The yin and yang dynamic of Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco
Designers Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco. Photos by JT Fernandez

In their latest exhibit, the duo go beyond the ordinary to show the far-reaching potential of their collaborative design


What is design but a series of subtle choices that influence how we feel and perceive an object? In their collaborative practice, designers Rita Nazareno and Gabby Lichauco work together to connect elements that might otherwise seem opposing or disjointed, culminating in objects and spaces that convey a sense of balance.

Good design reveals itself when a space feels comfortable, when an object or room draws you in. Often, this is achieved through the interplay of contrasting elements: sculptural or geometric shapes, modern pieces in vintage buildings, or a mix of colors on the opposite ends of the spectrum.


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This same sense of contrast is evident in Nazareno and Lichauco themselves. Nazareno is vivacious and bold, filling the room with a booming voice, while Lichauco is more reserved, although not one to shy away from a snarky joke. Together, their contrasting personalities bring about a sense of lightness and laughter that smoothens their design process, allowing them to create works that are cool, edgy, and often tactile yet deeply rooted in local artisans, materials, and heritage.

Respected figures in their own right, their partnership and sense of creativity organically expand the possibilities of collective design.


Get to know the individual practices

While Nazareno and Lichauco’s collaboration yields impressive results, their individual journeys are equally compelling.

Nazareno’s path to design took an unexpected detour through Hollywood, where she clinched an Emmy before returning to Manila. At her grandmother’s workshop, S.C. Vizcarra, she launched Zacarias 1925, crafting distinctive handwoven bags that have since graced prestigious showcases from Paris to Milan.

Rita Nazareno
Rita Nazareno with the Monolith crumpled bench and lamp

An animated orator with master’s degrees from the Academy of Art University San Francisco and London College of Fashion, Nazareno’s influence extends beyond her designs, comfortably giving design talks from Tokyo’s Watari Museum of Contemporary Art to Phnom Penh.

Gabby Lichauco
Gabby Lichauco, whose multidisciplinary approach has earned him recognition as one of Asia’s “100 Leading Designers”

Complementing Nazareno’s fiber artistry, Lichauco sculpts spaces and objects that challenge perceptions. As founder of the consultancy Openstudio and the creative platform Newfolk, Lichauco’s multidisciplinary approach has earned him recognition as one of Asia’s “100 Leading Designers” in the large-format book Design in Asia: The New Wave. Lichauco also exhibited at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale.

When not reshaping spaces, Lichauco teaches as a part-time industrial design instructor at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. His global perspective, honed during his master’s studies in Milan, also infuses his professional work and teaching with a unique sensibility as he mentors the next generation of designers. 


The Nazareno-Lichauco tandem

“Everything else is based on our imagination and humor. That makes it sort of a formula for us when we start coming up with collections or designs for concepts or spaces. And then it changes based on the direction that we work with the client,” Lichauco explains.

“It’s a serious thing that we do—the craftsmanship, technique, and everything else—there’s an intricacy in it, but then there’s also the playfulness…. it’s just to have the joyous, playful energy, kind of behind the things that you do. I think that’s the aim.” After a pause, Nazareno adds, “I don’t think we’ve had a design meeting where we haven’t laughed.”

Nazareno Lichauco
“There’s an intricacy in it, but then there’s also the playfulness…. it’s just to have the joyous, playful energy, kind of behind the things that you do. I think that’s the aim,” says Nazareno

The two have a sense of humor in their character, a lightness that causes them to rise up together in the way they process their ideas. 

They often operate from Nazareno’s family workshop, S.C. Vizcarra, which employs about 50 artisans, including weavers, sewers, carpenters, and metalworkers. Many of these artisans are next-generation craftspeople who are open to experimenting with design. Nazareno shares, “They always say, ‘Whatever you guys do, I’m sure it’s going to be crazy and fun!'”

The duo emphasizes that while playfulness is a constant part of their process, it doesn’t always dictate the final aesthetic. “We have some works that are really straightforward, streamlined aesthetic,” Lichauco says. “It’s just part of how we process design, it doesn’t always resolve to the aesthetic,” Nazareno adds.

Recently, the duo has expanded into designing schools and classrooms, working with OB Montessori and Preziosa Farms. They’re also involved in the creative direction of the home sector for Manila Fame and were two of the five convenors at the Benilde Open.

As Nazareno puts it, “It’s not just product design. It’s really a multidisciplinary studio that we’ve kind of sort of found ourselves doing.”

READ: Dreaming of creative change? These Benilde Open programs empower innovators


Nazareno / Lichauco works at JJ Acuna / Bespoke Studio

The latest crucible of their creativity is currently taking place as an exhibit in JJ Acuña’s “bespoke” Manila space, running six weeks from June 27 to Aug. 8, 2024.

While they collaborated on all the pieces to some extent, some bear more of one designer’s influence than the other’s.

Against the glass window are Nazareno’s contributions, which include the Monolith Crumpled bench and lamp, fresh from their debut at Singapore Design Week’s “Emerge.” The bench, with its leather-strapped seat, matches the undulating patterns of hard and strong wicker weave that also appears in the woven overhanging lamp. 

Meanwhile, Lichauco’s Hide and Seek is a playful nod to nature’s secrets: a woven log, carefully carved to mimic tree rings, conceals half of a vibrant yellow side table, which reveals itself only from a certain angle.

Certain walls of the space are adorned with a series that depicts crumpled paper in bone china pieces in black and ivory. Adding another edge are framed works made in collaboration with Tracie Anglo, where crowbars and hammers are reimagined against striking blue and gold backgrounds. The pieces create tension, transforming tools of destruction into fine art objects.

Nazareno and Lichauco
Nazareno and Lichauco’s “Pipe Series” features a bench and lamp handwoven out of black, distressed chair cane

Perhaps the spotlight of the exhibit is Nazareno and Lichauco’s “Pipe Series.” The bench and lamp are handwoven out of black distressed chair cane, transforming industrial shapes into something more “earthy.” The lamp, reminiscent of a stylized cactus, is crowned with a glowing orb. It stands in stark contrast to the practical yet whimsical bench, with its leather saddle seat and hidden compartment (perfect for “one’s stash or passport,” Nazareno quips). 

Together, the pieces reflect the designers’ collaboration that stems from subtly contrasting yin and yang energies as well as their continuing ethos of merging traditional weaving techniques with modern design trajectories.

For inquiries about their exhibit at JJABespoke’s Manila Space, email [email protected]

READ: The value of giving new life to forgotten objects, according to visual artist Christina ‘Ling’ Quisumbing Ramilo

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