien Majeni says it’s their second time in Manila. “We love it here,” he beams. The little booth has beautiful traditional woven textiles, and for the fashionistas out there, the shoes on display were designed by young Malaysian girl who interned at Jimmy Choo. Opposite the Malaysian booth, two bright-colored traditional umbrellas flanked the entrance to a showcase of Balinese craft.
Also on the second floor, the Cagayan de Oro Handmade Crafts stall was a pleasant surprise. Lolita Cabanlet, the company owner who designed a paper lantern that seemed like it went through a couple of typhoons, looks more like a school teacher but her avant garde creation will knock your socks off.
Lights dominated the ground floor space with designers tripping on space-age fantasies. Lilianna Manahan creates her own galaxy with paper orbs and mobiles. Pampanga-based industrial designer Jim Torres is new to the scene and he follows Liliana’s lead with his “Satellite Collection” for Venzon Lighting. How about welcoming an alien to your home with Kit Blancas’ sculptural droplight? Even native crafts went for the sci-fi bandwagon, with Inabel purveyor Al Valenciano giving it his own take using traditional rice granary as base for his lamps, which he crowned with outsize Inabel-covered shades.
But Detlef Klatt will steal thunder from everyone else with his fantastical showcase titled “Manila Gusto Gallery: In Pursuit of Pleasure”, a favored stop for those who take their pleasures seriously. It is a theatrical bazaar of tabletop items displayed in a dizzying array of tableaus. With Detlef in the house, décor junkies who are looking for a death-by-design kinda experience will find satisfaction in Detlef’s little kingdom to the right of the ground floor entrance.
Detlef has been traveling to the country over the past several years to lend his expertise to local manufacturers and push them to venture out of the box, out of their comfort zones, or to put it bluntly, not to be tight-assed about what they do and simply let go. The experience has been both fun and taxing, but when the collection is out, and the buyers come and order, all the traveling to the provinces and dealing with hesitant manufacturers make his job fulfilling.
“It’s not just about me, nor is it about the design,” Detlef says, “It’s more about creating a cohesive collection with several materials and manufacturers as I would do it for my own company and presenting it in such a way that buyers and visitors get an idea on how to put it together.”
For the centerpiece exhibition, Detlef chose a neo-baroque concept as it was a trend among buyers. “Classic look and elements, but it had to have this rich, classy look with a lot of gold and other precious materials. It is labor intensive but that was necessary to elevate the value of the pieces,” he explained. Some of the suppliers were very hesitant to follow his direction, saying that it was too expensive to execute and produce. Detlef pushed them just the same. “We developed a ‘fun’ item which was beautiful, but the company owner thought it was too costly. He made it anyway and in good quality too, as a show piece that was only for display to show people how good we are. For this product line, the maker got the first and biggest orders,” Detlef proudly shares.
This is the second edition of the Gusto Manila Gallery, but Detlef always sees to it that each collection is different from the last. Neo-baroque is a strong trend, but under Detlef’s guidance, the local manufacturers presented a collection that displayed its native roots in terms of the materials used and in some pieces, in terms of the forms to which the concepts where applied. Colors gave the collection its edge over the catalogue variety of neo-baroque elements that’s all too familiar with foreign buyers; Detlef and his team added shots of red and electric blue to the usual range of blacks, whites, and golds.
There’s a big lesson to be learned with Detlef’s experience. Though present-day realities bite our export industry really hard, losing out to cheaper labor in other Asian countries, novelty it seems, can save the day for local manufacturing.