The little shop where artisanship lives
She survived the challenges of running a business and the onslaught of “Ondoy.” Now, style iconoclast and entrepreneur Lourdes “Doody” Menchaca de Tuason is starting her European home accessories business again in high style.
When Mentxaka (named after the Basque spelling of her ancestors’ name) reopened in its new venue at DPC Place in Makati, people were already buying Italian vases and bowls even as the staffers unpacked the merchandise.
Hand-carved sconces with gold angels in ivory and gold leaf, hand-blown crystalline glassware, Victorian silverware, Italian ceramic tea sets and a wing chair upholstered with windowpane checks and bulldog prints pop out against a background of black graphicote walls and tiles.
“I want to show something that others don’t have. This is my niche,” she declares. The style maverick is in rock-chick mode—streaks of blue in the hair; a blue blouse encrusted with stars, keys and animals; skinny reptile pants; and gold stilettos by shoemaker du jour Giuseppe Zanotti.
‘It was time for a change,” she says. Her face is framed by chain earrings and her fingers are covered with rings of her designs.
Tuason wistfully looks at the crystal ashtray by IVV, as DPC Place is a no-smoking zone. “It’s hard to find nice ashtrays. Since there’s none available here, I look for them and get a few for those who suffer the same dilemma.”
Not looking back
Thirteen years in the business, she recalls meeting a Cebuano who collected antique wooden furniture. Planning to set up a shop in Bel-Air, he offered her space to share. He would sell the antique furniture while Tuason would offer her jewelry and other items.
Meanwhile, in jewelry trade fairs in Europe, Tuason befriended owners of prestigious Italian brands such as Belfiore, known for its precious silver done in the Florentine Renaissance tradition; Casetti for its sterling silver objects; and IVV (Industria Vetraria Valdarnese), famous for its brilliant and inimitable glassware. They became staple brands in Mentxaka store.
One day, the partner fled the country, leaving the store to Tuason. “I haven’t looked back. I got more merchandise and suppliers,” she says.
Mentxaka then moved to Karrivin Plaza, where it did business for over a decade until “Ondoy” wreaked havoc. Still, she managed to save a sizable amount of merchandise. In the past two years, Tuason took stock of the things that weren’t working for the store, such as the location and people with integrity issues.
A different venue not only marks a new beginning, but a time to consolidate Mentxaka’s position. The store isn’t only about her unerring taste. On a modest but well-edited scale, it showcases the traditional artigiano, that vanishing breed of Italian artisans using centuries-old tools and techniques. The world’s best framers, gilders, precious metalsmiths, sculptors are still alive in Florence and other parts of Italy.
To Tuason, finding suppliers is like a search for the Holy Grail. “My husband accompanies me on these uncalled for searches. It attacks me when there’s no trade show going on. We end up in god-forsaken areas,” says Tuason.
She has traveled to remote places such as Montespertoli, a municipality established in the Estrucan times, and threaded her way through tiny streets in an old neighborhood 90 minutes from Milan to find these artisans.
Select furniture pieces such as bombé and marble-top tables are executed with fine detail and grain. The feel has to be right, not unnatural perfection and smoothness produced by machines. The maker’s mark is inscribed on these objects. These little details make these products of the art.
As most of the businesses are run by families, Tuason becomes acquainted with the members and their life stories and woes.
“These artisans are small companies, some of which have power struggles,” she says.
On her last trip to Europe, the artisans expressed their concerns that the business was being affected by the financial crisis. “Although they are enduring the economic meltdown, the artisans don’t give up,” says Tuason.
“The price of silver has become untenable. But it is not appreciated by Asians, because you need to take care of it. Since Europe is suffering, manufacturers of silver are cutting down production since there is less demand.”
On the other hand, local business is optimistic. Architects and interior designers, who are visiting another furniture store in the same building, end up shopping at Mentxaka for objets. Embodying the Tuscan ceramic style, Virginia Casa makes food taste better with its tableware and crockery. Ceramiche dal Pra still uses molds and sketches that date back to the 19th century, but the ceramics lend history to a contemporary setting. For glassware, Murano-based Nason Moretti combines Venetian techniques with modern colors.
Ultimately Tuason underscores the human aspect of craft, and the age-old value of care in transforming everyday objects into art.
Mentxaka is at G/F, Unit 2 DPA Place, 2322 Chino Roces Ave. Extension, Makati. Call 8289748.