FILIPINO National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes was noticeably missed at the recent Ambiente 2016 in Messe, Frankfurt, Germany, but her signature handcrafted home accents brand, Chrysara, stood out among the 4,387 exhibitors packed inside the compound’s 27 halls.
Ambiente 2016, now the world’s largest consumer goods fair, covered an area of 308,000 square meters of exhibition space. That’s a distance of around 47 kilometers just to visit each booth, we were told. With visitors from over 150 countries, Ambiente is now more international than ever.
But it was the first time in about six years that Reyes, the visionary founder of Ballet Philippines, did not attend this annual event. That did not stop trade show habitues from trooping to her booth, though.
Chrysara—named after her two children, Chris and Sara—attracted European buyers with its new avian collection, a line of handmade and hand-painted designs inspired by 16th- and 18th-century bird illustrations.
There were cats and dogs as well—such as the Seated Pug Box made of wood, resin and wire; and the Carl Cat Single Drawer of resin and wood, part of Chrysara’s charming vintage cat collection inspired by 19th-century cat prints.
Its Coastal theme collection of fanciful curios, such as the Fat Lady Drawer made from hand-cast resin and wood, is wrapped in vintage red stripes like those in tiny beach cabanas in the 1920s.
The classic Mannequin collection, antique-style santo with cage-like legs, remained among the major draws.
This vintage look, in fact, was one of Ambiente’s prominent themes, from color schemes to product designs. Leading the way was this year’s partner country, Italy, whose renowned designer, Paola Navone, brought to life inspirations from Federico Fellini’s most famous film, “La Dolce Vita.”
Navone—who has designed for several brands, including Poliform, Crate and Barrel, and Poltrona Frau—recreated snippets of the critically acclaimed movie as backdrop for quintessential Italian brands like Fratelli Guzzini plates, Alessi kitchenware, Bialetti coffee makers, Domo cookware, Ballarini Paolo & Figli houseware, Decora-Karma bakeware, Graziani candles, Antique Mirror tableware and the textiles of Brandani.
The piece de resistance, located at the end of the booth, was a red Vespa scooter with white polka dots designed by Navone.
This utilitarian motorcycle—the ride of choice of “La Dolce Vita’s” symbol of unbridled sensuality, Anita Ekberg—is still among the most coveted brands today.
Italy soared with its cutting-edge kitchen and tableware and modular furniture, while the Philippines tickled imaginations with its charming handcrafted, hand-painted product line and ingenious use and treatment of materials.
“Our biggest strength is still in design and in our artisanal skills,” said Arturo Cruz Dimaano, project director of the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (Citem). “We may have the same materials used by other countries, but our treatment and combination of materials will always be unique. That’s why we will never go out of style.”
Worldwide Exhibitions Linkage Services (WE-LINK), with GM Wilbert Novero at the helm, has once again staged an epic exhibit in collaboration with exhibitors for Brand Phils., covering a modestly-sized but stunning display sections in three stories at Ambiente. This year, Novero also brought Citem, one of the leading export marketing arm of the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry.
Bringing together local design companies under the Lifestyle Philippines brand, Citem prides itself in highlighting materials such as bone, buffalo horn, shagreen, ebony, and natural fibers alongside indigenous materials like capiz shells, tikog grass and mother-of-pearl to create home decor and accessories, boudoir furniture, jewelry and bags, and lamps and lighting.
This year’s Ambiente marked Citem’s return after more than a decade of absence. Curating its team of 18 exhibitors was the German designer and master florist Detlef Klatt, with the young Rachel Dagnalan as junior designer and visual merchandiser.
Together they synthesized colors and patterns from natural materials such as wood, abaca and rattan, and created warm earth hues that recalled the simple charms of the rustic countryside.
Among the headliners was the Cebu-based Arden Exquisite Home Decors, whose husband-and-wife team created delightfully quirky and unorthodox conversation pieces.
Its Insecta collection, for example, included Bantam Scutler, made of two silver-plated ants with kabibi shells; Legacy, a trinket box with a silver-plated rhino beetle with a cracked red pen shell body; or Jewel, a dragonfly in silver with four wasay-wasay shell wings.
A wall decor called Orb Weave was made of two silver-plated spiders with a snake’s head and lynx cowrie shell body, hanging on cobwebs.
These elegant metal sculptures combined with natural shells were made possible by the artist’s extensive knowledge of mechanical and electrical engineering.
There were also metals combined with ostrich eggs, cattle bone, fish, animal and snakeskin, and other organic materials.
Another Cebuano hit was Finali Furniture and Home Accessories, which used natural materials like metal, wood, rattan, resin, abaca and crushed stone.
It featured the curved Ralliu candleholders made with arorog poles and two silvery metal sides.
A tabletop piece showing a man with both arms bent backward into an “O” shape was another piece featuring creative use of arorog and metal.
An intricate wall decor was made of abaca weave and natural shells.
Just a few steps away was one of the Philippines’ pioneers in hand-carved wood decor, Celestial Arts Inc., whose play of colors and textures did not go unnoticed.
Celestial Arts, which counts Pottery Barn among its clients, exhibited wooden bowls with burnt rims hand-painted in warm oranges, reds or bright yellows. The home and decor pieces were made of capiz, mother-of-pearl, coco wood, shells, carahorn, carabone and stone.
“I enjoy developing new ways of treating wood and other natural materials. That has always been one of our strengths,” said Pinky Hidalgo, creative director of Celestial Arts.
The Philippines also showed that it wasn’t behind in ethical design, a practice that incorporates social responsibility in product development and manufacturing. These are executed in energy-efficient, environment-friendly factories. Each year, Ambiente reminds its visitors of the importance of sustainable consumer goods.
Upcycle and recycle
The multi-awarded Nature’s Legacy, another gem from Cebu that manufactures home furnishings and garden accessories, upcycles and recycles materials, and does not go beyond a 50-km radius of its factory when sourcing to reduce their carbon footprint.
Its lamps, wall decor, extra-large vases, home accents and even jewelry line were handmade, some of crushed natural stones, old newspaper and recycled paper, carton dust collected at the shop, dead shrubs and fallen bark.
It was awarded the Ethical Design stamp at Ambiente, so that buyers looking for sustainable products could easily spot the brand.
The Ambiente regular, Pradora Inc., came out with elegantly hand-tooled black iron metal wall decor and candleholders. The black iron metal was either in an antique copper wash, chrome-plated, gold-plated, or copper-plated, consistent with Ambiente’s theme colors of copper and gold.
These were often combined with natural fiber, glass, wood and fine bone china. The inspirations were drawn from nature; one wall decor/candleholder was called the Tree of Life, with branches reaching out to the sky.
There was another popular design, akin to sunbursts in gold and copper, but which was being photographed illegally. Only those with press IDs were allowed to take photos to avoid design imitations. Ambiente has a solid campaign against imitations, highlighted in an annual exhibit called “Museum Plagiarius: Innovation vs Imitation.” This year, the most blatantly copied design, from appearance to the technology employed, was the bladeless electric fan.
CSM Phils., which was receiving its hefty share of visitors, reacted swiftly and put up “No Photos” signs around its booth. CSM grabbed attention with its finely handcrafted bone china home decor. It offered vases, candleholders, planters, figurines, lamps, bedroom and bathroom sets, bowls and even Christmas ornaments.
This year’s Ambiente drew the largest number of visitors so far, with more than 80 percent coming from outside Germany. It attracted around 137,000 buyers representing 143 countries.
Next year, the United Kingdom would be the next partner country.
We-Link (Worldwide Exhibitions Linkage Services), a division of Global Link Exhibitions Specialist, is the official sales partner in the Philippines of Messe Frankfurt GmbH, the fair organizer of Ambiente. It has been providing the platform and experience for both exhibitors and visitors from the Philippines since the early 1990s.