Business and creativity with a large dose of enthusiasm was the pervading mood at Paris’ Maison & Objet show, and the participation of Philippine exhibitors at MOM (Maison & Objet and More), the show’s digital platform, was greeted with as much verve, thanks to “Stitch,” a new, exciting theme developed by Nazareno/Lichauco.
The partnership of Rita Nazareno and Gabriel Lichauco has been providing creative direction for the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM) since 2019, when they curated the Philippine pavilion at the prestigious design and lifestyle show and have since worked on the 2020-2022 digital editions.
The response in MOM has been quite unprecedented: many new buyers that never discovered Philippine products during the physical shows now order online and a number of these products have been chosen for “The Best of MOM” by an international panel of respected design professionals, not to mention being featured in trend authority WGSN’s listing of trendsetting pieces.
Ironically, Nazareno/Lichauco never follows trends, which makes their collections always a breath of fresh air in the congested design and lifestyle market. For the 2019 M&O show, set beside massive booths with larger-than-life installations, they opted to be discreet, with a gallery setup that focused more on the objects and good design.
“We wanted to put more value on the pieces,” Lichauco said. “A product is produced by tradition, by culture, by generations. That adds a lot of value to it.”
The products that they developed, of course, are anything but traditional since they have always been exploring new design solutions and pushing the limits of what artisans can do. After the energy and dynamism of the shapes and colors of last edition’s “In Any Kind of’ Place,” the duo has realized that they can’t play it safe in using their creativity.
“We need to use the vitality we’ve cultivated —the fun and energetic design codes—and apply that to differentiate ourselves in the world of design,” says Nazareno.
“Stitch” does just that by referencing the joining, the method of stitching as it appears in many forms, while also translating these into design and craft.
“We wanted to explore the many diverse facets of stitching, embroidery, and sewing—the cultural influences, historical importance, gender significance, the restorative and sportive notions of the craft, along with many others—and how examining their essence can impact form, function and relevance. Due to the last two years of the pandemic and the ongoing strife around the world, we wanted to look at the healing and uniting ideas that Stitch brings forth.”
The theme is a universal one that dates back to prehistoric times when pieces of material were sewn together using bone and horn needles with sinew for thread to produce clothing, shelter and accessories. The technology has progressed to weaving, sewing machines and other sophisticated techniques, but the basic tools for the craft still capture the imagination and provide design inspiration.
For Hacienda Crafts based in Bacolod, the “Biscornu” collection lives up to its French name, meaning “irregular” or “quirky.” The proprietor Ina Gaston was very receptive to the duo’s riffs on the fancy pincushion, designing floor lamps, stools, totem lighting, and pendant lights made of strips of rattan and bamboo that are handstitched together in rural communities to create livelihood opportunities.
Another sewing tool inspiration, the thimble, resulted in streamlined stools and lamps for Zarate Manila. At Bamburi, spools of thread are recreated in wicker to create understated lamps that evoke “simpler times when the art of sewing provided warmth and protection.”
Hans Wegner’s Sewing Table from the 1950s spurred a group project among Lichauco, Nazareno and Tisha de Borja-Samson of E. Murio. Their response was the G/HW Table utilizing E. Murio’s expertise in flame-bent bamboo and Zacarias 1925’s innovative wicker Monolith weave with a crumpled effect, a testament to the trio’s deep relationship with design, as well as its history and relevance to their own work.
The references for the different manufacturers in this edition are quite astonishing, allowing them to break out into aesthetics they would not normally venture into. Just take the nostalgic cool embodied by old-time bikers sporting motorbike goggles with stitched leather details that led to the “Goggles” collection of intricately crafted bone china vessels, valet plates, and wall pieces by Fine Bone, a second-generation, family-run workshop in Laguna.
The legacy of female Dada artists who used textile in their work—like Hannah Höch, who was known for her collage and photomontage and Sophie Taeuber Arp with her geometric abstractions—were springboards for the Hoch Tables of South Sea Veneer, a good example where the theme provided new ways of exploring material and technique by translating quilting into veneer marquetry, which is this manufacturer’s expertise.
In the case of Mejore, stitching was translated to woodcarving. In the Barong Collection, Nazareno/Lichauco explored the graphic elements of piña embroidery by laser cutting in minimal forms that were incorporated in a baul, coffee table, bar cabinet, and divider.
“We were still in lockdown while designing these — I was in Hawaii, Gabby in Manila — and we asked my brother Anthony to take photos of his prized barong in piña given by our mother Vicky Vizcarra Amalingan Sales from the S.C. Vizcarra Piña Collection,” relates Nazareno.
Philippine culture and craft are no doubt highlighted through the techniques that our artisans have mastered utilizing available materials. The duo goes further, however, stimulated by being able to explore local craft techniques in non-traditional ways and utilizing references that open new avenues.
“The dichotomy between classic and contemporary is fascinating, and the exploration even more so,” observes Nazareno, who quotes De Borja-Samson of E. Murio: “What we do as creatives is to build on a fluid and fleeting idea of cultural identity and hopefully what we do finds its way into its permanent language.”