Most pricey silverware is now produced with a single rap from a machine. In contrast, a hand-wrought champagne bucket from a discreet workshop in Italy entails over a thousand hammer strikes from a craftsman.
Taking no shortcuts, the craftsman begins the process with a piece of sterling. After weeks of output from the atelier, the object, imbued with the artisan’s soul and his signature, makes its way into an exclusive store in the Philippines.
Style arbiter and jewelry designer Lourdes “Doody” Tuason looks out for unique and handmade objects that reflect her taste.
In this interview she’s wearing a slinky vintage red dress, which she has chosen for comfort; its simplicity draws attention to her earrings. Huge pink coral crosses, encrusted with rubies, dangle as a strong statement, not as a secular piece.
“I don’t think too many people would wear them like I do,” says Tuason. Her individuality is reflected in her home accessories store, Mentxaka (the name is a reference to her Basque ancestry).
It has become a purveyor of Old World elegance and European designer brands that combine traditional techniques with modern twists.
The old patrician families patronize the store for Tuason’s well-edited collection. The glassware, ceramics, silverware, woodwork and Filipino antiques can’t be found anywhere else. To
the upwardly mobile clients, shopping at Mentxaka is one of their entry points to crème de la crème status.
Exposure and an open mind are needed for people to appreciate the value of the objects. “It’s like pushing an elephant up the hill when they don’t get it,” says Tuason. Once, a decorator came with his client to buy accessories for the latter’s European-style home. The designer chose a huge, gilded candelabra, the price of which shocked the customer.
“This is just a piece of wood. Why is it expensive?” demanded the client, who knocked on the candelabra.
Putting his foot down, the decorator insisted, “If you want your house to look like it came from Milan, we need that!”
Tuason had to educate the client on the antiquity of the wood and the use of gold leaf (gold hammered into fine foil to adorn objects) instead of paint, informing the client that the handiwork has been in danger of extinction since the death of its creator, the Italian restorer Moscardi.
“There are walk-ins who can’t afford these things, but they find joy in looking at them. The objects fill up their soul,” says Tuason.
“When clients ask me what to get, I suggest they buy objects they would love to see for a long time. It’s not something that wears on you and you’d say, ‘Ugh! I don’t want to see those plates again.’”
Tuason’s choices have a lot to do with her travels and being close to artisans and craftsmen. “You develop friendships with these artisans. They are proud of their work and take delight in your interest. When you deal with a corporation, you are given a catalog of designs to choose from. You don’t meet the designers, only the sales reps. I deal with people who create these objects themselves.”
Obscurity and mystery
While vacationing in Venice, Tuason was led to the artisan Nason Morretti. “Venice has a lot of character. The dark alleys and the Masquerade Ball give the feeling of obscurity and mystery. It’s where many artisans work on glass for the chandeliers and stemware,” she recalls.
On one of these discreet corners, she discovered Morretti’s atelier, which utilizes traditional Murano glass techniques to produce sleek, contemporary objects.
“If you’re buying for yourself or presenting a special gift, the Morretti glasses come in classic shapes with a jolt of color. The champagne flutes in acid green and acid yellow are to die for,”
says Tuason. The price: P9,600 a glass.
In European trade shows, she discovered Florentine jewelers Giovanni Raspini and artisan Guiseppe Belfiore, who made silverware in the Renaissance tradition.
Raspini’s old-school skills, such as the use of minutely carved details, are translated into fun and more approachable creativity. Crocodiles, lions and greyhounds are fashioned into handles for trays and buckets.
Mentxaka has been carrying Raspini’s silver clocks, bowls and trays. Lately, Raspini ventured into white bronze, as the price of silver has been going up. A composite of copper, tin and zinc, white bronze is often used as substitute for silver for its shiny texture. But it doesn’t tarnish easily.
“A sterling silver bucket easily fetches P500,000 but this white bronze champagne bucket with alligator handles only costs P101,200,” says Tuason.
IVV (Industria Vetraria Valdarnese) Glassware is one of the most popular brands in the store. Its tradition of handmade blown glass is interpreted in innovative forms. “The price range is okay, like P5,300 for a vase. You can buy a gift without thinking about it a hundred times,” says Tuason.
Glassware by Mario Luco Giusti has been flying off the shelves. “He gave them oomph! The glasses and pitchers look like crystal but they’re acrylic. You can buy those goblets for the beach setting,” says Tuason.
The past two years, business has been thriving. “There must have been some shift in the universe. People are building houses or refurbishing. They realize that when you want something special, you need to go artisanal. The human aspect of their craft gives a deeper meaning to their work,” says Tuason.
Mentxaka is at G/F Unit 2, DPC Place Building, 2322 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati; call 8289748; visit www.mentxaka.com.