The higher you go, the harder it is to breathe. M.I.A. in the design world for the past two years, Malou Araneta’s journey inward was outwards and upwards — scaling the heights of the Andes in Peru as part of her healing journey. Above the clouds, she got her second wind from chewing on the medicinal coca leaves shared out of friendship by the locals she encountered on her path. Back with a new collection, she recalls over lunch at chef Sau del Rosario’s Sawsaw that “it was the most incredible experience I've ever had in my life.”
The essential form of the life-saving Quintu or “sacred leaves” are fashioned into earrings in 18k yellow gold with gleaming baroque South Sea pearls from Palawan as part of the limited-edition collection Alchemy, a collaboration between her brand Joanique and Arao, a Filipino Hong Kong-based jewelry brand with a growing style-setting following, shedding the uptight and dainty image typecast upon pearls, one piece at a time.
Each pearl in the Alchemy collection is meticulously handpicked by Arao creative director Luis Espiritu and matched with the shape of Malou’s rendition of Quechua design.
“Quechua designs are patterns based on dreams,” Malou explains. “In shamanic healing, they do a lot of patterns based on nature, in dreams.”
These dreams, however, are of a more intentional encounter. “It’s really because they do a lot of vision quests. To do that, you have to go into an altered state.”
The Incas then hand-weave these patterns into their textiles, immortalized for future generations. Malou pays tribute to this encounter throughout the collection.
If you feel like you’ve seen these symbols before, you’re probably right. “It’s fascinating that the patterns you see in the Quechua designs are very similar to those created by our tribes in the Philippines. Imagine that — from one culture to another,” she points out.
“There is a common consciousness, tapping into that higher conscious state,” she’s convinced. “Even when you talk to the tribes in the Philippines, they say it’s a gift from Bathala. There is always a higher being.”
The T’ika takes the shape of the La Flor dela Cantua, the sacred flower of the Incas cradling a precious baroque South Sea pearl. “It is the flower of life. It is a pattern that you often see when you go into that altered state.”
She likens her journey to the spiral patterns of the Inti in the shape of the Quechua sun. Quechua butterflies represent her transformation in the Pilhpintu. Finally, the Quechua’s godlike avian Kuntur, a bird sacred to Incans for communicating to the heavens, twinkles with its blessing in 18k yellow gold and handpicked baroque South Pearl, punctuated with a solitaire. The pearls range from 10mm to 30mm, depending on the piece.
For Arao founder and director Mirabel Rosar, it was when she decided to pay homage to her motherland and create something long-lasting.
A Filipino heart
The pandemic was an awakening for many. For Arao founder and director Mirabel Rosar, born and raised in the Philippines, it was when she decided to pay homage to her motherland and create something long-lasting. Linked to Luis by his sister, the rest is history.
“It’s like a pearl necklace. Each part is a link that connects everyone,” says Luis. “Pearls represent relationships, heirlooms, and heritage.”
The collection is now in store at AC+632 in Greenbelt 5, “our first and only choice,” emphasizes Luis.
“It was a no-brainer,” says Ricky Toledo, sitting right next to Chito Vijandre, the duo behind AC+632 and STAR columnists. “It’s pearls. The craftsmanship is very pino. They collaborate with the right people,” referring to the scarf collection with the photographer and muse Joann Bitagcol.
“They keep reinventing pearls — for us consumers, retailers, and the Philippines. It’s our heritage. The pandemic made us realize how important it is for us to support local and source ethically. Even as a company they are good corporate citizens. Even just looking at it, we wanted it. But the story behind the product is more compelling to have in the store.”
Mirabel made her presence felt with a short but sweet video during the intimate launch. She invites the collection’s wearers to “Weave their dreams together for a life of self-discovery and realization.”
Arao x Joanique is at AC+632, 2/F Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati, and online at thearaolife.com.