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Ken Samudio finds his way in vintage costume jewelry

By MARBBIE TAGABUCBA, The Philippine Star Published Nov 05, 2020 4:00 pm

Ken Samudio was one of the busiest Filipino accessories designers. You’ll recognize the marine biologist-turned-Vogue Talent’s work for channeling corals into stunning minaudieres and statement bib necklaces in his namesake line, or his oversized blooming Fleur de Lis flower clip-ons loved by Drew Barrymore, Moda Operandi shoppers, and Artefino attendees for his brand Matthew and Melka.

Last year, he writes, his “mojo for creating and designing went downhill” when his youngest brother passed away. In grief, he busied himself with new interests, bought a small parcel of land and turned into a gentleman farmer.

While looking for a place to store his brother’s things, his brother led him way back to jewelry. “One night, I dreamt that Mac pointed me to this luggage-like wicker basket. The following morning, I opened it,” Ken recalls.

Inside he found vintage costume jewelry from the 1930s to 1990s by Hattie Carnegie, Givenchy, Grosse for Dior, Schiaparelli, Kenneth Jay Lane, Miriam Haskell, Coro, Trifari, Celine and Chanel — a collection Ken had accumulated from over a decade of work trips abroad. Some pieces were in need of restoration, so he took them to his plateros in Bulacan. Seeing them in their former glory, Ken knew he was on to something and opened his Instagram store Vagabond Vintage Ph.

Pierre Cardin 1980s chain link choker necklace with amethyst-colored and rhinestone pendant bought from Paris

His first 20 followers have grown to almost 9,000 passionate shoppers without even knowing it was him — myself included. We were there for Ken’s curation and eclectic taste in vintage costume jewelry — rare pieces culled from all around the world, restored at a professional level.

It’s the “spark” that does it for Ken, falling in love with a piece’s look and history, no matter how beat-down the piece is.

From Art Deco to Retro to Modern, there’s something for everyone, even if you were never a vintage fan. It’s pieces that were probably worn with a ball gown decades ago, and he would style them in a mannequin wearing a white tee, and it’d look fresh.

Ken’s personality can be felt in his captions; his passion is infectious. He waxes poetic over a Coro brooch: “Lone pearl in the middle, being slowly engulfed by the creature that holds it with its menacing tentacle, forming ironically the shape of a heart.”

He writes an educational one for a Lucite Jelly Belly pin: “The vintage style, pioneered by Trifari in the 1930s and perfected by head designer Alfred Philippe in the 1940s, is figural, usually an animal pin with a rounded middle made of polished Lucite.”

Vagabond Vintage Ph became a way for him to pivot in a crisis without having to deal with overhead or production costs. It kept him creative.

The Insta store is debuting with ’70s- to ’80s-era gold pieces at its first physical pop-up at Katutubo Pop-up Market today until Sunday along with new pieces from his Matthew and Melka line. Looks like Ken got his mojo back.

1950s mid-century cherry necklace made of Bakelite cherry beads, enameled leaves, and brass plated in copper chain found in LA “to channel your inner Lucille Ball,” says Ken.

YSTYLE: What do you love about vintage costume jewelry?

I love that it’s well made. The craftsmanship is impeccable. The materials are of the highest quality, like Czech glass crystals, Bakelite and Lucite components, which you rarely find in modern costume jewelry.

I am also grateful that through vintage jewelry, I was able to provide livelihood to jewelry makers and goldsmiths in Bulacan especially in these financially challenging times.

I love that vintage jewelry is sustainable and eco-friendly. It reduces the carbon footprint of manufacturing as compared to making new jewelry from raw and new components and materials.

I also love the story behind each piece. Some were worn by nobility, famous individuals or interesting characters; that makes each piece an historical treasure.

Plus these pieces are one of a kind, meaning no two pieces are ever alike, because what are the chances of getting the same 40- to 60-year-old piece right?

Lastly, I love that it has soul.

The patina, the broken crystal or the unhinged clip makes it all the more precious for me as it represents an era, a time when women wore jewelry regardless of how heavy or how ostentatious it is. I love that women actually enjoyed wearing jewelry.

Where do you source those in your collection? Any favorite shops?

Most of my pieces are sourced in Europe. I once bought a huge inventory from a vintage collector in Budapest and I also get my pieces while in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I also ask my aunt who is based in Japan to look out for vintage pieces for me because she has the eye to (spot) what I like.

What is the most valuable piece you own, price-wise, history-wise, and feeling-wise?

I have this vintage unsigned 18K gold ring with Australian fire opal from the 1940s. I was told it once belonged to a Hollywood star. Until it’s confirmed, it’s going to be a mystery for a little while for me.

Any particular piece that was harder to let go than the rest?

I found it hard to let go of a vintage Christian Lacroix 1980s heart and ribbon pin brooch. I rejected a few buyers before finally letting it go to someone who I knew was desperately in love with it. I knew it was going to be in good, loving hands.

Yves Saint Laurent Bakelite necklace from the late 1980s found in Paris

You repair and repurpose the jewelry you find. Was there ever one memorable fixer-upper case, something that proved to be worth the labor of love?

If a piece makes it to my collection, no matter how dilapidated it is, I know that there is something special about that piece that is worth saving. I once had this old, really ugly tambourine necklace that I bought from a local vintage store in Bulacan. It was so old, so grimy and smelt like rotten fish, (but) that turned out to be a beautiful mid-century piece after it was cleaned, repaired and plated in 18K gold. It was a real ugly duckling moment for Vagabond Vintage PH.

Tips for maintaining the sheen and sparkle of costume jewelry?

No strong perfumes or alcohol, and always wipe it with a dry cloth to remove oil or sweat from the skin before storing. Have it plated from time to time to prevent allergic reaction and always keep your jewelry in their pouches or in a jewelry box when not in use.

Dream vintage costume jewelry piece? Do you own it already or not yet?

I am dreaming of a Chanel multi-colored Maltese cuff made by Gripoix from the 1970s-’80s. I don’t have it yet, but once I do, I’ll put it inside a glass case and stare at it with admiration and a sense of fulfillment all the time.

Shop at @vagabondvintageph on Instagram or visit Katutubo Pop-up Market today until Nov. 8 at Bench Tower, BGC.